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It is How You Finish

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moneyball-posterMoneyball. Have you seen it? The 2011 baseball movie with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill was quite an amazing true story. IMDB describes it as “Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.” While watching this on a plane to Rome, one key phrase that Pitt’s character Billy Beane said was “All they care about is if you win the last game.”

In taking the time to think about this, one thing became evident. This statement is true in every facet of life, no matter how much hard work you put in.

Promotions will happen early to those who performed well on the last big project, whether or not they are ready for the leadership role. Other executives will perform well their entire career, make one bad decision and pull it all out from under themselves.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Billy Beane is a great example of preparation and determination for career success. He has developed his personal brand with thoughtful resourcing, innovative uses of technology and open-mindedness. Beane is leaving people with something significant. There is no reason why me or you should know Beane unless we were entrenched in the baseball world, but he is leaving his career with something significant.

It is okay to lose games in life as long as you learn from each of them. Take the sum of the losing games and build yourself up to one big winning game. Beane’s quote challenges you to leave them with something significant. Leave them with something significant in every possible thing you do. “Them” is anyone and everyone in life because you never know who you are talking to or who is listening. “Something significant” are the tangible and intangible things that leave a positive impact. If you died tomorrow, what is the last thing you have done and what would that person say about you? Are you happy or would you change it? Now is the time to start.

Start the New Year Off Right

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timeLast year I wrote a blog article on making the ultimate new year’s resolution. I started my year off with my own advice – do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today. I took that advice and shortened it saying “The time is now!” I wrote the saying everywhere. I kept it in my mind. I repeated it to my friends when they asked for my advice. I told it to multiple audiences in professional presentations I gave. I told it to strangers.

A new year’s resolution is a way of making yourself better. It is about being able to continue it, not only this year but, for years to come. I followed my own advice and many great things happened as a direct result, as follows:

  1. I attained a new dream job at Airfoil Tech Marcom and PR
  2. I was asked to sit on the Board of Directors for Michigan Parkinson Foundation
  3. I was accepted to teach professional development courses on social media at my alma mater, Madonna University
  4. I achieved my one year blog goals
  5. I was asked to sit on the Madonna University Alumni Advisory Board
  6. I’m going to be a Dad (the best one of all)

By telling myself a simple line – the time is now – in all situations, I was able to elevate myself to a level of success that I did not expect. The world will not wait for you. You will never be as young, good-looking or healthy as you are today. So, why wait? Through this next year, challenge yourself. Now is the time:

  • To make sure you are happy
  • To help someone
  • To help yourself
  • To push yourself for that promotion
  • To write that email
  • To make that phone call
  • To try something new
  • To ask that question

Give it a shot and tell me how it is going for you. I may feature you in a blog article. For me, now is the time to finish writing my book this year. I’ll update you throughout the year on the progress.

What was your resolution last year? How long did you follow through on it? What is your resolution this new year?

17 Personal Branding Tips to Become an Indispensable Employee!

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7k0a0032The moment you hand in your two weeks notice, the company offers you a blank check and an open job description. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It is a true story and it can happen to you. To do so you need to make yourself an indispensable employee. Being indispensable is defined as not subject to being set aside or neglected and absolutely necessary. There are thousands of articles on how to go about becoming an indispensable employee at work.

This blog article has 17 quick tips that if followed diligently can nearly guarantee your rise to the top of the pack. Do you want to be indispensable to your company? If so, keep reading.

  1. Always look your best.
  2. “Yes, and…” More popularly used by improvisational comics, the “yes, and” approach can do wonders for your career. To illustrate this concept in an example, if you were asked to find a venue for a company holiday party, you would not just look for one place. You would find 3 potential venues, their pricing, potential food, and entertainment. The “and” takes you and your career to another level.
  3. Being early to everything and with every project.
  4. Bring solutions, not just complaints or ideas.
  5. De-stress before your fire off that email. You know which email I am talking about.
  6. Allow yourself the ability to understand both sides.
  7. Be nice.
  8. Remember that everyone, including your boss, is your customer.
  9. Take every opportunity you can to present your work and solutions. If there are not many opportunities, make them.
  10. Talk with others like they are human, because they are. Do not talk down to those below you and do not be afraid to talk to those above you.
  11. Make it a point to have lunch or coffee with many different types of people inside your company and out. Do not out yourself in one clique. The thoughts and feelings of and towards that group can affect you both positively and negatively.
  12. Stay neutral if high stress topics like religion and politics arise. Everyone has the right to an opinion.
  13. Watch your language. This may seem a little outdated but it still holds true with many working professionals. They will appreciate your ability to stay cool and laugh it off.
  14. Do not procrastinate.
  15. Show your appreciation. Whether it is bringing in coffee and bagels after the conclusion of a stressful project or sending a simple thank you email, it makes a difference.
  16. Find your ability to make change in the business. Everyone has the power.
  17. Smile.

