My mom and I were at a nice, local restaurant for lunch recently. As we waited for someone to acknowledge our presence (that's a story for Yelp), I glanced around to see what other patrons were eating. (I'm nosey, did I tell you?)
I looked to my left (casually, of course) and saw two men in business attire sitting at a table, finishing up lunch and having a conversation. Mr. A was munching on a bread roll slathered in butter. Mr. B was looking down at what was left on his plate, sipping on some water.
Then I saw it. Mr. A had inadvertently left some "debris" (that's a nice way to say it) on his chin. Now, I'm sitting a solid eight feet away from Mr. A and I can plainly see that he has a massive blob of butter (I think it's butter - it could have been sour cream) under his bottom lip. Massive. I immediately turn away and face my mom, so as not to be caught staring at this eating faux pas.
My mom puts down her menu, and begins to say "I think that..." but she trails off. Because she now sees what I see. Her seat has a full on view of Mr. A in all of his buttery glory. She sits there a moment, speechless. I say "you see it, too, don't you?" And we have a little laugh.
Now, I don't want to make fun of Mr. A in this blog. Because I have spilled and dribbled and crumbled all over myself in public. This blog isn't about making fun of Mr. A. It's what happens next that I need to talk about.
Mr. A and Mr. B continue on with their conversation. We see Mr. B looking directly at Mr. A. He says nothing. He continues on as if nothing is askew. I am mentally screaming to Mr. A "Please just use your napkin. It's right there!" A minute goes by. At this point I tell my mom, that man (Mr. B) is not his friend.
Mr. B could just politely say "Hey, A, you've got a little something on your chin." And Mr. A would immediately put his hand up to his chin, feel the smear, and grab for a napkin, and they'd have a brief chuckle and move on with their conversation. But he doesn't. Because he's no friend. He doesn't care that Mr. A is in an embarrassing situation. He doesn't care enough to tell him when something is wrong. He just goes about his business blindly, hoping things will automatically fix themselves.
Two minutes go by (at least!) before Mr. A grabbed for his napkin, purely as a reflex - Mr. B did nothing the whole time.
I want you to know that even though I'm your Virtual Assistant, I'm going to be your friend, too. I'll be honest, and let you know when things aren't right. I won't hide. I won't pretend things are rosy. I'll point out the problem, and I'll even supply the napkins to help clean things up.
What I Learned on my Summer Vacation
Last week I spent a couple thousand miles in the car to travel Southward for our annual family vacation. Even in the midst of sweltering 90+ degree heat, I learned a few lessons that I thought I’d share while things were still fresh in my head. From Mammoth Cave National Park
There’s a bigger picture out there – see it! A beautiful forest with deer and wild turkey romping about it is cool, but hiking 300 feet underneath those turkeys to see a room that could house my son’s elementary school (and this was only the 5th largest discovered) makes me excited about all the discoveries I’ve yet to make.
From the Grand Ole Opry
Marketing and advertising have an amazing amount to do with our perception of products. Well, I know that’s a no-brainer lesson, but it truly struck home in Nashville. I don’t know about you, but when my husband and I were thinking of the Grand Ole Opry, we envisioned this large “vintage” theatre set downtown somewhere. You know – it’s Grand
and it’s Ole
! The truth of the matter is that the Opry is right off the highway. It’s a large, auditorium-type building. And it’s right next to a mall (right by the Dave and Buster’s entrance!). I was told the mall used to be Opryland.
From Ruby Falls, Chattanooga TN
Achieving a goal can be terrifying, but you can do it. When we were planning our vacation, my son saw a brochure for Ruby Falls. It’s “America’s highest underground waterfall.” He wanted to see it, so we let him have this stop on our trip. Now, before I go any further, I have to tell you two things. First, I have an insane fear of heights. Second, I have a terrible fear of being trapped underground with nowhere to go.
Ruby Falls is at the base of a small mountain. You have to drive up a small, winding road to get to it. By the time we parked I was already at a solid 9 out of 10 for stress level. So, you go in, and pay an extremely overpriced fee to go see the falls. The perception is that you walk in to the cave and see the falls. The reality is that you have to get into a small elevator with glass doors and go down 260 feet, all the while thinking “what happens if the elevator breaks?” and “I don’t see any extra elevator or emergency stairs.”
By the time I exited the elevator I was a solid 10 for 10. If I had a choice, I would have stayed in the car. But, I had to do this for my son. And perhaps for me, too, to show myself I could do it. (And now I think if I can do that, I can do just about anything!).
Honestly, I’m not sure what the takeaway is from Graceland. That the 70s really were a completely gaudy time in home décor? That you can have everything and still lose it all by making bad choices? Or maybe that I must really love my husband to agree to go there in the first place. :)
My team and I regularly assist our clients with their clients. We do sales calls, we do customer service via phone and email. Yes, we’re representatives for our clients, but we’re also consumers.
