Forced Narratives

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Maria Popova celebrated nine years of her fantastic blog Brain Pickings last October. In her celebratory post, she listed several really important life lessons. One really resonated with me: “When people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.” These moments — forced narratives if you would — are very dangerous because they test your own vision.

I read the post shortly after someone dressed me down and told me what they thought I was all about. There was nothing kind about it, and frankly it was a pretty disappointing experience. This person may have spent a total of 2 hours of time with me, and knew nothing about me.

If I embraced this person’s views as truth — as I would have 20 years ago when I was first starting my career — then I would have been crushed. Instead, I was able to see the forced narrative for what it was, anger and a last attempt at control.

In her post Popova stated, “assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.” It’s not for me to judge the other person, but the moment offered a powerful reminder to stay grounded in my own belief system.

It’s a Long Road

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I am at the halfway mark on my career lifespan if you were to assume that 65 is the assumed age of retirement. Frankly, I don’t think I ever want to completely retire, but the point is that one’s working life lasts a long time.

There are some people who walk the entire journey with you, but they are rare and often hard to recognize. I assumed some very like-minded people would be great colleagues my whole life and we pursued different paths. Other people who you didn’t think would be periodic players over a period of decades become just that, people who watch you and you watch them.

One thing you learn about people is that rarely are they one dimensional. Can you imaging if people said Leonardo Da Vinci was only a great painter, that he couldn’t do anything else? And Da Vinci believed them? How many inventions would have been lost to this world? His art would have been all the world had seen. Of course, just having the Mona Lisa wouldn’t be too bad ;).

When you watch a person over time you see their many sides. They are not just a writer, but also someone who can teach other people to write, and lead them to accomplish great things, a manager of sorts. As time progresses, they have a family and they become better able to administrate or become more tolerant of politics.

The point is you see many dimensions to a person. Not all of them are good either, but at the same time every person has strengths and weaknesses. The best come to terms with their weaknesses or at least come to understand them well enough to play against them. You learn to appreciate others for their respective skills, paths, and evolutions.

And when someone simply pushes a person you know into a label, a sense of disappointment rises. They don’t know Joanne (or Joe, if you prefer). And they don’t because they haven’t walked that long road with them like you have.

The Power of Introspection

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It took me a long time to publish this post, four months really. It took that long for me to understand the full power of that moment, that dressing down, and how I carried it with me.

Over the past few months I have been journaling pretty regularly, three or four times a week. It’s a fruitful exercise that helps me stay grounded on business, work through scenarios, and understand some of the emotions I experience as I move out of the agency entrepreneurial part of my life and into this next phase.

One of the biggest challenges I worked through was a sense of failure. But I have to tell you the biggest failure I experienced was not the loss of individual opportunities or even the painful end to Tenacity5. The biggest failure was my lost sense of qualification. That is what came

I used to look at opportunities in depth and really qualify them, not just to see if they would come in, but also to see if they were a match from a culture and offering standpoint. Really, this is sales 101. Anyone who is experienced in sales knows this, and I knew it, too.

Somewhere along the Tenacity5 journey I stopped doing that. And along that journey work became a grind. We took on projects we hated, and worked with companies that maybe we shouldn’t have. Unfortunately, that behavior continued after it ended, for a couple of months at least.

See, here’s where that dressing down comes in. If I listened to my gut, then I would not have entered into that relationship. I sensed trouble before it happened. There was a major cultural and ethos mismatch, and the warning signs were crystal clear.

When I think of that moment and the person in question, I don’t think about their forced narrative. This person has not walked that mile in my shoes, and cannot possibly understand my perspective. At least not yet.

Instead, I consider their roasting as a gift, for it reminded me to stay true to myself and qualify my opportunities well so that I select work opportunities that I truly care about, and with the people whom I can help the most. In the past two months, I have walked away from several business opportunities — including a full-time job offer. They were not matches. I believe the lesson has been learned.

What do you think about forced narratives?

LinkedIn Is What It Is: Personal, Employer, Business

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I opened the new LinkedIn Android app the other day and saw an unexpected message, “The One Stop Shop to Manage Your Personal Brand.” Because of my own hang-ups about the term “personal brand” I was taken aback. But like it or not, LinkedIn has become the place to manage your professional reputation.

