THE BOARD OF ASSISTANCE

Advertisements

VISUALIZING ANALYSIS

Summary

The first article in this series described the concept of Business Architecture, and went on to introduce two powerful models used to build sound, robust architectural views, being the Capability Model, and the Value Stream. This second article seeks to solidify these models in the context of Business Analysis.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) have identified a set of competencies they consider necessary for a practicing business analyst to be effective at their job. This article builds a capability view using these competencies as a foundation, and then considers the value streams that a business analyst uses to co-ordinate these competencies to perform their job.

Two distinct value streams emerge, one showing how a business analyst realises value on a project, and one showing how a business analyst realises value at an enterprise level.

What Do You Do?

As a business analyst, have you ever been asked to explain what you do for the organisation? The question may have come from a co-worker, but more likely you were asked by one of the more senior members of staff. The question can be quite a daunting one.

Since the field of IT business analysis is still relatively young, false impressions of what exactly a competent business analyst is, and more importantly what value they bring to their organisation generally, and their projects specifically, are rife. It is therefore important that the answer given to the question is clear and accurate.

Competency or Capability?

Before moving forward, we must first understand the difference between a capability and a competency.

Although often used interchangeably, “capability” and “competency” are quite different. Ulrich and Smallwood[1] make the distinction that individuals build competencies, while organisations exhibit capabilities.

The intention article is to produce a strategic view of the business analyst, describing their competencies using a capability model and value stream maps. In doing so, the aim is to provide a concrete example showing how to construct these two models using concepts that are familiar to analysts.

For the remainder of this article we are going to treat the individual BA competencies as analogous to organisational capabilities, whilst understanding the key difference highlighted above.

The BABOK, and the IIBA’s Competency Model

Let’s get back to the question that we posed to start with: “What Do You Do?”. The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge[2] (BABOK) is an excellent place to look to begin in formulating an answer.

The BABOK, and its supporting Competency Model[3], describes the knowledge, skills, abilities and other personal characteristics that an effective analyst perfects in time. Also laid out is a roadmap for an analyst to plan their career trajectory from junior to master analyst.

In addition to underlying competencies expected from a professional knowledge worker, the IIBA has identified 6 core knowledge areas that a business analyst must home in order to progress from beginner to competent to master in the practice of Business Analysis.

The competencies that we will use to build our model come from these 6 knowledge areas.

Strategic Modelling Step 1: The Business Analyst Competency Model

Let us start our example by considering the analyst to be an enterprise, and the competencies presented in the BABOK to be our Analyst-Enterprise’s capabilities. Our first step is to build a capability model that represents ‘what’ the Analyst-Enterprise is doing to create value.

This example is built using the Business Architecture Guild’s Level-1 Capability Model as a foundation for categorising each competency. For the sake of clarity, the Underlying Competencies are presented separately.

Since we are considering the ‘what’ and not the ‘how’, we must exclude all of the techniques that the BABOK list. Techniques are very much a ‘how’, and a senior analyst will use several techniques interchangeably, according to the needs of the project at hand.

The model is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Business Analyst Competency Model
Figure 1: Business Analyst Competency Model

You will immediately notice two things in the model:

  • first, the competencies, named as capabilities, have been renamed, and;
  • second, ‘Transition Requirements Definition’ is highlighted in red.

Naming Capabilities

The reason for the name-change is that capabilities are named using nouns[4]. Remember that capabilities are an external, ‘black box’ view of a business function that encapsulates the people (stakeholders in our case), process (think of the techniques described in the BABOK), and platforms (in our case this includes such things as CASE tools or document repositories).

To assembling our capability model we are defining what is being done, not how. By using nouns we build in a cross-check that we are not including processes or value streams into the capability model.

During analysis, it is quite easy to get tangled in naming capabilities that you are identifying in the business. If you find yourself questioning whether you have identified a capability correctly, remember that you are working towards building a view of ‘what’, and not ‘how’. Take a step back and ask: “Does my capability encapsulate people, process and platform, or have I fallen into the ‘how-trap’ by describing process?”

Identifying Duplication

The reason that ‘Transition Requirements Definition’ is highlighted in red is that capabilities are unique, and must occur only once on the capability model. Let’s analyse ‘Transition Requirements Definition’ by refering to the BABOK definition:

Purpose: To define requirements for capabilities needed to transition from an existing solution to a new solution.

So, this competency talks to requirements definition, but with the narrow focus of transitioning a solution into the organisation. Therefore, it is comprised several of existing requirements-centric capabilities already on our map; it is in essence a specialisation that combines existing competencies.

This composite capability must thus be eliminated from the capability model.

Benefits of the Capability Model

Now that we have produced the model, let us consider the benefits of having produced a capability model for our hypothetical Analyst-Enterprise.

  1. The model provides us with a talking point. We can refer to it during discussions, and importantly it drives a common vocabulary into those discussions. Moreover, it is easy to discuss individual elements of the role, whilst not losing sight of the whole.
  2. We can quickly see, on a single page, the competencies that make a business analyst. Using this view an analyst can quickly focus on weak areas, and they can take steps to address these weaknesses.
  3. Further, the model can aid the planning that the analyst may do by allowing objective prioritisation of actions to address their areas of weakness.

The capability model is our blueprint. The model is a stable reference point throughout our career. We may need to change a great deal, through learning and experience, to cultivate mastery in the role, but the model remains the blueprint against which we will plan to develop ourselves further.

Strategic Modelling Step 2: The Business Analyst Value Streams

When considering how an analyst delivers value to an organisation, it emerges that there are two distinct levels that the analyst engages at.

The first emergent focus is bounded by a project, and the analyst works within the ambit of the project. Working at the project level, the analyst’s deliverables address the specific needs of their project.

The second focus is at an enterprise level, where the analyst is working with business leaders, and key decision makers. At this level the analyst is working to distill strategy into clear objectives. They work to understand the current state of the business, and to formulate the actions needed to achieve the desired future state. This analyst will often be responsible for the business plans that give rise to the projects mentioned above.

Junior and intermediate analysts will tend to have a project focus, while senior analyst will likely be found bringing their depth of experience to bear at the enterprise level.

Value Stream: Plan-to-Solution

Using the competencies identified by the IIBA, the value stream that expresses value delivery in the project context is presented below.

In the interests of simplicity, the ‘Transition Requirements Definition’ competency has not been decomposed into its discrete elements.

Since value streams are designed with improvement in mind, we can start to leverage our view of Plan-to-Solution for the purpose of improvement. Our goal may be to reduce cost by eliminating waste (maybe arising from poor upfront planning), or to produce the solution in time with customer expectation (by better managing scope and communication). Our goal is likely to vary from project to project.

Value Stream: Vision-to-Plan

Next up, let us examine how an enterprise analyst delivers value while conducting their duties.

Figure 3: Vision-to-Plan Value Stream
Figure 3: Vision-to-Plan Value Stream

In this example we can see that the enterprise analyst is using many of the same value stream stages as the project analyst. This makes sense, as in both cases the analyst must plan, they must engage with identified stakeholders to elicit requirements, the must communicate and they validate outcomes. The main difference is the scope of the initiative, and the desired outcome.

Looking at both of the examples I am sure that you get a sense that the value stream presents a dynamic view of value delivery.

Key Principles of Value Streams to Remember[5]

The value stream is customer-focused. Our customer in either instance above is the Project Sponsor, and ultimately the business itself. You may choose to represent the customer in a number of ways, whether in the map directly, or in your supporting documentation.

Keep in mind that the value stream is value centric. At each value stream stage we should be able to identify at least one customer for whom we have created value. If we are not delivering value then we are wasting time and money. It is sometimes helpful to include a purpose and value statement below each value stream.

The value streams are a business-centric view of value creation. They are aimed at strategic decision-makers, and are intended to be simple to understand and interpret. Avoid making overly complex value streams that are more process-centric than is necessary. Getting back to the initial question posed in this article: Think how quickly you could answer the question with a value stream. The high-level nature of the steam does not put off senior members of staff, and they are able to quickly understand the value delivery mechanism.

Value streams are holistic, end-to-end views of value creation. They are by nature cross-cutting, and inclusive of external parties. This allows decision-makers to formulate a common approach that can be rolled out across the organisation without needing to be tailored for individual divisions, departments or sites.

Moreover, the value streams aggregate the underlying processes from across organisational silos, and even organisational boundaries. This allows similar processes to be rationalised and consolidated. Decision-makers are empowered by the holistic view to recognise redundant or duplicate process, and to implement common solutions in these identified areas. The business as a whole becomes more streamlined and efficient.

We can decompose the value streams. This allows the value stream to be tailored to meet the specific needs of an individual product line, or business unit in the context of the value delivery highlighted by the value stream.

Lastly, we can quickly understand how the value creation process leverages business capabilities. Resources can be brought to bear, in an objective way, on capabilities that are underperforming. For instance, we may quickly realise that we are not planning our activities well enough as we are weak in the ‘Business Analysis Activities Planning’ competency. We could then plan to work at improving this competency in upcoming projects.

Conclusion

By using our capability model and value streams we can lay down a blueprint that lets us envision ourselves in terms of what we do, they facilitate planning of a successful approach to improving our skill, and then guiding our development of these skills.

Crucially, we are able to express complex ideas simply, and effectively. The models tend to drive out a common language, and by allowing discussions to revolve around the models we can avoid ambiguity. Armed with these models it should be easy for an analyst to clearly answer the question ‘What do you do?’.

Exactly the same principles apply when you view the enterprise through these two lenses. The opportunities for improvement become quickly obvious. Business Architecture is becoming ever more important in linking the business strategy to explicit, achievable results. As this field matures it is going to become ever more important pillar that supports the overall Enterprise Architecture.

COHEN PREPARES

There are important lessons here about Career, and Art, and Life…
and Death.

 

LEONARD COHEN MAKES IT DARKER

At eighty-two, the troubadour has another album coming. Like him, it is obsessed with mortality, God-infused, and funny.

When Leonard Cohen was twenty-five, he was living in London, sitting in cold rooms writing sad poems. He got by on a three-thousand-dollar grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. This was 1960, long before he played the festival at the Isle of Wight in front of six hundred thousand people. In those days, he was a Jamesian Jew, the provincial abroad, a refugee from the Montreal literary scene. Cohen, whose family was both prominent and cultivated, had an ironical view of himself. He was a bohemian with a cushion whose first purchases in London were an Olivetti typewriter and a blue raincoat at Burberry. Even before he had much of an audience, he had a distinct idea of the audience he wanted. In a letter to his publisher, he said that he was out to reach “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”

Cohen was growing weary of London’s rising damp and its gray skies. An English dentist had just yanked one of his wisdom teeth. After weeks of cold and rain, he wandered into a bank and asked the teller about his deep suntan. The teller said that he had just returned from a trip to Greece. Cohen bought an airline ticket.

Not long afterward, he alighted in Athens, visited the Acropolis, made his way to the port of Piraeus, boarded a ferry, and disembarked at the island of Hydra. With the chill barely out of his bones, Cohen took in the horseshoe-shaped harbor and the people drinking cold glasses of retsina and eating grilled fish in the cafés by the water; he looked up at the pines and the cypress trees and the whitewashed houses that crept up the hillsides. There was something mythical and primitive about Hydra. Cars were forbidden. Mules humped water up the long stairways to the houses. There was only intermittent electricity. Cohen rented a place for fourteen dollars a month. Eventually, he bought a whitewashed house of his own, for fifteen hundred dollars, thanks to an inheritance from his grandmother.

Hydra promised the life Cohen had craved: spare rooms, the empty page, eros after dark. He collected a few paraffin lamps and some used furniture: a Russian wrought-iron bed, a writing table, chairs like “the chairs that van Gogh painted.” During the day, he worked on a sexy, phantasmagoric novel called “The Favorite Game” and the poems in a collection titled “Flowers for Hitler.” He alternated between extreme discipline and the varieties of abandon. There were days of fasting to concentrate the mind. There were drugs to expand it: pot, speed, acid. “I took trip after trip, sitting on my terrace in Greece, waiting to see God,” he said years later. “Generally, I ended up with a bad hangover.”

Here and there, Cohen caught glimpses of a beautiful Norwegian woman. Her name was Marianne Ihlen, and she had grown up in the countryside near Oslo. Her grandmother used to tell her, “You are going to meet a man who speaks with a tongue of gold.” She thought she already had: Axel Jensen, a novelist from home, who wrote in the tradition of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. She had married Jensen, and they had a son, little Axel. Jensen was not a constant husband, however, and, by the time their child was four months old, Jensen was, as Marianne put it, “over the hills again” with another woman.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE

WATCHING TIME

THE STORIES BEHIND FIVE OF THE MOST ICONIC WATCHES OF ALL TIME 

What makes a Rolex GMT-Master special? The moon, for starters.

BY ED ESTLOW

07 JUNE 2016

70 REACTIONS

Apple wrist products, smartphones and Fitbits notwithstanding, actual watches are cool again.

And the backstories are often even cooler.

We’ve teamed up with vintage and pre-owned watch dealer Crown & Caliber to bring you the origin tales on five of the most iconic timepieces. These are stories that involve war, polo and a surprising amount of space travel.

Read on. You’ve got time.

Rolex GMT-Master
Everybody knows the story of how Pan American World Airways, the pioneers behind the intercontinental flight of the same name, got together with Rolex to design the GMT-Master. They tackled the project so their pilots could maintain a regular sleep schedule and not fall asleep at the wheel. But that’s old news.

The real dirty little secret of the GMT-Master is that at least couple of them made it to the Moon. Jack Swigert wore one on the Apollo 13 mission (you know, the one during which the command module almost blew out from under Swigert, James Lovell, and Fred Haise; pretty sure they made a movie about it). Some claim it was the GMT and not the NASA-authorized Omega Speedmaster that Swigert used to time critical rocket burns as a crippled Apollo 13 limped home. That one hangs on a plaque at Rolex HQ.

And several missions later, Apollo 17 Commander Ronald Evans wore his GMT-Master clear down to the lunar surface, albeit under his space suit. There it stayed for a little over three days. When he got home, he took his buzz-pencil and hand engraved the case back with “FLOWN ON APOLLO XVII 6-19 DEC 72 ON MOON 11-17 DEC RON EVANS.” The watch sold at auction in 2009 for $131,450. Not bad for an illicit piece of history, eh?

Patek Philippe Nautilus
Patek Philippe commissioned famed watch designer Gerald Genta to design this one in 1974. Even though he’d done thousands of watch designs in his career, at this point he was fresh off designing the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. One imagines he must have been a little tapped out in the inspiration department.

He was eating lunch during a break in the 1974 Basel Watch Fair when inspiration finally struck. He borrowed a paper and pencil from the waiter and did the first sketches of what would become the Nautilus in about five minutes.

Breitling Cosmonaute
You can guess by the name of this watch that it’s got a spacefaring background. When Korean air combat veteran Scott Carpenter was selected for the Mercury space program, he realized he’d be orbiting — and going through day/night rotations — so fast that he could lose track of whether it was day or night back at Mission Control in Houston.

So he went to his buddies at Breitling and discussed the problem. The solution was a watch with a 24-hour dial: the Cosmonaute, based on Breitling’s famous Navitimer platform. Carpenter’s was delivered to him a mere three weeks before his mission. Although his Mercury Aurora Seven mission only lasted five hours, the watch functioned well in space.

Unfortunately, upon splashdown and recovery, Carpenter dipped his watch hand in the sea and the non-water-resistant watch was toast (the Navitimer was notorious for its lack of water resistance). Here’s where the story gets interesting. NASA apparently sent it back to Breitling for repair, but it was never returned.

No one has seen that particular watch in 54 years. But the Cosmonaute is still being produced today.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso
A sport watch refers to a diver or other ticker made for exploration. And the Jaeger LeCoultre is probably the original sport watch. In 1930, an executive of the forerunner to JLC was in India on business. He was approached by an army officer who played polo in his spare time. It seemed the officer kept breaking the crystals on his watches and needed a solution.

The watch executive considered the problem and discussed it with his associates back in Switzerland. The Reverso, a watch with the case that can flip over to protect the dial side and crystal, is what they came up with. It has seen size changes and dozens of versions in the 85 years since it debuted, but the base model is remarkably like the one that first saw the light of day in 1931.

Omega Speedmaster
Ah yes, the Moon watch. Originally conceived in the late 1950s as a racer’s watch (and said tales about the Rolex GMT-Master notwithstanding), the Omega Speedmaster is the official Moon watch — as designated by NASA. One still goes into space on nearly every U.S. astronaut’s wrist.

The fable goes that NASA engineers went undercover to several jewelers in Houston to buy off-the-shelf timepieces to test for use in space. This story is great, like an actress being discovered in a drugstore at Hollywood & Vine, but it’s generally acknowledged to be untrue.

No matter.

What is true is that the Speedmaster proved to be so tough in tests that, to this day, it’s still the only timepiece approved for spacewalks. And Swigert’s GMT-Master be damned, the Speedy is credited with timing the rocket burns that got Apollo 13 home and saved the crew’s necks.4

Watch nerds everywhere count at least one Speedy in their collection. Watch blogFratelloWatches pioneered the concept of “Speedy Tuesday” on social media, one day each week where aficionados post photographs of their beloved watches in various poses: the nerdier, the better.

SILVERCAR AND AUDI

Audi Leads $28M Investment In Rental Startup Silvercar

Silvercar, a startup rethinking the auto rental experience in airports, already seems pretty tied to Audi — after all, every vehicle that Silvercar rents out is a silver Audi. Now the companies are deepening that relationship with a $28 million Series C investment.

Audi led the round, with the company’s North American president Scott Keogh joining Silvercar’s board of directors. Silvercar and Audi are also looking beyond airports with a new initiative called the Audi Shared Fleet, where businesses will be able to offer cars to employees on their corporate campuses.

“Silvercar represents not just the future of the car rental industry, but a vision for the future of mobility,” Keogh said in the funding release “We want to utilize the company’s strengths in technology and innovation to merge connectivity and mobility for today’s consumer.”

Silvercar has raised a total of $60 million in funding. Previous investors Austin Ventures and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin also participated in the new round.

The service doesn’t just offer every customer access to the same high-end vehicle. It also streamlines the reservation and payment process, allowing you to make bookings through a mobile app and unlock the car by just scanning a QR code.Writer Ryan Lawler (now sadly departed from TechCrunch) tried the service out three years ago in Dallas-Fort Worth, Silvercar’s very first airport. He came away impressed with “the ease of getting in and out of the airport rental dock,” and he suggested that business travelers, in particular, might be willing to pay a premium to get a better experience. (The exact pricing varies from market to market.)

