Letting Go of the T-Bar

Skiier on T-Bar

In the shower this morning (where all great thinking happens) I found myself wondering about when the right time was to let go of the bar …

            When I was growing up we often spent the winter weekends skiing.  For a few years (due to a new marriage) there were four boys in our family.  Skiing was a great way to occupy everyone while learning an athletic skill and spending all that youthful energy.  There were several kinds of lifts and tows up the hill, one of them being the T-bar.  A T-bar is a long metal (usually aluminum) pole on a shock absorber spring that you put behind your backside to slide you up a little trail to the top of the ski slope.  The “T” part of the bar referred to the fact that the seat allows for two people to get pulled up the slope side by side.  Inevitably, at some time in one’s skiing career, if you go often enough, there are T-bar mishaps.  People lose their attention and slip off the trail, someone falls off and leads to a pile up before the operator can stop the lift, or the seat slips to the point where you can’t fix it and you must abandon the T and wait for the next one to come by or sometimes have someone ski to you to help you get back on.  The process can be quite scary, as the skis refuse to cooperate, and you eventually lose your grip—literally.  It is also a little embarrassing, but common enough that it shouldn’t ruin your day

            In the shower this morning (where all great thinking happens) I found myself wondering about when the right time was to let go of the bar, not just in skiing, but in general, both business and personal things that keep dragging me along toward some inevitable goal that I may or may not still be invested in accomplishing.  The idea that I always choose the right path toward a desired goal, or even the right goal, is of course unrealistic perfectionism (tautology intended).  A colleague of mine, Molly Grisham, writes a wonderful blog where she shares wins and losses in her career as a coach’s coach.  She might prefer a different name, like executive coach or leadership facilitator, but she does a lot of work with athletic departments and organizations, so I like to think of her as a coach’s coach.  This week her topic had to do with an event she had planned for a specific target group in mind, and when the audience changed, she realized her prepared material was a bad match for those in attendance. (I would encourage you to read her post here.)  It made me stop and wonder what I would do in those circumstances, and whether it might be a time to let go of the T-bar.

            In a broader sense, getting up every morning with the same set of goals and tasks has its advantages.  Life is predictable in such a routine.  But when it starts to drag you down (or in any direction you don’t want to go) then it might be time to let go.  Often in my role as a consultant I use the example of the top ten legal clients you might want to turn away.  As an attorney you learn which potential clients are a good match and those whom you would be better off without.    Letting go of the T-bar is a little scary.  There is a loud clang usually, the people around you notice if you have not done it gracefully (say to get off at a trail crossing) and several times I have had the wooden seat come by and smack me in the face or the head.  While I do not recommend the process, there is always a time to let go, and the faster you figure it out, the less it will hurt when the time comes.

            Currently I am working on about a dozen different initiatives (as I call them) and each of them takes time and attention.  Balancing all these projects is what I’m good at, so I can get carried away into thinking I can take on even more because I can continue to schedule my way to success.  But every now and then, like this morning, I need to stop scheduling and take inventory of where I’m going and whether each of these initiatives are worth the time and effort I spend on them.  I love writing, so I’ll keep those projects.  I don’t really like chasing people down, so I may stay away from that more in the future.  I want to be a good mentor and encourage those who are my friends and clients, but I do put a limit to the lengths I’m willing to go to give a compliment or share a win. 

How about you?  Do you have times when you need to let go of the T-bar?  Please feel free to share your story and your own times that letting go of the T-bar has left you bruised, but that much better for it.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design, LLC  in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

What is a Good Idea?

Recently I had a good idea.  I like to think of myself as creative person and while I do not always get it right, I always enjoy the feeling when I can report a win.  This led me to think about what a good idea really is.  Is it just something I never realized before?  Perhaps it’s an idea that I should have thought of first, but someone else beat me to the punch.  Yesterday, for example, my mother suggested I add fertilizer to my geraniums to get them to flower.  “Good idea!” I replied quickly.  The thought had not yet occurred to me.  This summer for the first time since I started gardening I have occasionally been using fertilizer, often with great results.  Just ask my husband about the new crop of tomatoes from just three little plants!

Maybe an idea becomes a “good idea” simply because it is something outside your area of expertise.  Sound ideas are valuable in business as well as in your personal life, so they are worth paying attention to when they arrive.  Cultivating these ideas, either through others or through you own induction, is a skill.  Recently while reading a business advice book (there are many good ones) I received a reminder on a piece of advice I found many years ago: if you have a good idea, don’t wait to write it down.  Take the time to record it because the memory of it may disappear into the ether of consciousness like the fizz of carbonation.  Attaching importance to one’s good habits is a good idea and does make a difference.