It has also become much more than that. LinkedIn offers brands an ideal platform for employee communications — future (e.g. recruitment), present, and past. The social networks also provides B2B brands a great place to market.

For those that are still stuck in the Twitter and Facebook for brands universe (and maybe, just maybe Instagram, too), please keep in mind how big LinkedIn has become. More than 400,000 million people are using the social network to talk about their professional life. Let’s take a quick look at each of these three forms of communication on LinkedIn; personal, employer and business.

Personal Marketing

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With most people looking for work online today, LinkedIn has become a nexus to build a personal profile and network. There are many ways to stand out on LinkedIn and strengthen your presence.

LinkedIn profiles serve as a place for potential employers to check out your history. In many ways, the profile has become the modern resume. In addition, potential contracts and speaking opportunities can come through LinkedIn.

Attracting people to and making your profile stand out are the primary means of personal marketing on LinkedIn. Here are a few methods:

This latter point may seem obvious, but don’t post your cute dog pic on LinkedIn. If social media made a level of uncouth personality acceptable on the Internet, then LinkedIn became the social media place where the old school mindset of act in a professional manner still reigns. Many people and brands are relieved about that, too. Save the personal posts for Instagram, and button it up on LinkedIn.

Employee Communications

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I remember when LinkedIn launched in the early 2000s. It was hyped as a place to network and find new jobs. After a period of time, employers started using LinkedIn for recruitment purposes.

Then LinkedIn built company profiles. Networking became smarter and you could identify past and present employees through search. The algorithms began sourcing news about company x, particularly when there was a clear tie between an employee and corporate page.

The reality for most brands is that employee communications should begin inside their physical and virtual walls and on their web site. It begins with culture in direct communications up and down the ladder. Another reality exists: Many conversations are occurring about brands out of those domains, and on social media sites like LinkedIn and GlassDoor.

With so many people talking about work and their future on LinkedIn, it can become the central hub of an HR and recruitment social media strategy. Here are some quick tactics to help facilitate that:

Market Your Corporate Brand

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Not only has LinkedIn made itself a great place to engage in employee communications, it has also become a fantastic marketing venue for B2B marketing. Conversations and content galore on professional topics ranging from IT security to digital marketing are everywhere.

Businesses that offer some sort of B2B offering — product or service — need to experiment with LinkedIn as a means to brand and generate initial content leads. Here are some ideas for your efforts:

  • Build an engaging corporate profile page that shows what the company does, and how it helps the industry and your customers). Use Showcase pages to highlight particular product areas and include calls-to-action to drive traffic to your site.
  • Use LinkedIn’s advertising platform (sponsored updates) to communicate with customers. This is a good way to extend the reach of your corporate profile.
  • Pulse Articles are also a great way for a brand to show thought leadership. Find spokespersons who are willing to use their profiles and publish articles, then promote them on your company profile page.
  • Consider LinkedIn sister brand SlideShare as a means to create content that engages prospective customers. You can integrate SlideShare into your page.
  • Manage a group to build subject matter expertise for your company

    . LinkedIn is in the midst of revamping its groups for better functionality and results.

What LinkedIn marketing tips would you add to these lists?

Jennifer Nycz-Conner on How Technology Is Transforming Journalism

Jennifer Nycz-Conner is an editor at the Washington Business Journal, where she serves as the business anchor on WTOP and she runs the Working the Room column. She has seen how digital media from blogs to today’s newer technologies like Meerkat and Periscope have changed journalism.

The following is an interview conducted with Jen on behalf of xPotomac that focuses on how digital has and continues to change journalism. You can see Jen speak at xPotomac with Jodi Gersh on August 27th in Georgetown (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Any typos or errors are mine, not hers.

GL: Where have we come in the past decade with digital?

JNC: It’s light years. I have been at the Business Journal for 10 years, which is strange because that’s a really long time in journalism. It has been interesting, as we have had front row seats for this evolution.

I have seen [the paper] move away from a weekly, where we focused on publishing once a week. We threw that out the door. Stories are no longer held for print. We publish [stories] as soon as we have them. We changed our approach to our weekly print edition so it is more of a wrap-up with a deeper analysis rather than breaking the news. So that for us is one of the big changes.

