Ready to Go APE with Guy Kawasaki? Write On!

apeAh, the idea of writing a book of your own: It’s tempting, isn’t it? And maybe scary too.

On any given day, you may draft a proposal for work, a testimonial for a friend, an acceptance speech, an opinion piece for the newspaper, or a blog. Each time you’re putting yourself out there, so now maybe you’re ready to write a book.

What’s stopping you?

For years getting a book published was part shooting in the dark, endless rejection, and disappointment. Traditional publishers held all the cards and often provided more obstacles than help. I certainly had my share of frustration and disillusionment when my book was published.

Fortunately, times have changed. If you have a book in you, the paths to publication are wide open.

Once again, Guy Kawasaki comes to our aid with his fabulous new book: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur–How to Publish a Book, written with Shawn Welch.

When the publisher of his New York Times bestseller, Enchantment, couldn’t fill an order for 500 ebook copies, he decided to self-publish his next book, What the Plus! That’s when he experienced the complex and confusing process of self-publishing and decided to sort it all out for us in APE.

Guy’s book covers traditional, ebook, and publishing-on-demand in his typically clear-cut style. He starts by making sure, we, as writers, understand these good reasons for writing:

Both writer and reader benefit when a book enables gains in the following areas:

  1. Enrich Lives
  2. Intellectual Challenges
  3. Further a Cause
  4. Catharsis

His challenge is this:

 Will your book add value to people’s lives? This is a severe test, but if your answer is affirmative, there’s no doubt you should write a book.

 Demystifying publishing

We live at a time where you, as a writer, can also be your own publisher. Guy notes that ebooks, although representing only about 10% of book purchases today, can be published and supported through sites like Kindle Direct Publishing, iBooks Author, and others that he identifies and explains.

He also grounds us in the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing:

The problem isn’t  that traditional publishers are dumb or evil…The problem is that traditional publishing grew up in a world with limits and logistics such as shelf space, access to printing presses, editing and production expertise, and shipping of physical books.

The shelf space for ebooks, however, is infinite, and anyone who can use a word processor can write and publish a book. These changes don’t mean that books are better…but at least the system is more accessible.

Guy goes on to cover the process, mechanics, approaches, and available resources for creating ebooks and publishing hard copies through print-on-demand, covering key steps and potential pitfalls.

He then drives home this point that, as a self-publisher, you become, by necessity, an entrepreneur:

Entrepreneuring is the most neglected and hardest of APEs three roles because it involves marketing and sales, which are foreign concepts to some authors and despised by the rest.

To sell we need to have a ready platform to tap into. He explains:

‘Platform’ is marketing-speak for the sum total of people you know and who know you….

The process of building a platform takes six to twelve months….If you don’t have a platform yet, you need to build one as you are writing your book.

Guy identifies what it takes to attract and maintain your platform:

Call me idealistic, but your platform is only as good as your reality. If you suck as a person, your platform will suck too. The three pillars of a persona brand are trustworthiness, likeability, and competence: TLC.

Artisanal publishing

If you’ve ever eaten from a great loaf of artisanal bread, you know what it means to have created something delicious from the heart. Guy’s notion of  “artisanal publishing” is:

The concept of authors writing, publishing, and lovingly crafting their books with complete artistic control in a high-quality manner.

The work of writing is still hard and marketing your book takes commitment. But the process, now, more than even is in your hands. That means it’s time to write on!

I give a big “thank you” to Guy Kawasaki for sending me a signed copy of APE so I could share my insights with you. His book has inspired me to take the self-publishing plunge. Now, I’ve got to get to work!

The Sweet Sound of Striking the Right Chord | An Interview with Ricky Bell

I met Ricky Bell because my home office computer was deadly slow. As an independent computer technician, Ricky came highly recommended by my accountant, so I knew I’d be in good hands. To my surprise, I soon learned that those hands were equally talented on the neck of a guitar and that Ricky had connected two talents into one amazing career.    

DL:  Ricky, do you consider yourself a computer guy who’s a musician or a musician who’s a computer guy? 

