Scout for Success

I Love My Work!

One of the beauties of being a website designer and content developer for small businesses is that I literally learn something (and often many things) new with each project.  Over the years I’ve worked in various capacities on websites for master knife makers, a knife collector and merchant, a storm water treatment specialist, a company that makes train signals, assorted doctors and surgeons, a vintage amplifier afficianado, a “film noir”-style portrait photographer, accountants and IT specialists, an all-camoflauge product retailer (from baby doll nighties to bathroom scales), a “cozy mysteries” book reviewer, a painting contractor, an interior designer, landscape specialists, a fence builder, a healthcare staffing company and, most recently, a master leathersmith and online retailer of steampunk accessories - steampunk gear and accessoriesMy interest was piqued from the start on this one.  Owner Doug “Mac” McGowan of Salem, OR, had updated a mutual friend on his latest creative venture and I was intrigued enough to do some steampunk research.  The more I learned, the more interested I became.  Though I may offend steampunk purists, if such folks exist, I would describe the genre as a cross between Jules Verne-style fantasy, Victoriana, and obsession with steam-powered, eclectic, retro-industrial mechanics and gadgetry (spanning several eras and some dubious scientific disciplines), coupled with creative adaptations of aviator / Edwardian / American Indian / explorer attire.  Kind of like whirling Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, Dr. Who, H.G. Wells and assorted other writers, begoggled aviators and turn-of-the 19th century mercenaries (along with a few belly dancers) in a blender and coming up with an unusual and potent concoction.  I got so creatively fired up that, unsolicited and unbeknownst to Doug, I pulled an overnighter crafting the website design that is now and sent it off to him the next day.  I’m happy to say that he liked it, too.  Take a look - and a listen, specifically to band Abney Park’s “Airship Pirates” video at the top right of the Resources page.  What adventurers amongst us can resist these sentiments, as expressed by Captain Robert, the band’s lead singer and airship commander:

“With a crew of drunken pilots
We’re the only airship pirates
We’re full of hot air and we’re starting to rise
We’re the terror of the skies, but a danger to ourselves now”


High Summer

It’s that time of year, when the trees are the deepest darkest, green they will be, before the first tiny splashes of color begin to appear.  This month is like a tranquil, sun-dappled porch in the late afternoon, lazy when we take the time to stop and enjoy, lazy and slow with time to watch the twilight fall and the shadows lengthen, time to see the sun go down, as the streetlight on the corner flickers first then settles to a steady glow.

Of Mastadons and Voting Booths…

It was 5:57 a.m. as I stood in line outside the designated polling place in the beautiful forest preserve near my home.  Dozens of people had arrived before me, and talked quietly or sipped their morning coffee as we waited for the appointed 6 a.m. opening.  The sun was rising up beyond the groves of trees and its light silhouetted the stone statue of a large Ice Age mastadon a short distance away from the winding sidewalk, poised as if to take a curious step closer to the small, white-gabled discovery museum where voting would take place. 

Not to delve too deeply into allegorical symbolism, the scene still gave me pause to think about the import and impact of today’s election.  For the past month or more (and many would say far longer) leading up to today it has felt as though our nation was collectively slowing down, almost grinding to a halt.  Those are disconcerting circumstances for a people, a country and economy as vital, tumultuous and contentious as ours.  Small business owners, in particular, have seemed to be locked in some parody of the statue maker game we played as children, business plans and marketing initiatives frozen on the drawing board while we wait to see “what happens.”

Well, “what happens” happens today.  Hopefully, like the Prince’s fairy tale kiss, the Election will break the spell and allow the innate energy, vitality and gumption of the American voters, the people who do the real work of making the country run, to start flowing again - regardless of who wins.

Stand up and be counted - VOTE!

Techtrepreneurs - Step Awaaaay From the Machine!

I recently added up the number of business-related hours that I have spent in front of my computer over the last couple of months.  I was surprised at the total. Like many small business owners who provide technology and Internet-related services I expected the number to be high, but not that high.  It occurred to me that I had not participated in any elective, non-computer related, purely personal interest activities for quite a while, so I decided it was time to break out of my rut and enjoy some real world, low-tech, meet-new-people time.

To accomplish that, last weekend I attended The Cozy Library Extravaganza at the Warren Newport Library in Gurnee, Illinois. The Cozy Library is a website I designed several years ago for my good friend and mentor, Diana Vickery. Immensely popular with readers, the site is devoted to her reviews, recommendations, author interviews and a wealth of other information related to the genre of cozy mysteries. (You can learn the definition of a cozy mystery by visiting the Cozy Library website.) The extravaganza was sponsored by the library and included an informal panel discussion of books, writing and writing techniques, along with anecdotes from eight visiting authors from around the country. It was fascinating to hear the personal stories of these authors, and learn more about what inspired their creativity and how they went about turning their ideas, plots, and characters into the written word.  I was surprised at how much the outlining, organizing and character development techniques varied from person to person.