GL: How do you like being on the radio instead of print?

JNC: Radio offers an immediate reaction so that part is really fun. I’ve always been passionate about radio, but I have come to develop a great respect and appreciation for it that I didn’t have before doing it every day.

Part of that respect is people invite you into their lives; it’s very much a one-to-one medium where print is one to a whole lot of people. You are sitting next to people in traffic. For people to listen to you not only do they have to appreciate what you are saying, but they also have to want to spend time with you and like you.

The writing style is very different. Brevity is very important. You learn that 30 seconds is actually a very long time, and I never thought that before.

You give a lot of thought about what you are putting into that 30 seconds. There is not a lot of fat to work with on that. You really have to cut it down as quickly as you can, and give people what they need to know right now. They have to care about what you are saying. It has to mean something.

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GL: Do you feel that’s true across media today, particularly the way social media is working?

JNC: Yeah, there is so much noise, and you can find your news anywhere now. When you look at the traditional broadcast news that we grew up with you waited for Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw to tell you what was going on. You don’t have that anymore.

What you still have are trusted voices. If you are still getting news you want to get it from someone you know and trust.

GL: Jennifer Nycz-Conner [laughs].

JNC: Let’s hope so, seriously, I think about that sometimes. That is part of the job and the occupation and the mission of a journalist to be that trusted voice. They are going to tell you the most accurate, insightful truthful version you can find.

The other part is the “what does it mean to me” part? We all have tons of noise, and we can find any fact any time of the day. What you can’t find is meaning. What is the analysis, and how does it affect me and my family, and where I live? For us as business leaders, what does that mean? Part of our job is to translate that.

GL: You are [very involved] in video, and we are seeing big changes including livestreaming taking off. What are you seeing happen with video? What is your perspective as a journalist?

JNC: It is a crazy time. I’ve been working on our video for three or four years. What we have learned, there is an incredible appetite for video now. We all have screens with us at the time.

If you think back 20 years ago, that’s crazy to even think about. I started out in live television production. I used to have to get 53-foot tractor-trailers to do the stuff you can do today on your cell phone. It’s crazy!

People will watch video if it is the right medium for what they want to see. You can’t take what you wrote for the paper and put it in a video. You can’t just recreate the standard news form. They want it short, they want it insightful, and they want the pay-off: “What does it mean to me?” If I am going to invest my eyes and ears and give you two minutes of my time, I need some sort of pay-off for it.

Jen Nycz Conner Interview Laughing

GL: How do you stay relevant with everything and the way the media seems continuously evolve?

JNC: That’s assuming I am relevant. It’s an upward climb. A benefit for journalists and technology is curiosity. Journalists by their very nature are curious, we don’t go into this business if we are not. That curiosity translates to technology.

You want to try out new things. You want to test new things. You want to experiment and find new ways to tell a story. In a way, that makes us pretty good technologists.

It is hard to stay relevant. Time management is challenging. It used to be reporters went out, took a notebook and pen, and wrote a story, and had a deadline, and had deadline at 5 o’clock that night.

Now you are filing a story on your cell phone half the time. You are also shooting video, recording audio, taking pictures, tweeting while you are reporting the story, then writing the story, then writing the wrap-up of that story. Journalists have to do a whole lot more. It’s a constant decision making process about what’s the best use of my time. How will this best serve my audience?

GL: How do you feel about getting pitched through social media, Twitter, Facebook…?

JNC: It is hard. The only benefit of the tweet pitch is that it is short. You know their not going to bother with the 18-paragraph introduction before they get to the point.

What drives me crazy is the more of the ping-pong game that a lot of PR people play. They will send you an email, then they will call you and say, “Hi, I am calling to see if you received my email.”

[And] what does drive me crazy is when people don’t know what we cover. That hasn’t changed with technology. We get really consumer oriented pitches or pitches that don’t have anything to do with anything we cover. You got to know the publication, especially today when you can go online, Google it, spend five minutes and get a pretty good idea of what we are doing.

I don’t mind connecting in different ways. I was on Twitter pretty early, 2009, and that was a great way to connect with people and get some really good stories that way.