RB: My goals as a musician drive everything I do. It’s been that way since I was a high school kid, working whatever decent-paying jobs I could find, including telemarketing, to earn enough money to buy more music gear. I’m still that way, investing in new equipment that helps me make better music. 

DL:  Is that what your IT business does for you today? 

RB: That and a lot more. After I got my A.A. degree in information technology, I apprenticed in IT for a couple years until I realized I could earn more if I had my own clients. So I went into business doing on-site residential and business troubleshooting, then database development and website design. I also handle convention production audio for my corporate clients plus IT consulting services. 

As a married man with a family, I need a business that provides a growing income. As a musician, I needed flexibility so I can play. Being an IT entrepreneur gives me both. 

DL: When did you know you had the talent to be a successful musician? 

RB: I’ve been playing music since I was a kid—violin in 3rd grade, piano in 6th, guitar and drums in 7th and 8th. I play six instruments and have been playing in cover bands since high school. 

I figured out that I might have a real talent for the guitar when I took lessons from Greg Howe, guitar player for Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias. I wasn’t sure that I was any good until at 13 my friend’s parents let me sit in with their band. When they called me a “prodigy,” it got my attention. 

DL: How did that revelation change things for you? 

RB: I started to put myself out there more. My breakthrough came when I entered one of my original songs in a contest run by WZZO radio. As the winner (out of 150 entrants), I got to perform my song on stage at The State Theatre in Easton,PA with Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. That recognition was a watershed moment in my music career.  

DL: What were your next steps? 

RB: I never like to say “no” to opportunity which means that to say “yes” I often have to go out on a limb.   

I’d been working a freelance job as a cameraman for Blue Ridge Cable, a sister company of Penns Peak, a concert venue in PA. Through that connection, I was invited to play at an American Cancer Society benefit there—just me singing and playing my guitar. The performance was so successful that I was booked by Penns Peak to open for major music groups, including Styx, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, and The Tubes.

DL: Where are you now with your music? 

RB: For me it’s all about performing to reach as many people as I can. I play with three bands now, two are my own. I play guitar and sing as a duo with my friend, Ian Frey, percussionist, at small venues and private parties. My cover band, Connect5, plays at larger venues where we keep the crowd dancing.   

I also play harmonica and sing as the Elwood character with the tribute band, The Blues Brotherhood, for large stage, sell-out crowds at casinos and the like. 

DL: How do music and your IT work fit together to meet your career aspirations ? 

RB: Computers and music share common ground in the music studio and on stage. Whether I’m performing with my bands, recording music, creating websites, or solving computer problems, my IT knowledge is always key to achieving successful results.   

I have no set-in-stone plan for the future. I continue to say “yes” to good opportunities the way I always have. All I need is money in the bank and the opportunity to play music. After all, I still need to buy more gear! 

Long term I just want to keep moving forward and upward. Making music and getting paid for it while taking care of my IT clients and raising my beautiful family matter most to me. Everything works together. 

DL: Your story reminds us all that careers emerge from the choices that we make. The more open-minded we are about our options and the more willing we are to take risks, particularly on ourselves, the more likely we are to fashion a career that fits us, striking the right chord. Thanks, Ricky, for sharing your story.

You can follow Ricky Bell and listen to his music and his bands at his website and on Facebook.  Here’s a two-minute video sampling of Ricky in action.

Losing Your Shirt and Other Consequences of Career Naiveté

No one wants to look inept, but sometimes we are. It sticks out like a sore thumb when we: 

  • Lack experience and skills
  • Don’t know how the game is played
  • Align with the wrong people
  • Say the wrong things inadvertently
  • Suggest ideas that can’t work 

Sure, we can try to hide or finesse our naiveté, but in time, word gets around. 

The good guys and the bad 

If we’re lucky, we work with a boss and colleagues who have been in our shoes and want to help us get our bearings. If not, it’s like being a sitting duck. 

The more competitive our workplace, the less time we have to get from naiveté to savvy. The price of being “stupid” can get steep. 

