Miscellany

Of Ideas and Putting Them to Use, and of Hobbies That GROW

If you’ve always wished you could buy me a coffee and pick my brain, please stay tuned: toward the end of this post, you can come pretty close to doing both. In the meantime, allow me to get sentimental for a few minutes. Dear reader, this is the 500th post at MCE, and milestones like this give me a chance to thank you.

 

“Watch out when a Capricorn lets loose on a new hobby,” I said to a friend last week.

Whether you believe in the pull of far-off orbs at the moment of your birth or not, for this January baby that’s always been true.

In July, 2007, the idea for the Maximum Customer Experience Blog was born, with the simple idea that great Customer Experience helps small businesses grow, and that I would always have far more Customer Experience ideas, tips, rants, and raves, than I have clients to share them with.

I hoped to offer help in bits and bytes (sorry, the pun was irresistible) to a much broader audience than I can ever reach here in the greater Philadelphia region. In that I’ve been successful, and I thank you, reading right now, and the many thousands of other entrepreneurs and small-business folks from all around the globe who drop in here, for helping me to make MCE a hobby I’m proud to be obsessed with.

 

The idea was born, but as all of us business owners know, a good idea is not enough. Execution is everything. Could I keep this infant blog growing?

Well, it turns out every post here is yet another birth, at least for me. I’ve never gotten the “serious” bloggers’ knack of writing ahead or planning a week in advance. Maybe that’s because I’m serious about Maximum Customer Experience, but I never want the blog to become too “serious” for us to enjoy—so I’m happy to wait for a little idea to give me a kick and say “it’s time.” Then the post is born, and it makes its debut with you.

In that I’ve been lucky again. Your input and your interest makes writing these articles week after week easier, and more interesting, in so many ways. Not only have these posts touched a chord with you, encouraging you to comment, to pass on the link, or even email me sometimes, but many readers have become trusted colleagues, clients, and even dear friends. So thanks once again—for reading, and for working with me, of course, but more than that, for connecting with me.

 

Now, this Capricorn has been let loose on many hobbies that have become minor obsessions over the years. Back in April, a former client and much-admired colleague asked, fairly casually, whether I could fit more writing into my schedule, and I gained a new hobby/obsession for a while. It’s been six months, and The Big Day is here for that TOP Secret project as well (and no, it wasn’t planned to go with post #500, it’s just worked out this way).

Ever wished you could buy me a coffee and pick my brain for a while, and get really in-depth on just one topic? This might be what you’ve been looking for:

Why Your Website Sucks—

and How To Fix It!

The latest in the TOP (Travel Online Partners) Mastery Guide series launches today, with your intrepid Experience Designer, Kelly Erickson, as co-author. My friend Andy Hayes and I have given birth to one of the most usable Guides you’ll find anywhere to website “usability”—making your site user-friendly, making it as easy as possible for folks to decide to buy from you, and closing the deal.

Now I want you to know, dear reader, that this 126-page Guide and action-oriented 28-page workbook (instantly downloadable e-books)were written specifically for the travel industry. Andy’s written books, magazine articles, and runs a nice-sized media empire dealing with the travel industry from a B2B and consumer perspective, so naturally we wanted to keep this Guide focused on real-world examples (and goofy asides) that folks in travel and tourism could appreciate. At VisionPoints and here at MCE, travel, and hospitality in general, are fields I have extra expertise in (and a soft spot for), so working with Andy was an easy Yes.

Though the examples come from one field, you’ll find the principles are universal, and the ideas we’ve put together for you are so easy to follow that… well, to put it slightly crudely, it’s pretty kick-ass. (If Andy can name it “Why Your Website Sucks and How To Fix It,” then I guess I can be a little bit rough in expressing how thrilled I am with the end result.)

Early word is that reviewers are flying straight to the workbook to start taking action right away—then loving the book as its companion. I should have predicted it—you may not know how your work will be put to use—that’s straight from Chapter 5!

And since we were talking about buying me a coffee and picking my brain, I might as well tell you that you’ll be picking my brain, Andy Hayes’, and in a fun little bonus, you can listen in at the coffeeshop, too, as Andy and I discuss the truth about usability with the ever-delightful Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz, in a 45-minute recorded call that we’ve packaged with the Guide. That’s a ton of experience all in one place.

 

It’s been an intense birthing process—just as 500 posts at MCE have been—so I guess it’s right that all this hip-hooraying should fit into one big post today. I’m ridiculously proud of the results. (And exhausted. And sweaty. But that’s another story.) When we put the last touches on the Guide I told Andy it’s better than anything I’ve seen in the stores and far more targeted toward what small businesses really want—to put ideas into action—and I love it so much I wish I could buy it.