The mastermind groups I offer (Finestkind Mastermind) are similar in terms of fostering good habits and allowing the creative energies of the hive mind to flow.  Creativity runs deep and does not necessarily color within the lines.  It thrives on the fresh soil of new projects and fertile new friendships.  When you have a new idea, take it seriously, even if you don’t recognize it to be a good idea at first.  It may grow on you.  “Light bulb” ideas come from your subconscious.  You should welcome them with the special care and collection of a prized specimen caught during the trip of a lifetime.  As you know, a potential new friend may in time turn out to be only a passing encounter; others become primary, cherished friendships. The same is true of your ideas.  Do not discard them randomly simply because they do not appear to be a familiar face or concept.  Take the time to get to know your new idea and visit it a few times before making any final decision about adding it to your inner circle of trusted concepts.

So, what was my new idea?  That will have to wait until next time.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design, LLC  in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

Making better decisions: why I do what I do.

“Quite often when I meet with someone in my office (either in person or virtually) the conversation ranges into areas which were not necessarily on the agenda for the meeting. This is because I am not afraid to pose questions.”

Decision making – Finestkind can help you make the best business decision for your future.

Having helped many people get through one of the toughest periods in their lives—be it divorce, prison, death of a loved one, terminal illness, or financial disaster, the best service I can offer to others is a method to help them avoid bad decisions and to make good ones.  What makes me an expert in this area?  I have a wealth of experience one-on-one, in groups and in formal proceedings about how to accomplish exactly that: I help people make better decisions. 

The concept is simple:

  1. Recognize where you are in life or in the decision-making process.
  2. Seek out the opinions of others who might have a better perspective than you on the situation.
  3. Take the time you need to make a balanced, and realistic plan.
  4. Have the courage to follow though.

These steps, in business or matters of the heart, honor your own specific needs and process, giving you the space you need to decide as opposed to react.  The first step, recognizing that there is a choice to be made, is often the most elusive.  Being in a group, such as a mastermind or an ongoing consulting relationship, can be a blessing for the opportunity you receive to step back and evaluate options before you either run out of time or resources.  Someone is there to listen to you, to pay attention to your challenges and frustrations, and to give you an opening to stop and be deliberate about your next move.  Hindsight is 20-20, but what about those who have the benefit of experience, expertise, and perseverance in their lives?  This is what I try to bring to the table every time a client sits down with me to discuss a new idea or find the solution to a problem. 

Quite often when I meet with someone in my office (either in person or virtually) the conversation ranges into areas which were not necessarily on the agenda for the meeting.  This is because I am not afraid to pose questions.  It is important to understand the problem if I am truly to be of help.  For example, if someone comes to me asking for a website, I want to know what they expect from it.  I ask who their intended audience is, and what steps they are willing to take to promote it.  I have often used the metaphor of putting a book in the library.  Making the website is like publishing a book, that no one will look at without proper promotion.  There is a myriad of tools at my disposal as a social media marketer, but each case needs personal attention to detail to be effective.  There are many right and wrong decisions available.  Consider setting a meeting up with me to let me do what I like to do best, help you make better decisions.  I look forward to your call.

Message automation audit

View of Cyborg hand holding Chatbot with binary code, message and data 3d rendering

If you have chatted online recently with a help desk, you may have already had the experience of getting messages that really don’t quite fit your question. Chatbots may be taking over the world, but those who are programming their responses might need a little help occasionally, and a regular review of their effectiveness.

The most common message mistake I see, in terms of automated messaging, is a canned reply from a mailbox saying that the recipient is away from the office for a winter holiday–and I get it in some month like, May or June. This can also happen in recorded messages that never get reviewed. On a related note, the fact that you have a “no-reply” return address is no excuse for not providing a valid e-mail address or phone number in the message body somewhere. I consider the act of sending information out without the expectation of a response “broadcasting” and a less effective way of creating customer relationships. The best thing social media teaches us is that communication is always a two-way street, even if you might not like the response.

Maybe I take messages too personally: I do know that when I get a marketing e-mail, that has a generic message, from a marketing guy, perhaps even a guy or a gal like me in some ways, I should understand it should cover a broad spectrum of potential recipients. But when the message makes no sense, or takes liberties with what I think or should think, I do get offended. Take for example some of the subject lines I am getting now from Alignable. Now don’t get me wrong, I kind of like Alignable. They serve a purpose and cater to a niche network marketing audience that needs a push to connect. But when I get a message that says “so-and-so” should be sending you referrals, and that person actually died a few years ago, I have to wonder whether the message hurts the brand. Telling me what I need to expect is also little boundary violation, but I’m willing to let it slide if there is a reasonable purpose.