I thoroughly enjoyed the three hours I spent at this event. I’ve been writing myself since I was a child, and continue to grow my business on a foundation of services related to writing.  I actually relished being away from my computer for an entire afternoon, and engaging with friends and acquaintances old and new to discuss books, authors, personal interests and writing in general.  I went home that day feeling refreshed, inspired, and fired up to continue pursuing my writing goals.  Though I know that most technical entrepreneurs, or techtrepreneurs, also have lives away from their workstations, I suspect that many of us have to make a concerted effort to fit these entertaining and purely social forays into our busy schedules.

I also believe that many entrepreneurs and small business owners, especially those who delve regularly into the blogosphere, enjoy and utilize the written word in their work.  Two books that I always keep close at hand are Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones - Freeing the Writer Within (1976) and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird - Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994).  Many of you are likely already familiar with both works; for those aspiring writers who are not, I highly recommend them.  They each speak to the heart of writing, rather than dwelling on theory or technique.  Writing is about telling stories and communicating with others; as business owners we are constantly telling the story of what we have to offer, how we serve, what our products are, the why and how of what we do, and the benefits we offer our customers.  In an age of email and online written exchange of ideas, books like these can help to make you feel more confident about writing freely, and less self-conscious about expressing yourself and your ideas.

Copyright © Kimberly Washetas - 2008

Secret Service Systems for Successful Businesses

John R. DiJulius has written a book that I not only bought for myself, but have also gifted to a number of my own customers.  Secret Service is remarkable for both its common sense clarity and its numerous examples of real, household-name companies putting the principles defined in the book to work.  Sub-titled “Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service,” this is a book that delivers on its own promise, by providing ideas for ratcheting up the level of customer service that can be implemented by virtually every type of business.  DiJulius manages to be both informative and entertaining while he offers clear, concise descriptions of the actions successful businesses take to keep them number one with their customers.  You’ll be amazed at the simplicity of some of the policies and initiatives he describes. 

DiJulius is the president of a consulting firm specializing in customer service and marketing, and a longtime successful business owner himself.  In addition to addressing the needs of customers, he also goes the extra mile in recognizing the value of dedicated, engaged employees, providing sensible advice on training geared to encouraging teamwork and reducing turnover.  Highly recommended!

Revisiting The E-Myth Revisited

About four years ago, my friend Billy Cochrane and I were sharing driving duties on a 10-hour roadtrip from Jackson, Mississippi to a trade show in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  In addition to being a great friend, Billy is also one of my first ecommerce website customers ( and the van was loaded with his wares along with my marketing materials.  Having started our businesses around the same time, we spent a while talking about some of the entrepreneurial challenges we were both experiencing, before I suggested we take a listen to a CD audio-book I had purchased for the drive.

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber turned out to be a revelation for both of us.  The sub-title might be a little daunting (Why Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It), but the advice turned out to be relevant and business-altering for both Billy and myself.  From growing pains to muddled systems to fear of leaving your comfort zone, the author dealt with these and other common small business issues in a straightforward way.  His examples and ideas about establishing systems and processes were insightful and helpful.  The chapter about working on your business, not in it, was especially thought provoking.

This is not high-falutin’ stuff.  Gerber uses a fictitious small business model to illustrate his points, but while the dialogue may seem simplistic to some, I found it easy to follow his concepts and thought processes.  Highly recommended for entrepreneurs and small business owners, especially those just starting up or in a quandry about what their “next steps” should be.  Also available in book form, but with time at a premium for most of us, the CDs were much easier to absorb.

Panning For Gold in Your Marketplace

Just recently I came across a business-to-business sales seminar I had developed back in 2001, “Panning for Gold - The Internet as a Sales Tool.”  While some of the resource links were outdated, the basic premise of the presentation still holds true:  invest 15 minutes on the Internet learning about each prospect prior to making a call, and realize a mother lode of benefits and increased sales.

It’s true, knowledge is power…
but only when you leverage it properly.  One essential nugget to take away from this presentation summary:  Pre-call research is not about acquiring all the answers. It’s about being able to ask your prospective customer smart, relevant questions.