The company says its business tripled in 2015, and it’s now launching in its twelfth market, Las Vegas, just in time for this week’s Consumer Electronics Show.

FEATURED IMAGE: SILVERCAR

NATIVE PR?

Why PR Firms Shouldn’t Be Worried About Native Ads

Why PR Firms Shouldn't Be Worried About Native Ads
Image credit: Shutterstock.com
174
528
244
Comment

On a recent trip to New York, I took the opportunity to attend a digital publishing summit that brought together key digital players including The Huffington PostThe Onion, Buzzfeed and others to discuss trends in publishing. I was interested to learn more about how the media landscape is changing as a result of digital.

Changing reader habits, geared towards a preference for consuming media online and through devices, have led to the decline of print and a subsequent decline in revenue for media outlets. Unsurprisingly, the number one issue up for discussion at the conference was revenue models, most predominately native advertising.

Is the wall between editorial and advertising coming down?

Many critics suggest that native advertising has led to one of the most significant shifts of our times, the gradual breakdown of the wall that used to exist between editorial and advertising. Editorial has never stood completely independent (after all we have a whole industry, public relations, which has given interest groups a platform through editorial), the line has certainly begun to blur.

On the other hand, one could also argue that native advertising leads to more transparency about corporate interests, unlike public relations where corporate interests are buried in editorial. Critics could argue that indeed the wall remains intact.

What does this mean for public relations practitioners?

In any event, native advertising is already sending earned media opportunities into decline. We’re already seeing fewer opportunities to secure media coverage for clients through traditional means—pitching for interviews, guest blogging, op eds, media releases etc.—without paying for it.

What does this mean for today’s public relations practitioner? Practitioners must be well versed in digital, social, content and paid media. Borrowing the tactics of other disciplines is now the norm. This doesn’t mean, however, that public relations doesn’t have its place.

Ultimately, public relations brings to the table a crucial focus on understanding target audience and crafting messages and content which cuts through with that audience. This is also paramount for a sound content, digital or social strategy. Public relations also understands the unique role of a brand’s reputation and credibility, which goes beyond simply building brand awareness.

Native advertising won’t mean the end of public relations, but it will mean that public relations will start to look very different.

QUIRKED

The Rise and Fall of Quirky — the Start-Up That Bet Big on the Genius of Regular Folks

By

Photo: Courtesy of Quirky

One of the start-up world’s favorite words, in addition to disruptpivot, and on-demand, is community. Kickstarter identifies as “a community of people committed to bringing new things to life.” “The heart and soul of Etsy,” begins the About Etsy page, “is our global community.” Airbnb calls itself “the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company.” You’re not, in other words, just joining a platform where you can fund your screenplay, or hawk your hand-knit iPhone koozies, or rent your apartment — no, you’re belonging to something bigger than yourself.

But back in 2009, perhaps before the word had lost all meaning, a small-time-invention start-up called Quirky built a community that really acted like one. It told the first-world-problem solver in all of us — the one who thought up single-serve French-fry-makers and foldable coffee mugs and musical footballs while out walking the dog — that she no longer had to innovate in a vacuum. Anybody could join. On Quirky’s website, users would assess and workshop each other’s inventions. The most successful ideas, as determined by a vote, would be designed and built by the company. In some cases, the inventors made a lot of money. And it is for that tiny dreamer that the company’s recent death spiral feels like a true loss.

It all came to a head on what seemed like a typical Thursday evening this July, during the weekly Quirky ritual known as Eval. A studio audience of about 100 people gathered in the company’s former-rail-car-terminal headquarters in Chelsea. Lit by webcams from above and a bank of futuristic equipment behind, Quirky’s 28-year-old founder, Ben Kaufman, stood at a lectern in his usual black V-neck tee and announced a panel of product-evaluation experts by nickname: Anna “Make a Buck” Buchbauer, Justin “J-Bomb” Seidenfeld, Aaron Dignan, a.k.a. El Presidente. Ideas submitted and voted on by the Quirky community — watching the livestream from their living rooms — were presented via pitch videos and commentary from Kaufman: a voice-activated lightbulb, a paper-thin Bluetooth speaker that fits in your back pocket, an on-the-go beverage carbonator. The masterminds who won majority approval would hear the rallying mantra “Congratulations, you’re a Quirky inventor!” and have the chance to be like fellow Eval winner Garthen Leslie, a 63-year-old IT consultant from Columbia, Maryland. Leslie came up with the idea of a smart air conditioner during his morning commute, uploaded a rough diagram of the idea to the Quirky platform, and found the community waiting to help him refine it, suggesting additional features and weighing in on the sizing, specs, and the name, which would be Aros. And keeping with Quirky’s leave-the-rest-to-us business model, the company then patented, manufactured, marketed, and sold the unit into Walmart and Amazon, returning 10 percent of the profits to the inventor and those that played Watson to his Graham Bell (in this exceptional case, that’s amounted to more than $400,000 for Leslie and more than $200,000 for the community).

Quirky founder Ben Kaufman, center.

But this Thursday, July 16, it would turn out, was not an ordinary Eval. In fact, it would be the next to last one Kaufman ever did. Following the broadcast, he tacked on what he called an “after-party” — a.k.a. a crisis-management session aimed at addressing recent bad press that the company had gotten. In June, in a sweaty interview onstage at the Fortune Brainstorm conference, Kaufman admitted the company was all but “out of money,” which had once amounted to $185 million in funding from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and GE. In July came the news that nearly the entire New York City staff would be laid off. By August 1, Kaufman would officially step down from the company he started at age 22. It so happened that for every Aros-type success, the community had waved in many more duds like the Beat Booster, a wireless speaker with a built-in charging station that by one account cost the company $388,000 to develop but only sold about 30 units.

It’s not surprising that Kaufman used the word transparency no fewer than three times in the first five minutes of that after-party, the bottom line of which was that he frankly didn’t know if the company would survive — Quirky’s fate was in the investors’ hands. Because, for all the aspirational, rarefied Bushwick-bar vibes telegraphed by the Evals, Quirky was, of course, all about being real. Its cluster of a million members included folks like — to cite some of the most recent inventors featured on the website — Tony Lytle, a welder and proud grandfather from Larwill, Indiana, who’d dreamed up the Pawcett, a step-on drinking fountain for dogs; and Hadar Ferris, a licensed cosmetologist in Oceanside, California, responsible for decorative muffin-top molds called Bake Shapes; and Pennsylvania-based Navy veteran Jason Hunter, who gave birth to the Porkfolio app-enabled piggy bank. (In the age of artisanal everything, just as we want to know where our pickles were brined and our former-church-pew coffee tables were carved, here, too, was the meaningful personal backstory behind your magnetic bottle opener.)

Aros was a rare commercial success for Quirky.

A few weeks after he was ousted, Kaufman emailed with me from his first-ever personal email account: “It’s weird waking up one day and not even having an email address,” he later said on the phone. “This had been my whole life.” He was a small-time inventor himself at first, for a range of iPod accessories he started in high school that went on to become the company Mophie. At the 2007 Macworld Expo, he handed out pens and sketchpads and asked people to help design Mophie’s 2007 product line (sound familiar?) and then held a vote for the top three ideas. That same year, he sold Mophie, reappropriated the Macworld crowdsourcing schtick, and tried to launch a similar concept to Quirky. What helped Quirky finally get off the ground in 2009 was the recession-driven push for alternative incomes (no coincidence that Kickstarter as well as the entrepreneur-competition show Shark Tank, another bastion of scrappy innovation, also launched in 2009). Plus, there was more of a universal comfort with the practice of online sharing: We were now very used to telling our Facebook friends what we ate for breakfast, and by extension, we might as well tell the Quirky forum about our concept for a better egg-yolk extractor. Our notion of community, then, was evolving, and Kaufman — Mark Zuckerberg wrapped in a teddy-bear build, with the mischievous smile of your son or younger brother (depending on where you fell in Quirky’s wide-ranging age demographics) — was a relatable leader.

On the consumer end, seeing these ordinary tinkerers immortalized on the shelves of the Container Store (a big Quirky perk was that inventors’ names and faces appeared on their products’ packaging) was like watching the Spanx lady on QVC for the first time in the early aughts — a humble fax-machine salesperson from Clearwater, Florida, who just wanted to wear control-top pantyhose without the hose. Inventors were just like us! And now everybody could be the Spanx lady (albeit for only a tiny fraction of the profits), because unlike her, we didn’t have to side-hustle all alone. Next it could be my cousin in Westchester, who had four kids but no one to help her prototype her idea for a mother-baby bath towel. Next it could be my semi-retired father, who was in a private war with his never-shuts-properly pantry door and needed a constructive, supportive outlet for his aggression. Next it could be my friend Sarah, who was full of lightbulb moments — an Oreo-dunking robot claw, a universal key for all your locks — but was too stoned to sort through the mechanics by herself.

Quirky was catnip for the press: The Sundance Channel produced a short-lived reality show on the company in 2011. Kaufman appeared on Leno. This magazine featured it as a Boom Brand of 2013, noting, “It’s a pretty rare company that’s so hippieish — Let’s have everyone get a say! — yet so purely free-market.” The Times devoted several thousand words to a piece called “The Invention Mob, Brought to You by Quirky” just last February (by then its financially unsustainable business model had given way to a pivot — a smart-home subsidiary called Wink — that was too little too late).\

Another Times piece, from this past April, cited Quirky as a springboard for the realest of all Real People: older people. “There’s a boom in inventing by people over 50,” John Calvert, the executive director of the United Inventors Association, told the paper. And indeed, Quirky had plenty of them in its hive — like 59-year-old Lorin Ryle, a full-time caretaker for her dementia-stricken mother. When her clip-on baby monitor for the elderly won at Eval, she says she cried, watching from her Hutto, Texas, home. It never actually made it to development (in fact, only about half of the Eval winners ever do), but for Ryle that didn’t take away from the experience of “working with people to make something work,” she says. “I’ve made lifelong friends on there.” (Another Quirky boomer, Marc Rumaner, who came up with a nifty little wine-bottle anchor called Vine Stop, has even gone so far as to host barbecues for fellow community members in his Chicago area.)

Of course, the inmates didn’t always like running the asylum. There was much talk in the forums that the Eval system seemed too democratic. “I failed to see how any of us could know what a product scout from a company like GE or Mattel could know,” says one community member. And indeed, when you look at misfires like the Drift, a $200 wooden balance board that simulates snowboarding and surfing, or the $80 Egg Minder, an app-enabled egg tray that signals to your smartphone when you’re running low on eggs, it would appear that the company’s raison d’être was also the reason for its downfall, a colony of amateurs green-lighting unscalable solutions to nonexistent issues. Quirky brought more than 400 products to market in just six years.

Inside Quirky’s workshop.

Yet Kaufman points out that the community had much less say than all the high-pressure voting would suggest; the real decisions were made when the cameras stopped rolling and he and the actual experts did the math on a product’s marketability. (So, maybe not so much power to the people, after all.) But, he adds of Eval, “There had to be a thing to look forward to on a regular basis — otherwise how are you going to keep the community engaged?” Quirky steered the ship, you might say, but the community was still the North Star.

Steering the ship — handling all of the engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and retailing, even when you’re taking 90 percent of the subsequent profits — was ultimately too expensive of a proposition, especially in comparison to other, less-handholding-oriented start-ups. “The reason why Kickstarter makes a ton of money is they don’t have to do anything besides put up a website,” Kaufman notes. After that, the failure (and let’s face it, many Kickstarter-funded products go on to fail) is all on the individual. Which is not meant to be a dig, Kaufman clarifies. He won’t confirm his next venture but says, “I love Kickstarter.” And: “I will likely use it.”

NEW BUSINESS PROPOSAL – BRAINSTORM

Much of my morning will be spent writing up my proposal for a new business project and the functional and operational structure of the business itself. Or, to be more accurate, transcribing my formulation notes into a proper form for developing the body of the actual proposal.

Later today, in the afternoon, I’ll be devising much of the pitch, assessing the projected financials (it should be able to generate more than one income/revenue stream, and should be able to be funded in more than one way), and so forth.

By the end of the week I plan to present the idea to some potential partners and maybe even an investor or two.

I’m looking forward to this as it is an excellent idea and in a field/industry that interests me a great deal.

12 PROFITABLE DOCUMENTARIES

12 documentaries on Netflix that will make you smarter about business

Freakonomics documentaryScreenshot from Netflix“Freakonomics” looks at how economics explain what motivates people.

Here’s a quick and fun way to enrich your business knowledge: streaming documentaries on Netflix.

The online movie and TV service has a vast cache of business and tech documentaries that anyone with a subscription can watch instantly. The topics range from profiles of great tech innovators like Steve Jobs to deep dives into industrial design.

Each of these 12 documentaries offers an entertaining storyline, as well as valuable insights into business success.

Alison Griswold contributed to an earlier version of this article.


How lifelong dedication and obsession with quality can pay off

Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” profiles Jiro Ono, a Japanese sushi chef and restaurant owner who is widely revered for his skill and $300-a-plate dinners. It follows the 85-year-old master as he works with vendors to secure the finest ingredients, manages and mentors his staff, and prepares his son to succeed him when he retires. The movie brings viewers inside the dedication, obsession, and decades of hard work it takes to achieve perfection.

The best tricks to transform your life

The best tricks to transform your life

TED

TED Talks: Life Hacks” is a collection of 10 popular TED lectures that offer tips and insights for success in life and business. You’ll learn body-language secrets from Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy, research-backed productivity tricks from positive psychology expert Shawn Achor, and more.

How to stage a dramatic turnaround

How to stage a dramatic turnaround

Screenshot from Netflix

Inside: Lego,” a short 2014 film by Bloomberg, takes viewers inside one of the greatest turnaround stories in recent history. Lego, the Denmark-based toy maker, was in trouble in the early 2000s. It had overextended, lost its identity, and was bleeding money. After executing CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s strategy to refocus on the core business, Lego rebounded to become the world’s fastest-growing toy company.

How to adapt constantly to stay relevant

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” takes viewers deep inside the business of the late Joan Rivers. After following the comedian for a year, filmmakers reveal the highs and lows of Rivers’ decades-long quest to stay relevant. What does it take to get to the top and stay there? From meticulous organization systems to her willingness to take any job to make sure her staff got paid, the movie shows the fierce determination necessary for success.

How to make decisions under enormous pressure

Few people know pressure better than Hank Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and the US Secretary of the Treasury during the height of the financial crisis. “Hank: 5 Years from the Brink” explores the momentous task Paulson was handed in September 2008 — saving the global economy — and how he dealt with it.

The psychology behind great industrial design

The items you think the least about may have the most effective designs, according to the 2009 film “Objectified.” Take the Post-it note. Have you ever considered that someone put a lot of time into its appearance? The movie explores the unconscious but influential relationship we have with the objects around us, and why the smallest tweaks in design make an enormous difference.

How to rise to the top of an ultra-competitive industry

If you’ve ever thought about starting a restaurant, Danny Meyer knows a thing or two about success in the business. “The Restaurateur: How Does Danny Do It?” offers a behind-the-scenes look at Meyer, the New York City restaurateur and man behind Shake Shack and Gramercy Tavern. The movie shows how Meyer’s philosophy of putting great food first launched his career.

How early venture capitalists helped build American tech giants

Something Ventured” portrays some of the most successful and prolific venture capitalists, who through genius or luck made big early-stage bets on tech companies like Apple, Google, Atari, and Intel. For a crash course in venture capital or a modern business history lesson, this 2011 documentary shows how entrepreneurs partnered with investors to build some of the greatest American companies.

Behind the scenes of the business world’s biggest scandal

Behind the scenes of the business world's biggest scandal

Screenshot from Netflix

The 2005 documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” is a cautionary tale. It’s a deep dive into the fall of Enron, the energy company that was at one point valued at $70 billion but filed for bankruptcy in 2001. It’s become one of the most well-known cases of financial corruption and accounting fraud, and this film explores the psychology behind and fallout of the collapse of an empire.

Why showmanship and great marketing is just as important as the products you sell

Steve Jobs was one of the most revered entrepreneurs and designers of our time. In the PBS documentary “Steve Jobs: One Last Thing,” the filmmakers trace Jobs’ inspiring career and lasting legacy in technology and retail, as well as his legendary product presentations.

How Silicon Valley became a hub of innovation

How Silicon Valley became a hub of innovation

Screenshot from Netflix

The 2013 PBS documentary “American Experience: Silicon Valley” chronicles the beginning of the modern technology age. It follows a group of eight technologists who took a risk and decided to start their own company in 1957. It’s a telling look at the history of the Valley and the birth of a culture characterized by openness, innovation, and idealism.

How economics explain what motivates people

Why do people do the things they do? “Freakonomics,” a 2010 film based on the book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, explores the scientific and economic concepts behind human behavior. It will open your eyes to what motivates your customers, employees, and coworkers.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/netflix-business-documentaries-to-watch-instantly-2015-5?op=1#ixzz3bp4Fratp

THE BIOGRAPHY – BRAINSTORM

This exercise might be critical to your success

For inspiration, motivation, and amusing historical anecdotes about the lives of famous people, we turn to the biographies of others.

But according to Aliza Licht, SVP of global communications at Donna Karan International and author of “Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media,” there’s an essential biography that never makes the best-of lists — and it could be the most critical for your future success.

There’s just one caveat: you have to write it first.

A few years back, Licht needed a bio for something, and the process of writing it actually changed the way she saw herself. Now, it’s one of the exercises she recommends to everyone — and recent research suggests she might be onto something.

In one study from Stanford, married couples who wrote about conflicts in their relationship as though they were neutral observers showed “greater improvement in marital happiness” than couples who didn’t reflect in writing.

In a different study from Ohio State University, people were better able to perceive personal progress when they narrated embarrassing moments from their lives in third person.

In other words, the way we tell ourselves our stories matters — and Licht isn’t alone in thinking so.

Aliza LichtGerardo SomozaAliza Licht.

To be clear here, she’s not saying you should be writing a 300-page retrospective of your life and choices — at least for the purposes of this exercise — and she’s also not talking about a high-concept version your three sentence LinkedIn blurb. Imagine you’re a journalist writing a profile, Licht advises. It’s just that the subject of that profile happens to be you — and you’re the only one that needs to read it. (That’s why it’s a “biography” and not an “autobiography” — as much as possible, you want to be outside yourself.)