A few months ago, I logged in to one of those sites that reunites classmates from high school or college. I wanted to see what my father’s high school pictures looked like. I was pleased to see that both he and my uncle were in the yearbooks, and kept copies of the photos. However, now I get messages telling me that my profile (really my deceased father’s profile) has been getting a lot of hits and “Danggg your profile has gotten some traction!!!” Apart from the flagrant grammatical issues in this attempt to get me to pay for a membership to their service, I am saddened by the idea that now my father’s classmates might think that he is still alive and just isn’t going to respond to them. I wish my father was still around, I have ever since I lost him when I was a child. But these assumptions about who I am and whether I am pleased to be getting traction or sad by not getting enough referrals from the departed are odd, if not painful. I encourage all business owners and their marketers to look at the automated messages in your organization and consider the possibility that the message is not working the way you might expect it to. Facebook has a whole section on automated replies in their business portals that can be customized. You might be deflecting customers with dated messages as opposed to encouraging them if the information is incorrect or misleading. (Mental note–check all messages after the pandemic to be sure that social distancing messages are updated…)

So while this may technically qualify as a rant, I hope that those of you who read it might consider a general review of the automated messages you have and think about whether they still make sense, have updated information, or need refreshing in some way.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

What’s changed?

Henry Lyons, Owner / Developer

It’s been four years since I started Finestkind Web Design. I thought it might be time for a short retrospective. First, thank you to everyone who has remained a loyal client, as well as those who had to move on to other things and no longer needed a website. My greatest joys are always seeing the excitement from customers who are happy with the work I have done for them. I have been blessed with a great group of people I can call clients. I will not be singling anyone out today, but I may reference one or two of you in a way that will make you think it might be you (and it probably is). My “niche” has been to handle sites for people who are not satisfied with “out of the box” websites from hosting companies. I enjoy listening to customers and creating custom layouts that reflect the business and its owner. Recently I finished a rather large project that resulted in a custom portal for the owner to list items for sale on his own, as opposed to asking me to perform frequent updates. It brought me back to my roots as a Java developer and I was delighted to find updates to the development environment were very easy to learn. I had a similar experience finding a special server to put it on and updating the operating system to handle all the details for running the website in a way that could save the customer money as well as provide a full-featured host to handle all the additional requirements that my standard hosting did not.

So what has changed? The first thing that has changed is the way in which clients are coming and going. At first, I was working with people who generally had a bad experience with a “package deal”. Small businesses are easy prey for the bundle deals where someone shows up, offers you a website and marketing package for several hundred dollars a month, and then sends you reports that seem to make sense, but the results are very hard to prove. Some people have either “outgrown” their need for a website on a particular topic (like a film) or were unable to launch a business for reasons other than whether they had a website. Both of these kinds of clients are hard to see go, because they are great people to work with and I have empathy for the fact that the website was no longer worthwhile. However, not every idea or website is good enough to continue to pay for, and realizing that is important–not just for one’s own ethical equanimity, but to realize that the Internet is not a solution in and of itself. There must be content and hard work that makes it produce. Knowing when to say “it’s over” is just as important as knowing when to say “let’s do this!”

Another thing that has changed is the way in which customers find me. Some have seen my sign on the road in front of the house for years, and finally decide to call. Others have heard of a site that I created and want to know if I have any ideas that would help them.

Social media such as Facebook has learned how to monetize its business model. Technology on smartphones and tablets continues to step backward from the limelight in a way that makes most people in the web design business question where we are going. In my own life, I have returned to school to study some of these aspects of new media and technology initiatives and how to remain innovative. I earned a Master’s of Information Technology in 2017 with a specialization in software application development from SNHU, and am currently taking Ph.D. courses at Capella University toward a doctorate in information technology, in addition to my responsibilities at Finestkind Web Design. This means that I have honed my research and writing skills, and continue to do so daily.

If you have questions about what I might be able to do for you, or are just interested in sharing opinions, let me know, and we can set up a time to meet. I continue to believe that our community is the real magic, and that technology just helps us share it. Let me know if I can be of assistance for your next endeavor.