Nobody is perfect, but with a little drive and determination you can implement a majority of these 17 quick tips. You could be filling out that blank check one day, maybe even while sitting in the corner office. The power is within you to change your personal brand. Which tip will you start with first?

5 Personal Branding Tips in Discovering Opportunity

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knocking-featureKnock, knock. Who’s there? Opportunity. Opportunity, who?

If you get to “Opportunity, Who?” you have lost. When opportunity knocks, it is your duty to yourself and others around you to look into the opportunity more. Doing your due diligence with every opportunity that comes down your path is key to a successful person. Sometimes you must take a leap of faith, but in general every opportunity has its risks and rewards.

This article is to help students, professionals and everyone in between know how to discover opportunities to build their personal brand. Below is a list of five key areas in which opportunity can be made a reality.

  1. Being open to opportunities (i.e. Being nice): First you must allow yourself the ability to be open to opportunities. This means being nice to those you come in contact with. With each community, no matter if you are in real estate, advertising, construction, politics or public relations, the community is tight-knit. The longer you stay in the industry, the more you realize that everybody knows everybody. Shutting off one person because of an annoying trait or because they are not attractive could be the cause for many lost opportunities. It is interesting to note that many opportunities come at the most unexpected times, such as in bars, at parties or on your way to Italy, for example. Once you meet someone and leave a great first impression with them they will remember it. Not to mention, if you are lucky, they will come to you when they need you.
  2. Trying the angles. Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. A few small opportunities could even work out much better than one large opportunity. Trying the angles really means finding your specific sticking point. What specific impact do you want to make that sets you apart from all the rest? For example, say you want to start your own business. if you were starting a cleaning company, do you just want to clean homes or do you want to clean with all home-made natural products and leave fresh flowers behind? if you were starting a marketing communications firm, do you just want to develop  logos and brochures or do you want to connect business with the socially engaged customer through human interactions? You get the idea. There will always be someone better than you in a specific field, but if you help form a new angle in that field, opportunity will always knock.
  3. Knowing when to turn an opportunity down. This is always a tough one. In the second paragraph I mention the term due diligence. When reviewing an opportunity you need to consider all the factors. Are you excited about the opportunity because it will look good on a resume or are you excited because it is the right thing, right now? For example, I was offered the opportunity to sit on the board of a local professional group. The year prior I had tried and failed to get on the board, so it was very exciting to me to be asked straight away this time. Over that period of time some things had occurred in my family life and I had taken up other endeavors from a philanthropic standpoint. I turned the opportunity down and the decision has suited me well. It has allowed me to more closely look at other opportunities I have had that i may have not had time for otherwise. Also I can spend more time where i find it necessary. Turning an opportunity down is never easy. Be careful to thoughtfully decline without shutting the door completely.
  4. Making opportunities for others. Zig Ziglar said, “You can get everything in life you want, if you help enough other people get what they want.” Nothing could be more true than that. When you open an opportunity to someone, or find a way to make them happy, they will never forget it. Similarly, they will also never forget who was behind that happiness. Always think about who you can help, no matter the situation. Of course, you should not expect anything in return, but good favors are usually returned tenfold in other ways.
  5. Making opportunities for yourself. This is one of the important changes you may have to make to your mindset. Opportunities exist, but there is great competition. So, how do you make opportunities happen for yourself? First, you need to allow yourself to seek out the opportunity. This means not discounting yourself or the idea before you start and remaining confident. Second, you need to self-reflect and understand what it is you truly want to do. Third, you must go out and do it. Networking is a good start. If you get lost in the path to finding your opportunity go right to the source. I wanted to interview a celebrity costumer designer for my blog but I had never performed an interview before. I was confused on what to do and where to go. One night when i got home from work I said to myself, “The time is now.” Twenty minutes later I was talking to her publicist and I interviewed her the next week.

Some opportunities are clear and some are vague. Some opportunities will keep you up at night. Some opportunities will drive you crazy. Some opportunities will make you the happiest person alive. My advice to you? Never stop looking.

