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Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Going Virtual

In Tips, Tools on December 10, 2010 at 6:23 pm

For four years, REACH has kept its nose to the grindstone and produced some nice work (at least we think so) without paying a dime of rent. We’ve had project teams as large as five people and scattered from Irving to Beijing. We go days, sometimes weeks, without seeing our coworkers in person. When I mention that to other business owners, they look shocked and, sometimes, appalled. And they inevitably ask, “How does that work?” Here are six keys we’ve discovered to making a virtual office run smoothly.

1. Meet. As much as we like the virtual setting, we do realize that there is value in sitting down to a table with coworkers. In-person communication is better, clearer and more rewarded. Is it always necessary? No. But it’s necessary to keep personal contact in the mix.

2. Stay In Constant Contact. No, not the poorly-designed email marketing system (sorry CC users, we’re not fans). I mean keep in close contact with the team. This has a lot to do with technology. At REACH, we do this with several tools that allow us to keep in close contact at all times. We use Basecamp for project management, Dropbox for file sharing, iChat for instant messaging, videoconferencing and screensharing, and of course email and phone. Almost all of our files, deadlines, messages and plans are available in the cloud. And all of those technologies are available on our laptops and mobile devices so no one ever has to say, “Let me check on that when I get back to the office.” There is no office.

3. Use the Tools. It’s one thing to have communication tools listed above, it’s another thing to use them. We’ve developed a “virtual open door” culture. We check in with each other often, and often it’s for no reason. A quick iChat conversation can start with “How’s it going?” “Whatcha workin on?” or “Did you see the Basecamp notes on Project X?” We don’t need an agenda to say, “Hi.” It’s the virtual equivalent of stopping by someone’s desk which, in many workplaces, is how a lot of collaborative work gets done.

4. Get It In Writing. Since much of our communication is via chat, Basecamp message, or text (rather than office chatter or in-person meetings), we’re forced to articulate our ideas, opinions and reports in written form. I think this is a good thing. What it loses in body language and voice inflection, it makes up in clarity and accuracy. Admittedly, I’m partial to written communication, but I think not meeting sometimes helps us have better meetings.

5. Lay Off. As much as we work at staying in touch, solitude is also an advantage for our agency. Since we’re free to choose our own workspace, we can find or create spaces that facilitate our work. For creative work, that’s often at home with no distractions and no one around. Creatives love to “crawl into a hole” to dig into their craft. And it’s easier to do that alone at home than it is with office chatter and an open cubical.

6. Use Temporary Spaces. Finally, we do have spaces available when we need them. Sometimes, there are client meetings or sales presentations that just don’t work as well at a Starbucks. For those, we use a virtual office called Intelligent Office that let’s us pay for office or conference room space by the hour. It’s professional and convenient. And it tells our clients we’re serious about our business.

So that’s how we do it. No offices. No cubes. No TPS reports. We have all of the tools we need and none of the stuff we don’t.

What do you think? Could a virtual arrangement ever work for your business? Why not?

Verb-al Planning

In Tips on November 29, 2010 at 5:04 pm


Next year will be here before you know it. The holiday season will soon end. Resolutions will be made. Gyms will be crowded. The “new you” will launch into 2011 with vision and vim to last … oh … at least three weeks. In this time or reflection and renewal for next year, here’s an exercise that might help you distill more meaningful plans and purposes for the “new you”.

 

Imagine your personal mission statement in terms of verbs.

 

Start with a list of all of the verbs you can think of that might reasonably relate to your life’s work. Be generous here. Include things like “inspire”, “explore”, “discover”, “feed”, “heal”, “achieve”, “win”, “rescue”, “harvest”, “divine”, “write”, “conquer”, “listen”, “speak”, “lead”, “follow”, “promote”, “love”. Don’t stop until you’ve got at least 200 verbs.

 

Then narrow your list. Identify 10 verbs that stand out the most to you. Mull them over. Imagine them each as your life work. Imagine people saying, “He builds…”, “She promotes…”, “He teaches…”. Then choose three verbs that resonate most deeply with your talents, desires, personality and vision.

 

If your plans for the “new you” in 2011 aren’t achieved by those three verbs, rethink your plans.

 

This exercise could take a while. It might take a week just to dream up 200 verbs. It might take another week to choose your top three. Take your time. It might be a good topic to mull over on that long drive or flight to holiday festivities.