The business world holds fabulous opportunities along with risks of failure. There are terrific people at all levels of organizations where we find priceless mentors, leaders, and friends. 

The business world can also be a mean street. Survival is a daily concern, employees want desperately to hold onto their jobs, everyone wants to get ahead, and competitors are always lurking. 

If you want a long and successful career, you need to be smart about what’s going on around you. 

Start by not falling for these hollow assurances from your boss or anyone else: 

  • Just work hard and the rewards will follow
  • You can trust management to have your best interest at heart
  • The company leadership’s got everything under control 

Remember: The company watches out for itself first. It takes care of its stakeholders in order of priority, starting with investors and ending with employees. 

So we all need to learn how to read between the lines and figure out how best to align our capabilities with what needs to get done and with the right people. 

Hang onto your shirt 

If you’re wondering if you’re being naïve, ask your self these questions: 

  • Do I have a false sense of job security?
  • Am I deluding myself about how valuable my job is to the company?
  • Is my performance really good or could I be easily replaced by someone better?
  • Am I being taken advantage of by my boss and coworkers?
  • Have others been promoted over me? If so, do I know why?
  • Do I confide too much in people I’m not sure I can trust?
  • Am I working for less money than others doing similar or less work?
  • Do I really understand what’s driving business decisions? 

The consequences of naiveté are significant and varied: 

  • Job loss or stagnation
  • Neither promotion nor lateral movement
  • Questionable work assignments and/or work load
  • Business decline or shuttering, if you’re an entrepreneur
  • Personal brand damage by your detractors 

Your career is a precious asset that you invest in everyday. It’s important that you protect it just as you would your hard earned dollars. 

You’re not alone 

Everyone gets burned along the way, some worse than others. When I started out in the race horse breeding business, the veterans could smell my naiveté a mile away. Bloodstock agents, trainers, jockeys, and even buyers found a way to cheat me, but only once. 

As an equine art gallery owner, the artists I represented told me about how they’d been cheated by dealers who stole both their artwork and their commissions. I taught them how to protect themselves by the way I worked with them. 

When I was a corporate manager, I got stung by colleagues who would try to sabotage my projects, scoop an announcement, undercut my influence, and off-load their accountabilities on me. 

Experience turns naiveté into savvy, but only if we figure out how to put it to work in constructive ways. The best thing we can do for ourselves, our careers, and our employers is to work smart on every level. That’s what it means to be business fit, dressed in a well-fitting shirt! 

Photo from h.koppdelaney via Flickr

When You Don’t Know, Find Someone Who Does—Like Jack Nadel

Success is the prize. Seeking it gets us to make the effort. 

Sadly, our efforts don’t always deliver the success we’re after. We look around and wonder what we’re doing wrong. Now it’s time talk to someone who’s been through it all. 

Enter Jack Nadel.  

At this writing, Nadel is in his late 80s. He spent 65 years in business, primarily in product sales, as founder of Jack Nadel International. After serving as a decorated combat veteran in WWII, he started his business in a tiny office without money, education, or experience. He became a successful global entrepreneur, author, TV personality, and philanthropist—a source of the guidance we need. 

Starting with nothing and ending with enormous success is inspiring. We want that to be us, initiating a great idea, building know-how, and taking prudent risks that work. Often, when we read success stories and try to replicate the steps, we end up disappointed.

The value of priceless wisdom 

Our flawed or misguide notions often get in our way. It’s not what’s on the surface that gives us an edge: It’s how we interpret, translate, and innovate what’s behind it. Insights are the real keys to success. 

I was treated to that special insight when I was invited to blog about Nadel’s new book,Use What You Have to Get What You Want: 100 Basic Ideas That Mean Business. 

I admit I didn’t know anything about Nadel before the book arrived. But I was immediately taken by the uncluttered, easily absorbed advice he gave. Each of the 100 ideas with a real-life illustration from his experience fits on one page. 

His insights work, no matter whether you’re managing a household, a small business, or a department in a corporation. 

Selling is a success staple.