“It’s such a great lesson in self-reflection, and I think it can really help a person get outside of themselves for a minute.” In the book, she describes it as an “out of body experience,” key to taking stock of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and where you might be going.

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Write in the third person. Not only is it more effective — pretending you’re not yourself gives you something much closer to an outside perspective, she says — it’s also more comfortable. “It is so awkward to talk about ourselves,” Licht acknowledges. Switching from “I” to “she” can be freeing.

2. Be thorough. You contain multitudes (and so should your bio). Things to cover: education, career path, jobs and titles, hobbies and passions, talents and awards, affiliations (charities, societies, groups), personality, physical attributes, and family status. The total effect should be an “aerial view,” she tells Business Insider.

3. Read it back to yourself. Evaluate the person you’re reading about like you aren’t you. Do you like you? Would you hire you? Is the story you’re telling about yourself the same story someone could piece together by Googling you?  Is that the story you want told? The goal is to get an honest assessment to help you figure out what you’ve got — and what you might be missing.

“The best thing that can happen is you don’t like it,” Licht says. “Because if you don’t like it, you have the power to change it.” That’s why she thinks the exercise is especially critical for people who are “consistently getting the door shut on them when they apply to places.” If doors keep closing, then something isn’t working. The bio can help identify what that something is.

And if it feels a little unnatural? That’s fine, she says. “I don’t think it’s natural to constantly think ‘how am I doing? What do people think about me?'” Licht points out. But then, that’s the point. “You kind of have to make yourself sit down and do it.” The effort is worth it, she says.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-you-should-write-your-biography-2015-5#ixzz3bNyMY7xM

UNREMARKABLE MARKETING from THE BUSINESS, CAREER, AND WORK OF MAN

Marketing is no substitute for capability and talent, but then again capabilities unmarketed are capabilities unremarked upon, and talent unknown.

TESLA AND THE ENERGY MARKET

I still consider it somewhat ironic that this is the case considering the real Tesla’s personal work, motives, and desires regarding energy distribution. Still, it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Will Tesla’s Battery for Homes Change the Energy Market?

Tesla did not reveal the price of its larger batteries for businesses and utilities, but it will sell residential models for $3,000—$3,500

Credit: Tesla

More on this Topic

Tesla Motors, the electric-car maker based in Palo Alto, California, has announced that it will sell versions of its battery packs directly to consumers to help to power their homes, as well as to businesses that run larger facilities, and utility companies.

At a press conference in Los Angeles on April 30, the company’s charismatic founder Elon Musk said that the firm’s lithium-ion batteries would enable economies to move to low-carbon energy sources. Solar energy sources are erratic—but by storing their energy and then releasing it when required, batteries could solve that problem, he said.

Many other companies also sell stationary battery storage for buildings and for power grids—but analysts say that the technology is still too expensive for widespread use. Here, Nature explores whether Tesla’s announcement might change the game.

Has Tesla just invented a new battery technology?
No. The company’s packs contain standard lithium-ion batteries based on tried-and-tested technology, which are similar to those that many other firms have on the market.

Although companies and academic labs are pouring billions of dollars into research and development to significantly increase the amount of energy that batteries can store and to lower their cost, it could take years before significant breakthroughs reach the market (see ‘The rechargeable revolution: A better battery’).

Has Tesla managed to cut the cost of battery storage?
Possibly—but it’s unclear. Cosmin Laslau, an analyst for Lux Research, a consulting company in Boston, Massachusetts, says that he thinks Tesla’s batteries may be a bit cheaper than their competitors, although not by a lot.

Tesla did not reveal the price of its larger batteries for businesses and utilities, but it will sell residential models for US$3,000—3,500, or a cost of about $350 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy stored. But that price tag does not include electronics that are required for connecting a battery to a home system, nor installation costs. Together, these costs could more than double the final price for residential consumers.

The internal production cost of lithium-ion battery cells (the cylindrical elements that store energy inside a battery, and which Tesla buys from Japanese electronics giant Panasonic) is generally thought to be around $200 per kWh, according to Mohamed Alamgir, director of research at LG Chem Power in Troy, Michigan, a subsidiary of the South Korean chemistry giant LG Chem. Incorporating those cells into a battery pack typically doubles costs, so that a battery the size of Tesla’s could cost about $4,000 to produce. Tesla could be selling these products at a loss for the time being, says Laslau, but could turn that loss into a profit once it scales up production at the $5-billion battery ‘gigafactory’ it is building in Nevada.

Does a home need a battery?
Most homes in the Western world probably do not. In places that have a good connection to the electricity grid, and where grid power is reliable, households do not need batteries for backup. And even those homes that have solar panels on the roof and extra energy to spare can use the grid itself as their battery: in many places, such as Germany and several US states, homeowners can sell their excess power during the day to the local electricity utility, and buy it back at night.

But the world’s electricity utilities and power grids themselves need more inexpensive energy storage. Countries that have been aggressively installing solar panels and wind turbines but that have not invested enough in energy storage have had trouble integrating the extra capacity into their grids. Germany, for example, has provided lavish subsidies for homeowners who installed solar panels, but when residents installed more photovoltaics than expected, electricity utilities had to spend more to keep the grid running smoothly, says Haresh Kamath, an energy-storage expert at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto. “The effects of unplanned deployment can be dangerous in terms of grid reliability,” he says.

Could today’s lithium-ion batteries meet utility firms’ needs?
When utilities need to manage loads on the grid, it is still cheaper for them to fire up gas turbines. The US Department of Energy estimates that for energy storage to be competitive, it must not cost much more than $150 per kWh. Assuming a cost of $700 per kWh, Tesla’s systems are still much more expensive than that. Right now, the cheapest way to store energy is to pump it uphill into a hydropower reservoir—where one is available. The next-best storage solution is to compress air in large underground reservoirs.

But even if they cannot economically store hours’ worth of a country’s energy needs, batteries can help to make the grid more reliable. And the US energy department’s target does not take into account the social costs of carbon emissions, says Jeff Dahn, a battery researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. “If there was an appropriate price associated with the generation of carbon, we’d all be using solar panels and paying whatever it costs to store electricity,” he says.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on May 1, 2015.

BLOGGING AND BRANDING – BRAINSTORM

Start Blogging, Start a Business, and Build an Authentic Brand

Bestselling author and successful entrepreneur Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere on building a thriving business.
IMAGE: Getty Images

Some months ago I published a post about commonly misused words. Several hundred thousand people read it, so it was reasonably popular, but as with most posts, in time the views slowed.

Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, tens of thousands of people read it.

I did a little digging and learned that all those readers came from one small link in a post called “Links I Love” on the fashion, food, and lifestyle inspiration blog Cupcakes and Cashmere. That’s far and away the most readers an external link has generated for one of my posts, including tweets from people with millions of Twitter followers.

So I did a little more digging and learned that Emily Schuman has done what countless other people have not been able to do: start a blog, create outstanding content with a unique voice and an authentic point of view, build a large and vibrant community, and turn that blog into a successful business. She’s partnered with retail brands, written a bestselling book, Cupcakes and Cashmere: A Guide for Defining Your Style, Reinventing Your Space, and Entertaining with Ease, will release her second book, Cupcakes and Cashmere at Home, this May, and later this summer will launch a line of products.

So I asked Emily how she did–and does–it.

Tell me where the idea came from, what you were doing at the time, what your hopes were.

I started my blog in 2008 as a purely creative endeavor. I was working in online ad sales at the time, which was a good job, but didn’t provide any sort of outlet for creativity or cover any of my passions, which are fashion, food, beauty and home decor.

I didn’t have any specific goals or ambitions, other than to document ideas and create simple content that I enjoyed and perhaps a handful of others would appreciate. Over the first six months I noticed a slight increase in traffic, which led me to think I might be able to earn a little extra income to supplement my normal salary.

Early on, what challenges did you face and what mistakes did you make?

One of the biggest challenges I faced early on was trying to do everything by myself, rather than delegating or working with other skilled people. I’m not tech savvy, so when my site would crash or I wanted to add a new feature I would spend hours looking up tutorials and sloppily coding pieces into the backend of my site… which would often make things worse.

I eventually turned to people (specifically my then boyfriend, now husband) to help find support for the growing site. Thankfully he worked in the digital media space and called in a few favors, but I definitely learned you can’t build or run a successful enterprise singlehandedly.

How did you differentiate yourself in such crowded space?

One advantage I have is longevity. I started my site when blogging (specifically fashion/lifestyle) was still a nascent area of media, so the fact that I’ve been doing it for over seven years has provided a little bit of legitimacy. I’ve also evolved over time, so rather than focusing on the same content I’ve tried to diversify and expand on the categories I cover.

A lot of the readers have grown up with me, so there is a very personal connection we share and they relate to a lot of the experiences I’ve showcased (like getting married, buying a home, having a baby) that provide a more authentic experience than simply sharing pretty photographs.

Lastly, consistency is key. I haven’t missed a post in seven years, so readers know there will be something new each morning… and I’ve heard from a lot of them that they love starting their day with a cup of coffee and reading the latest post.

Tell me about your overall theme, “aspirational meets attainable.” Intuitively I get it, but I would think striking that balance is tough.

This has been the core idea of the site since day one primarily because I wasn’t making a lot of money–so my goal was to create a lifestyle that felt elevated without draining my bank account. (A lot of this stemmed from my experience at Teen Vogue where I was exposed to a mix of amazing designers and media that was semi-relatable but simply out of reach.)

As my business has grown and I’ve been lucky enough to increase my income, I’ve worked hard to maintain the tenets of the “attainable” tone, primarily through the data we’ve collected. We know the price points readers respond to, we know the retailers they prefer… so while not every piece of content will resonate, we make sure most of what we put out is in line with what people expect to see and makes them feel comfortable.

There are a lot of blogs that suddenly change their tone or content once they begin to grow, but I feel a big part of my long-term success is built on knowing the audience and not straying from the core messaging.

How do you decide on your topic mix? You have food, clothing, household items, career advice, fashion…

Every topic is based on something I’m passionate about, but we also have a set editorial calendar to make planning easier. This has evolved and been refined over the years, based on audience response, but we look at it kind of like TV programming (i.e. Monday = Fashion & Decor, Tuesday = Food & DIY, etc.)

I think consistency and knowing what to expect on a certain day gives the audience a sense of comfort.

You make your living with your blog, which means partnerships and advertising. A great offer from a potential advertiser has to be tempting, even if it isn’t great for your brand or your audience. It’s always tough to turn away revenue.

As with many bloggers in this category I receive dozens of advertising opportunities each week, almost all of which I don’t accept.

However, the advertisers I do work with are a natural fit for the content we’re producing; you wouldn’t see me driving a Hummer in a post.

That’s not one of the advertisers I’ve turned down, but I have had offers from companies who clearly have never read my blog and have offered a lot of money to integrate a product into the site, regardless of whether their audience was even remotely aligned aligned.

You get dozens and often hundreds of comments on every post. Why do you think your audience is so engaged?

I don’t mean to sound redundant, but consistency and authenticity are the key elements to building an engaged audience.

The readers have built an emotional connection with the site and ultimately they look at it as more than just some text and words. I’ve had people approach me on the street and say, “You’re Cupcakes and Cashmere,” rather than calling me by my name, so there is sometimes a disconnect between the brand and myself… but either way, the connection is real and they relate to what I’m creating.

You’ve published one bestselling book and have another book in the works. How have you leveraged your online presence to offline products and ventures? And do you have a longer-term strategy?

My second book, Cupcakes and Cashmere at Home, comes out on May 19 and I can’t wait to share some of my favorite interior design and entertaining tips.

I’ve been working with a licensing agent for the past two years to explore and expand retail opportunities with the brand and we’re actually launching a new product line this summer. I can’t say more about it yet but it is within one of the main categories I cover on the site. We’ve locked in two large retail partners (one is brick/mortar online, one purely e-comm) and we’ve been in the process of developing two other product lines within another category.

The long-term goal is to establish a successful line of branded products that benefit from the blog but are a stand-alone business.

Say I meet you in an airport lounge, find out what you do, and say, “I’ve always wanted to start a site on (my passion.) Any quick tips you’d give me, and common mistakes to avoid?

Tips:

  • Be patient with your goals since success will most likely come slowly, if at all.
  • If you’re creating original content, be prepared for it to consume a lot of your time.
  • For areas that you’re not skilled in, find great collaborators.
  • Get a basic understanding of the digital media landscape. Learn about analytics, do some research on advertising, and be able to speak about your audience value.
  • Be authentic and learn to differentiate yourself. Most likely the category you’ll cover is overly saturated with content, so you need to find a way to make your work stand out.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Sacrificing quality over quantity. Your audience will be built on trust and the entertainment value you provide. If your quality slips, so will they.
  • Taking every offer that comes your way. At first it’s very tempting to accept offers from an advertiser, but ultimately, it degrades your credibility if you become an advocate for anyone willing to pay you. Be selective.

THE PIIN – BUSINESS OF BUSINESS

This is part of the Abstract and Introduction I wrote for a paper for the DHS on PIINs, a concept of my own. I am writing a much lengthier essay/paper (perhaps even a small book) on the same subject which will include information on how to form PIINs of various kinds and in different industries using the same basic techniques and procedures and networks.

I use these same principles in the development of all of my PIINs regardless or industry or purpose. Although each PIIN is modified to service the particular requirements of how it is constructed and what exact purpose it serves.

Although this is a little out of order for my publishing schedule I offer this post up as my Business of Business post this week.

 

First of all, let me summarize the nature of the PIIN. The Personal (or Private) Intelligence and Investigative Network, like all networks is almost entirely dependent upon a series of established contact points. This is both the strength of the PIIN and the inherent weakness thereof. Therefore it is imperative that high-quality and functionally useful, as well as accurate and practical contact points be created, assessed and reassessed, and maintained over time. This is true whether the contact point is physical, biological, communicative, informational, electronic, technological, or computational. Every asset is a tool and the quality and functionality of those tools are the essential elements in the creation, maintenance, and performance of your PIIN. The Value of any Network is circumscribed by the acute and chronic qualities of those components, which within themselves compose the actual circumference, and separate elements of that real network. If the components of the network are of inferior grade, if the contacts are defectively impositional or of little practical use, or if the contact points are weak or insecure then the entire network is suspect and prone to failure at any and every point of transmission. The PIIN therefore should avoid both obvious and subtle deficits at all times by being practically and pragmatically useful, flexible, adaptable, in a state of constant positive growth and change, accessible, composed of superior components and contact points, secure, and most of all accurate and reliable.

Each and every network is therefore dependent upon the depth and breadth of the human contacts established interior to and exterior to that particular network and subject to the limitations of accuracy and the quality and quantity of valuable information that network can generate. The first real action needed to establish any PIIN and to make it fully functional is the recruitment, development, and maintenance of quality contacts. Contacts are always of the most absolute importance in the establishment of any PIIN. In addition the nature and quality of those contacts should be viewed as central and formative to the capabilities of every other contact point in the configuration and to the network as a whole. After an initial establishment of contacts those contacts should be immediately vetted and/or tested for accuracy and quality. This process of discrimination should be both an immediate tactical and testable undertaking and a long-term strategic process of recurring verification and reverification. Do not expect any particular source to be always accurate, but do not allow any particular source to function in an important role unless it has proven itself capable of both consistent reliability and trustworthiness.

After establishing a few reliable and trustworthy contact points the network must grow in order to gain new sources of information and intelligence as well as to develop and generate new capabilities. Therefore always view already established contacts and contact points as generators of new contacts, informants, intelligence and perhaps even secondary and tertiary networks, or sub-networks. Consider as well every potentially useful new contact or acquaintance as a possible future contact point in your greater network. Contact points should also be capable of redundancy and potential verification of information and intelligence gathered from other points along the nexus and for information gathered from sources outside the network. This is to say that contact points are more than simple sources of information; they will also function as multi-capable nodes along the operational structure of the entire network. I will expound upon the importance of and briefly discuss some of the details regarding contact points later in this paper. For now it is important to remember that contacts and sources provide information and possibly intelligence, but contact points can potentially serve many varied functions, such as; information retrieval, intelligence gathering, analysis, communications, coding, encryption, decoding/decryption, collation, research, as reliable and secure relay points, as information nodes, computational capabilities, disinformation and misinformation dissemination, and even serve as a sort of network disguise, and misdirectional cover or front.

Constantly look for, search out and develop new contacts, contact points, information and intelligence sources, and informants in order to successfully grow your network. Your network’s ultimate effectiveness will depend upon both the quality and quantity of your contacts, contact points, and your contact’s network. In the initial stages of building and developing your network concentrate on the quality of your contacts and contact points, but in the larger and long term concentrate upon both the quality and quantity of those contacts and contact points which comprise the elements of your network. Always develop and maintain quality to the greatest degree possible within all elements of your network, but also always grow and encourage quantity in the most consistent manner possible throughout all aspects of your network. This will assure that your network has both great depth and breadth and that it is capable of the widest and most valuable range of flexible and functional capacities possible.

It does not matter what the major focus of your network is, what it is most well designed to do, what it in actuality best does, or what the functional intent(s) or objective(s) may be, this introductory advice applies equally well to any possible network you might desire to establish in any field of activity or enterprise. The PIIN is a potentially invaluable tool for both the amateur and professional alike, for both citizen and official agent, and no matter the function or objective, the real capabilities of any established PIIN will be determined by the inventiveness, innovation, flexibility, enterprise, imagination and quality of the component parts of the network. And those component parts are composed and arranged by the originator of the network, that individual who is responsible for first establishing the nature and parameters of the own individual PIIN. The originator therefore will establish the genesis of the network and how well it grows and develops in the initial stages, but as the network grows it will develop capabilities never earlier imagined by the originator and will eventually become functional in an almost independent sense, as long as quality contacts and sources are developed and as long as those contacts and sources continue to grow and establish new capabilities and contacts of their own. A PIIN begins therefore as an idea and individual construct but over time develops into an almost biological organization of vast complexity and capacity. Drawing upon the collective skills and capabilities of the PIIN for whatever is desired or needed makes the PIIN a worthwhile and profitable venture for all individuals associated with that network, and because of the potential for continued and even exponential growth the PIIN is an extremely advantageous system of achieving complex objectives rapidly and of multiplying capabilities well beyond the individual level.