 

This process of expanding and contracting, brainstorming and then distilling, is similar to the messaging workshop I teach for REACH clients. It’s also the model for successful creative thought according to some neuroscience researchers. It’s a model that can be used over and over again for all kinds of creative endeavors.

 

And, yes, I believe good planning is a creative work.

Prescription for B.S.

In Tips, Trends on November 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm
For Part One of this three-part series of entries on Busyness Syndrome, click here. For Part Two, click here.


Ironically, I think the answer to BS is not less stuff. I don’t believe less is more. I don’t think we can actually have, do, and be less. Instead, I think the answer is choosing the right stuff.


A counselor of mine used to say, “Empty places long to be filled.” You’ve got 24 hours in your day today. You can’t bump that down to 23 so you won’t have as much to fill. You’re going to spend 24 hours on something. The answer isn’t doing less. It’s doing the right things. What if one of the things you chose to invest in today was something that restored you rather than drained you? What if you engaged something sheerly for its beauty and not for its utility? What if you went for a walk?


I’m not condoning laziness. I’m from the Texas Panhandle. Farm country. We believe in good old fashioned American work ethic. But we also understand fallow and Sabbath.


The problem with fallow is that it requires sacrifice. That land could produce a crop one more year. Letting land lie fallow, letting your business take a Sabbath, seems like throwing away money. And maybe it is, for the short term. But another friend of mine likes to say, “Every time you say ‘Yes’ to something, you’re saying ‘No’ to something else.” The cure for BS is identifying the best things to say “Yes” to.


The good news is that corrections can be made gradually. Our course in life is determined by millions of tiny choices we make day-by-day, hour-by-hour.


Is your schedule full of BS? Do you have trouble getting out of the right column on the busyness chart? What is one choice you can make this week to throw off the tyranny of the urgent (say “No” to something unimportant) and give yourself to what’s important?

Diagnosing B.S.

In Tips, Trends on November 17, 2010 at 9:06 pm

For Part One of this three-part series of entries on Busyness Syndrome, click here.

So how to you know if you’re infected? How do you diagnoses Busyness Syndrome (let’s call it BS for short)? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What gets your first attention – urgent things or important things?
  • Count the number of people who are expecting something – product, presence or communication – from you today. I don’t mean blog subscribers, employees or Facebook friends. I mean how many people do you need to talk to or work for one-on-one today in order to be caught up?
  • When was the last time you were caught up?
  • How many requests for your time have you denied this week?

I think what happens with BS is similar to what happens to addicts. The addiction escalates until what used to feel good (important, successful) doesn’t work any more. The addict needs more drug to reach the same high. We need more production, more awards, more success to feel good about ourselves.

The next thing that happens with BS has been defined brilliantly by Charles Hummel in his book Tyranny of the Urgent. Divide your life’s tasks and relationships into four quadrants:

The healthy person spends most of his time, resources and care in the top half of that chart, but also takes time to tinker with unimportant stuff occasionally. But the BS victim can’t get out of the left column. His time, thoughts, energies, resources and affections are sapped by the urgent. Urgency becomes the only trigger for action. Importance becomes an afterthought.

This is why men build great empires, but raise lousy kids. It’s why pastors grow megachurches, but let their fidelity to personal commitments crumble. It is why politicians manage approval ratings rather than spending. It leads them to be followers, not leaders. It leads us to be reactive, not proactive. It leads us to look at next steps (or worse – the last step) rather than new horizons.

To CMS or not to CMS?

In Tips on November 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm

It happens to us all the time. A prospect asks to meet with us regarding a new website. One of their requirements is that they want the site to be dynamic and engaging. And one of their issues is that they haven’t set a budget for their project. Those two things clash when the discussion comes around to developing the website. And the biggest decision our prospects face is whether to use a CMS or not. Below are three tips for making this decision, but first let’s define the terms.

A CMS (content management system) is a framework for adding content to a website. It provides a user-friendly interface so that someone without any training in website code can make updates and minor design changes to the site. The most prolific CMS in the world is WordPress. REACH uses one of two CMS to build website, depending on the project requirements: Wordpess and Typo3. CMS are convenient if non-developers need hands-on access to the site. So does your site need a CMS? Ask yourself this:

What’s your budget?
Integrating a CMS can increase the cost of development by as much as 75 percent, but it may save you expenses in the long run for updating and changing the site.