Recently we have come across several people while doing our work that are just…well, let’s not mince words. AWFUL. Truly, just mean, nasty people. Let me give you an example. People visit a client’s website. They sign up for something, or they purchase something. This will put them on a newsletter that gets emailed to them. This is nothing new, nor surprising. It’s just good business.
They understand that they are being put on a mailing list. We all know when it happens – check here, yadda yadda – at the bottom of a sign up form. We get it.
Now, here’s the fun part. Some of the people…the nasty people… they get their newsletter. Then they reply to it. Things like (and pardon this – it’s an exact quote): “F*** you. Get lost.” Yes, this person took the time to Click REPLY and then type in that happy little phrase, rather than just click the UNSUBSCRIBE button that is included in every email.
This person isn’t the first to reply with a nasty message, and he will not be the last. But I’m not here to talk about how people would rather be mean than unsubscribe. I want to talk about the fact that this person lost a customer. Because maybe, I could have been a customer for him. He doesn’t know that I read his email. He doesn’t know who I am. I could be in the building right next door to him, being a customer service rep for my client. (It’s a Virtual World, now, people. Workers can be anywhere!)
His first contact with me was one of vitriol. (What a fun word!) And that is what he represented his business as.
So what is today’s lesson? Is it simply a “do unto others” moment? No. I think it’s much more than that. It’s a “treat every person you touch as a potential customer” moment. On the phone, in a voicemail, in an email…waiting in line at the local coffee shop. (And if you can't....click Unsubscribe!)
There are a lot of virtual workers out there from many different countries. If you’re a US business, you’ll find that your in-country VAs can charge anywhere from minimum wage up to $25 per hour or more. The “offshore” worker will charge you $1-$3 per hour. If it was all a numbers game, you know who you’d choose. But I’m here to tell you there’s a lot more than numbers at stake.
I bought a roll of plastic wrap while out grocery shopping. I had a million different choices in wrap, but I decided to buy the cheap one that happened to also be on sale. As soon as that roll made it to my kitchen, I knew I had made the wrong choice.
My husband opened the box…which didn’t really open. It bent. It tore. And then he struggled getting the plastic out to pull. And it never really pulled. It stuck together. And when you finally got a decent length to cover up some leftover food, it would become bound and mangled on the cheap metal teeth (that were bent along with the box). So you had a stretched out wad of plastic instead of a nice sheet. The worst part was that you had to tear the plastic up toward you, instead of down, like I was always used to.
Day after day, we’d grumble each time we’d have to wrap something up. I got the idea to take the plastic roll out and put it in another box (my wax paper no longer has a home). That sort of worked, but it never really fit well into the box, and it doesn’t pull out the way it should.
So the last time I was in the kitchen fighting with this plastic wrap, it occurred to me that plastic wrap and virtual workers are a lot alike. (I make some of the weirdest connections of things!) There are a lot of choices out there when you’re shopping around. And it’s easy to go with the cheapest offer, because who doesn’t want to save money? But what happens when you do? You get stuck with something that’s not quite up to par. It’s not what you wanted. It’s not what you expected. But you’ve already bought it, so you’ll struggle through to try and make it work.
And then eventually, you’ll just go out and buy the expensive plastic wrap that does exactly what you need it to do. Which means you’ve paid twice for something you just needed once.
You need someone that will understand your language, your business nuances (business functions differently in different parts of the world) and will “get” all the little idiosyncrasies that make up you and your business.
It doesn’t necessarily pay to be cheap. I’m not talking about a couple of leftover chicken legs. I’m talking about your business.
It’s that time of year again. We buy a new jogging outfit, upload plenty of uplifting tunes to our mp3 players, buy a few gallons of skim milk, and pledge a lifetime of fitness. But what about pledging some business fitness as well?
Sure, I’ll be working harder this year to make friends with my treadmill, but I’m really in the mood to bulk up my business muscle. Therefore, I’m posting my business resolutions for 2013. (Because everyone tells me it makes you more accountable if you let people know your resolutions!)
2013 Your Gal Friday Business Resolutions
Acquire a new workspace
Working from home can make you lax. It’s so easy to be mobile and eventually you find yourself curled up on the couch rather than sitting at a desk or table with your laptop. I’ve been having shoulder issues, so sitting upright at the right spot seems to be the answer. I jumped ahead and filled this resolution. Here’s my new focus point where you’ll find me working throughout the day. (Thanks Craigslist!)
Make a Schedule
Businesses online always have high hopes for blogging more, tweeting more and just generally “getting the word out” more. I’m now on a schedule. We’ll, let’s say I have a schedule, and I’ve followed it for the past four days.