Because of the limitations of space regarding this essay I cannot describe all of the potential advantages that would possibly be gained by the formation of individual PIINs, either those advantages that would be enjoyed by agents or officers in the service of some official organization, or those advantages that would be enjoyed by citizens who have formed and are employing their own personal PIIN. But the potential advantages would be numerous, and such networks could beneficially overlap, inform, and service each other in times of national emergency or crisis. More importantly, if such networks were allowed to “cluster” and interact/interface in an efficient, secure, and positive manner then they would serve as invaluable intelligence gathering and investigative tools for the anticipation of disaster and the effective prevention and thwarting of many forms of malicious harm intended by the enemies of the United States.

As just one small example of how PIINs would make highly effective and useful tools for the benefit of both the citizenry and the government let me outline this scenario. A hostile entity decides upon a coordinated and simultaneous cyber-attack against both the American civil government and the Pentagon. These attacks overwhelm official servers who are the obvious targets of offensive action. During such periods of particular and isolated cyber attack against governmental and/or military networks, or even during periods of general and on-going netcentric engagement or warfare the PIIN can act as an emergency secondary or redundancy system of information and communications exchange, intelligence gathering, an investigative force as to who is attacking, why, from where, and how, and for coordinating a necessary and effective counteraction or response. While main systems are under attack, disabled, or malfunctioning PIINs can serve as ancillary and even secretive means of continuing vital operations or responding to attack. It is relatively easy to attack and at least temporarily paralyze large-scale and centralized networks efficiently given the proper time, coordination, planning, resources, incentives, and information on system vulnerabilities, but it would be nearly impossible to simultaneously disable all small-scale private and personal networks. PIINs are the private enterprise of innovative intelligence and investigative networks.

Other examples of the potential usefulness of the PIIN are easy enough to construct, such as creating and fostering “bridging links” between individual citizens, law enforcement agencies, governmental entities, and the military. PIINs can also be used as investigative networks and resources, as research hubs, as communication nodes, as a pool of expertise (both amateur and professional), as an emergency system of collective and clustered capability, as a functional and ever growing database of information, as an ancillary or auxiliary analytical network, and as an exchange for valuable contacts, sources, and useful informants. Perhaps just as important to the overall value-added aspect of the usefulness of the PIIN is the fact that most PIINs can be constructed at little to no cost using already available personal, technological, and organizational resources. It is simply a matter of redirecting already available resources to the construction and maintenance of the PIIN, or of simply reformatting the way in which contemporary networks are thought of and how they currently operate, or fail to operate, effectively.

The next administration would do very well to consider encouraging the development of Private and Personal Intelligence and Investigative Networks throughout our society, and to encouraging the exploitation of such networks for the benefit of all the citizens of the United States of America.

 

 

CREATION AND DISCOVERY – INVENTION AND INVESTMENT

A very interesting perspective and one I agree with to a large extent. Actually I think one should set out to create a Brand – with a certain type of Vision, and adapt accordingly as one meets particular circumstances in and through the world. (Which is basically what he says later in the article.)

In other words one begins with a Vision and then discovers and develops as one goes along. It is not either/or, but both…

 

You Don’t Create Your Company’s Brand — You Discover It.
Matt Hanses

Contributor
Writer & Consultant

April 15, 2015

Over $500 billion is spent on advertising each year. The average American is exposed to an estimated 3,000 ads per day. Fifteen minutes out of every hour of television programming is devoted to commercials.

Branding: 2 Key Lessons in Brand Building

That’s a lot of marketing. And a lot of marketers. With six million companies in the United States alone, that’s a lot of people competing to get their message out. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you get noticed?

This is where branding comes in.
What is branding?

Branding is the art of distinguishing a product or service from its competitors. It’s the term for creating a recognizable “personality” which people will remember and react to.

A company with poor branding is throwing away marketing dollars. Why? Because without a focused message, companies weak in branding are invisible. Nobody remembers them and they blend in. They become just another leaf swirling in the wind, amid all those marketing messages consumers see each day.

In marketing, the point is to actually reach someone, to connect. The way to do this is by focusing attention, not dispersing it.
Discovering your brand

Too often, people try to “dream up” a brand for their company. However, a brand isn’t something you dream up — it’s something you discover. Specifically, it’s something you have to discover about yourself.

True branding must be based solely on the mission and culture of the organization. When people try to create branding separate from the company itself, the result may be pretentious, clichéd or ambiguous marketing. It waters down the company’s message.

Instead, a brand should reflect the company’s business plan, its mission and values. It has to be authentic. Therefore, when you brand a company (or anything else for that matter), you’re trying to capture its core identity. You have to look past the clutter and opinion and distill its true essence. This is what you convey to consumers — your brand. And your fonts, your design, your writing — all aspects of your marketing — should all align with that central concept. Now, you have focus. Now, you have penetration, because you’ve conveyed your company’s identity by first discovering yourself.

Related: The Basics of Branding
The ingredients of a brand

While there is probably no foolproof formula for discovering a company’s brand, there are pathways to accomplish that. Consider the following points the “ingredients” that go into making an authentic brand:

Company mission. This is the most important element of branding. Your mission is the spirit of your company, it’s the beating heart of what you do. In fact, your brand can be thought of as the outward expression of your company’s internal mission. Think of it this way: Why does your organization exist? What is it there for? You have assets, employees, vendors, relationships and internal systems. . . but why?
Values. What’s important to your company? What do you stand for? Every company has certain ideals that define what it is and does. These ideals could be environmental, social or ethical or could be standards of quality Whatever your company’s values are, they’re the very center of why you’re unique and are a crucial part of your brand.
Culture. Each company in the world has its own ethos — a particular style or panache. Whatever you call yours, embrace it. There may be a million competitors in your market space, but there’s only one you. Your company’s group culture is part of the fabric of who you are.
History. Your history tells a lot about you. Look to the company’s founders to help define your identity today. What were their values? What were they trying to accomplish? Every company came from somewhere. Your roots are an integral part of your company’s brand.
Plans. When you look at your next 10 years, where do you see yourself going? Your business plan and marketing strategy both influence how you present yourself and should be included in your branding. If you’re going after an entry-level market segment, don’t position yourself as a luxury brand. Your brand must encompass your real-world objectives.
Consumers. This is really what it’s all about. Your customers are the reason you exist. What are their needs? What do they think? Understanding your customers is a vital part of branding. Because if you don’t know whom you’re talking to, why bother to say anything at all?

It might take a bit of soul-searching to get at the essence of what makes your company special. The trick is to take a clear-eyed look and see what’s actually there. Because every brand is beautiful, every brand is inspiring.

Each just has to be discovered.

 

UNFINISHED PROJECTS

Had a superb idea for a new on-line business venture (start-up) called Unfinished Projects. I’m going to be approaching some potential partners with the idea later this week.

At this point I am merely creating the design sketches and outline for the business, but in a relatively short period of time I could easily develop both business and operating plans.

SHEDQUARTERS

I think this is an absolutely superb idea, especially for small businesses. I wish I had thought of this product.

Introducing “Shedquarters”: The Hot New Trend Home-Based Business Owners Are Drooling Over

lighterside-staff-authorBy Lighter Side Staff  |  Read More
 

Space-efficient work spaces are becoming all the rage these days. They’re great for maintaining privacy and uninterrupted workflow, and they can also be cozy and stylish as well. Here are some examples of a growing trend of miniature studios (for offices and living structures), that are small enough to fit in someone’s back yard.

We’re fond of calling them, shedquarters. Whether you need your own getaway space, an office, an art studio, or a full on extra home, there’s something for everyone out there!

Kanga Room: Based out of Austin, Texas, Kanga Room has backyard studios in three styles: modern, country cottage, and bungalow. The basic package is an 8×8-foot shed that starts around $5,900 and you can add on a bathroom, kitchenette, and front porch for additional cost.

Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy

Modern Shed: This Seattle-based company was founded by husband and wife, Ryan Grey Smith and Ahna Holder. They create flat-packed prefab structures. Basic 8×10 sheds start at $6,900.

Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy

Weehouse by Alchemy Architects: The Weehouse Studio was designed by Minnesota’s Alchemy Architects. They start at 435 square feet, and include a main room and bathroom. It can be used as either a home office, guest house, or even a main residence.

Via Apartment Therapy

KitHaus: The KitHause was designed by Tom Sandonato and Martin Wehmann. It is a modular site-constructed prefab housing system. The K-Pod is the starting model and measures 117 square feet. They also have larger models.

Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy

Modern Spaces: “Forts for grown-ups!” Yep, that’s how they describe them. These come in four pretty boxy styles. A fully installed shed with a foundation and finished exterior starts at $6,000. On-site installation is currently only available to California residents.

Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy

Loftcube: Werner Aisslinger designed these sheds to make the extra space on top of city skyscrapers more productive. He was able to fit a kitchen and bathroom within these 400 square foot glass-walled studios.

Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy

Modern Cabana: The sheds from this San Francisco company start at 10×12 feet, but they have full studios with kitchens and baths. The basic model is perfect for a backyard office, with its sliding door.

Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy
Via Apartment Therapy

Metroshed: The MetroShed, by David Ballinger, is a prefab, flat-packed model that starts around $6,000. This a simple design is made of a cedar wood beam post frame with aluminum-frame sliding doors, and comes in 9×13 feet or larger.

Via Metro Prefab
Via Metro Prefab

Related article: ‘Pub-Sheds’ Quickly Becoming Hot Trend in Backyard Entertainment

THE 20/88 PLAN

THE 20/88 PLAN

Today is the first official day of my Spring Offensive. I had planned to begin yesterday but a back injury prevented my proceeding.

In conjunction with my Spring Offensive I have developed a new Operational Plan for further building both my Businesses (including my inventions) and Careers (as a fiction writer, songwriter, and poet).

The new plan is what I call the 20/88 Plan.

It covers most all of my efforts during my current Spring Offensive. It is very simple in construction and should be simple in execution, though it might also possibly be somewhat time-consuming in execution, at least to an extent, depending on how events actually transpire.

I developed this plan as a result of my experience as a Contacts Broker and a Consultant. Basically it says this,

“Every month I will submit to 20 potential Agents or Contacts who will be able to help me achieve my ambitions. At the same time I will seek 8 Partners to work with me on various projects.”

Since I am basically pursuing Four Basic Fields of Endeavor, or Four Separate Types of Enterprises for my Spring Offensive that will equal twenty agents, new clients, etc. in each field, and two partners for each enterprise.

Four times twenty in each Field of Endeavor equals 80, plus the overall eight partners (two in each Enterprise) equals eight, and added all together equals 88.

Therefore 20 in each Field plus 8 partners equals 88.

If in the first month I fail to secure at least one agent or client or so forth in any given Field of Endeavour or at least one partner in any given Enterprise then I will just move on to the next list of 20 or 2 that I have prepared until I secure worthwhile, productive, and profitable agents or partners.

These are the actual details of my Current 20/88 Plan.

General Fields of Endeavor:

20 Agents Contacted (for my Writings)

20 Publishers Contacted (for my Poetry, Songs, and Writings)

20 New Clients Contacted (for my Business Enterprises and for Open Door)

20 Capital Partners and Investors Contacted (for my Business Enterprises, my Crowdfunding Projects, and my Design and Inventions Laboratory)

Enterprise Partners:

2 Songwriting Partners (composers primarily, since I am primarily a lyricist)

2 Publishing Partners (for my books and writings)

2 Business Partners

2 Major Capital or Investment Partners

THE NEW MARKETS ARE THE OLD MARKETS

At this point in my Business Career I am moving more and more back into the fields of Brokerage, primary Contacts Brokering, and Consulting.

Yes, I will still engage in Business and Copy Writing, especially as regards producing my own books and works. I will also still occasionally engage in Business and Copy Writing for some clients, old and new, if the project is interesting and profitable enough.

But more and more lately I feel myself being drawn back into the worlds of Brokerage and Consulting. The same for my company, Open Door.

So my new business emphases will lean more and more heavily towards Contacts Brokerage and towards Consulting, specifically with an aim towards Strategic Business Planning and Growth and Development.

Those will once again be my primary Business Markets.

In addition I will still be pursuing my Careers as an inventor, a fiction writer, and a songwriter.

Contact me if you are interested in pursuing projects of this type.

WORDPRESS AND THE SELF-CREATED CLASSIC EDITOR FIASCO

As many of you WordPress Users know by now WordPress has reduced their Classic Editor to an extremely hard to get locate set of complicated linkage maneuvers and basically replaced it with an extremely inferior “new” post editor. This has frustrated and outraged many WordPress Users, and with very good reason, especially since the problem was entirely self-created and would be extremely easy to resolve had WordPress either the foresight or the desire to do so.

But to me this points to any even bigger set of current problems in and with WordPress, those being: their total lack of response to user complaints both with the new editor and with a desire to return to easy access to the Classic Editor (and believe me it’s called Classic for a reason, they seem to be entirely missing their own definitional admissions), their willful attempt to avoid problem-solving (when this would be an extremely easy problem to resolve), and their apparent reliance upon an attempt to woo millennial and younger customers with hipster-huckstering tricks like a slick-looking and streamlined yet vastly inferior posting editor.

None of these things bode well at all for the WordPress Business Model.

WordPress is publicly displaying exactly how you do not run a business. Recently though, in an attempt to persuade WordPress to fully understand the type of business suicide they are committing by pursuing this entirely unnecessary course of action I have been participating in this thread and forum:

https://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/please-reinstate-the-option-of-choice-to-use-the-old-publishing-format?replies=692

If you too are bothered by the inferior nature of the new editor and would like to to see a return to easy user access of the Classic Editor then let your opinion be known.

Here was my first reply to this entirely self-created and easy to resolve fiasco:

For God’s sake this would be so easy to correct. A single line of code that allowed the user to choose by which method and editor he would like to make his or her post.

If this were the marketplace, or a business, the idea of imposing upon your customer, client, or user a choice they find distasteful, inefficient, and functionless would be suicide. And the idea of making your customer, client, or user wade through a large number of entirely pointless steps to correct a “problem” that should have never existed in the first place is utterly ridiculous and juvenile.

There is a certain distasteful arrogance to the modern Geek that borders on a desire to be a petty tyrant. Look ma, I’m powerful! Technology – BOOM!

This is simply a programmer or group of programmers with a month-long hard bone to gnaw, doesn’t matter whether it is infected and full of maggots or not. It’s his to gnaw and tough luck everybody else, get your own maggot-filled bone to gnaw.

In the time it took some code-writer or technician or board-monitor to read this complaint (or any of the other complaints on this easy to resolve matter) some clever code-writer could have devised a simple line of code to install at the top of the editor that allows the user to choose “Classic Editor” as their editor of choice. As a matter of fact a clever or smart code writer who cared about the end-user would do that very thing. Immediately.

Case closed.

This ain’t rocket-science boys and girls.

This is mere psychological and professional pettiness to make a juvenile point.

Bravo Einsteins. Technology – BOOM!!!

 

QUANTUM RECHARGING AND SPIN ALIGNMENT

I was charging my cell phone just now when I was struck with a great idea regarding the eventual miniaturization of things like quantum computing.

A charger and switch filter which doesn’t just charge your phone but does things likes control the flow of electrons so tightly that you can even arrange how the spins align on the battery or circuits to achieve things like spintronically aligned quantum computing and the room temperature mimicry of superconductivity.

Functions might be practically unlimited based on exactly how we could devise and design the actual control elements.

SHARING CONTENT – THE MARKETS

My opinion is that it depends entirely upon the methodologies you employ and the sites you target. As is the case with most anything you do in life.

Is Reposting Blog Content On LinkedIn Pulse, Medium, and Other Sites a Good Idea?

Is Reposting Blog Content a Good Idea

I’ve been questioning recently whether publishing to sites like LinkedIn Pulse and Medium is worth my time and effort.

While the benefit seems obvious (more eyeballs on your content) there’s a big cost—the precious time it takes to create content.

Compared to guest posting on other sites, LinkedIn and Medium use “no follow” links so there’s no link building SEO benefit. The benefit is purely exposure, awareness, and branding. And those are fleeting benefits, unlike the long-term benefits of creating content on your own site.

So what about reposting blog content? It would certainly be more time efficient, but are there drawbacks to that?

When I saw this post on Quicksprout confirming that you shouldn’t repost your content, I shelved the idea. My time would be better spent on guest posting where I could also increase exposure and get links back to my site.

But then I saw Andy Crestodina (one of my favorite bloggers) post the same article I had already read on his blog.

I never walk away from reading his posts without learning something new. So I had to get his take. I was confident he’d have the answers to my burning questions. And he did.

Below is an interview I did with Andy to pick his brain on the pros and cons of reposting blog content.

Chime in to the comments if you have any of your own questions.

Q: What are the benefits of reposting your blog content (verbatim) on sites like LinkedIn, Medium, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, etc?

Andy:

Reach. The idea behind copying and pasting an article into another location is simply to make it more visible to a broader audience. It’s a brand builder and it works. But there are a lot of things that it doesn’t do…

  • Drive traffic to your site (well, it might send a few referral visits if you have internal links
  • Help with your search engine rankings (Google knows that this is the same article you already posted)

So if your goal is branding, but not traffic, the benefits are real.

Q: Ok, we can’t expect it to help our organic traffic, but can it hurt it? In other words, is it bad for SEO to repost an exact replica of your blog content elsewhere?

Andy:

It’s duplicate content, but I actually don’t think it will hurt your search rankings. It’s only a problem if the two versions go live at almost the same time. You want to have the original version on your site to be live for a few days or a week before posting it someplace else. This let’s Google know where the original is and avoids confusion.

Although “duplicate content” is a fairly new buzzword, it’s something that Google has been dealing with since the beginning. Trust me. They don’t get confused easily and I have seen VERY few examples of actual penalties. It’s not that easy to raise flags at Google.

Still, it’s a bit lazy to just hit ctrl+c and ctrl+v. It’s far better to add value and give the article a rewrite. One great way to do this is to write the “evil twin” of the original article. This was one of the tips in our recent What to Blog About article. Here’s how it works.

If the original post on your site was a how to post listing best practices, you can easily write it from the other perspective, explaining what not to do, or worst practices. Although the research and recommendations are almost the same, it will feel original.

Suppose you’re a dog trainer, writing a post about puppies. Here’s an example of a how-to original post, and an “evil twin” that could be posted elsewhere. Same article, different angle.

Evil twin posts help you avoid duplicate content when reposting blog content

The more effort you put in, the more ethical and effective it is.

Q: What if your article on LinkedIn, Forbes, or wherever starts getting a bunch of inbound links and social media buzz. Wouldn’t that be selling yourself short if the larger publication you republished on starts getting all the link juice and social shares instead of your original post?