Will you pay the price for dynamic content?
Fresh, dynamic content is vitally important to a successful website. It’s the first step in attracting new visitors and retaining regular visitors. But it’s not easy. Someone has to take time to create and upload new content on a regular basis. Before you spend the money on a CMS-designed website, get honest with yourself about website updates. Will you really ever get around to them? Are they really important to you? Is a dynamic website a vital part of your business plan? If you can’t answer yes to those questions, it might be best to accept your website’s role as a static, online brochure.

Will you stay with your developer?
CMS frameworks make it easy for websites to get passed from one developer to another. If you have a good relationship with the vendor who is developing the site and you feel confident that that agency will meet your needs for updates and changes going forward, then save some money and let them develop it with HTML or however they feel comfortable. But if you suspect that you’ll outgrow their services or availability, a CMS will make it easier to “port” the site to a new provider.

Consider these issues before undertaking your next website project. They will save you time, money and headaches.

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What has been your experience? Are you familiar with any CMS? What’s your favorite?

Ogilvy On Tracking

In Tips, Trends on November 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm


A friend tweeted a link to this video from the legendary David Ogilvy this week. It’s worth a look. Even if you don’t agree with everything he has to say, it’s refreshing – in a world of constantly changing media platforms and seat-of-the-pants marketing approaches – to hear from someone who is “all in” with their marketing philosophy.


While it’s hard to disagree with David Ogilvy, I do. I think he’s right that direct response, targeted marketing is indispensable. It should come before brand building, public relations or other forms of promotion. I agree that marketing should be tied closely to sales. But I also think there’s a place for unmeasurable, un-trackable, free-for-all, brand-building marketing. The trick is to know the difference. Don’t try to measure responses or impressions from TV ads or Super Bowl halftime shows. It’s tempting to try because the numbers are there (for instance, 106 million people watched the Super Bowl last year). But those numbers are mostly meaningless. They could be much too low because the ad or halftime show was so phenomenal that it got discussed and replayed hundreds of times. Or they could be much too high because (as is usually the case) there was nothing in the presentation to keep people in front of the set instead of in front of the fridge. (You can see why, regarding unmeasurable media, the quality of the creative product has such a great impact on the campaign’s success.)


This paradigm applies to a smaller scale as well. Don’t expect direct returns on the golf tournament sponsorship or the newspaper ad. On the other hand, don’t neglect to build in tracking mechanisms (like unique phone numbers or landing pages) for campaigns that are measurable like email, display ads or direct mail.


The lesson here is simple. Know what to expect. If you’re not sure what to expect, try some things out. Or, better yet, talk to a marketer who has experience with the medium you’re considering. If you can find someone as smart and charming as 1950s David Ogilvy, all the better.


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What’s your take? Have you had success with direct response media? Have you tried?

Creative Thought

In Tips, Trends on October 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Our level of creative success may be tied to what we can forget. As new models emerge our tendency is to layer them onto old models rather than jettison old things and start over. It’s much harder to face the the stark kernel of a new model. We wind up retrofitting our old models w new baubles instead of building sleek efficient new models.

A recent article in Newsweek highlighted one aspect of this problem. According to researchers interviewed for the article, students can learn creativity. At least, they can exercise the creative sequences in their brain. They do so by following this pattern:
  • Divergent thinking to learn and explore
  • Convergent thinking to select and synthesize
The first step involves identifying the problem, learning about its causes and aspects and then researching and brainstorming related topics, themes, ideas, solutions. Note that brainstorming isn’t creating a list of possible solutions from which to choose in the next phase. The best brainstorming chases a lot of rabbits, veers and detours and dives into minutia of situations only tangentially related to the problem. In fact, the most creative people tend to be those who can venture farthest afield from the issue at hand and still make it back home safely.

 

The second phase involves shifting through all of the data, knowledge and ideas generated by the first phase. Some will indeed be irrelevant. But some information that seemed unrelated on the surface may hold a key to enabling a new solution. Creative thinkers can take their far-flung fact-finding and combine or cut out its pieces to arrive at a new, original idea.

 

Newsweek describes the process this way.

 

When you try to solve a problem, you begin by concentrating on obvious facts and familiar solutions, to see if the answer lies there. This is a mostly left-brain stage of attack. If the answer doesn’t come, the right and left hemispheres of the brain activate together. Neural networks on the right side scan remote memories that could be vaguely relevant. A wide range of distant information that is normally tuned out becomes available to the left hemisphere, which searches for unseen patterns, alternative meanings, and high-level abstractions.