(“At $37.99 for all we’re giving in this Guide, it’s a steal,” he said. “Treat yourself.” Hm.)

So if you’ve ever wanted to pick my brain, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Why Your Website Sucks—and How To Fix It. For six months, I’ve picked my own brain (and Andy’s, and for a fun hour, Naomi’s), to bring only the best pickings to the readers of this TOP Mastery Guide.

 

Well, dear reader, that’s a wrap. 500+ births and a special announcement, straight from my heart and my experience—to help you grow your business with awesome, rockin’, Maximum Customer Experience. I hope you’ll continue to find it encouraging, enlightening, and as much fun as we can squeeze into a business blog. You’ve been all that for me, personally and professionally.

And once again,

because birthdays make me all mushy,

my sincere thanks.

Keep reading, keep commenting, and keep spreading the word about the little blog with the simple idea—that great Customer Experience helps small businesses thrive. Together we’ll keep making your business Maximum.

 

As always, grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Dear Reader,

Thanks for your patience as I’ve been repurposing a few weeks of my summer for some family issues. (And apologies for not putting a little notice up sooner.) Back next week with post #500 and more!

 

Regards,

Kelly Erickson

Busses or Amusement Parks?

The Kid paid thirty bucks to go to an amusement park with her school group this week.

She paid twenty bucks for the fancy-pants bus to ride in, on the 2-hour trip to and from the amusement park.

Guess which one she blabbed on and on about afterwards?

There’s a lesson in here somewhere.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*Today’s title is based on a sign at The Kid’s school that says, “Buses Park Here.” I don’t care that both are acceptable, that spelling drives me crazy.  :)

Oh, no! Internet troubles chez MCE!

Dear readers, let’s meet back here next week. Thanks for your patience. :)

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

I don’t know, and what’s more…

(I’m not sure if I care.)

Nobody wants to get in on a fad (unless they can be first). So folks tend to hang back, looking to see if they can spot a trend (better), or a more permanent, more widespread sea change (best). Then we know the ground we’re about to walk on is solid.

Quick observation today:

Sometimes not wanting to make a misstep results in taking no steps at all.

Some times… maybe we should worry a little less about all the doggone due diligence.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

What every small business owner wants is a big metaphorical hug

… or a real hug, some days…

A friend who owns a small business near my home asked me about support the other day.

As in, she wasn’t getting any from her family, and she wanted to know if I had any tips on getting some.

“Her family” was broadly described as her husband, kids, pets, her brothers, and her mom. Dad, apparently, had no opinion, which was just about the same as being non-supportive. Or just about the same as the pets. I forget.

If you’re just starting out on your business journey, maybe you can relate to her woes. Nobody seems to be rah-rah-ing in your corner. You’re working 852-hour weeks and still managing to clean the toilet. It’s bad enough that sales are slow to none, but then your brother seems determined to tear you down, as if your trying to get ahead is a problem for him, when doggone it, he should see it as amazing for you, and…

Yeah.

The only problem is, this woman’s been in business for seven years. She’s no startup entrepreneur.

What’s this story about?

A couple of things. One is, don’t think there’s some magical day when you emerge from the pupal stage gorgeous and fluttering and all your family will suddenly think your business is awesome and they’ve been so wrong about your abilities and your marvellous ideas and they should make time to massage your feet more often and bring you black raspberry ice cream.

It ain’t gonna happen.

In fact, some will actively hate your success more than they actively hated your striving, so you’d better develop a thick skin. (You’ll need it every day in business anyway.) If you’ve been around a while, you should feel free to shout an “a-men!” in the comment section.

The other is, I’m sure your family is wonderful and I can understand your wanting their approval. I’ve heard myths that some people have even got family support, but those tall tales are hard to verify. Whether you’ve got it or not, the prickly truth is, the approval that counts the most is the approval of your customers. You know, the folks you’re trying every day to create Maximum Customer Experience for.

When those folks vote with their dollars for your incredible skills or amazing products, you’ve got the endorsement that you need most. And if you’re chasing family approval instead of satisfied—no, delighted—customers, you are spending a good portion of your day aiming directly at the wrong target.

I hope your family is behind you 100% with horns and banners and pom-poms. But because I’m obsessed with your success, I’d rather that you turn around and see if your customers are part of the parade.

You know I’m there.  :)

Am I dead-on about where the most important support is, or dead wrong?

Have you got support? How has it changed over the years you’ve been in business? Shout about it in the comments…

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Every once in a while, I just have to go WAY off topic…

In case you’ve been saying to yourself, “I wonder if Kelly’s spam filter at the MCE Blog catches way cooler stuff than mine does,” the answer is yes.