See Jen speak at xPotomac with Jodi Gersh on August 27th!

SXSW Is Dead, Long Live SXSW!

Many people who were a part of the social media boom last decade attended SXSW. It was the place to see and be seen, where apps went mainstream and reputations were forged. In recent years, social media experts have stopped going, proclaiming SXSW dead.

And after attending my seventh one, I have to agree. SXSW is dead… For social media experts.

SXSW is about the Internet, and how various media and industries are adapting to it. In that sense SXSW is a zeitgeist. And the time of social media dominating SXSW, while not completely gone, has certainly waned.

Social networking and communities are a part of the Internet’s fiber, but they are no longer a special topic. That makes social less of a premium newsmaker at an Internet conference focused on trends, and as a result social media experts aren’t getting the attention they used to at SXSW. So it is little wonder that those who used to thrive on the subject find the conference unappealing.

What SXSW Has Become

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A woman solders a chip, part of a device she was building at SXCreate.

What SXSW 2015 offered was an incredible series of mini-conferences that ranged from fashion (think wearable tech in the form of smart clothing) and start-up manufacturing to SXSports and large broadcast brands boasting their digital entertainment properties. SXSW is now a festival of many Internet industries. Social media and perhaps the now stronger digital marketing communities are just individual industry segments amongst the multitude.

My friend Dave Weinberg, CEO of loop88 said, “The fact that we’re all here and that we have these serendipitous situations is what made this SXSW special. It’s totally different than it has been.”

I have to agree. This year’s SXSW was the best one I have attended in a long time. The networking was diverse and phenomenal.

“The amount of education, of giving back knowledge to the community is absolutely unparalleled,” said Howard Greenstein, COO of DomainSkate and adjunct professor at Columbia University. “From small sessions sponsored by companies on specific topics to niche panels about everything from legal hackers to bitcoin, you can learn about anything from people who are actually doing the work.”

Signs of How SXSW Changed

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SXSW 2015 saw the break-out of Meerkat, the first app to breakout at SXSW in a couple of years. Yet, while this was a big story, it was not the story, far from it. There were many threads throughout the event, many of which revolved around celebrity appearances and cancellations.

For the first time in years I attended sessions, and thoroughly enjoyed 75% of what I saw. This is pretty good compared to most conferences I go to. Some of the better events and sessions I attended included the Jack Welch versus Gary Vaynerchuk discussion on executive leadership, the SXCreate session on building micro manufacturing companies.

There were fewer uber-influencer swordfests at SXSW, which made it more pleasant. It was also easier to avoid those situations when they arose.

At the same time while the mighty influencer is gone, the suit has arrived. And with the business audience has come a tension between the old school casual SXSW attendee and the proliferation of suits and heels at the conference. I’m glad I brought a jacket and two collared shirts because when I wore T-shirts and a jersey I received more than my fair share of looks.

And with the rise of the celebrity, there were more high powered executives, stars and brands attending the event. I met more high caliber successful people than I have at any prior SXSW.

SXSW is much bigger than it used to be, but is also much different. It has evolved, and with it so have my expectations of it. It’s funky still, but now it is transforming into a big dollar business event. But the reason I still come is the incredible relationship opportunities it continues to offer, even as a humbler small business owner. And that continues to make SXSW a must-attend event for me.

Writing Fiction Hurts More than Nonfiction

Successful author and friend Chris Brogan asked me to pen some thoughts the process of writing fiction works versus penning business books. My gut response was that it hurts more than nonfiction.

How can writing a book hurt you ask? I think most people who have accomplished the task will agree that it’s a laborious two-year process (give or take six months). For every accolade you get, you’ll invest hours of your time. Most authors make very little money.

After my last business book I felt a great emptiness, a lack of purpose in my writing. I needed to turn back to my heart’s desire, writing fiction (as opposed to developing books about social media and marketing).

When I published Exodus, I released a demon that had bugged me for decades. I gladly sucked it up to make the dream come true.

Why Novels Are a Personal Journey

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Image of my first business book Now Is Gone by Dave Barger.