Draggy Voice

Making your customers feel valuable is important.  If you have an employee who is on the phone and they sound like they have been there far too long, it might be time to have a chat with them.  I cannot say how many times, just this week, I have been on the phone with someone who makes me feel as though I have interrupted them, or that they would rather be sleeping.  The attitude is clear when they answer the phone:

“Hellllllloooooo.   Thiiiiss issssss Sheeeeeeila.  May I have your _____________  (fill in the blank: member number, phone number, problem, case number, etc., etc.)”

Many times this is an indicator of whether they are in a position of power over you as well.  If you call a utility company where you a customer, you have an excellent chance of encountering draggy voice.  This is a passive aggressive technique to show people you are unhappy with your job.  When a supervisor tries to improve draggy voice it becomes a subjective kind of review because if you are simply looking at the words, nothing is wrong.  They have followed the script and are being polite in terms of the words they are using.

Trying to combat this phenomenon might require an outside third party to review your company’s current customer service performance.  Simply having people score their call according to a set of recorded questions may not be enough unless you are asking about whether the customer feels valued.  Simply asking “was your issue resolved” only prolongs the problem, as you may be losing customers who are simply unwilling to continue to feel verbally neglected on the phone.

My congratulations go out to those who have managed to remain in good form, cheery, helpful, interested and concerned on customer support calls.  Anyone who has none of the above and continues to take customer service calls, should consider another line of work, or at least a less public position in the company.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

Isn’t That Funny?

Some people have a knack for humor.  There is an old joke about a man who walks in to a bar and asks…  (uh oh, here it comes)  Mostly what you hear after that opening line is some kind of off-color humor about race, gender, or nationality.  The problem with using mirth in the public marketplace is that much of what you might think is funny, is actually offensive to someone else.  Therefore, it is important to be a good judge of what content you should censor from your website if found, and abstain from using in your own promotional materials.  Here are some good guidelines for determining whether your potentially funny post is in fact “over the top.”

  1. Does your joke make fun of a kind of person, occupation, or community role? That in and of itself should be a warning sign.
  2. Is the humor something that passes the “family hour” test? In other words, is it adult humor that should really be kept offline?
  3. Have you crash-tested the humor? Is there someone in your office or your entourage who could give you a bit of friendly advice that might avoid a large public embarrassment?
  4. Does the use of humor in this case really add something worthwhile? Because humor is such an obvious opportunity for misfire, challenge yourself on whether you really need it.
  5. Is the humor an inside joke? If so, then maybe it might be best left inside, among friends.
  6. Does your business really lend itself well to humor? Even if the joke is really funny, it will play out against the backdrop of your business which may or may not be something that people are willing to laugh about.  If in doubt, leave it out.

Now, just to be fair and to give some guidance to anyone who hasn’t already fled the scene, terrified of some potential gaffe, here are some guidelines for humor that works:

  1. A gentle or clever play on words that makes you and others giggle: a “manwich” is a good example of such a word.
  2. An example of the “wrong way to do something” that promotes your product or service. One example of this technique was used successfully in a job board advertisement where they call the lazy workers “Dave” but then offer an apology to anyone named Dave.
  3. A personal story that humbly admits a wrong on your part, as in “I really felt stupid when I yelled at customer support and it turns out my computer wasn’t even plugged in.”
  4. Personifying animals or objects. For some reason, this is a common theme in many ads, and some animals are stereotyped in a way that becomes very humorous.  Consider for example, an owl who is very concerned about getting his overdue library books back.  Or the car who thinks it isn’t really shiny enough to meet the Cadillac next door.  The humor might be subtle, but it portrays your business as being personable, open to criticism, and welcoming.
  5. Trying to hide an obvious flaw, such as the emperor has no clothes or this car goes from zero to sixty in five seconds, so long as you drop it from a tall enough building.
  6. Finally, the use of overstatement or understatement can be a goldmine for humor seekers. Consider this headline: “We offer the best car wash in the universe!”  It might not be side-splitting funny, but it does let you know in a gentle way that this business is not only proud, but friendly.

What have you discovered about advertising that uses humor?  Are there any rules you would add to these?  Please comment.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

More Duct Tape and Bondo Than Car

Don’t let this be your website…

In the auto repair business, there is a saying: at some point you have more duct tape and bondo than car.  It’s meant as a joke, and describes many “winter beaters” that are on the road here in Maine.  What it means in the Internet age is that some websites need to be given such a complete make-over that it really doesn’t make sense to keep adding onto what is already there.  The fact of the matter is, that if your website is over five years old, it is obsolete.  There are many ways to tell, including the responsive design issues I mentioned in my last blog, but to be sure, it really requires a professional to do a website audit.

What’s in an audit?