Andy:

Yes, it would.

It would be a sad thing if the copied version got all the links and shares. But if this happens, don’t feel too bad about it. You already tried posting it on your site and it didn’t win those links, so you really didn’t lose anything. And hopefully, some of the sharing led to a social media benefit for you. Remember, this is more about branding and awareness than measurable Analytics.

If you want to get value from the social media buzz, put the URL into Topsy, see which influential people shared it and go thank them. Since they liked your article, they’re likely to be gracious and follow you back.

Q: Do you think it’s a good idea to republish all of your blog posts, or just a select few? When should you not republish your blog posts on other sites?

Andy:

It doesn’t hurt to republish them all, as long as everything is published in a place where the topic matches the audience. For example, articles with broad-based business advice are good for LinkedIn. Articles with narrow niche topics may do well on Medium.

Don’t just push everything out everywhere. Make it fit. As always, web marketing is a test of empathy.

Q: How do you go about getting your content republished on publications like Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur? I believe LinkedIn and Medium are self-service type of platforms? For the larger publications, what’s the best way to get your foot in the door?

Andy:

There is a two word answer to this question: influencer marketing. There are specific people who have control over the content on these websites. They will post your content (new or old) when they decide they like it and they trust you. So the trick is to impress them with your work and your character.

There are a hundred little steps that lead to these outcomes. First, you’ll need to have a nice body of work on your own site so that once you do get their attention, they’ll take a look at your content and be impressed. Now, we just need to get them to notice us.

Here are a hundred steps that you can take on the path toward getting the attention of a blog editor using social media. It really helps if you’ve taken the time to build up a credible following of your own. Each of these makes you slightly more visible. Some of these make them a bit grateful. They are all about networking and relationship building.

ProTip: This influencer marketing tactic works just as well for journalists, podcasters, event directors and any other influencer who makes content and has an audience they can share with you.

  1. Follow the editor on Twitter
  2. Retweet the editor
  3. Subscribe to their content
  4. Mention them in a Tweet
  5. Follow them on Quora, Instagram or other social network
  6. Comment on their content
  7. Like their comments (Google+, LiveFyre, Disqus)
  8. Add them to a Google+ Circle
  9. Friend on Facebook
  10. Like their content on Facebook
  11. Connect with them on LinkedIn
  12. Mention them in your content
  13. Email them, inviting them to a quick video chat
  14. Invite them to participate in an email interview for your website (this tactic is highly effective!)
  15. Call them on the phone, Skype or Google+ Hangout
  16. Meet in person if possible!

Once you’ve built a real connection, it’s time to pitch. Send them a concise, sensitive email that positions your article in a way that aligns with the goals of their readers. Remember, blog editors care most about the interests of their readers. If that’s also your top concern, the pitch should go well…

Kim:

Thanks Andy! The verdict is finally in. I’ll try reposting blog content on LinkedIn, starting with this post 🙂

Readers…Any more questions out there for Andy?

HARMONIZING BUSINESS AND CAREER – THE MARKETS

An interesting article.

But this is exactly why I have harmonized my Business (as a non-fiction writer and copywriter and inventor) enterprises and my Career (as a fiction writer and designer) ventures.

By having my Business and Careers complimenting each other I avoid the “I hate this job syndrome” (actually I very much enjoy everything I do) and I expect this will inevitably advance and accelerate both my Business and Career successes.

Whereas both sets of markets may by separate by nature, and operate differently to some degree, both are complimentary and entirely cross-fertilizing in the long run.

Vonnegut Sold Saabs: 11 Author Day Jobs

Gabe Habash — August 5th, 2011


We all have that same romanticized image of The Writer: sitting alone, hunched over his/her desk, pen in hand, thinking deeply about Writing before putting the pen to the page and Writing. But, unfortunately, doing this for long stretches of time doesn’t pay the bills, and that’s why things like Sylvia Plath working as a receptionist in the psychiatric unit at Massachusetts General Hospital happen. Writers are normal people, too. Just how normal? Here’s a few of our favorite writer day job finds:

1. John Steinbeck was a caretaker and tour guide at a fish hatchery in Lake Tahoe, where he worked on his first novel and also met his future first wife, Carol Henning. She was a tourist on one of his tours.

2. Douglas Adams first thought of the idea for A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while moonlighting as a hotel security guard in London.

3. Jeanette Winterson, in addition to driving an ice cream truck, was a make-up artist at a funeral parlor.

4. Dashiell Hammett was hired by the Pinkerton Detective Agency as an “operative” at age 21. His job description included staking out houses and trailing suspects. He was thankful for the work; his previous job had been a nail machine operator.

5. Robert Frost changed light bulb filaments in a factory in Massachusetts shortly before he sold his first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy” in 1894 for $15.

6. Kurt Vonnegut was the manager of a Saab dealership in Cape Cod, after he’d already published his first novel, Player Piano. The dealership was supposedly Saab’s first in America.

7. Jack London was an “oyster pirate.” At night, he would raid the oyster beds of big-time oyster farmers and sell them in the Oakland markets.

8. Jean Rhys, a 23-year-old and in need of money, posed nude for a British artist.

9. James Ellroy led a life of petty crime and shoplifting as a wayward youth, most likely as a response to his confusion following his mother’s unsolved murder.

10. Harper Lee struggled when she first moved to New York at age 23, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines before befriending Broadway composer Michael Martin Brown. In 1956, Brown gave Lee a Christmas present: a year’s wages so she could devote herself full-time to her craft. During this time, she began work on what would eventually become To Kill a Mockingbird.

11. Ken Kesey, in order to earn some extra cash, was a guinea pig for the psych department at Stanford in a CIA-sponsored drug experiment. As a result of the drugs, Kesey had hallucinations of an Indian sweeping the floors, which compelled him to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Which mundane (or strange) day jobs for writers have we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

 

A VALIANT EFFORT

I have to admit that if I were Valiant comics, and given Valiant’s roster of characters, having a Chinese entertainment company as a capital and marketing/production partner would probably seem like a near ideal arrangement.

 

Valiant Comics Plans to Launch Its Own ‘Cinematic Universe’

By

Fear not: There will be no shortage of comic-book movies in years to come, even if DC and Marvel give up on constantly rebooting Batman and Spider-Man. The independent comic-book publisher Valiant Entertainment has secured an eight-figure equity investment from Beijing-based DMG Entertainment, plus an additional nine figures for the production of film and TV projects. The publisher has a library of 2,000 characters, including X-O Manowar and Harbinger, and films based on the titles Bloodshot, Shadowman, and Archer & Armstrong were already in the works. Valiant says its partnership with DMG — which co-produced and co-financed Iron Man 3 — will allow it to “begin to establish its cinematic universe in the United States, China and beyond.”

The two companies plan to develop more superhero films for simultaneous release in the U.S. and China, and to expand Valiant’s Asian audience via Chinese-language publishing, animation, online games, merchandise, and theme parks.

“Audiences in China and the rest of the world are hungry for heroic stories that they can more easily relate to … and with the international box office accounting for the biggest piece of the total gross, the time is right for a truly international superhero franchise,” said DMG President Wu Bing in a press release. “DMG will bring its unique global perspective to the task of transforming the Valiant Universe into the first international comic-movie universe.”

 

NO MAN IS A CHAMILLIONAIRE UNLESS HE WANTS TO BE

I don’t know this guy from Adam, and I don’t care much for modern rap. But I will say this, many rappers (not all, but many) seem to have a good eye for business and turn out to be excellent entrepreneurs. So it is no surprise to me at all that they would turn their attention to or be involved in Capital Ventures and Start-Up operations.

So I say let the boy run as far as he can run, and Godspeed to his ventures.  Hope they are enormously successful.

And I fully and definitely agree with this sentiment on the part of the author of this article: No man should restrict himself to a single venture when he could master many.

 

Chamillionaire Is Now An Entrepreneur In Residence at a Venture Capital Firm

In a letter penned by VC Mark Suster explaining the head-turning week he’s had at Upfront Ventures in Los Angeles, he explains the presence of a new face around the office: Chamillionaire. The same Chamillionaire who was showing us how to get our respective shines on not a decade ago. But if Kanye has taught us anything, it’s that we can find success in multiple creative outlets. In the past five years or so, Cham has been quietly but actively involved in the tech startup scene, from speaking on social media engagement in the music industry to hanging out with Y Combinator associates.

He’s also been making some investments himself. He was one of the earliest investors in Maker Studios, an online video network founded in 2009 and sold to Disney for $500 million last year. The firm he’s currently hanging with and advising, Upfront Ventures, has a vast portfolio that includes some acquired startups such as Bill Me Later (Rick Ross may or may not have been referring to this method of monetary transaction on his verse for Nicki Minaj’s “I Am Your Leader”). Suffice it to say that Chamillionaire has transcended the days when he explained on YouTube how Michael Jordan sonned him, or maybe that was just an early example of his Internet savvy and ability to manipulate viral stories and plant social media engagement. At any rate, in a world in which Internet entrepreneurs like Ben Horowitz make business decisions through the inspiration of rap songs, it’s not surprising to see that we now have rappers getting their own piece of the pie.

We can all agree that Chamillionaire should be given a platform to speak at the next TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

 

 

LESSONS LEARNED

Traditional Intellectual Property Lessons Learned

Over the past few months, we have been talking to many entrepreneurs about their knowledge-gap around intellectual property (IP) and other important startup matters that actually impact IP or intangibles (and therefore valuation and ultimately their success). This is the first in a three part series detailing the lessons learned by these early stage companies.

First, what do I mean by traditional IP? I often joke that if I had a dollar for every person who told me they didn’t have any IP in their business, and a second dollar for those who think IP is only patents, I would be rich. Traditional IP to me is the patent or trademark protection. That is not to say that copyrights, trade secrets, and so on are not IP—far from it—but the most common IP is patents and trademarks. Unfortunately there remain some big misconceptions around protecting traditional IP.

A few brave entrepreneurs have shared their stories to help others learn about the importance of IP identification early and often.

Timing is everything

Phillip Felice, Founder of Bridge Optix, described his recent brush with IP horror in a single sentence: “I realized I have underestimated intellectual property timing importance.” Phillip was weeks away from a public release of his product when he was grilled on his company’s IP protection and strategy. He realized that his patents needed to be filed before his public product release.

We have heard other horror stories where companies have spent thousands on branding for websites, signage, or product packaging without first securing rights to a name, including trademarks. Register and secure rights before spending too much of your limited startup capital.

Location, location, location

Patents filed with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) only cover the US. The same goes for trademarks and copyrights filed with the US Copyright office.

Page 1 / 4
Continue

WORKS IN PROGRESS

For the rest of this week I will not be posting any original content to this blog or any of my blogs. Recently, due to my work schedule and other obligations, I have had very little time to work on the overall construction and the technical aspects of my blog(s). I had planned to complete those aspects of my blogs long ago but other things kept interfering.

So this week I have decided to spend the entire week finishing my originally conceived construction-plans of my blogs to make it easier for new business partners, business writers, inventors, investors, manufacturers, and venture capitalists to find me and to communicate and work with me.

To that end I will spend the rest of the week finishing my original plans and retooling this site.

As I said, as it stands now I plan to add no more original content this week so as to finally finish my original designs without interruption or any more delays.

However you can still find a great deal of useful content in the various Categories already present on this blog, and on the Categories of all of my other blogs. Just pick the categories that interest you and browse at will. Uncategorized will allow you to find everything.

I will also be sharing useful articles, content, and posts I find on other sites as I run across them and time allows. But most of my time this week will be spent on blog development.

Thank you for being a Reader and Follower of my blogs, I appreciate your patronage and hope you find my blogs enjoyable, entertaining, and most especially, useful.

ENTREPRENEURIAL CREDIBILITY

How to Build Credibility as a Young Entrepreneur
Selena Rezvani , Contributor

Any entrepreneur will tell you that startup life is not for the easily daunted. Rejection, product failures, and isolation are just a few of the tests that many entrepreneurs are put through on a routine basis. Add youth and inexperience to the list of things working against you—and you can see how a startup can seem like nothing but a harsh, uphill endeavor. Luckily, entrepreneurs tend to be more optimistic than other workers, a factor that keeps them pitching to prospects and looking for ways to prove their value.

As I gather my thoughts for a panel tomorrow on how to build credibility as a young entrepreneur, I’ve been reflecting on what has helped my partners and clients say “Yes” to the diversity consulting and training pitches I’ve put in front of them over the last five years. Mind you, even if it’s not your age that presents a credibility issue, some other factor (industry experience, knowledge of a certain product type, geographic reach) may put you or your business in an ‘underdog’ position.

Here are my top strategies for proving your worth, regardless of your age, experience level or other factors you’re being judged on:

Identify What’s Sacred To Your Customer: What quickens the pulse of the group you’re pitching to? What most excites them or eludes them regardless of their efforts? In my case, a focus on amassing lots of cutting-edge inclusion best practices and focusing on Gen X and Y women helped turn pitch meetings into signed contracts. Additionally, tying innovation payoffs to diversity efforts more often than not grabbed clients’ interest. Still, what ‘did the trick’ last year for many entrepreneurs won’t necessarily pay off now. Who can inform you about what this group cares about most now? What groups and discussions are they participating in on LinkedIn? What types of events or publications do they promote and with what angle?

Don’t Wait To Go After Whales: As a new entrepreneur, I pitched to top business programs around the nation to train their students on the lessons in my first book, The Next Generation of Women Leaders. Plenty of deans and career offices didn’t respond. But thanks to casting a big net, plenty of people said “Yes.” To my sheer delight—and admittedly, terror—the first client to invite me to speak was Harvard University. That wonderful opportunity served as an instrumental “door opener” for future pitches, helping me get into Princeton, London Business School, Duke and inside many large organizations. As a new entity, many people will advise you to start small or go after the “low hanging fruit.” Don’t. Aim high.

Borrow Credibility Where Needed: Many a deal has been closed thanks to a warm introduction being made early on. When a trusted professional enthusiastically introduces you to a corporate insider, you’re getting an endorsement, and therefore a chance, that others won’t. Even if you don’t have deep relationships inside the company, go through the exercise of asking yourself who in your network could act as a strategic partner or co-creator of a compelling pitch. Your partner may have age and experience you don’t, a value added service, a Fortune 500 company on their resume, or experience in a key area that you lack. I have personally benefitted from partnership and found repeatedly that two minds were better than one, especially in client meetings.

Forecast Future Success: Even if the vision for Year 3 of your business depends heavily on performance in Year 1 and 2, have a clear path forward to share with your clients. The fact that you may be adjusting your plans minute to minute is not going to be compelling to decision makers. In a large bid that a partner and I made and won, one of the last questions we were grilled on was, “Where do you see yourself making an impact in 3-4 years?” We had a ready answer about an exciting area of research we wanted to spearhead and how we’d devise services around our learning. How can you look ahead and create a vision for the future? Your prospect may not be looking for total certainty, but they need to know you have a strategy with future mile markers of value.

More than anything, if you want to get hired, you need to promote trust. Are you creating certainty that you’ll deliver ably on what you’re selling? Even more important, are you demonstrating to prospects that if you take a wrong step or a crisis erupts on their end, that you’ll have the kind of smarts and agility to correct your course of action or manage the change?

What has worked for you to build credibility? Would do you think that young entrepreneurs need to know most?

Selena Rezvani is a women’s leadership speaker, workplace consultant, and author of Pushback: How Smart Women Ask–and Stand Up–for What They Want. Connect with her at nextgenwomen.com and @SelenaRezvani on Twitter.

RISE TO YOUR TRUE LEVEL – A COMPACT GUIDE

Many business writers and especially a great number of business bloggers seem to have a lot of problems writing well in English. Even those who are native speakers of English. In other words many native English speakers seem to write and blog at a level well below their oral or spoken capabilities.

But your writing is a fundamental aspect of your brand, the very scripted expression of your business acumen, and the historical record of all your ventures and enterprises in this world.

If you cannot master the language, or your writings within the language, then others will overmaster you, and your lack of capabilities will forever limit your ascent in anything you attempt.

With that in mind here is a potentially helpful guide for you to consider. Although nothing ever really substitutes for study, reading excellent writing, habitually imitating it, and then practicing with the intent of becoming a truly good writer.

The one piece of advice I would add to this guide – learn to master and memorize your vocabulary base, and employ it correctly. No matter how superb your technical skills without a proper Word Hoard, or Vocabulary Cache, both your oral and written expression and your intended meaning will be severely limited by the poverty of your terminology and language.

Accumulate a vast and wealthy Word Hoard. It is a Business and Career Investment without equal, and a treasure without measure.

The Compact Guide to Grammar for Busy People

The Compact Guide to Grammar for Busy People
Let’s get real here.

You’re a creative thinker, not a nitpicky grammar geek.

When you sit down to write you like to write, not dither around with mechanics. So when the words start flowing, you don’t want to get in their way by thinking about all those little details.

Not to mention the time factor. As in you can barely find the bandwidth to write as it is, let alone edit for grammar.

But you also care about being perceived as intelligent and credible. And you’re smart enough to know that for your writing to be taken seriously, it needs to come across as polished and correct.

The problem is, it’s been a long time since Mrs. Pendergast’s sixth-grade English class. And you were pretty hazy on the rules even back then.

Searching the Internet can quickly turn into a dive down a black hole of barely remembered terminology and examples that don’t really fit.

So what’s a blogger with good intentions but limited time and resources to do?

Well, here’s the good news. Language evolves, and as it does, so do our notions about what is “correct.” You might be surprised to learn that some of what Mrs. Pendergast taught you is now considered outmoded.

Of course there are still rules to follow, but read on, and you’ll find they’re no longer quite so intimidating.

And with a little repetition, applying many of them will soon become second nature.

Ready to rock and roll?

Parts of Speech – The Basic Building Blocks of Language

Let’s start with a quick and painless (promise!) review of the parts of speech. Not because you’ll ever need to spot a transitive verb in the present subjunctive at fifty paces, but simply because we need some common terminology for talking about the basic building blocks of language.

Yes, there are subcategories, exceptions, and sometimes even controversies about the parts of speech (you ain’t seen nothin’ until you’ve seen grammarians duking it out over the finer points of language), but for our purposes we’re going to keep this simple.