Exodus had little financial pay-off — in actuality, I published it at a loss. So today I find myself focusing on business needs first. Consequently, Exodus became my stepchild of published works. It was poorly marketed, but still moved more than 3000 units in spite of me (it’s true, I am not Stephen King).

Still, I published a novel. I finally wrote the book that I always envisioned would be my calling card as an author. No one can take that away from me.

With a successful business book there is usually some sort of a pay-off, including developing new business, introducing new ideas to the marketplace, garnering speaking gigs, or positioning yourself as a “thought leader.” These are the reasons to write a business book, in my opinion. While I am much less inclined to jump at the opportunity to write a business book these days, I probably will write a couple more before my career ends.

The pay-offs are much less obvious with novels. For most successful novelists, it takes a catalog of books before they start seeing strong financial gains. It requires real commitment, and it’s one of the reasons why I admire Brian Meeks‘ steadfast focus on his fiction career.

This lack of any significant financial gratification makes publishing a novel something you do to fulfill yourself. Most publishing houses are reticent to sign new fiction authors. These days most aspiring authors are going to have to self-publish or work with a hybrid publisher and share the financial risk.

After the First Novel

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I still want to write novels, but it’s less about fulfilling a lifelong inner need. Now it’s about being who I am, an author. In fact, I am still working on the last draft of book II, now titled Perseverance, and I believe it will be released this summer.

After Exodus was published, it became clear I had room to grow as a writer. Character development and style were all in need of mechanical improvements. So I set out to write a better novel, one that shows the lessons learned from experience. I owe it to my readers and myself to improve.

But because the pain has no obvious reward and I am not getting paid to publish the novel, I treat book two like a hobby and am taking my sweet time. Novel writing is a second tier priority compared to family and business.

This slower pace makes it less likely I will become a mainstream novelist anytime soon. That’s OK. Since I see novel writing as a personal act of art rather than a career, there is no sense of loss with that. The slower pace mitigates the pain and intensity of a major work, while allowing me to meet my responsibilities.

What are your thoughts on writing novels versus business books?

No One Wants to Be the First Loser

Everyone who owns a business finds themselves in competitive sales situations, RFP or not. Even when you think you’re not in a competition, buyers consider other options including not buying. And that’s why as a competitive person, I hate losing. There is nothing worse than being told my company has placed second, which just means I am the first loser.

We recently talked about the super fun RFPs offer small business owners. RFPs take incredible amount of time they take. In fact, all new business efforts takes time, a necessary part of running a company.

But when you come in second, it is the worst kind of failure. The win was within grasp. Some sort of internal failure to satisfy the customer caused the loss. That’s painful, folks.

When donned the second loser, you also have a choice. You can look within and engage in a post mortem to determine why you lost. Or you can embrace the loser status, and blame the client. Or outside circumstances. Or just accept that the other option was more attractive than what you presented.

Why They Say No

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The word attraction is important here. I find potential clients chose not to select my company because they just didn’t love what we had to offer. Or they loved something else more. Perhaps I failed to listen to them, and didn’t allay their fears. Or worse, I was cold and failed to build a relationships.

My friend Jack Vincent wrote a book, “A Sale Is a Love Affair.” It’s a great book, and I hope you read it. He talks about how sales are really about building relationships of trust and value. And like a love affair, if you don’t respect the other person and their feelings (fears, need for trust, etc.) then a sale goes awry.

I decided to forward a draft of this post to Jack and get his thoughts. “Sure, prospective customers want to know you’re competent and that your proposed solution is on the mark and that you can deliver it effectively,” wrote Jack. “But what often differentiates the winning pitch is the personal connection you establish during the pitch and the sales process. To this effect, winning new business has eye-opening parallels to finding love.”

While researching A Sale Is A Love Affair, Jack found that the advice given by today’s dating coaches and marriage counselors correlates directly with the best practices used by marketing consultants and sales trainers. “The mindset is actually a heart-set,” says, Jack. “It focuses on pulling prospects through their purchasing process, not pushing them through your sales process.”

So when I am the first loser, I always review the sale to see where it went wrong. Just like any relationship — marriage, friendship, parenting — business relationship skills can always stand to be improved upon. I need to know why I lost so next time, I can win the business, and more importantly, the fun project to work on with my new client and friend.

What do you think about close losses?