Everyone has a different set of criteria they look for, but some elements of an audit are universal.  The length of time it takes for your pages to load, the proper formatting of script, whether images are customized to be efficient at multiple screen sizes, and what a website might have for referring pages, otherwise known as “backlinks”.  The bigger issue however becomes “how easy is this site to manage?”  If the site requires 25 edits to change one thing that spans across all pages, then it is definitely too much of an antique to be considered “easy to manage”.  Does the page show up correctly in different browsers?  Do your letters overlap in places you don’t want them to?  Can you find what you need to on your site or is it an Easter egg hunt?

Results of an Audit

By getting an audit of your existing website you are taking a look at whether your website is performing correctly for you, or whether it needs a tune-up.  To extend the car metaphor one more level, you are looking to see if you have enough tread on your tires to weather another season, or if you might experience some kind of a blow-out.  The kinds of blow-out that might happen may have to do with whether you need to update content on your website and it turns into a nightmare because no one has properly maintained the site.  It may be that the person who is in charge of website monitoring has left the company and no one has taken time to handle the issue because it is too complicated or the information has been lost.  I have had clients who tell me they do not know where their website is hosted.  Do you know?

Making an emergency plan

Sometimes the best thing you can do today, is plan for the problem that might crop up tomorrow.  Do you have a backup of your website?  Do you have someone who is the designated alternate for handling issues that come up with social media and your website?  Can you incorporate cross-training that might handle this eventuality?  At Finestkind Web Design, we help you accomplish that kind of plan in whatever fashion you might choose.  If you want us to keep a copy of credentials and website backup, we can do that for you.  All of my hosting clients have a website that includes a regular backup.  Does yours?

Is your website showing signs that it might be time to overhaul?  Please let us know.  We are here to help.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.

First Things First

Making decisions about how to grow your company is difficult.  It can feel as though you are being asked all the questions at once, especially once vendors begin to call or drop by because you have made it onto their radar.  Unfortunately the arrival of these solicitors does not often coincide with the growth of your business and indeed can increase the tension you already feel about what to do next.  I have a couple of ground rules I try to live by and which I offer as advice to my clients.  They may seem obvious at first, but really using them and living by them is much harder than just understanding what the rule means.

One thing at a time.

Your attention is valuable.  Everything you do requires some of it, and there will always be interruptions.  So do not begin a second short-term project when you still have the ability to continue one you have already started.  If the phone rings or someone stops by, do what you need to for them, then get back to this short-term project and finish it.  By opening up new projects and adding to the list of items on your immediate to-do list, you are diminishing your attention.  Once that attention dwindles below 50%, you will start to feel overwhelmed.  This is normal, but just like keeping a sailboat upright, you must pay attention to how far over the mast is leaning so you do not lose your ability to maintain course or end up capsized.  Why is this difficult?  Because some people have bought into the strategy that they need to drop everything every time an opportunity to make money comes up.  This is a recipe for losing your mind slowly.  You might be able to keep up this strategy for a matter of weeks or months, but it will eventually drain you entirely of your forward momentum as more and more basic responsibilities slip by and create longer term problems that snowball.  Just take one thing at a time to the extent possible.

First things first. 

The title of this post, this is about priorities, but more than that about keeping your mind clear enough to handle the rest of your life.  Read this next part carefully, because it is key to keeping your business flowing in the right direction: you may not already know what the next most important priority is.  Your experience is limited to the subject matter you specialize in.  To think that because you are good at building houses also makes you a computer genius is absurd.  The reverse is also true, as I can attest.  If I need help with anything outside of my specialty I make sure to ask questions.  Many questions are quickly answered now in Google and other search engine results, but to get broader advice, tailored to your current situation, you may need to engage an expert if you are not lucky enough to have a friend in that field.  Once you know the right direction, go back to rule one and handle it one thing at a time.

Asking for advice is the first stop on the road to something greater than yourself.

What better way to better yourself than adding to your own knowledge base?  Making mistakes is all part of life, but avoiding mistakes is far preferable.  Furthermore, asking someone for their opinion is usually a compliment and a way to show respect.  Instead of trying to outwit people who are selling you something, find out what they might have to bring you in the way of knowledge, new technology, advice, or even a good deal.  This blog post has no shortage of aphorisms, but I will add one more: everything happens for a reason.  While this is a matter of personal belief, I think that it is also good solid philosophy to improve one’s quality of life.  Take advantage of the people and the ideas that come to you.

If you ever need someone to ask questions about small business, websites, hosting, or anything related to computing, please feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail.

Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at finestkindwd@gmail.com, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.