Nouns

If you grew up in the United States, you probably remember the old Schoolhouse Rock song:  “A noun is a person, place or thing.” Just remember that things can be abstract concepts as well as physical objects, and you’ve got it.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Then find a friend to whom life handed a large bottle of vodka, and take your pitcher of lemonade over to her house.

Verbs

Verbs are the action words which describe forms of doing and being.

If I just stepped on a corn flake, does that mean I am now a cereal killer?

Adjectives

Adjectives “modify” (further describe) nouns.

I’m an effective worker. In fact, I’m the most productive person I know when it comes to unimportant tasks!

Adverbs

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs.

Time is extremely precious, so waste it wisely.

Pronouns

Pronouns replace nouns. They shorten and simplify sentences that would otherwise be far too long and cumbersome.

When I want your opinion I will give it to you.(rather than: When Michelle Russell wants the opinion of the person now reading this article Michelle Russell will give that opinion to the person now reading this article.)

Prepositions

A preposition shows the relationship between a noun or pronoun and another element in the sentence.

The shinbone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.

Conjunctions

A conjunction shows the connection between the elements of a sentence.

She bought a new boomerang but couldn’t manage to throw the old one away.

Interjections

Interjections are stand-alone exclamations that act as conversational fillers, often expressing emotion.

Yes! With sufficient thrust behind them, pigs can fly!

Determiners

Determiners are sometimes considered parts of speech and sometimes not. In either case, they are small words that introduce nouns.

My mother always told me a bargain is an item you don’t need at a price you can’t resist.

Punctuation – The Mortar Between the Bricks

When you’re building a house, you don’t just drop one brick on another—you need to cement them together with some mortar. When you’re writing, if the parts of speech are your basic building blocks, then punctuation is that mortar.

Can you imagine reading text without any punctuation at all well in the earliest days of writing that is what it was like you can see how difficult it must have been can’t you

See how that’s like just stacking bricks with nothing to connect them? Add some punctuation and the wall is now firmly constructed:

Can you imagine reading text without any punctuation at all? Well, in the earliest days of writing, that is what it was like. You can see how difficult it must have been, can’t you?

Punctuation gradually evolved in different forms across cultures as a way of helping people figure out where to pause, and for how long, when reading out loud. The problem was, everyone did it differently, This was understandable when all writing was done by hand, but once movable type was invented the need for standardized punctuation became clear.Even so, we’re still arguing about it. Grammar school might have led you to believe that we’ve successfully standardized things . . . but in a language as fluid as English, there is still a lot of room for interpretation. Let’s go over the main points of confusion, and you’ll see where the hard-and-fast rules are and where you get to decide how you want to punctuate things.

Commas

No form of punctuation sparks more controversy than the poor comma.

It’s a horribly overworked symbol to begin with, struggling with a full schedule as a conjunction splitter, quotation clarifier and phrase definer while also moonlighting as a separator of list items. It tries so hard to please everyone, but sadly, we all disagree on its exact job description.

So let’s give the comma a little love here and appreciate it for all that it does.

When a sentence contains an introductory phrase, the comma tells us so by separating it.Any time a brief pause is indicated, in fact, the comma should be used.

A comma will mysteriously appear whenever one main action happens at the beginning of a sentence, and then even more happens after a conjunction like or, and or but.

Commas also cheerfully separate lists of more than two items, such as a bunch of blogs, a parade of posts, a set of sentences and a party of paragraphs.

Of course if you’re using what is known as the serial comma or the Oxford comma, that would read “. . . a set of sentences, and a party of paragraphs.”So should you use the serial comma or not? Either is fine. Just be sure you’re consistent about it one way or the other.

In fact, the best general rule of thumb for commas overall is that there is no general rule of thumb. Even the old guideline that says to “use a comma wherever you would pause in speaking” is misleading, because we all speak so differently. (Imagine where the commas would fall, for example, in Morgan Freeman’s speech as opposed to Christopher Walken’s!)

One final note. Don’t overuse commas, but keep in mind that sometimes you really do need them to make your meaning clear.

Learn how to cut, marinate, and cook friends!

reads very differently than

Learn how to cut, marinate, and cook, friends!

Just sayin.’ :)

Colons and Semicolons

The colon is used to signal that some very specific information is coming—most often a list. Sometimes it’s a bulleted or numbered list . . .

There are three types of people in the world:

  1. those who can count
  2. those who can’t

. . . and sometimes it’s a list right there in a sentence.

If you want to make sure you get something done today, try adding these to your to-do list:  wake up, make to-do list, cross off first two items on to-do list.

The semicolon indicates a pause that’s a little longer than a comma but not quite as long as an end-of-sentence period. It’s an elegant way of joining two phrases or sentences that might otherwise stand alone. This can be desirable when you’re at the editing stage of a post and you want to vary the pacing between shorter, crisper sentences and longer, flowing ones for the sake of variety and interest.

Zach was surprised; Tina turned out to be trustworthy after all.

Just don’t overuse semicolons; it will make you look slightly pretentious.

Apostrophes

Apostrophes are very often used to indicate the omission of letters.

Dont tell me its already 10 oclock!(replacing the missing letters from do not, it is, and of the clock)

But the primary use of the apostrophe is to show possession. You already know the basic rule for this—use ’s when the possessor is singular and s’ when the possessor is plural.

the cats toys (the toys that belong to only one cat)the cats toys (the toys that belong to more than one cat)

However, if the plural form of a noun doesn’t already end in the letter s, you should add ’s rather than s’.

Why did you interrupt the childrens game? (not childrens)

Here’s a common sticking point—what about when the singular form of a noun ends with an s? Editors wielding opposing manuals of style argue about this one all the time.The truth is, both of the following forms are acceptable, although the first is generally more preferred:

Jamess best friendJames best friend

To show possession by more than one singular person or thing, an ’s on the last one is all you need.

Hey, check out Cheryl and LuAnns new website!

Finally, be careful not to imply possession where there is none.One of the best examples of this is what Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, famously bemoans as the “greengrocer’s apostrophe” because of its frequent appearance on produce signs—that tiny bit of punctuation which turns simple, unwary nouns into raving mutants of unnecessary possessiveness.

Oranges and lemons – 2 for $1.00Freshest crabs this side of the Atlantic

Kids eat free all day!

These are all, quite simply, clueless mistakes.

Hyphens and Dashes

The three types of horizontal punctuation marks are:

  • the hyphen (the shortest one): –
  • the en dash (the middle one): –
  • the em dash (the longest one): —

(The en and em dashes are so named because in the days of fixed-type printing presses, they were the width of the capital letter N and the capital letter M, respectively.)

Most people use the hyphen only, and most of the time that’s fine when blogging. However, if you want to be scrupulously correct, you should use the en dash between date ranges and page numbers.

Pages 4345 explain how World War I (19141918) wasn’t actually called that until after World War II (19391945) happened.

And you should use the em dash when you want to indicate a sudden shift in thought or tone, give more information, or lend some extra emphasis.

Dash it all anyway, she thought to herselfhe looked positively dashing!

Many bloggers get confused about when to hyphenate compound words (groups of words that act as a single part of speech) and when not to . . . and why the rules seem to change from one sentence to the next. Let’s take a quick look at that.When the compound word is a noun, hyphenate it when it’s clearly naming one single thing:

Fred gave his daughter-in-law a Jack-in-the-box.

Compound adjectives can be trickier. Here’s the rule—when it comes before the noun it modifies, hyphenate it. When it comes after the noun, don’t.

Look how quickly you became a well-known blogger!

but . . .

She was well known for her business acumen.

(Note the exception that when the first word of a compound adjective ends in “-ly,” no hyphen should be used. So in the sentence “It was a beautifully written poem, ” “beautifully written” would not be hyphenated even though it comes before the noun. Hey, what would English be without annoying exceptions?)Finally, use a hyphen for clarity when there might otherwise be confusion.

Don’t be surprised to see a bunch of fat-cat contributors appear around election time. (Without that hyphen, how would we know this sentence wasn’t talking about a group of overweight people who donate felines?)

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks serve a few important functions.

They are used, of course, to show when someone’s words are being directly quoted or spoken . . .

I do not believe so, sir, replied Jeeves.

. . . but they can also indicate technical jargon, slang, or otherwise unfamiliar or non-standard terms.

The doctor briefly explained the difference between in vitro and in vivo pregnancies.
Calvin proudly displayed his new transmogrifier to Hobbes.

Quotation marks are used around the titles of short works such as poems, songs, book chapters, articles, short stories, and program or presentation titles (but not long works such as entire books or series, which are italicized).

He could never remember whether In Which Tigger Is Unbounced came before or after In Which Piglet Does a Very Grand Thing in The House at Pooh Corner.

Incidentally, when it comes to dialogue, you should start a new paragraph every time there is a change of speaker—even if the new speaker says only one word. This helps the reader keep track of who is saying what.

Get over here now! yelled Harriet.No.

Why not?

I’m tired.

The biggest confusion about quotation marks is usually over where the punctuation at the end goes—inside or outside?In the United States, at least, here’s how it works:

Periods and commas go inside the quotes.

I never said such a thing,” she stated firmly. And you can quote me on that.”

Colons and semicolons go outside the quotes.

That’s the thing about Bohemian Rhapsody”; even if you never want to hear it again, you know that you know all the words by heart.

Question marks and exclamation points depend on the context. If the question or exclamation is part of the quote itself, it goes inside, but if it relates to the larger sentence, it goes outside.

Don’t come near me!” Becky cried.
Did the customer really ask for a girl cheese sandwich”?

British English is different. Those who speak American use double quotation marks, but those who speak British use single quotes. British writers also place the comma or period outside the ending quotes rather than inside them.A bit barmy, eh, mate?

Ellipsis Points

These are the three spaced dots or periods used to show that something has been omitted from a quotation. (They are sometimes also used in a creative sense—but that’s a different story.)

The formal rules can get pretty technical, but unless you’re blogging in the legal or literary field, just remember this. If the part just before the omitted section is the end of a sentence, you should use a period as usual, then the ellipses.

“Yes, it was definitely the ketchup, Your Honor. . . . No, he left the mustard behind.”

And if the missing section occurs mid-sentence, just use the ellipses.

“Over the river . . . through the woods . . . hey, isn’t that Grandma’s house?”

Note the spaces between the ellipsis points—this is technically the right way to do it (and if you were being excruciatingly proper you’d use something even thinner called a “hair space”), but it’s also fine to run them together instead (likethis) as long as you’re consistent about doing it all the time.

Parentheses and Brackets

Parentheses tell us that something helpful but not absolutely necessary is being added.

See this helpful (but not absolutely necessary) parenthetical phrase?

But where does the punctuation go?

If the parenthetical phrase is in the middle of a sentence (like this), punctuation like that comma goes outside the parentheses because it relates to the sentence as a whole.If the parenthetical phrase ends the sentence, the punctuation still goes outside the parentheses if it relates to the sentence as a whole (like this).

But If the parenthetical phrase is a sentence all by itself, the ending punctuation goes inside the parentheses. (Like this.)

Sometimes you can have both, which is correct even though it looks pretty weird (like this!).

Parentheses are often used as formatting devices to make information visually clearer.

The ideal person: (a) doesn’t smoke, (b) doesn’t drink, (c) doesn’t do drugs, (d) doesn’t swear, (e) doesn’t get mad, (f) doesn’t exist.

Square brackets are used to show when clarifying information within a quote is not part of the quote itself . . . or around the Latin term sic to show where a mistake really is part of the quote.

“This example [of a blog post] contains no speiling [sic] errors.”

Square brackets have a handful of other specific uses, such as in dictionary definitions, but they can also be utilized as visual or stylistic devices in the same way as parentheses.What about brackets inside of brackets?

If you need multiple levels of closure [when one enclosed phrase (such as this) is inside another], you should use square brackets on the outside and parentheses on the inside.

Creative Punctuation

Finally, as a blogger, you are freer than writers in the more traditional forms of media to have a little fun with punctuation.

So don’t be afraid to use it in creative ways that lend flavor and tone.

You can use ellipsis points to show . . . um, hesitation.Use long (em) dashes to signal abrupt transitionslike this! Nothis!

“Those dashes are also great for showing when a speaker gets cut off in mid-conver” she said.

Many bloggers (perhaps too many of us) use emoticons made out of punctuation. 😉

You can even invent your own ways to build . . .

.

.

.

you know . . .

.

.

.

suspense.

Just use creative punctuation like this sparingly. Be sure that it enhances and clarifies your message rather than needlessly muddling it.

Abbreviations – Handy Linguistic Shortcuts

Abbreviations are useful (and sometimes colorful) devices for shortening common words and phrases, but using them correctly can be a bit confusing.

Do you abbreviate the United States of America as USA or U.S.A.? (I strongly favor the latter, but different strokes for different folks.)

Should you start a sentence with an abbreviation like FYI? (In formal writing this is traditionally frowned upon, but in a blog post it’s usually fine unless it looks clunky.)

What does FUBAR stand for, anyway, and should you spell the whole thing out? (I’m certainly not telling you here, and it entirely depends on your audience.)

If you’re blogging for an organization that has a style guide, go with whatever it says. If not, look up the abbreviation in the dictionary for guidance on how to spell and use it properly.

If you’re still in doubt after that, it probably doesn’t matter too much anyway (depending, of course, on your audience). Just pick one way and use it consistently. For example:

If you decide to use periods when abbreviating U.K. (where, incidentally, they refer to periods as “full stops”), be sure you do so when abbreviating E.U. and U.S.A. as well.If you abbreviate the days of the week, standardize them to three letters each—e.g., Thu. (not Thurs.), Fri. and Sat.

I.e. vs. e.g.

While we’re on the topic of abbreviations, let’s talk about these two Latin terms. They are very often used interchangeably, but they actually mean two different things.

I.e. stands for id est, or “that is.” It’s used to further explain or restate something in different words.

The Hephthalites are known to have practiced polyandry; i.e., the marriage of a woman to two or more men.

E.g. stands for exempli gratia, or “for example.” It’s used to do just that—give one or more examples.

He liked all kinds of leafy green vegetables—e.g., lettuce, spinach and kale.

Here’s a memory aid for recalling when to use each of these two phrases. Instead of worrying about the Latin translations, just remember:

  • i.e. = in other words (both start with i) or In essence
  • e.g. = example given

Also note that a comma is used after the final period in each of these abbreviations.

To introduce the abbreviation, in most cases you can use either a comma, a semicolon, a colon, an em dash, or a set of parentheses. Again, just be sure you’re consistent in whatever choice you make.

He liked all kinds of leafy green vegetables, e.g., lettuce, spinach and kale.He liked all kinds of leafy green vegetables; e.g., lettuce, spinach and kale.

He liked all kinds of leafy green vegetables: e.g., lettuce, spinach and kale.

He liked all kinds of leafy green vegetablese.g., lettuce, spinach and kale.

He liked all kinds of leafy green vegetables (e.g., lettuce, spinach and kale).

The only caveat here is that if the text that follows the i.e. or e.g. could stand as an independent sentence:

They did what they always did at wedding receptions; i.e., she got tipsy and he flirted shamelessly with the new bride.

. . . you should not introduce the phrase with a comma—use any of the other punctuation methods. My own personal preference is the semicolon, as above, but any of them except for the comma would fine.

Foreign Terms – Exotic Expressions

Foreign words are another bone of contention among editors and other professional wordsmiths. The general consensus, though, is that if a term is likely to be unfamiliar to your readers, italicize it.

She executed a perfect nikkyo and her attacker instantly dropped to the floor.
Carmen’s schädenfreude as she watched Alonzo writhe in agony was chilling to watch.

But if the word has become a commonly accepted part of English, there’s no need to italicize.

Sorry—can you please read that back to me verbatim?
The company gave its employees carte blanche to wear whatever they wanted to work.

These same guidelines apply to common Latin abbreviations such as etc. and our buddies i.e., and e.g. from just above—they are now so common that they don’t require italics.But expect to run into people who will argue that ad nauseam.

Numbers – A Source of “Total” Confusion

Ah, numbers. So many questions about them, and so many ways to be inconsistent. Let’s take a look.

Spelled Out vs. Numerals

Opinions on this differ widely. In general, spelling out numbers comes across as more formal, but possibly a little bit snooty. Of course, depending on the context (She lived at Eighty-Eight Kensington Road, where she routinely inspected the brass railings for dust using her spotless white gloves), that may be exactly what you want.

One common convention is to spell out any numbers from zero through ten and numerals for 11 and higher. But visual consistency should override this, so make exceptions where numbers are close together.

Once her blog posts became easier to read, she went from gaining about 3 subscribers a month to a startling 150.

Don’t begin a sentences with a numeral, even if it’s a small number.

Four hours ago I was simply minding my own business when . . .

Numbers in titles are another point of contention. Should your new list post be titled “10 Ways to Be a Kickass Knitter” or “Ten Ways to Be a Kickass Knitter”? Many bloggers use numbers in headlines because they’re more quickly readable, but it’s up to you.

Dates

Format dates however you like, but be consistent about it. If you start off writing 8/16/99, don’t switch to 06/23/72 later on. If you spell out January 1 when blogging about your New Year’s resolution, don’t update your readers later in the year by sticking letters at the end of the date on May 31st.

Years should be written in numerals, and when they’re abbreviated, the point of the single apostrophe should face left.

Their first single hit the airwaves in 1983, followed by two more in 86 and 88.

When referring descriptively to a decade, don’t include an apostrophe between the numbers and the letter s.

CORRECT:He’s a child of the 80s.

He’s a child of the 80s.

He’s a child of the 1980s.

INCORRECT:He’s a child of the 80s.

He’s a child of the 80s.

He’s a child of the 1980s.

Century names can either use numerals or be spelled out, but should not be capitalized.

Sometimes I wish I’d lived in the 19th century. (or) Sometimes I wish I’d lived in the nineteenth century.

Times

The rule here is pretty much “no rules.” It doesn’t matter if you write 6:30 am, 6:30am, 6:30 AM, 6:30AM, 6:30 a.m., 6:30a.m., 6:30 A.M. or 6:30A.M., as long as you do it the same way everywhere.

(In some countries a period is used in clock times rather than a colon—e.g., 6.30 A.M.)

It’s better to write “noon” and “midnight” rather than “12:00 p.m.” and “12:00 a.m.” (which make people have to think too hard.)

Percentages

Use the percent sign (27%) or spell it out (27 percent)—either is fine. Pick one way and use it.

Currency

The main mistake bloggers make here is doubling up the currency symbol and the word. If you write $1 dollar it’s like saying “One dollar dollar.” A simple $1 (or 1 dollar or one dollar) is the correct way to go.