 Nadel’s expertise is broad: His knowledge of sales and deal-making is laser sharp. There’s selling in everything we do: We sell ideas, products, services, relationships, and opportunities. Whenever we try to get someone to act, we’re closing some kind of transaction. 

Nadel zeroes in on the principle that there’s right-way and wrong-way selling. The right way ensures success that lasts. 

Here are ten Nadel selling ideas that struck a particular chord with me. (The parens are how I intend to apply them.) 

  1. “If you can’t explain your product or service in 30 seconds, you probably can’t sell it.” (Test my elevator speech and revise as needed.)
  2. “Selling…[has]…a built-in scorecard.” (Track revenue and opportunities in the pipeline to measure progress.)
  3. “The best way to learn to sell is to go out and sell.” (Make contacts. Meet with people. Use #1.)
  4. “Features tell and benefits sell.” (Clarify my “what’s in it for the client” message.)
  5. “It’s easy to sell glamor, excitement, hope and feel-good products. It’s tough to sell insurance.” (Understand my service touch points.)
  6. “Perceived value is what sells—real value is what repeats.” (Continue to deliver what’s promised.)
  7. “The road to hell is paved with misrepresentation.” (Make sure there are never any surprises.)
  8. “Honesty is not only the best policy; it’s the most profitable.” (Own up when I goof up. Make things right.)
  9. “After you negotiate the best deal, give a little extra.” (Be counted on to over-deliver.)
  10. “Careful planning is more important than hard work.” (Think first; then act.) 

Life runs on transactions 

There’s a business aspect to almost everything we do. Good business ensures that each transaction feels like a win on both sides. As Nadel says: 

 “If I give you a dollar, and you give me a dollar, we each have a dollar. If I give you an idea, and you give me an idea, we each have two ideas.” 

Our success is achieved on the shoulders of others. Generosity in the way we do business has a way of boosting success. Nadel’s generosity in sharing his immense insights is an example of that. 

You can purchase a copy on Amazon.com.

The Power of an “I Think I Can” Attitude | An Interview with Donna Hosfeld

I met Donna Hosfeld on Facebook. Her contagious enthusiasm for, of all things, insurance, struck me each time I read her posts. I have long been curious about what got Donna into the insurance business and why it matters so much to her. Her story is inspiring.

DL:  You’re a woman entrepreneur with an insurance agency. How did all this get started?    

DH: My career path is something I never could have predicted. No one in my family had gone to college, so my goal was to be an executive secretary in a big company. I developed award-winning secretarial skills and had a head for numbers which came in handy while working for a CPA during high school. That’s when things started to change. 

DL: What happened?  

DH: The CPA I worked for encouraged me to go to college, even though I hadn’t taken any college prep courses. I did, though, get strong SAT scores which got me accepted to Kutztown University. With the help of my high school guidance counselor, I earned seven cash scholarships and suddenly, I was on my way to a B.S. in business administration. Once graduated, I had what I thought was the ticket to a great job—a college degree. I was wrong. 

DL: The situation you were in sounds like conditions today for new grads. What were your next steps?   

DH:  After 100+ rejected job applications, I was really down but wasn’t going to give up. My neighbor hired me for a radio station commission-sales job that wasn’t right for me. Then a friend’s dad told me about Prudential’s management training program. I applied and was hired, working in a Claims office near Philly. I liked insurance work but not being so far from home. 

It all started to happen for me when I got a central office claims job with Erie Insurance in Allentown, PA. The management team had created a family-like working atmosphere. I worked there for eight years as an adjuster. I was again ready to advance. 

I applied and was rejected for an Erie home office position which would have included interstate travel to do claims auditing. I was crushed because I felt I was the most qualified. My branch manager, though, saw the job as the wrong fit for me. Instead he suggested I become an independent agent. Now, that was the real “see if I can” challenge. 

DL: Was that the first step to becoming an entrepreneur? 

DH: It sure was. Being an agent meant setting up my own office and making it profitable. I had to obtain a license to sell, find and outfit an office location, create a business plan, and build a book of policyholders. To get started, I had to invest my own money, just like any another other small business start up. 