And because is ain’t bragging if someone else toots the horn for you, today I thought I’d share just a bit of the glowing praise that my spam filter prevents you from seeing every day. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a shame that more folks don’t share opinions like these gems:

Your article has added great value to your blog. I say this because to me personally I find it valuable. Maybe to some one else it’s not but to me you did good. Thanks for the info.

Thank You, Thank You…I’ve been looking for this information. Everything I found anywhere else wasn’t near as thourough as this site. I’ll be back again…

im trying to set up my xbox live settings for like the 50th time and can never do it allways have to ring xbox and there useless could someone please tell me how to find my dns settings? thanks

(This one perplexed me a bit since all I do tutorials on here is how to find your Intellivision, Atari, and Coleco Telestar settings so you can win at Pong and Asteroids and stuff. Whatever.)

Hey! Fantastic thought, but can this actually do the job?

Hi there! Excellent idea, but might this genuinely do the job?

Ever wonder if great minds actually, genuinely, do think alike? Wonder no more.

Thank you for all the detail!! Still yet another nice site post, definitely the reason why My spouse and I arrive for a blogs over and over again.

Hey! I have been following your blog for 3 days now and i should say i am starting to like your posts.I guess im subscribing now for not missing anything new.

I am always excited to visit this blog in the evenings. It is very entertaining.

They like me, they really like me! Especially in the evenings.

Though I would’ve loved it much more if you added a video or at the least pictures to support the explanation, I still thought that your page quite useful. It is generally difficult to make a complicated matter look very easy. I enjoy your weblog and will register for your feed so I won’t miss out on anything. Awesome articles or blog posts.

On a post full of pictures (which as you may know, is pretty rare for me).

I’ve recently been seeking all over for this info. The good news is I just noticed it at Google.

Robert

I’ve recently been looking all around for this info. Luckily I just came across this on Yahoo.

Robert

I’ve happened to be searching all around for this info. Good thing I just found this on Bing.

Robert

I’ve been searching all about for this info. Happily I seen this on Google.

Robert

Robert: Dude, I’m worried about you. Maybe I should send you some links for a few of the drugs that are sitting in my spam filter…

I have seen people stack them, like the very best restaurant on Gourmet Street. How do you stack them?

On top of my Atari. Is there any other way?

Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking you feeds also, Thanks.

Well, folks, if you’ve been seeking all over for such a Super-Duper site, I hope you’ll subscribe like all these charming commenters have. I promise not to go through my spam filter by hand again for a long while, and in the meantime, I think you know what you’ll get here. Advice that’s sure to rev up your business, and tips on how to win at Pong.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Naw.

Thanks, folks, for asking about me in the last week or two. I’ve gone and gotten myself a whopper of a New Year’s illness, and I’d hoped to be just wonderful by now and back to having coherent, killer thinking to help your business grow in 2010.

Instead I’m a bit boneheaded.  ;)

So I’ll go easy on myself for another few days, if you don’t mind.

Killer thinking to help your business grow in 2010 now scheduled to begin next week. Tea and a bit more rest for now.

Regards,

Kelly Erickson

Or, How To Get Candy From a Meanie (with side-trips to small-town Illinois and Massachusetts, circa caveman days)

The Kid's decorated vampire-pumpkin

This charming fellow won The Kid first prize in the pumpkin-decorating contest at school. Now residing chez nous.

The Kid’s been practicing her schtick for a week. You know the one:

Trick-or-treat! Smell my feet!

“You’re not saying that while I’m walking around with you,” I say calmly, without looking up from my writing.

Fine. Gimme candy…

I raise one eyebrow.

Gimme candy please!

She knows that’s not going to happen.

Funny enough, she also knows that such wildness is totally against her nature. These antics are only for my benefit; she’d never say any such things out in public. Costume or no costume.

For the first few years of trick-or-treating, I was lucky if I could get her to squeak out a bare “Thank you” before she’d run off. Yes, she wanted to go trick-or-treating, but when we went, her voice would desert her. And some meanies won’t even give you a candy if you can’t holler trick-or-treat at them. So now, she practices.

Trick-or-treat, please, I catch her saying to herself a few times a day in the week before Halloween.

She doesn’t say it loudly enough that it’s going to help with the volume, but I think it’s more about reminding her vocal chords to GO on cue.

When I was a kid, we lived in rural nowhere, Illinois. Ironically the state’s built up so much that the area is now a bedroom community for Chicago—

Was that in the caveman days, Mama?

She’s reading over my shoulder now. I hate that.

“No. It was way earlier than caveman days. Aren’t you in bed yet?”

—my old house is gone, and as the song goes it was paved to put up a parking lot. For a mall. We had five “neighbors” to a mile when I lived there. A lot of change. Anyway, the place was quiet and unpopulated, and we simply didn’t go trick-or-treating when I was a kid.