What opportunity are you looking for? Maybe I can help.

We’ve Always Done It That Way

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change-aheadThe famous term that all innovators either love or hate to hear depending on their outlook is “We’ve always done it that way.” This is used to explain everything from where a brand advertises, to promotions that are run, internal company processes, and just about anything else you can think of.

At one time in America, more respect was given to authority. The idea of questioning an authoritative figure was simply out of the question. You followed orders. In today’s day and age there is still a level of respect but this answer is no longer an acceptable response. In many instances you will find that this process was in place for so long that nobody can quite explain it to you.

So, as soon as you hear the words “We’ve always done it that way,” it is your time to shine. You as the innovator, the brand ambassador, the pillar of change, needs to stand up and make change in this part of the business. How do I do that, you ask? Here is how:

  1. Brainstorm ideas for change: Jumping to a snap judgment and saying it is a flat-out horrible way to do things from the start will put a wall between you and decision makers. Contrary to popular belief, it is okay to start on a side project and bring it to your boss. They want to see that entrepreneurial spirit shine through. As soon as you hear that dreadful response, you need to…

Read the entire article on the Talent Zoo blog Beneath the Brand at: http://www.talentzoo.com/beneath-the-brand/blog_news.php?articleID=17976

Step Up and Make Change

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changeIn a flight back from Washington-Dulles airport the other day I realized one very important thing that many employees today do not – the power to make change. Between my snoring neighbor and two pre-teen brothers fighting beside me, I caught myself daydreaming.

What happened was I read article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Influence: How to Get It; How to Use It.” The article reminded me of my strengths and the relationship I have built with senior leadership in my current organization. While day dreaming, it dawned on me that the average employee at our company does not feel as if they are able to talk and influence them as I have previously been successful doing. Couple this with internal issues that some of our employees are experiencing and it makes for one interesting daydream.

Many individuals in corporate America do not realize that they themselves have the power to make change. Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) in Mad Men says his iconic line “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” While that is the fictional advertising world it rings true today in real life. The trouble is, most colleagues are waiting for someone to ask them or tell them before change happens. Usually the ultimate change occurs; they move on to a competitor. I knew it was time to step up and make change.

While on that flight I put my mind to work with one question and one answer on my mind – “Why? Because someone has to do it.” As soon as I made it back to the office I had an impromptu meeting with a Project Manager (PM). This PM is one that I personally feel is well-respected and has a very keen sense of judgement. We spoke about an idea to develop a company program where employees feel empowered and can be part of the change. Currently we are writing out a clear purpose, methodology and follow-up policy for the group. We plan to gain senior management buy-in throughout the coming weeks.

This entrepreneurial spirit can live, thrive and survive in your organization. Sometimes you have to step up and set up a system to allow employees to be part of the change, and sometimes they take charge and do it themselves. What can you do to be part of the change in your organization?

You Never Know Unless You Ask

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no1Have you ever thought of something or had a great idea and said “they’ll never listen.” Maybe you were burned in the past. Maybe you grew up learning to keep your mouth shut. The fact is everyone is a critic. They will tell you why something should not work or why it will not work. The question remains. Should you listen to them?

When I was 5 years old, I went on a walk with my Dad around Penn Vassar Park in Dearborn, Michigan. That is where we would have our ‘man talks’ as Dad called them. I specifically remember portions of this talk because it opened my eyes to all kinds of opportunities. I forgot the exact context why we were talking about this, but the main idea he wanted me to take away was that if you do not ask, nothing will happen. You cannot go. You cannot play. You cannot win. You cannot lose. You cannot, you cannot, you cannot.

To this day I always ask. I always say “Why not?” My father’s exact words were “The worst they can say is no,” – that, however, was in reference to asking a girl out for the first time.

Think of how many times you may not question something or not start with a new idea because someone may hate it. They may say it is stupid. One of my favorite shows is Mad Men and I love the fashion designs by Janie Bryant. I thought she would be perfect to interview for Advertorious.  One night while I was sitting at home after work I referred back to my new years resolution and I said to myself  “what is the worst that could happen?”

The worst did not happen. Within 20 minutes I had made it through the phone to her publicist and booked the interview of Janie Bryant for later that week. That interview led to another one with Julie Deane of Cambridge Satchel Company. I had never held an interview before. Without prior experience I relied on my business ability and the tenacity for bettering myself to move forward.