Having glimpsed such a connection, the left brain must quickly lock in on it before it escapes. The attention system must radically reverse gears, going from defocused attention to extremely focused attention. In a flash, the brain pulls together these disparate shreds of thought and binds them into a new single idea that enters consciousness. This is the “aha!” moment of insight, often followed by a spark of pleasure as the brain recognizes the novelty of what it’s come up with.

Now the brain must evaluate the idea it just generated. Is it worth pursuing? Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate.

 

For me, the crucial part of this process is the turn-around. It’s an intuitive decision to say, “I’ve done enough research. Any more time invested in divergent thinking is not going to yield any better result.” And it always feels like there’s a backlash at the instant of turn-around. My mind is thinking outward, forward, divergently. When I turn around to head for home, I get the impression that the inertia of my ideas are continuing outward without me. I find myself scrambling to lasso them – write them down, take a picture, sketch something, leave a voice recording – anything to help herd my ideas toward the finish line.

 

Which creative trap are you most likely to fall into?
  • Sticking too close to home so that your solutions tend to be repackaged version of old methodologies?
  • Venturing far afield and never bringing your thoughts back together?

Something to Ask

In Tips on October 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm

As we near November elections, you’ll notice more and more politicians asking you for your vote. It’s a central principle in political campaigning – ask for the vote. It’s important to ask. It’s important that candidates do it themselves. It’s important to make it personal. It’s important to ask in a straightforward manner without any hint of reward or consequence.

Fundraisers have a similar mantra. They’ll tell you that the most important piece of their campaigns is the ask. You’ll never raise any money if you don’t ask for it.

But businesses and brands too easily lose sight of the ask. We rename it (call to action), bury it (first register, then download a white paper, then get a free consultation, then we’ll ask you for your business), or just wait for the prospect to do the asking (contact us if you’d like to ask us to work for you).

If you have something to sell (and you probably do if you’re reading this blog) consider how you ask prospects to buy it. Is your ask simple and straightforward? Are you making it difficult for prospects to figure out how to hire you? Or, on the other hand, does your ask come across more like a plea? A beg?

Here are a few suggestions for formulating your ask:

  1. Make it plain. “Would you like to buy a glass of lemonade?”
  2. Make it easy to move forward. “Just click this big, red, gaudy button.” It’s important to reduce the risk of taking the next step. It’s not about luring them in. It’s about starting an easy conversation.
  3. Make it unavoidable. Sales calls work because they demand a response. Look for ways to ask for business that strike a nice balance – putting the ball in the prospect’s court without being pushy.

REACH has had success with email marketing because it accomplishes all three of these tasks.

  1. We ask in a straightforward way.
  2. We give recipients a clear path to contacting us.
  3. We put the ball in their court. Email (from a person) must be dealt with. If I send you an email, at the very least, you have to click the “Delete” key. But even that is a response. Email forces a response without being rude. And since it’s just as easy to click “Reply” as “Delete” we often get leads or referrals in response to our email campaigns.

Of course, email isn’t the only way to accomplish these three tasks. But regardless of the medium used, think about your ask. And, of course, think about this:

Would you like to buy a two-day review of your brand and marketing from REACH? If so, click here.

Two Piles

In Kindness, Tips on October 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm

All of life can be sorted into two piles – the things we do to extend our number of days and the things we do to make our days count. The first pile includes work and paychecks and food and exercise. The second includes family and friends and service. God is in both. And if we’re lucky, there may be some overlap where our work is also important or fulfilling.

The Importance of Design

In Tips on October 4, 2010 at 3:56 pm

A quick story from a REACH project: we recently helped with development of a web application that turned out to be pretty robust. In fact, the more functionality requested by the client, the less and less attention was paid to design. We developed Photoshop documents and design standards at the outset, but as more changes we made, the design got pinched and squeezed into worse and worse variations. When we finally launched the project, it looked much less appealing than it did when we started. The site had only been live for about a month when the client called us back. They were getting anecdotal reports from users saying they weren’t getting past the home screen because they were confused about how to enter, what to do next, where the big red “click here” button was. We wound up simplifying the tool itself but as we discussed, it became clear that this was a problem with design. As much as we love content and efficiency, it’s important to be reminded occasionally that good design is good communication and leads to good business. Ask Myspace.