When we moved back to a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, near where I was born, I was nearly eleven. I tried trick-or-treating once, but I felt too old, too silly, and if The Kid is still peeking over my shoulder, too shy. Just like she seems to be.

I wish you wouldn’t write that I’m shy.

“Too late. Delete key’s busted. Go to bed.”

So I couldn’t stand going.

She *loves* going—but her reserved nature keeps her from being much of a salesman.

Ah, you knew there was a point, didn’t you? Clever reader.

Every year when we go I see dozens of kids along our route. Their schticks range from goofy to greedy to plenty of shy ones like little Kelly was, and like The Kid has always been.

The ones I love to watch—well, they’re the ones you love to watch, too, aren’t they? There are some who are postively pitchmen on Halloween night. Trick-or-treating gives them a chance to be charmers, persuaders, cajolers, actors, comedians, and lovers of the limelight in fifteen-second spurts all over town.

Is there a spooky tie here? Scientific proof of such a fleeting phenomenon is hard to get—after All Hallows’ Eve, they go back to wheedling and wheeling and dealing with their parents in private—

What do you mean by wheeling and dealing?

“Trying to sneak an extra fifteen minutes out of their bedtime. You’d better run, or the bogeyman’s gonna get you even if it is a couple of days early…

“1… 2…

“2 1/2…”

I’m wondering what kind of trick-or-treater you were. If you were a pitchman, has it carried through? Are you the one who gets called to close the difficult sales with the meanies who won’t give your company candy?

I’ve made a massive effort all my life to become a better actor, speaker, and salesman (or salesperson, if you like, but that kind of gets stuck in the mouth, doesn’t it?). I’m still just as frightened inside, but man, I don’t have much time for letting that show on the outside. Life’s short and we need that candy.

I’m curious, this week, musing as The Kid works on her schtick—is knowing who’s a natural as simple as opening the door on Halloween?

2.83759! I made it!

‘Scuse me. I have to go tickle The Kid now.

 

Grow and be frighteningly well,

Kelly Erickson

Wherein, Kelly rants like a cranky old broad, which, except for the “old” part, may in fact be true

1. Commenting Is Dead

A friend of mine linked to an old post of his from 2005 the other day. I was floored by the comment section—full of people tossing substantial ideas around, growing their own brains and the pool of knowledge—vs. most comment sections today including his own—yes, wow, thanks, and little else.

I hate to say it, but both “back in the day” and “what’s become of us nowadays” spring to mind. Just being around the blogosphere for a very few years has made me feel nostalgic for the good ol’ days, and shocked at our backwards progress.

2. Linkbacks Are Dead

Remember when “linking out” was like footnotes in your school papers—essential proof that your ideas had a leg to stand on—and was both a growth strategy for the linker and an absolute must come visit and say thank you, for the linkee, helping us all to expand our circles beyond our original blog buddies?

Hello? Anybody?

3. Forums Are Dead.

Related to both 1 and 2. I belong to five or six forum-style “niche networking” sites. With the exception of one, they have all gone pretty well dormant. This, I admit, I haven’t tried to stop. I was never very active in them in the beginning (for shame, Kelly), hoping to catch on to the conversations and gradually increase participation, but instead, they’ve come to slow, aching deaths over the course of a couple of years. Where once I hoped to exchange ideas and refill the mental well, now they are all dried up.

4. (If you don’t write about cats or use foul language or feed fantasies of pitching a humdrum real life for the glam of barely working, but doing it on your own utterly lazy terms in your bathrobe) Blog Growth Is Dead.

Am I being too dire here? I don’t think so. Guides on how to be effortlessly rich, beautiful, controversial, or how to waste time without using brain cells do continue to be popular. So I can’t say blogging is dead, yet. But the medium, once such fertile ground for incredible minds to consider, in bite-sized digests, serious topics you could put together into your own customized Masters’ Degree in anything at all, is in danger of only being able to provide a Masters’ in farting around, in very short order. Some of the sharpest, most useful, most well-written blogs I read are experiencing darned close to zero growth these days. It’s criminal.

Heck, even StumbleUpon and Digg, which were once engines of growth and a way of thanking a blog author for his or her work, are in decline.

What’s the common thread: when they were alive, commenting, linking out, participating in forums, and subscribing to (and reading) blogs, all required effort, graciousness, a desire to be part of a community* of like-minded folks, and the realization that we get out of things what we put into them.

What’s not dead? Twitter.

Please Tweet this.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*NB: Faux community is nothing like a real, functioning community. After I’d finished this post, James wrote Screw Community on this very subject at Men With Pens. A rant after my own heart!