Reach out More
How many networking events did you go to last year? How much advertising did you buy? How much time did you spend volunteering under the name of your business? It’s time to get out there and meet people, shake hands, say hello, and see what’s going on in the world away from my new desk!
Don’t worry – I’m always reading your emails. I’m talking about those that I sign up for. Newsletters, business tips, etc. Why do I sign up for them if I’m not going to read them? I’m making it a point to read, to learn and maybe even comment!
Business can’t be so serious all the time. And we can’t be all business all the time either. Remember to take a step back, go out to eat, meet friends and play games.
What business resolutions do you have?
Okay, (you know whenever I start a sentence with “Okay” you’re going to be getting a good story) I was headed down to the basement to get something out of the chest freezer. I grabbed one item…it was a box of Lean Pockets. There, I said it. You now know that I officially keep quickie freezer food on hand. Then I decided to grab a second box (yes, I had two!) to bring to the upstairs freezer. While I’m in the chest freezer, I see bacon. Oh, I should bring that up for breakfast! And then I see some lovely homemade bread (see – I don’t eat junk food all the time) so I grab that.
So, now I’m juggling a variety cold, slippery bags and boxes. I navigate around the laundry baskets and as I make my way to the stairs, the Ziploc bag with the bread goes squirting out from my arms, up in the air and it lands…directly into the cat’s litter box. (I’d love to say that I’m making this up, but I’m not.)
I quickly grab the bag and give it a shake. Because somehow shaking it is supposed to make it better. I use natural litter – wood chips and walnuts and corn and whatever else is in there. (It’s nice smelling actually!) My bag is slightly covered in flecks of chips and whatever else I don’t want to think of. I run upstairs, drop the rest of the armful on the kitchen table and try to figure out what I should do next. I wanted to open the bag, but it seemed that the bread could get contaminated in some way. And I am not going to throw out this bread. Because it’s amazing and special.
I’ll wash it! Hot water on, tons of antibacterial dish soap and I’m scrubbing the bag with my bread inside and thinking how utterly ridiculous this all is. After a couple of minutes I’m feeling sufficiently satisfied that I’ve cleaned that bag pretty well. I get a new bag out and like some amazing magician, open the tainted bag, grab the bread and shove it in the new one, as if moving more quickly will make it all better.
As I sit here and write this I just think how foolish I was. If I had just taken two trips up and down the stairs, this wouldn’t have happened. If I had taken the time to organize what I was carrying, this wouldn’t have happened. If I had asked my husband to come down and help, this wouldn’t have happened.
When we have too much work to do, and don’t want to organize it, or delineate responsibility, chaos ensues. Take the time to do things right, or ask for help. When we don’t pay attention and take the time to do things right, our efforts end up in the litter box.
I turned 42 recently (no, I'm not at all ashamed to admit my age), and in my mailbox was a link to a Harvard Business Review article “You Are Not a Failure.” http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/06/you_are_not_a_failure.html
The teaser in the email was “There’s still hope for success after 35.” I was kind of miffed by that. It makes it sound that when you hit 35, the chances of you having any success are slim, but you can do possibly, maybe do it.
So I read the article, and what really stuck in me was this: “But late bloomers can take comfort in his finding that creativity isn't one-size-fits-all. If you haven't been invited to the White House or launched an IPO or made the cover of a national newsmagazine before age 35, there's absolutely no reason to believe you can't still accomplish those goals later in life.”
What? This age thing really bothers me. Why is success measured by how quickly you can do something? And why do I hear “oh, it’s okay that you’re not a billionaire yet. You can still do it!” (with a sympathetic pat on the beginning-to-grey head)?
Now, not only do you have to be young to be deemed successful, you must also be completely saturated in cash. (Too bad for people like Grandma Moses
. How unsuccessful she must have felt!)
When I graduated college, I graduated with a man who was 76 – and just receiving his first degree. That was success. When I make it a whole week eating right and exercising – that’s success! When I wake up every day and have work to do for one of my clients – that’s success.
Maybe I’m too old now to understand the measure of success. And I’m perfectly okay with that.
I just got back from vacation – my first trip to Washington DC. It’s kind of odd. I’ve been all over this country, coast to coast, but have never been to DC. So, apparently I was due.
It was a different city than what I’m used to. Smaller buildings, pricey restaurants, and Starbucks that close at 7pm!!! (My local SB closes at a respectable 10pm for all of us who need a late night fix.) But this blog isn’t about the city, the monuments, the museums, or the lack of late night coffee. This blog is going to be about hype.
In the 1,239 miles we drove, I learned…no, I suppose it’s “re-learning” because this isn’t anything I didn’t already know...I digress. What I became reacquainted with was the hype that surrounds a business or a product. Traveling along the way, we decided to stop at two very famous restaurants. Why are they famous? Because they were on a certain TV channel that is broadcast all over the world. And these two restaurants were lauded as having the BEST (host moaning, groaning, oohing and aahing the whole show) food.