My first office was in a basement. Over the years, I’ve literally come up in the world, adding space and employees. I participated in a merger with a large agency group for a time, but soon realized that I missed the advantages only a small, personally run agency can deliver. So I went back to sole ownership. Now, after 13 years as an agent, I am happier than I’ve ever been and writing more business than ever before. The business is in a great location and has a terrific staff. 

DL: What have all these experiences taught you about yourself? 

DH: If I thought I could achieve something in my life, I realized that I was usually right. I only wish I would have known that ahead of time to quiet the “doubter thoughts” that often plagued me.   

The most important discovery, though, was how much I care about my clients, about serving them, and about helping them stay safe. My clients are like my family; I feel protective of them. Insurance is my product but service is my passion. I’m where I am today because I believed in myself and others believed in me too. I try to pay that forward every day. 

DL: You really show how self-motivating it can be to want to prove yourself to yourself, thinking you can achieve something and then succeeding. Each time you tried something new, you overcame your fears by being fearless. There’s real power in that, something that we all need to put to work for ourselves.

Donna Hosfeld AIC, CPIW has over thirteen years experience as an Independent Agent. Her partnership with Erie Insurance extends over 20 years. She also offers coverage through Progressive and several other leading carriers. Her agency sells home, auto, business and life insurance products. You can follow Donna on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, YouTube, her blog, and on her website.

Ready to Work for Yourself? | A Self-Assessment for Solopreneurs

It’s tempting and doable. All we need is an idea and, virtually overnight, we can launch our own business. But should we? 

An entrepreneur is someone who, by definition, “organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.” Interestingly, The American Heritage Dictionary 4th edition doesn’t have an entry for “solopreneur.” That surprised me since the term is widely used for individuals, like me, who are their businesses.

 Ready to go solo? 

I did—four times—and sometimes with two at the same time: (Egad!) 

  • Lennon Management Associates—specializing in veterinary practice management consulting (5 years)
  • Holly Run Farm, Inc.—race and show horse breeding, racing/showing, and sales (20 years)
  • Special Collections for Horsemen—equine art, antiques, and collectibles sales (10 years)
  • Big Picture Consulting—career and business coaching for individuals and small businesses (the remaining one, 2002-present) 

I knew nothing about owning a business before I started. Each venture was an education on how small business works. Those were the easy lessons. 

The real challenge was learning how to be in business by myself.   

Most of us who start solo businesses are focused on the “fun stuff.” We figure we’ll just announce our offerings and customers/clients will start calling. When they do, we’ll eagerly deliver our advice, services, or products. How complicated can it be? It’s just us doing what we do best. 

Well, as the line goes, if owning your own business were so easy, everyone would be doing it. 

Whether you plan to walk away from a steady job or keep it for a while (I was glad I waited) to start your solo business, take time for this self-assessment. It’s not all the questions you should ask but a good start. 

A Self-Assessment for Solopreneurs 

After each question, write your answers in clear detail. (Wishful thinking doesn’t cut it!) 

Business Planning 

  • What services and/or products will I offer at launch?
  • Who is my target market? What will they pay?
  • How will I contend with my competitors?
  • Am I business fit? Do I have the business skills and knowledge I need for:
    • Goal-setting, tracking, and performance analysis
    • Sales and marketing
    • Customer service, problem solving, troubleshooting
    • Recording keeping—financials, files, client/customer accounts, vendor agreements
    • Communications, planning, organizing, priority setting
    • Social media tools, outlets, and channels
  • How much revenue must the business generate to cover my business expenses and support me? By when?
  • Is it more prudent to start this business as a sidelight or just go for it?
  • Do I have enough money to invest to get off to a good start?
  • What’s my fallback position if the business isn’t successful?  