I have used this thinking in all areas of my life, not just business. Not all of them panned out. You may also need to become a little hard of hearing the first time you get a ‘no.’ In one of his books, Zig Ziglar taught me that a ‘no’ can be a ‘yes’ in disguise. Striking gold takes time. The important thing is trying. When you think you have a good idea or want to try something, go ahead. After all, what is the worst they can say?

Life is Too Short

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I will do it tomorrow. I will get to it eventually. I will stop by someday soon. I will get back to you.  We say these things daily. In the wake of events such as the Boston marathon bombings and Sandy Hook Elementary shootings we are reminded why life is much too short to wait. Putting something off until tomorrow is another day lost, and what if tomorrow never comes? For some, as in the bombings or shootings, it did not.

Emails go unanswered and life goes on. Phone calls go answered and life goes on. You can either choose to let everyone have 24/7 access to you via smart phone technology and move at the speed of sound, or you can take a step back. If you choose to take a step back maybe you will have a chance to give back to your community, church, or family. By this, I am not saying to quit work and devote your life to others. What I am saying is that there are things more important than work. Things such as a loved one’s smile, helping someone less fortunate, or taking time out of your workday to help a charity that is close to your heart, remind you that there is good in the world.

You are part of that good. Sometimes it is easy to forget that. It is easy to rush off to work without kissing your spouse goodbye for the day. It is easy to get upset because the older lady in front to you is taking too long checking out at the grocery store. It is easy to not help a family member move into their new apartment. Did you ever think it might be the last kiss you give your spouse? Did you ever think this might be the only person this older lady talks to all day long, or that she needs help loading groceries into her car? Did you ever think that it may not be easy for a family member to ask for help?

Sometimes it is the simplest things in life that we miss out on. We forget how lucky we are. Celebrate life. Step back and enjoy what is around you. Help others in the simplest ways. And, don’t forget to smile.

Your Past. Your Present. Your Future.

Meeting an old friend is like looking into your past, reminding you of what you love and how you got to where you are. Tweetable.

friend_tweet

When I tweeted this I did not expect the number of positive emotions to come from this sentiment. I began to think deeper about how I felt that night. There are a few friends that some people have that you may not see or talk to in years. However, when you get together, you are transported back to a time that is very different from now. You are yourself, but an outdated model if you will. When I met this friend I was back at the Motorola Razr version of myself – before the Blackberry and multiple versions of iPhones.

Thinking about it in terms of phone upgrades made me think how far I have upgraded myself. My mindset was of a more limited functionality. In a world where everything is so fast-paced and changing rapidly it reminded me that I am achieving my goals. My past has shaped my present and my present is shaping my future. My goal of continual education is paying off.

My present is right here, right now. I am focused. I am focused on learning as much as possible about everything I come in contact with. I am focused on my family. I am focused on my job. I am focused on being my best possible self. For years I have stood firm with this mindset. To see a prior version of myself made me understand that even though my general goals and values have remained the same it has propelled me to new heights.

Do you have a friend like this or have had a similar experience recently? If so, share it with me below. I want to hear about it.

In my tweet I used the word love. I love life. I love my wife, family and friends. I love nostalgia. I love ice cream before dinner. I love to laugh. I love to play complex jazz music at obnoxiously loud levels next to the guy who’s speakers are thumping with hip hop loud enough to rattle the tires clear off your car while stopped at a red light. Sorry for the run-on sentence. But seriously, I love the little things. The thing I discovered was that while my mindset had been upgraded, my love had remained the same. Sure love may evolve, but the specific things that are true to your heart always remain the same.

In business, sometimes brands lose site of what they love and/or what their audience loves. They lose their focus on divert from the plan. Personally I have been down on myself that maybe I am not growing as fast as I should be. Looking back those 5-6 years changed my mind. Look back into the last 5-6 years of your brand. Is your underlying love and focus still there?

Action item: A mentor of mine once told me this and I think it may help you better understand my point. Put your goals, your hopes, your wants and anything else on a piece of paper. Have your spouse do it with you for fun. Tuck the pieces of paper in a jar and stash it away. In five years, open it. You may want to put an expiration date on it or open it on a special day like an anniversary or new years day. When you finally open it you will be amazed at how far you have come.

Educate or Deteriorate? You Choose.