(No, I’m not going to say which restaurants they are. That’s not really the point of this, and I don’t want to make people angry at me for having an opinion about food!)
I was excited to visit. I was ready to sink my teeth into some amazing food. Because that’s what the very famous host of the very famous TV show on the very famous TV Network led me to believe. He fell short of worship, but his adoration of the food came pretty close.
I waited patiently. Excited to be part of history. Look at me! I’m here, at this very famous place, and I’m going to eat their very famous food, and I’m going to go back home wishing for more, and more, and more! Because TV told me so! And TV doesn’t lie. But wait! There’s more! REVIEWS. Oh yes, I read them. LOTS of them. And they were all telling me the same. GO. EAT. It’s a spiritual experience.
The moment comes. The food is in front of me, and I bite…and wait. And wait. Where were the angels? Where was the rainbow of colors; the hippie 60s trip into heaven? This was just…dare I say, food? Yes, I’m sure it was food. JUST food. And very average food at that. I didn’t have to drive 1,000 miles for it. This was food I had back home, in any number of restaurants.
I bought into the hype. Because that’s what it was. This food wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t “the best” either. But if you put enough press to something, you can turn it into the world’s great “thing” ever. And it’s not just food. It’s a hotel, or a car, or a cleaning detergent, or yes, even a virtual assistant.
So be wary, my friends! The businesses with the biggest advertising and marketing budget have just that – the biggest advertising and marketing budget. It doesn’t make them any better than anyone else. Look at all of your options, try things out, and choose what you think is “the best.”
Fresh out of college I moved to a new town and stumbled into the underwriting department of an insurance company. I was nervously excited to attend my first “official” meeting in corporate America. The entire team of underwriters and assistants (me) met with our boss, the VP of Underwriting.
Here’s the scene. Windowless room, long table, cushy high back chairs. We sit down. Idle chatter amid the underwriters. The Veep comes in, sits down and looks around. “Well?” he says. The underwriters look blindly back at him. “What are we here to talk about?” Again, blank stares and stumbling of words. This is when it got interesting. Now, this isn’t going to be an exact quote, but I think I remember it pretty well:
The Veep yells, “You all wanted this expletive meeting! YOU called for it. If you don’t know what the expletive you need to talk about, and you can’t put together a simple expletive list of things you need to talk about, why the expletive am I here? I am not coming to another expletive meeting unless there is a expletive agenda!!!!”
That was the end of the meeting. 45 seconds by my recollection. (And just for personal clarification, this was truly one of the best groups of people I ever worked with, Veep included. You were a great boss, Craig!)
People get into ruts with meetings and become slaves to Outlook and its calendaring and reminders. “It’s on my calendar, I have to have a meeting!” I also tend to think people have meetings either to get away from their desks for a while, or because they have nothing better to do. That is not right.
And without a solid agenda, your meeting will become 20% moderately important information and 80% wasted time. If you can’t write out a list of topics that you need team input on, don’t have a meeting. Also, if you have fluff topics that can be solved with a phone call or email to one person, don’t have a meeting. There is nothing worse than calling a meeting and only needing to speak with one person. (This is especially annoying when you walked across a street and through three buildings to get to the meeting, only to leave five minutes later.)
Let’s recap: #1 – If you want a meeting, have an agenda. #2 – If you can’t add anything of value to build an agenda, don’t have a meeting. #3 – Don’t let recurring calendar announcements dictate your productivity!
Recently I took a trip to a local grocery store to stock up my kitchen. I proceeded to the checkout where I always face a bit of a dilemma. I can check myself out, which means I catch all the price problems and pack my groceries how I like them. However, it also means the store gets free labor from me! So, I decide to go through a regular checkout.
I wait for several minutes while the woman in front of me finishes. Then I move up. I am greeted. “hellohowareyoutoday” It’s hard to affect the right tone – but think of the most flat, dull, monotonous voice you can and then mumble that sentence out loud in that voice. This is how I was greeted. Products scanned, bagged, paid for and then the closing: “thankyouhaveaniceday.”
I realize that being a cashier isn’t a glamorous job. I know. I used to be a cashier at a grocery store long ago (when scanners didn’t exist!). I realize that there are plenty of jobs out there that are less than exciting. They make your feet hurt, they put you in contact with grumpy people, they keep you away from your family. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take pride in yourself and your job.
The lack of enthusiasm for what we do is very noticeable to those around us. Our bosses know it. Our customers know it. Our co-workers know it. Your job may not be your dream, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it well. Every action you take is a reflection on you. Do a poor job and people think you’re a poor worker. Do a great job at even the most menial of tasks, and you are recognized for the good work you do. Be proud of every task you undertake because it is important.
"If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well."
~Martin Luther King Jr.