The other reality is that in order to be successful, this research process has to be fast, easy and effective.  Google is your friend in that respect.  Use brief, succinct search phrases and learn to separate the wheat from the chaff quickly in the search results.  Cut and paste relevant tidbits of information right into the Notes screen of your contact management program, or into a document if you like hard copies to review and make notes on.  No need for fancy formating - just cut, paste and move on.  If you don’t even have time for that, at minimum skim information about these four items for each prospect:

  • The company website - Home, About and Career pages are good sources for quick prospect background info.
  • Range of products or services - What they make or do, and who they make or do it for.
  • The industry - See the “history of” below.
  • The competition - Who else does what they do in their marketplace?

“History of…” Queries
My favorite search phrase of all, “history of _____________,” is likely all you’ll need to provide you with enough interesting background, jargon and trivia about your prospect’s industry to jumpstart any sales call.  For a call on a local produce processor, “history of pickling” returned a detailed Pickle History Timeline, starting back in the Dark Ages!  “History of bar coding” once provided me with the tidbit that the technology had advanced to the point that honeybees could be bar coded to track their migration paths.  “History of tires” will answer every question you ever had about how the rubber hits the road.  You get the point.

It’s Human Nature
The bottom line is a simple one.  We humans are a gregarious lot, and it’s in our nature to reciprocate.  Your smart, relevant questions and curiousity about your prospect’s business, service, or stock in trade makes that person aware that you cared enough about what he or she does for a living to invest your own time in some research.  At the very least that conveys your interest and diligence, and ideally it makes the prospect willing to reciprocate by sharing time and information with you.  Time and information, two of the key factors that help every good salesperson to close the sale!

Copyright © Kimberly Washetas - 2008

Great Service Providers Online

Like many small business owners and entrepreneurs, I have a tendency to keep odd hours and workdays. That’s one of the reasons it’s very important to me to be able to rely on the service providers I utilize for my web-based applications, hosting services, and domain registration, no matter what the day or time.  Yes, it’s a 24-hour world and a majority of providers have some level of support around the clock - but the quality of service and wait time can vary greatly from company to company.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate in locating and working with some excellent online service providers. The list below represents just a few of them, and I’ll add others as the list grows:

DomainDiscover has been my registrar of choice for more than eight years.  Not only are their account management features user-friendly and intuitive, they have always been accessible whenever I needed them. That includes the middle of the night, weekends, the wee hours of the morning and even once on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  Help staff is always reachable by phone within a very reasonable time frame, ever courteous and friendly.  I also appreciate the phone calls or voice messages (in addition to multiple email alerts) when one of my many domains is near to expiring.  AAA rating from Scout!

InMotion Hosting
New service provider for Scout, with the advent of this Scout for Success blog, and very impressed so far.  I like the walk-through video tutorials and the comprehensive knowledge base for self-help and delving into  new (for me) areas of of programming and file management.  Ever striving to be the ”good customer,” I nearly always fully explore the available online support before resorting to a phone call; when I did need to make a call, wait time was minimal and assistance was fast and friendly.  Another Scout AAA.

PayPal Merchant Account Services
My first experience with PayPal had been way back in the early days they were first starting, when (to the best of my recollection) you had to fax or snail mail an authorization in order to establish an account to pay PayPal-only online retailers through their accounts.  What a difference a few years and many leaps of technology make.  Now a boon to both neophyte and seasoned online merchants, PayPal brings a full menu of ecommerce transaction options to the masses, and provides solid customer support while they’re at it.  The PayPal merchant website generally does a good job of steering you through the basics of account set up and maintenance; the couple of occasions when I have needed to call them directly, support staff have been friendly and were able to answer all my questions without jumping up to the next help desk tier.  A solid AA rating from Scout.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking - Thumbs Up for Great Speech Recognition Software!

While I knew that the speech recognition program Dragon NaturallySpeaking had been around for a while, I was surprised to learn that it had originally been developed in the early 1980s. I’ve been considering buying the software for some time and finally ordered it last week.

The intuitive interface and the accuracy of the program are amazing. I foresee using this software tool more and more frequently in my work, primarily because it is so accurate. I actually created most of this post using Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and I am getting more proficient every time I use it.

After installation, within about two hours I had mastered most of the dictation commands, corrections, editing and formatting functions. It’s best to do the set-up and training when you have some quiet time for yourself, as it does require concentration and you will want to practice. However, I can already tell that with each use it will become simpler and more natural to speak into the noise-canceling headset (comes with the software) and I’m looking forward to the increased productivity and the time savings that this product offers.

On a separate note, I wanted to learn more about Dragon NaturallySpeaking and other similar software because of the trend toward speech recognition in electronic records management, especially in the medical field. EMR, or Electronic Medical Records, will hopefully become the norm for the healthcare industry in the United States. I also foresee a need for qualified trainers who are familiar with these programs to provide specialized and accelerated instruction to physicians, nurses and other healthcare staffing personnel.  Definitely a Scout-recommended product!

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