Same thing with larger ranges. If someone is already a millionaire, don’t inflate their wealth even further by giving them $10 million dollars. Either $10 million or 10 million dollars is just fine, thank you very much.

Number Ranges

In general, any number range, whether dates (1785–1802), pages (pp. 23–38), or some other type, gets that medium-length dash, the en dash, between its numbers.

When giving number ranges within text, don’t mix up words and symbols. People often make this mistake by writing things like They were married from 1975–2010 instead of They were married from 1975 to 2010.

Common Pitfalls

Now let’s move into some of the typical areas where bloggers get confused. You know the ones I’m talking about—those tricky cases where you just know there’s a rule, but you can never remember what it is.

Subject/Verb Agreement

The “subject” of a sentence is whatever person or thing is doing the main action—what you might call the primary noun (or nouns). The subject should “agree” with the verb about whether they should both be singular or plural.

To mix them just sounds wrong. If I were to write “You and I is smart,” you’d know that one of us wasn’t.

But subject/verb agreement gets trickier with vague-sounding pronouns and more complex sentences.

The word and makes a subject plural (i.e., there is more than one main actor), so the verb should be plural too.

You and I are smart.

With the word or, it depends on the actors. If they’re both singular, the verb should be singular.

Goran or Lisa was at the pub every single time I walked in.

But if one is singular and the other is plural, the verb should agree with the one closest to it.

Either a candle or flowers were sitting on the Chens’ mantelpiece at all times.

In the case of “indefinite pronouns” (so called because they refer to somewhat vague numbers of things), you should determine whether the noun the pronoun refers to is singular or plural.

None of the food is very healthy.(“food” is a collective noun that stands for one thing, so use the singular verb “is”)

None of them are going to the movie.

(“them” indicates multiple people, so use the plural verb “are”)

Anybody here want seconds?

(“anybody” refers to any one body/person, so it’s singular—use the singular verb “want”)

Most of my guest posts were quickly published.

(“most” refers to a number of individual posts, so use the plural verb “were”)

But amazingly, neither the post about the mating habits of the Brazilian termite nor the one on different types of postage stamp adhesive was accepted anywhere.

(both “neither” and “nor” refer to one single post, so use the singular verb “was”)

Don’t get confused by interrupting phrases and clauses. Like newly infatuated lovers, the subject and verb will always agree with each other no matter what comes between them.

That painter with the big orange pickup truck filled to the brim with buckets, brushes and ladders drives down my street every day.

That vs. Which

This is an old problem with a surprisingly easy solution. Look at the phrase or clause you’re considering and ask yourself, “If I take it out, will the sentence still have the same basic meaning?”

If the answer is yes, use which.

If the answer is no, use that.

Another way of looking at it is to consider whether the clause is, or could go, inside a pair of commas. If so, use which. If not, use that.

The map, which they used to drive cross-country, is in the glove compartment.The map that they used to drive cross-country is in the glove compartment.

Both sentences tell us that the map in question is in the glove compartment, but mean different things.In the first sentence, what the people used the map for is incidental. It’s as though the writer is saying, “The map is in the glove compartment. Oh, yeah—by the way, they used it to drive cross-country.”

The second sentence, on the other hand, refers to the specific map they used. (There could be other maps, too.) “Where is the map they used to drive cross-country? It’s in the glove compartment.”

First case, extra information. Second case, central to the plot.

See the difference?

Who vs. Whom

Running a close second behind “that vs. which” in the confusion competition is the “who vs. whom” conundrum. This is another tricky dilemma with a simple solution.

If you could substitute “he or “she,” use who.

If you could substitute “him” or “her,” use whom.

For example:

I haven’t seen the guy who lives down that hallway for weeks.(because he, not him, lives down that hallway)

The kids, one of whom was fortunately wearing glow-in-the-dark sneakers, were found later that night.(because one of him, not one of he, was found)

If this is unclear, switch the pieces of the sentence around first and then see which word works better.For example, is “Who do you think will win?” correct, or should it be “whom”?

  • First switch the sentence so that it reads “Do you think WHO will win?”
  • Now do the substitution both ways. Which sounds right, “Do you think HE will win?” or “Do you think HIM will win?”
  • Obviously it’s the first one, so “Who do you think will win?” is correct.

What about this one? “I wonder who I’ll be paired up with for the scavenger hunt.”

  • First switch the sentence around: “I wonder I’ll be paired up with WHO for the scavenger hunt.” (I know that sentence is awkward and incorrect, but it’s just for the sake of figuring this out.)
  • Now which is right—“I wonder I’ll be paired up with SHE for the scavenger hunt” or “I wonder I’ll be paired up with HER for the scavenger hunt”?
  • HER sounds correct, so the original sentence should read, “I wonder whom I’ll be paired up with for the scavenger hunt.”

In casual conversation, though, sometimes whom sounds a bit stilted. “Whom should I cheer for?” (or, for complete sticklers, “For whom should I cheer?”) is technically correct, but the people next to you at the big game may look at you strangely, and not just because you don’t know which side you’re on.

So when it comes to your blog, know which way is correct, but don’t be afraid to bend the rules a bit here for the sake of sounding more conversational.

Who vs. That

I’ve saved this one for last because, frankly, I don’t agree with the rule.

I strongly feel that writers should always refer to people as “who” rather than “that.” However, my research indicates that my strong opinion on the matter has become outdated.

I flinch whenever I read (or hear) sentences like “Kobe Bryant is the athlete that inspired me to play basketball.” Not that Kobe needs my help, but to my ear, referring to him as “that” instead of “who” dehumanizes him.

Apparently, I’m old-fashioned in believing that people are people, not things. But for the record, it is now apparently permissible to refer to people as either “the folks who” or “the folks that.” (Ew.)

I’m pleased to say, though, that a thing is still always a “that.”

You can’t say “the company who patented the Giant Gizmo” because a company (the opinions of corporate lawyers notwithstanding) is not a person. It’s a non-living entity (the opinions of some science fiction writers notwithstanding). So you need to say “the company that patented the Giant Gizmo.”

More Tricks (and Traps) of the Writing Trade

We bloggers are living in tough linguistic times. The lines between formal written language and the more casual spoken word have blurred tremendously with the explosion of personal computers, e-mail, and the Internet.

So how do you successfully walk those lines? How do you ensure that your posts are conversational yet correct, compelling yet credible?

To return to our “building blocks” metaphor from earlier in the post, you need to take a step back from the level of the individual bricks (what we’ve been discussing up until this point) and consider the overall construction of your building.

Your goal as a blogger isn’t to simply heap up ramshackle stacks of words. You want to move people. Inspire them. Educate them. Persuade them to think differently. To take action.

To do that, you need to look at the larger issues. Are your walls straight and attractively laid out? Does your building look inviting? Can you construct its rooms so that visitors are naturally led from one to the other in the sequence you’ve designed?

Much of this ability comes with the study and practice of effective writing techniques, and is outside the scope of a single post on grammar, no matter how long. What I can show you today, though, are some of the common ways bloggers leave stumbling blocks scattered around the floors of their word-rooms.

Clean those up, and you’ve gone a long way toward leaving a clear path through your writing.

Parallel Construction

Humans love patterns. We key into them to help us make sense of the world . . . and you can use them to help your readers make sense of your writing.

I’m not saying you should make your writing so robotically regular that it becomes predictable and monotonous.

But if you want your readers to roll smoothly along from one idea of yours to the next, using parallel structure is like laying parallel train tracks.

Both of the following sentences essentially say the same thing. Which is easier to read? Which packs a stronger punch?

Persuading others comes from a mixture of thinking through your ideas, thorough organization, and then presenting them clearly,To persuade others, think through your ideas, organize them thoroughly, and then present them clearly.

It’s the second sentence, of course. Why? The first one uses a mixture of noun forms–gerunds (“persuading,” “thinking” and “presenting”)—in which “-ing” is added to the verb to create a noun—and “organization,” a more regular, though abstract, noun. You can follow the sentence, but you have to work a little too hard at it. The parallel verb forms in the second sentence (“persuade,” “think,” “organize” and “present”) make it much easier to comprehend quickly.Note that you could also re-cast the sentence this way: “Persuading others comes from a mixture of thinking through your ideas, organizing them thoroughly, and then presenting them clearly” (using gerunds throughout). In general, though, simpler verb forms result in clearer writing.

[Bonus credit if you realized you could make the structure even more parallel by adding an adverb (such as “carefully”) after the word “ideas”! It would then have the form “. . . (VERB) through your ideas (ADVERB), (VERB) them (ADVERB), and then (VERB)  them (ADVERB).]

Sentence Fragments

Here’s a so-called grammar rule that seems pretty basic on the surface—every sentence should be complete. Meaning, traditionally, that it should have a subject (the main actor/actors), verb (the main action) and, if applicable, an object (what the action happens to).

Anything less is called a sentence fragment.

Except . . .

Remember earlier, when I told you that some of what Mrs. Pendergast taught you back in English class is now considered outdated?

This is one example. Unless the context in which you’re writing is very formal (sorry, corporate and legal bloggers), sentence fragments are perfectly fine in blogs—and a lot of other writing—these days.

With one caveat.

Your meaning must be clear.

See what I did above with except . . . and with one caveat? You understood what I meant because the text flowed. So what if they were technically fragments?

In fact, as a blogger you should probably make it a point to introduce sentence fragments every now and then, depending on your personal style (sorry, Mrs. Pendergast). They let you spice up your writing by playing with pace, tension and emotion.

One more caveat. Fragments? Use them sparingly. Like a condiment. Even though they’re legit. Because why? Using lots of them feels choppy. Not wrong, precisely. Just hard to read.

See?

Run-On Sentences

The opposite of a fragment is a run-on sentence, in which you will find more than one complete thought, each of which really deserves its own sentence, but there’s just too much going on at once and it gets really hard to keep track of all the players, which happens a lot when a blogger gets really excited about her subject matter and goes on at length without adding a period for quite a long time and the sentence ends up sounding quite flustered and out of breath.

Unless you’re deliberately using a run-on sentence for dramatic or illustrative purposes, like I just did, don’t use them.

One way of avoiding them is to read your posts out loud as part of your editing process. If you find yourself literally running out of breath before running out of sentence, look for ways to break the run-on sentence into more than one.

It’s all about developing a listening ear with regard to your own writing. And about keeping things clear and simple for your readers.

Dangling Modifiers

Misplaced modifiers—often called “dangling modifiers” because of the way they just sort of hang there, not being clear about what they’re modifying—are some of the most amusing mistakes in all of Grammaria.

Check these out:

Driving past the graveyard late last night, the twisted old tree frightened me.(I’d love to know where that tree got its driver’s license.)

She wore a bright red baseball cap on her head, which was obviously much too small.(Yeah—her head was so tiny the cap came all the way down to her shoulders.)

The distraught young man was comforted by the psychologist who had just taken an overdose of sleeping pills.(I bet that was a real consolation to the young man.)

Here are some much clearer re-writes (though not the only possible fixes for them):

As I drove past the graveyard late last night, I saw a twisted old tree that frightened me.
That bright red baseball cap on her head was obviously much too small.
After he took an overdose of sleeping pills, the distraught young man was comforted by the psychologist.

Split Infinitives

Here’s another area in which you can gleefully waggle your finger at old Mrs. Pendergast and say, “You were wrong!

An infinitive is the form of any verb which starts with the word “to”—to go, to dance, to have written, etc.

It is supposedly a grammar faux pas to split an infinitive by sticking extra words between the “to” and the rest of the verb. However, this is now considered outmoded thinking . . . and it certainly never stopped Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise from heading out into space, to boldly go where no man had gone before.

In fact, the split infinitive is often clearer than the alternative. Which of these sounds better to you?

Carl’s nasty old landlord threatened to double the rent, plus even more of an increase on top of that, if Carl went to the rent board about the broken washing machine.Carl’s nasty old landlord threatened to more than double the rent if Carl went to the rent board about the broken washing machine.

You’ll be glad to know it’s finally considered okay for you to boldly go and split some infinitives, too.

The Golden Grammar Rule for Busy Bloggers

We’ve covered a lot of ground here—thank you for sticking with me! Clearly, you are a tenacious soul. :)

I’d like to leave you with one closing thought.

One word, really.

Consistency.

We are a pattern-seeking species—something that is hard-wired into us for basic survival reasons. Our nervous systems are keenly attuned to inconsistencies in our environment.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the subtle striping of a tiger through the bushes or a set of square brackets instead of the usual curved parentheses—our primitive brains don’t register relative importance, only difference. They simply flash the signal, “Something is wrong here.”

Whether this response is conscious or unconscious, that is not the feeling you want your readers to have.

That’s why I’ve stressed consistency throughout this post, and why you should aim for it in your writing. Here’s one great way to ensure it.

Ever wonder how professional copy editors can catch a misspelled name on page 549 of a manuscript when it hasn’t appeared since page 23? They use a nifty little device called a style sheet.

I suggest you do the same.

A style sheet is a quick-and-dirty list of your key editorial decisions, all in one place so that you can check it easily. Whenever you reach a new decision about how to handle something, it gets added to the list. This personal set of editorial standards helps you write more consistently over time.

  • Does that author you refer to all the time spell her name Catherine or Katherine?
  • Do you vacillate between writing email and e-mail?
  • Have you decided to call your webinar series “Best-Kept Secrets of Highly Amazing People” or “The Best-Kept Secrets of Highly Amazing People”?
  • Do you have a hard time remembering that decades should be referred to as the ’60s and ’80s rather than the 60’s and 80’s?

Jot it down or type it into a running document. When you need to check because you’ve pulled another all-nighter and you can’t see straight, let alone remember such mind-numbing little details, they will be there for you.

Get Ready to Banish Your Grammar Gremlins for Good!

Your time is your most valuable resource. It’s the only thing you have that can’t be renewed.

Obviously this means you want to spend as much of it as you can on high-level activities, creating and sharing the things that only you, of all the people in this world, can contribute.

But you also want to be sure that you’re doing that clearly and convincingly through each and every blog post you publish. And that means a certain amount of time spent on grammar. It’s simply a part of crafting your message.

But now you can minimize the time you spend on this in two ways:

  1. Bookmark this post. The more you refer back to it, the more quickly you’ll find what you need. And the more often you use it, the better you’ll internalize the information, so that over time you’ll automatically remember more and more of the rules and guidelines on your own.
  2. Start your own style sheet. (See the section just above.) Take the extra moment to record each editorial decision you make, A few minutes here and there, in the beginning, will pay off hugely as a time- and stress-saver down the road once you have a nicely comprehensive list of “how you do things” when you edit your own posts.

Both of these resources will help you become a faster and more efficient self-editor, freeing up more time for the creative work that is at the heart of what you blog about . . . and why you blog in the first place.

Go get ‘em, you creative thinker, you.

About the Author: Michelle Russell (who spontaneously learned to read before she was four and hasn’t stopped since) has been a freelance proofreader, copy editor, and general wordsmith for over two decades. Check her out at Michelle-Russell.com or say hello on Facebook.

 

BUSINESS NARRATOR/BUSINESS NARRATION WRITER: Creative Non-Fiction to Help Your Business Grow

This article, which I shared with Launch Port, on business and corporate narration, has led me to the decision that I will now start offering my professional writing services for Business Narration. Or rather, to be more accurate and specific, that I will now add Business Narration to the list of business and writing services I offer my clients.

I am already an excellent storyteller and journalist, as well as a very good business and copy writer.

So combining those two capabilities and skills and fusing them into a single new service line only makes a great deal of sense to me.

So beginning in this year, 2015 AD, I will be offering my services as a Business Narrator to all of my clients, new and old. If you are an entrepreneur, a start-up venture, a company or corporation, or a long established business that would like to better communicate your story to the world then I will be happy to help you construct the Narrative of your business or venture so that you can effectively and profitably share it with others.

If you would like to see examples of my Work and Writings (including my Narrative Writings) then you may look here:

Launch Port

Wyrdwend

Tome and Tomb

The Missal

BILLIONAIRE SUCCESS

I thought most of his points were excellently and wisely made.

20 Habits for Success I Learned Working for Two Billionaires

Posted: 02/06/2014 2:57 pm EST Updated: 12/31/2014 1:59 am EST

2014-02-06-OprahEnver1024x512.jpg

I have spent decades “being educated” — in college, graduate school, numerous professional certifications, and now a Ph.D. program. All of that schooling and training helped shape the person I am today, but at no point in my life has there been a more profound education than my time working for Enver Yucel and Oprah Winfrey.

Enver and Oprah are two extraordinary people. And on top of that, they’re both billionaires. On the surface, they appear to be totally different people. They are in different industries, have different family structures, practice different religions, and speak different languages. However, once you get past their written biographies and dig deeper, you will notice they possess many of the same successful habits.

I had the opportunity to work with both Oprah and Enver for six years collectively and those were, hands down, the best professional experiences of my life. I worked my ass off for them and in doing so absorbed everything I could.

It’s my honor to share with you what I learned from them. Here is Part 1 of the 20 successful habits I learned working for two billionaires:

1) Invest in Yourself

This is a very simple concept, but something you would think someone who has “made it” would stop doing. Not at all for these two. I saw them both spend a significant amount of time dedicating their resources to self-development (whether it be a new language, exercise, social media classes, etc.). The moment you stop investing in yourself is the moment you have written off future dividends in life.

2) Be Curious… About Everything

What the average person sees as mundane or overly complicated is not viewed the same way with a billionaire mindset. I once had a 30 minute conversation with Enver about the height of the curbs in Washington DC versus Istanbul, Turkey. Billionaires are incredibly curious; what the rest of the world thinks is a problem and complains about — that’s what these people go and work on.

3) Surround Yourself With “Better” People

I hope this is why they kept me around. Seriously, I never knew my bosses to keep anyone less-than-stellar in their inner circle. There were many times I thought to myself, “Damn, they have dream-teams built around them.” Jim Rohn had it right, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

4) Never Eat Alone

The last time I had dinner with Enver, as well as the last time I ate dinner with Oprah, there were easily 15 people at our tables, respectively. Coincidence? While most of us derive our key information from blogs or the newspaper, power players get their information from the source (other power players), directly. However, just because you can’t call up the Obamas and break bread with them doesn’t mean eating with others in your circle doesn’t carry value. In one of my favorite reads of the last few years called Never Eat Alone, author Keith Ferrazzi breaks down how you can identify “information brokers” to dine with you. I’ve seen first hand how enormous the benefits are of this strategy.