Self-Management

  •  Why am I doing this?
  • Do I have the personal discipline to manage every workday effectively, including the ability to:
    • Stay focused on priority work, not procrastinating?
    • Develop/improve/deliver services and products?
    • Make calls and meet with prospects?
    • Handle administrative details?
  • How will I handle disappointments? Success?
  • How much alone time can I tolerate and still be productive/happy?
  • What do I want from the business—money, personal growth, satisfaction, independence?
  • Who is my professional team (i.e, accountant, IT support, VA, attorney)?
  • Who is my support system—other entrepreneurs, mastermind group, confidants? 

Don’t let your missteps get you down.

Each of my businesses brought in plenty of revenue but only the current one is truly profitable. When you ask a solopreneur how s/he’s doing, most will say “great,” although that may not mean profitable or even happy. So please don’t measure yourself against success illusions others put out there. 

It’s important to start your business with boundless optimism: That’s what helps you slog through the bad times. Reality can quickly take the shine off a dream, but hard work and perseverance can restore it. Being a solopreneur can be a great ride.  So hold on and feel the energy.  

How about taking some time this week to complete that self-assessment? Or share it with an entrepreneurial friend.  It may be just what you need.

Besieged by Problems? Out of Ideas? | Circle Your Masterminds

In the dumps? Disgusted? Feel like no one’s struggling with career frustrations and business uncertainties the way you are? Makes you ask yourself, “What’s my problem?” Well, that’s how I felt. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employee, a business owner, a budding entrepreneur, college student, or unemployed. We just don’t have all the answers.

Finding answers is about accumulating knowledge. 

And it isn’t just about information. Knowledge includes insights, perspectives, conclusions, and us

Yes, the most important knowledge we bring to our work is self-knowledge. Are you aware of what motivates, frightens, energizes, and limits you? Do you understand and deal with your strengths and weaknesses? Are you an effective problem solver? 

This is heady stuff that we often overlook. But it’s the real stuff of career and business success. 

The best route to that understanding is through people who want it too. 

Find like-minded people who trust each other. They’re gold!

 This is what mastermind groups are. You can get a group together around any issue you face: 

  • Career decision-making and job hunting
  • Building your small business
  • Creating better marketing strategies
  • Personal or professional development
  • Expanding your network
  • Increasing your self-confidence
  • Developing new products or services  

(If this is new to you, read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’ll amaze you.) 

I needed a mastermind group when I started my solo practice. 

Here’s the scenario: I’d left a big corporation and the handsome, every-two-week paycheck to start my consulting business. The risk was hefty. 

I worked all day, six days a week alone—no employees, no meetings, no one. 

I knew three former colleagues who were also starting new businesses, two with a real sense of urgency like mine. We were all struggling with the same issues: 

  • no colleagues for idea sharing, support, or accountability
  • difficulty staying motivated in isolation
  • trouble staying focused and resisting procrastination
  • dealing with uncertainty, negative thoughts, and discouragement 

So we formed a mastermind group that we called Gold Minds and met monthly for three years. 

Being held accountable by others makes us more accountable to ourselves. 

The Gold Minds met at my dining room table from nine to noon. Our meetings included agendas, assignments, roundtables, grillings (always constructive), status reports and laugher. We: 

  • confronted each other about our foibles and fears
  • shared leads and made referrals
  • reviewed and approved our annual goals
  • challenged each other on our quarterly performance results
  • conducted information exchanges; discussed  books read in common 

We were a kind of board of directors, committed to each other’s success.

It’s not much fun going it alone. So don’t!  

Career and business challenges never stop. The right mastermind group can be a huge relief. For these groups to be successful, you need to manage expectations up front. 

In our case each member agreed to:

  • Be trustworthy and hold our conversations in confidence       
  • Accept all members as equals
  • Adhere to the goals and agendas set by the group
  • Be kind, patient, supportive, and sensitive
  • Demonstrate a positive, can-do attitude
  • Learn from others and communicate openly
  • Have a good sense of humor

You get back what you put in. 

Mastermind groups can cultivate a generosity of spirit that attracts positive results. Like-minded people committed to helping each other are an empowering force. Through them we become more business fit, finding success our way as they find it their way.  

Have you had a mastermind group experience? What went well and what didn’t? Any suggestions you can add? Thanks, as always!

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