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educationYou bought a new car. It is fresh off the lot. You have driven it for a while and it performs really well. A few years pass. You realize you washed it more in the first year than the next 6 years combined. New models are coming out every year with new technology just waiting for your car to get old. Rust starts to collect on the quarter panels. Oil changes are not the only thing that you have to pay extra for anymore. It is more trouble than its worth. Eventually, it is scrapped for a new car.

Now think about yourself and your career. You graduate college and you have been out for a while now. You know a fair amount of things going on in the world and you are amazing at your job. A few more years pass and there are a lot of younger people under you or close to you that want your job. They know the latest technology and are hungry for the work. You are used to certain ways of doing things and this new technology seems like a passing fad. Eventually, you wonder why you were traded in for Liz from accounts.

What happened? Whatever you knew is just part of everyday business and what you do not know is holding you back. You forgot one of the most important things in life: Continual education. You lost touch with the world. Education is a basic fact of life. It would be a tragedy to think that you were to stop learning when you graduate college. Do not fall into the you-can’t-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks category. Make it a point to be in the always-open-to-learn-something-new category.

That is not to say it is always easy to learn new things. It can be scary. However, once you learn even the smallest thing, you will be all the wiser. Nearly everyone has the capacity to learn something new. When she was alive, I taught my 91-year-old grandmother how to use her cell phone. She lived through the depression and held out from getting a cell phone as long as she could. She was physically old, but she did not let her mind catch up with her physical age. At 91, she was happy to learn something new.

Alright Don, we get it. What do you suggest we do about it?  

Never stop learning. Sure you may tweet and share things to look like you know what is going on, but it is just an act. You read the headlines. It sounds interesting, so you re-post it. If others are traveling at 60MPF you are too. You do not realize that sometimes it pays to travel at 40MPH to better understand new material, or at 80MPH when you know exactly what needs to be done. After I graduated with my MBA, I quickly found out that to reach your highest potential, you need to find the internal motivation to teach yourself new tricks everyday. Yes, everyday. It does not have to be some earth-shattering idea, it just has to be something.

How do you apply this in everyday life? Here are the 10 things I do to keep myself fresh of new ideas and changing industry trends.

  1. Go to the library. You do not have to waste your money on buying all the latest magazines and books. The library has them for you. When is the last time you were there? That’s what I thought. Books on CD work great too. I just finished a Seth Godin book on CD recently from my local library.
  2. Subscribe to key blogs. Many industry leading individuals and companies have key blogs. It may take some digging to find key ones that appeal to you, but once found, make it a point to read them as often as they post.
  3. Go to local events. Nearly every industry has local, and national, events centered around education. I say local events because they are the path of least resistance. These events allow you to learn directly from industry leaders.
  4. Network. Local events always offer some sort of networking option. Always take advantage of this. At a scholarship fundraiser for my alma mater last weekend, I heard of a recent forensic science graduate to who was introduced directly to the head of the Michigan crime lab. This was an invaluable chance meeting. Do not miss out on these opportunities.
  5. Watch the news. Before work every day I watch the news with my beautiful bride. It keeps me up-to-date on local happenings. The sports update is especially helpful. If you are a real go-getter you know that finding the time to watch all or even part of a major sporting event is difficult. Watching the news will help you see all the major plays and the outcome. That way, you will not miss out on an opportunity to continue a conversation at a networking event.  Similarly, you will also keep knowledge of other events in your mind to help shape decisions you make in the future.
  6. Set up lists.  Lists on Twitter help a lot when it comes to educating yourself. I have a list set up in Twitter called Influencers, among others. This list allows me to see what is important to some very influential people in my industry. Reading this keeps me very well-informed.
  7. Subscribe for webinars. Webinars are easy. Most of them are a half hour to an hour in length and a number of them are free. You can log in to a webinar anywhere and many times they make materials available afterwards for reference.
  8. Ask a colleague.  Sometimes this is very difficult. You do not want to come off like you do not know anything but you know they have the information. It is best to simply ask a colleague what she thinks about a certain situation if you find yourself hitting a brick wall with your own knowledge. After all, you are supposed to be functioning in a team. Collaboration will flourish, if you are open, and you may learn more than you bargained for.
  9. Ask to listen in. Ask your boss if it is okay to sit in or listen in on key meetings. I have done this many times. Shadowing your boss, writing down their key thoughts, and remembering what you learn will help you excel by leaps and bounds.
  10. Blog. Do something like what you just read. It has been the biggest payoff for me.

Choose wisely. Will you educate or deteriorate?