5) Take Responsibility for Your Losses

I was working for Oprah during the time she was taking heat from the media about poor network ratings. I was also working for Enver during the closing of one of his prized divisions. What I witnessed them both do in response was powerful. Opposed to covering the losses up with fancy PR tactics, both stepped to the stage and said in essence “I own it and I’m going to fix it” and dropped the mic. Guess what? They sure did fix things (It’s widely noted Oprah’s network is realizing ratings gold and Enver’s assets have probably doubled since the division closing).

6) Understand The Power Of “Leverage”

This is something that was quite a shock to me. From afar, a billionaire appears to be someone who is a master at everything. But, in truth, they’re specialists in one or a few areas and average or subpar at everything else. So, how do they get so much done? Leverage! They do what they do best and get others to do the rest. Here’s a great article on leverage. Keep in mind I see this done with wealthy people and their money all of the time — they use OPM (other people’s money) for most or all of their projects.

7) Take No Days Off (Completely)

I recall going on vacation with Enver several times, yachting up and down the southwestern coast of Turkey (also known as the blue voyage). Sounds ballerific, right? No doubt we had a great time, but mixed in with all that swimming and backgammon was discussion of business, discussion of strategy, planning and plotting. The best way I can describe this habit is thinking about your business or your idea like your literal baby. No matter your distance, you don’t stop thinking of him/her (and after just having a second son, I can attest to this).

8) Focus On Experiences vs. Material Possessions

When you have money, your toys are big. However, the vast majority of money I saw spent on their “leisure” was on actual experiences versus the typical car, jewelry, and clothes we’re familiar with seeing in music videos and gossip blogs. I recall one time at dinner with Oprah, I spotted a table of about 20 girls off to the side. I later found out Ms. Winfrey was treating some of her graduating girls from her school in South Africa to dinner in NYC. Experiences create memories, and memories are priceless.

9) Take Enormous Risks

This is another one of those successful habits every entrepreneur can attest to. A matter of fact, Entreprenuer.com created a great infographic outlining commonalities of the world’s billionaires and one of the most prominent was this characteristic: billionaires are not adverse to risk. What intrigues me even more about Enver and Oprah was that even at their high financial status and success level, they still possessed a willingness to risk their most precious asset (their name and legacy) on new and bolder projects. If you’re not taking risks, you’re not making moves!

10) Don’t Go At It Alone

Nothing great in life is achieved alone. Especially in business, success isn’t a solo act. This character trait is akin to “surrounding yourself with better people.” It takes teamwork to make the dream work.

Read Part 2, here!

THE MARRIAGE OF OUR BETTER INTERESTS

Why Choosing A VC Is Like Choosing A Spouse

What to consider before you put a ring on it

Committing to a relationship with a VC is committing to the long-term. In romantic terms, it’s a marriage, not a casual drink or weekend getaway. In fact, venture capital/startup relationships last just as long as most marriages — around 7 or 8 years — and can be just as emotionally taxing.

Entrepreneurs often struggle to feel confident when they are presenting to VCs. Pitching your startup can be as nerve-wracking as waiting at the bar for a blind date, and what VCs want can seem as mysterious as members of the opposite sex. Entrepreneurs are reluctant to ask important questions because they are afraid of scaring the potential partner away, but the answers to those questions could seriously impact the happiness and fruitfulness of your “life” together. Startup life means there are a lot of ups and downs, but the downs don’t mean you should settle for a ‘safe’ VC choice. Everybody deserves somebody. As with significant others, you want someone who sees the unique positives in you, not the generic negatives.

What VCs care most about is how much their investment will be worth, or equity value. This leads to the question facing all entrepreneurs — how do you build equity value? Revenue is a metric (and an important one), but not the metric. Other factors include market leadership, unique IP/capabilities, disruption in a big market, and an A+ technology team. The right “fit” isn’t the same for everyone. What works for one person or startup may not work for another. Here are 5 things to consider before entering the bonds of venture capital funding.

1. Know your value as a partner

As the philosopher Beyonce says, “If you like it, then you should have put a ring on it.” A great start to a marriage or partnership of any kind is when both sides feel they lucked out and are excited about the commitment. Find someone who appreciates the potential of your business and what you have to offer. As a founder, you are giving away your most prized asset — your equity. The VCs are buying a piece of a company that they believe has value. It is important to remember your self-worth and your company’s value before you embark upon a relationship . This is a much more compelling approach than “I hope someone gives me money,” because desperation doesn’t look good on anybody.

It is also important not to have baggage walking into the partnership. Plenty of entrepreneurs play hard to get in the beginning, but as soon as you commit, the games should be over. You don’t want to spend years explaining or justifying yourself. A strong relationship means being honest and appreciative of each other. This also means it is important to be on the same page about terms, so everyone feels they got a fair deal. For example, Carbonite really loved working with us at Menlo Ventures because the investment was fair on both sides and we said ‘I do’ with a clean slate. In a strong VC-startup relationship, both parties want the other to succeed. Mutual respect and excitement should come before a ring.

Page 1 / 2
Continue

GOING VIRAL

10 Brilliant Strategies For Writing Viral Content

This is part of a series. Check out the companion piece: BuzzFeed’s Guide To Viral Content (Cats Optional, But Encouraged)

There are certain websites, writers, marketers and content creators who seem to rule the internet. Everything they put out there seems contagious, capturing an audience of millions and sparking conversations on social media.

These days, unpacking the secrets to viral success has been the mission of researchers, media organizations and businesses alike. After all, infectious content leads to major rewards in the form of readers, subscribers, advertisers, raising awareness for an important issue, brand recognition and financial success.
If you’re looking for ways get people talking, check out these 10 strategies from the experts themselves.
“Grumpy Guide To Life: Observations From Grumpy Cat” Book Event At Indigo

Grumpy cat. (George Pimentel/WireImage)

1. Write good content

Bottom line: Tell a good story and tell it well. Readers quickly abandon stories with weak content and bad writing.

Begin by making sure your story clearly communicates the five W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Why? This grounds your reader in the story’s basic premise and why it matters.

Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick, co-authors of The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users, explain in a recent Harvard Business Review article that stories should accomplish one of a number of tasks: explain what happened, explain what something means, explain how to do something or surprise the reader.

2. Elicit strong emotions – positive is better than negative

Stories that evoke intense emotions tend to drive popularity, according to a 2011 study by University of Pennsylvania professors.

Content that triggers “high-arousal” emotions performs better online, whether those emotions are positive (like awe) or negative (like anger or anxiety). Whereas content that sparks “low-arousal” emotions (like sadness) is less viral, write Professors Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, who studied the viral nature of New York Times articles over a three-month period. And though there’s much complexity at play, in general, “positive content is more viral than negative content.”

When Jack Shepherd, editorial director at BuzzFeed, wrote 21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity, it generated millions of hits. The list evoked the emotion felt when “you’re in the presence of the triumph of the human spirit,” says Shepherd. Today it has 15.4 million views. (Full disclosure: Shepherd has been a friend for years.)

“When people share something like that, they’re not just sharing the story, they’re sharing the strong, positive emotional experience they had. You can’t really fake that,” says Shepherd. For more tips from Shepherd, check out the companion piece, BuzzFeed’s Guide To Viral Content (Cats Optional, But Encouraged).

3. Be brief

Get to the point quickly and keep the reader interested.

“Our experience is that the sweet spot for posts of curated content is two or three sentences on Google GOOGL +0.89%+ and Facebook and 100 characters on Twitter TWTR +1.62%,” say Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick.

“The sweet spot for created content is 500 to 1,000 words.”

4. Write irresistible headlines

Headlines are the gateway to a story – your one chance to pique your reader’s curiosity and convince them to stay with you. Headlines can make a story a smashing success or a total flop, even if the content is fantastic.

Capture your reader’s attention with headlines that

– Clearly and concisely state the article’s purpose

– Use intriguing adjectives

– Communicate the value and ease of the story

In other words, tell your readers upfront that they’ll be getting a lot out of your story with little effort on their part. (For example, my headline This One Smart Habit Can Slash Your Airfare told readers that they could save a lot of money by learning one habit. Tons of value and so simple.)

Twelveskip.com offers this list of eye-catching title templates that will help you develop great headlines.

5. Be visual

Visual content increases engagement. So pair that compelling headline with a striking visual. Always. This is key to capturing reader interest.

Buzzsumo, a content analytics company, found that having at least one image in a Facebook or Twitter post leads to an average of twice as many shares compared to a post without images. A study by content marketer Skyword found a similar correlation between images and engagement, write Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick. “Total views of its clients’ content increased by 94% if a published article contained a relevant photograph or infographic, when compared to articles without an image in the same category,” the co-authors write.

6. Play the numbers game

The more you post, the greater your chances at going viral. Neetzan Zimmerman, who the Wall Street Journal called possibly “the most popular blogger working on the Web today” blogged for Gawker until 2014 and routinely drew the most unique visitors to the popular site. In an interview with HubSpot.com, Zimmerman shared that he posts 10 to 15 times per day. Not every post went viral, but the larger the volume of stories, the greater the chances of one taking off.

And don’t stop once your work is out there. Promote it actively on social media and do so repeatedly on different days at different times so you can capture different audiences. Tailor your posts for the social media platform.

Sure, you may lose some followers who don’t like repeat shares. But Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick found that this practice pays off. “When we decided to test the effect of repetition by sharing four identical posts with four different links to track clicks, we got about 1,300 clicks on the first, roughly the same on the second, 2,300 on the third and 2,700 on the fourth, for a total of 7,600 clicks. Would you be willing to risk complaints about repeated tweets to achieve 5.8 times more clicks?”

7. Play nice with others

Give credit where it’s due by linking to sources you site in your articles. “Links send traffic to the source as an act of gratitude; enable readers to learn more from the source; and increase your visibility and popularity with bloggers and websites,” write Kawasaki and Fitzpatrick.

And keep the gratitude flowing after your work is out there. Thank and retweet those who tweet your content. Follow them back. Retweet and favorite their stories. Offer thoughtful comments. Be engaged.

8. Study your stats

Check out how your stories compare against each other. What works? Why?

Pay attention to the stories that flopped and think about tweaks that could have made them better.

9. Time the release of your stories

Zimmerman recommends posting at 9 a.m. and noon EST. At 9 a.m. you’ll capture workers reluctant to dive into work at the start of the day.

At noon, you’ll capture West Coast workers arriving to the office and East Coast workers on their lunch break.

10. Give the reader a practical takeaway

You’ve written a compelling story with an irresistible headline. Now read over it and make sure it includes practical, actionable takeaways.

A key component of contagious content is getting readers to share content with their friends and followers. And since everyone from journalists and marketers to high school students to your aunt on Facebook is crafting their online brand, readers are more likely to share material that they find useful and makes them look good.

Demonstrate the value of your content, and watch your numbers soar.

Deborah Jian Lee is a journalist, radio producer and author of a forthcoming book about progressive evangelicals (Beacon Press). Follow her @deborahjianlee. Visit her website http://www.deborahjianlee.com.

YOUR BRAND AND YOU – HOW TO BRAND YOURSELF AND YOUR COMPANY

I am not a particular fan of modern branding. Or I should say, the modern idea that branding should be a separate entity from the person or individual it brands.

Or to be even more accurate that a brand is something the person who developed the brand submits himself or herself to, regardless of whether the “Brand” actually and accurately reflects the individual’s nature, or whether the brand is upright, honest, and honorable. (Or for that matter whether the person behind the brand is upright, honest, and honorable.) This is not even to mention the modern idea that somehow a brand is a thing in itself and has some sort of imagined or separate value devoid of any real product or service backing the brand. Which is to me the real danger and disaster of so much modern “branding,” the idea that the brand is a thing of value in itself even when it has nothing of real value to back the brand.

However, that being said branding has always existed and always will. From Standard Oil/Petroleum to Walmart. From Old Farmer’s Almanac to SpaceX.

The question to me is not whether “branding exists” (either in modern form or in ancient form), or whether much of what passes as advice on modern branding is worthwhile or not (I suspect much of it is not, being construed in the way it is), but how to best go about the idea and process of developing and promoting your own brand.

Therefore, based upon my own experience with my personal process of having developed my own brands in the past, and with my current process of developing my own brand as both a writer of fiction and as an inventor, below is my advice regarding how to go about setting up your own brand, the types of things you should concern yourself with in creating your brand, and finally with the attributes your brand should encompass.

As for the final section of this post, your Personal Brand Attributes – these are, of course, the specific attributes and characteristics of your brand and what you want that brand to both entail and promote. It will vary with each person and each brand.

Some brands may focus upon customer service, some upon high quality product development, some upon rapidity of product delivery, some upon entirely unique collaborative or customer design. Whatever the particulars of your case may be develop a list of attributes you want your brand and/or your company to encapsulate. And work to achieve and make these attributes real in the body of your brand.

My list of Personal Brand Attributes for my Writings I have listed in this section. Many would be the same but some would be different for my business and for my inventions.

You cannot, of course, encompass all beneficial qualities of a thing in a single brand because certain attributes are competitive and resource consuming in nature (add to one and you basically subtract from another) but there is absolutely no reason your brand, be it personal or corporate, cannot encompass many beneficial qualities and attributes.

As a matter of fact, it should.

 

PERSONAL BRANDING

In branding yourself do not make your brand in any way alien to or different from your actual and best nature, but rather let your brand flow naturally from the best true qualities of your own Character, Nature, and Personality.

Later, as you Incorporate and grow yourself and your creations into a self-sufficient, self-sustaining Business let your Business both reflect your Personal Brand and allow your business or corporation to exceed your Personal Brand so that your business can develop a Brand of its own.

However only let your Business or Corporate Brand be of the Highest Character and Nature, paralleling your own brand.

1. Pursue useful personal idiosyncrasies and imperfections
2. Be immanently and immediately relatable to as many people as possible
3. Be unique in both execution and style
4. Create a Unique Signature, Logo, and/or Mark and Symbol
5. Have an Individual and Easily Recognized Name or Moniker
6. Protect your Copyrights, Trademarks, and Intellectual Properties (of all kinds)
7. Take Appropriate Risks and take them often
8. Be Profitable and Well-Disciplined and Well-Managed
9. Market Cleverly, Consistently, and Well
10. Hire Excellent and Reliable and Upright Agents and Representatives and employ them consistently on your own behalf
11. Take on Big and important Projects as well as Personal and Intimate Ones
12. Constantly Practice, Study, and Improve yourself
13. Keep Careful and Useful Notes on all Good Ideas
14. Execute Promptly and Completely – Focus on one thing at a time and finish what you start
15. Network and Collaborate – build your Community and Base and treat them respectfully and with loyalty
16. Develop a “Personal Legend” around yourself based upon your own best individual Qualities, Character, Personality, and Nature. Eliminate as much as humanly possible your own failings, vices, and weaknesses. Guard your reputation like a treasure.

IN ALL ASPECTS OF YOUR BRAND BE HONEST AND HONORABLE AND SERVICE ORIENTED

PERSONAL BRAND ATTRIBUTES

Those aspects of your brand that you want to make most directly associated with yourself and your brand

Charitable
Driven and Determined
Fearless
Friendly and Personable
Godly
Highly Honorable and Honest
Intelligent
Meticulous
Moral
Optimistic
Polymathic/Renaissance Man or Corporation
Pragmatic
Precise and Scientific
Problem-Solver
Prolific
Purpose-Driven
Relentless
Risk-Taker
Visionary
Virtuous
Wise

SCOUTING THE BRAVE

He’s absolutely right. Too many Chiefs, not enough Braves. But you can’t win a war with only the Chiefs fighting, too few of them to matter, and most aren’t good fighters anyway… the Braves win the war. Or not.

How To Hire When Everyone Wants To Found Their Own Startup

Back before founding a company was cool, it was a lot easier to get a lot of smart people in a room. Rock stars were hireable because they weren’t forging their own paths. That led to powerhouse teams like the “PayPal Mafia” seen below.

Alongside the future founders of LinkedIn, YouTube and Yelp at PayPal was Keith Rabois, now of Khosla Ventures. Today at the Postseed Conference in SF, Rabois explained how PayPal was lucky to start at the right stage of the talent dilution cycle.

0901100XA001_25440.indd

According to Rabois, during down times when there’s not a lot of funding or fever to start companies, it’s easy to hire great talent. With enough intelligence centralized on a few startups, they grow. With time and success, hype builds around the idea of entrepreneurship and being a founder becomes a full-blown fetish.

Eager to coin on the success of the ecosystem, funding becomes plentiful and smart people found their own companies rather than join others. It becomes tougher to get a critical mass of talent on the same team. These companies raise money but don’t have the skills to win big and deliver returns. The bubble deflates, hype around startups cools off, and it becomes easier to hire strong people again.

Keith Rabois

 

But what should startups do if they’re unlucky enough to be getting off the ground when there’s a ton of recruiting competition and everyone wants to start their own company? You know, like now?

Rabois laid out four strategies for founders facing a tough hiring climate:

  • Sell The Mission – Founders must learn to convince potential recruits that their company will do good for the world, not just make a lot of money. Sure, they could go start their own company and potentially get rich, but joining this one will let them have a real impact. Founders have to sell both this macro mission, but also the micro mission of why the recruit’s contribution will be critical to making people’s lives better
  • Recruit Outside Of Central Casting – Rather than just trying to hire seasoned technologists or entrepreneurs, Rabois suggests sidestepping that scene and looking for people beyond the startup sphere. That could include prodigy college kids or geniuses from other industries, who haven’t seduced themselves into founding a company.
  • Create A Founder Culture – People often become founders because they can’t or think they can’t submit to being managed by someone else. To hire these types, companies have to build a culture where free-thinking self-starters can flourish. Rather than process-driven bureaucracy and hierarchy, founders must empower employees to make and execute decisions so they feel self-actualized while still having a boss.
  • Mentorship – Create a culture of learning, not just doing. When founder types know they can get an education that could help them start a company later, they’ll be more willing to join one now. If they only stay two years before fleeing, that’s still two years of valuable talent, and it’s on the founders to make the company interesting enough that employees want to stick around.

The tactics might seem time-consuming, but early hires set the tone for the company, and mediocre recruits can be toxic. It’s worth the effort for founders to enlist lieutenants they can trust to inspire the rest of the troops.

BUILDING YOUR BRAND

http://www.forbes.com/pictures/fgdi45ehikj/5-must-read-tips-for-building-a-brand-3/

%d bloggers like this: