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Site Update: You, Me, and Your Group

Group Conversation
Group Conversation by Mr. Willie
In the nine months that people have been following along so far, I’ve met up with readers in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, New York, Tunisia, and Cairo – and many of you have sent other invitations that I haven’t been able to accept (yet) due to schedule conflicts. In the second half of 2009, I hope to get more organized with this and start doing a few meetups that are planned in advance so more people can come. Every week I hear from someone I’ve missed on a recent trip, and I want to get to know more of you. I also want to begin connecting with groups of people (especially small businesses and non-profits), and one way I’ll be doing that is through some limited teaching and speaking. Over the next few weeks I’ll be planning out the first part of my 2009 goals and schedule. I did this recently with travel planning, and next week I’ll do everything else. Naturally, I thought I’d let you know what I have I mind with the group work, in case you have an idea about an opportunity that might benefit both of us. I’ve worked with groups for about six years now, as a leader, director, board member, and outside agitator. After shying away from consulting for several years, I now do it twice a week for people seeking to solve specific problems. I want to do something like this next year on a limited basis for a couple of groups who are doing great work. What I Can (and Can’t) Do The short summary is that I challenge groups to be remarkable. I talk about combining personal goals and service to others, as well as finding a way to do what you want while helping other people at the same time. I like to honor people who are doing great work while encouraging them to go further. I’ll tell a few good travel stories in any talk I give, but there’s usually a hook – I want to help, not just entertain. I also like facilitating workshops on lifestyle design and being on roundtables with cool people. Collaboration is good. I feel at home with small businesses, non-profit organizations (especially groups working on international development), and churches that aren’t afraid of being challenged. Unfortunately, charities and non-profits are not immune from the lure of mediocrity, but thankfully there are a number of them that really want to change the world. Those are the ones I enjoy connecting with. Lastly, I am not a good person to do motivational speaking in the traditional sense. I’m not going to tell a car dealership to go out and sell, sell, sell. If I was going to talk to a car dealership, I’d probably tell them they were in the wrong business, and they’d probably tell me to leave. I’d like to avoid that, and besides, the market for salesmanship is well-covered. For group meetings or speaking opportunities, I’m looking mostly at starting here in the Pacific Northwest (from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland, Oregon) because that makes the logistics easier, but of course I’m not one to restrict anything based on geography. Show Me the Money Charity Donation My speaking and teaching service is currently in beta mode, which doesn’t mean I’ll give it less of a 110% effort. All it means is that I don’t want to get paid for it yet. I do need to have my travel expenses covered, and if your group normally pays outside speakers, I’d like to donate the money to a charity that we both agree on. But otherwise, I’m willing to do this at no charge for the right group. If you’re changing the world somehow, the least I can do is help out where I can. If you represent a group that would be interested in connecting, please send me a note with details. ###

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Survey Results: What I Learned from 250 of You in 34 Countries

Survey Results - from 34 Countries!
Globe by Bumblebee

Yesterday I met with a friend of mine who is going to live in the Sudan for at least the next year. She’ll be in Khartoum (the capital) half of the time, and in Darfur or South Sudan the other half.

A real-life aid worker! I used to be one of those, before I moved back to the land of lattes and 9-to-5ers. Those were the days, right?

Talking with someone who’s leaving the U.S. for Darfur (and is actually excited about it) was a good reminder of one of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Whenever I find myself getting away from that persistent and urgent question, something always happens that reminds me of it again. Hearing from many of you through the survey last week was another good reminder. It caused me to realize, yet again, that I have a good thing going over here and I need to be extremely devoted to keep on improving it.

I’ll tell you more about that, but first, here’s how I did the survey.

I stopped the survey at the first 250 responses, because 250 is a good sample size and turned out to be quite diverse geographically. If you missed out, don’t worry – I’ll do another one after we get the site redesign up and running. Also, you can always write me or post a comment on any post.

Also, a note on surveys -- if you have any kind of business web site or even just a personal blog of your own, I highly recommend doing your own survey to learn more about why people come to your site, what they like best, and what you can improve on. I use SurveyMonkey for this – they have a free version, but the $19.95 monthly version provides many more options. Barring that, you could also do a manual version and sort the feedback yourself in Excel.

Who You All Are

OK, on to the information. In addition to the largest group of readers from the U.S. and Canada, I heard from people in all of these countries:

New Zealand, Germany, U.K., Netherlands, Russia, India, Belgium, Austria, France, Slovakia, South Africa, China, Bulgaria, Bahamas, Romania, Mexico, Australia, Denmark, Tunisia, Kenya, Argentina, Finland, Croatia, Liberia, Israel, Lithuania, Spain, Sudan, and Poland

Most of those responses came through in the first few hours. I knew from the site statistics that you guys are from all over the place, but it’s a different feeling altogether to hear from you.

I’m so glad you all are reading – thanks so much for being so cool.

On the survey, I asked a few open-ended questions and a couple of general, introductory questions:

What do you do during the week?

  • 62% Work for Someone Else
  • 32% Work for Myself
  • 17% Go to School
  • 8% Retired / Unemployed / Professional Surfer
I gave people an “other” field here, and got a range of responses. Several people said they currently work for someone else but were “working on changing that.” Someone just said, “Be awesome” – I liked that. Others are authors, programmers, stay-at-home parents, and an assortment of people who do more than one thing.

What do you enjoy the most about the site?

  • Personal Development and Lifestyle Design: 58%
  • International Travel: 22%
  • Entrepreneurship and Small Business: 20%

A number of you (at least 30) said that you like all three and did not want to choose between them. Sorry about that! Forcing the choice in the survey helps me to see the trends, but I don’t have any plans to change the general topics. Several people noted that they were originally interested in travel or entrepreneurship, but like how I incorporate those topics into personal development. Thanks – I do my best.

I have tried from the beginning to stake out a general marketplace of ideas without being highly-specialized. This was not necessarily a strategic decision, by the way – it was more just a reflection of who I am and what I wanted to write about. I am absolutely terrible at working on anything I’m not motivated by, so that’s why I write about unconventional living through several different activities.

A Few Highlights

Here are a few quotes from the survey:

Keep up the 'tough love' writing, don't go easy on us! I need a good kick in the pants most of the time!

Me too. That’s why I do it – for all of us who care enough to push beyond mediocrity.

I think more could be done on the topic of aiming big. Achievable is all good and well, but the best growth comes when you seek for something you fear may be impossible.

Well said. Thank you.

More interviews / case studies / specific details of how people are living unconventionally, following the recommendations in your ebook, etc.

Yes, we are reviving the profiles series soon and will be featuring more people.

As much as I love your long, thought-through essays, I'd love to see more short posts as well.

This is a tricky one. I like the way this person put it, because a number of people took one side or the other (“I’m glad you write longer, more thoughtful posts” vs. “The posts are too long.”) I’m thinking about finding a way to do a mixture of the two without compromising the style I’m getting comfortable with.

More step by step advice would be great. I love action steps!

and

Maybe more real world tips on running your own business

and

Specific outlines of how you plan out so many trips at once

A big request was for more detailed planning resources, especially for international travel and solopreneur world domination. Thanks for asking. It seems some of you guys like knowing all the details about how I do what I do, so this is part of the plan.

Lastly, I enjoyed this request:

Free beer! Just kidding.

Well, if only you hadn’t said you were kidding…

***

Please note: at least 200 out of 250 responses said something very interesting or helpful. If I haven’t mentioned it here, please know that I have read (and re-read) all your comments. In fact, I didn’t ask for email addresses in the survey, but I wished I could have written most of you back personally. If you’d like, feel free to write me on the contact form to say hello or ask a question.

Survey NotebookImprovements and the Road Ahead

More and more, I feel a sense of responsibility to continue moving onwards and upwards with this project. When I started nearly 10 months ago, I thought that I’d write mostly about my travel adventures and the goal of visiting every country. I’m still committed to that goal and am looking forward to making more progress in 2009, but the focus has definitely shifted to something much bigger.

This is due in large part because of you and your input, and for that I’m grateful. I have learned a great deal along the way, from successes and setbacks alike. If I haven't always gotten it right, stick with me. There will be more learning and personal ass-kicking involved along the way.

In response to the more personal information that it seems people enjoy the most of all, I’m also going to stretch myself a bit in this area.

For example…

  • I’ll tell you exactly how my new small business is doing, including actual revenue and expense figures

  • When I travel, I’ll tell you exactly how I do it (specific itineraries and tips), where I stay, and how much money it costs

  • My next non-commercial manifesto will be called 279 Days to Overnight Success, and it will detail how bloggers and other solopreneurs can create a new, full-time career in social media in less than one year

  • I’ve earned 140,000 Frequent Flyer Miles in the past few weeks through an interesting experiment, and I’ll show you how this worked and how you can do something similar

  • So far I have at least 75 invitations to visit readers whenever I stop by their cities. I would love to do more of this, and we may try to plan group meetups if there’s enough interest

Last but certainly not least, after the site redesign is done (see below), I want to find a way to make a few experiments more interactive. It will be fairly low-tech – I still write with a pen and notebook most of the time, after all – but the goal is to provide more accountability for everyone who says they are going to travel somewhere, start their own business, or do something entirely different.

Disclaimer: This is a Work in Progress

In short, creating the content for this site and everything related to it is going to be my most important priority for 2009. I am really excited and think about it for several hours a day.

At the same time, however, I want to be very careful not to promise too much. One of the things I heard from several people, especially those who have been reading for a while or who have purchased an Unconventional Guide, is that I underpromise and overdeliver.

That is exactly what I want to hear. I am well aware that trust is hard to gain but easy to lose – and I prefer to keep it.

There is no shortage of ideas for how to take this to the next level – podcasts, more photos, more videos, and so on. These (and others) are all good requests, but I want to make sure whatever I do is going to help those of you who spend your time following the journey. I also have to make sure I can keep up with whatever I start, and if I stop doing something, of course, I’d better have a good reason for it. Otherwise, you have long-standing permission to kick my ass.

Site Redesign

As mentioned, we are almost ready to set up the new site design. Someone asked, “Why change the design? It’s nice, subtle, and works well enough.” Yes, it is nice and subtle – and that is what’s wrong. In the survey, someone else gave the answer better than I could put it myself:

Forgive me if I sound crazy. You write about a robust and vibrant life. The layout of your site seems dull. Just doesn't seem to reflect who you appear to be.

You’re not crazy -- you are correct, and that is the crux of the problem we’re addressing. Stay tuned. I know there are many designers and web gurus out there who read this site. Once we upload the new structure, I’ll be looking for your input and critiques.

Finally

Thanks (again) to everyone who took the survey last week. 34 countries! Wow. I'm amazed, and incredibly humbled. Thanks as well to everyone (many more than the 250) who takes the time to read the Art of Nonconformity every week. I have a lot of work to do for all of you.

The next part of the work will come on Friday, when I’ll tell you all about Round-the-World plane tickets – how I use them to travel to 20+ countries a year, how you can buy your own, how to optimize the itineraries, what to watch out for, and so on.

See you then!

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In Defense of Multitasking

is-multitasking-evil
Image of Mac Multitasking by WilliamHartz

Question: Are you the kind of person who works on more than one thing at a time? If so, you’re a multitasker, and depending on who you talk to, you may get the sense that you should feel guilty for a bad habit.

It’s hard to find defenders of multitasking these days. I asked about it on Twitter last week and heard mostly negative comments. “Multitasking is a myth… it slows down your productivity… drains your focus” and so on. It all leads me to wonder --

Am I the only one who enjoys multitasking? Should I feel guilty for doing a lot of things at the same time?

The web is full of multitasking critiques. Most of these entries contain a similar argument: when we try to multitask, we’re not able to focus on more than one thing at once, so we continually shift back and forth between different tasks. Every time we switch between tasks, we lose the time it takes us to change gears and refocus. Then, before we get fully immersed in the new task, another distraction comes along to pull us somewhere else.

How We Work

The problem is that multitasking is simply how many of us have shifted our styles of life and work over the past decade. There may indeed be some negative consequences as a result, but I think there are also benefits. Instead of reverting to a practice of "one thing, one time," perhaps it’s better to find a way to adapt to changing technology and lifestyle patterns.

You can always turn off the PDA or close down the browser, right? If you can’t, that’s a self-discipline problem, not the fault of multitasking. I confess to having that problem from time to time, but I also tend to get a lot done over the course of an average day.

I read a great book recently called The Power of Full Engagement. In some ways, it was another case against multitasking, but the authors spent much more time presenting an alternative model of work. The model highlights energy management instead of time management, something which I’ve always found to be an anomaly. (You know, how we can’t manage time.)

By focusing more on our energy (how we feel, what we’re capable of at any given time, and so on), we can schedule projects and tasks according to our own individual capacities.

Multitasking Tips

If you’re like me and enjoy keeping a lot of balls in the air, perhaps some of these tips can help:

  • Every day select two “most important” goals. These goals should become more important than all the other work you like to do. You can still multitask, but make sure these two things get done even if nothing else does

  • Make technology serve you instead of the other way around – if you struggle with learning a new tool, give up on the struggle (maybe the tool is not right for you)

  • Use multiple monitors – I do most work on my laptop, but I also have my desktop running at the same time. I keep mind-maps and another browser window open on the second monitor

  • The project and task list are the most important. Work off this, not all the other things. You can have Twitter or Gmail going, but keep the list in front of you too

  • Add several breaks into your schedule. I stop for 10 minutes every hour and do something completely unrelated to work. I read magazines, go in another room, walk around, etc.

Multitasking with Beer and Phone
Who Says Men Can't Multitask? (Image by SM)
Maybe It’s Just Me…

How do you like to work? Are you against multitasking? Do you think it hurts or hinders your productivity? Feel free to tell me I’m wrong...

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For More Reading (External Links)

Think You're Multitasking? Think Again
I Don’t Multitask
LGE Performance Institute
The Art of Multitasking (Fast Company)

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RSS Feed | Email Updates | A Brief Guide To World Domination

Unconventional Guides:

Working for Yourself: Creating Personal Freedom
Discount Airfare: Surviving Stress and Maximizing Fun

Did you enjoy this article? Please pass it on to others at StumbleUpon, or share your own thoughts in the comments section.

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Now Open for Business (A Limited Consulting Service)

now-open-for-business
Image by Mag3737

By popular request, I’ve decided to begin a limited consulting service to help those who want help from me. The key phrase for this is limited, because I want to keep my focus on the free writing I do for everyone.

It will not be cheap, and I can only help with specific things – so if this doesn’t apply to you, feel free to skip it. On Friday we’ll do Travel Hacking part II, next week more on Doing What You Want, and so on. Stay tuned.

For those who are interested, here’s more info.

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RSS Feed | Email Updates | A Brief Guide To World Domination

Unconventional Guides:

Working for Yourself: Creating Personal Freedom
Discount Airfare: Surviving Stress and Maximizing Fun

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Affiliate Marketing That Doesn’t Suck

How-to-Make-Money-Online
Image by Geek&Poke

Now that our second Unconventional Guide is out in the marketplace, and the first one continues to sell every day, I’m ready to open up the affiliate program for these and future guides.

I’ll tell you about that in this update, but I’ll also tell you why most affiliate programs aren’t worth your time. If you have a web site, blog, or any kind of business, this should help you learn what NOT to do with affiliate marketing.

The short version is:

1. Most affiliate programs are heavily weighted in favor of the merchant. The merchant gets a lot of exposure and pays a token commission to its affiliates.

2. Then again, most affiliates don’t do any work or make any sales. In some cases, this can be as many as 98% of affiliates.

3. To fix this, the merchants need to restructure the terms and the affiliates need to add value somewhere.

My goal with the project is to create an affiliate program that doesn’t suck. That may not sound like a lofty goal, but as mentioned-- most affiliate programs are fundamentally flawed.

Here is how I’m trying to fix that with the small Unconventional Guides business:

1) By Application Only. We have to know each other somewhat before you can promote something I offer. This is not meant to sound elitist; it’s just that I don’t want you to waste your time with something that is not going to help you. And of course, I also need to maintain the integrity of the brand, so I won’t allow any promotion through unsolicited email, mature sites, etc.

2) High Commissions. I pay 51% on everything, meaning that my affiliates will make more money than me. I’ll also be adding a few bonuses to the program as more people get going with this.

3) Customized Promotions. This is where the affiliate’s work comes in. Putting up banners and hoping someone will notice does not work very well anymore (if it ever did). It’s better to take the time and write up something unique about what you choose to endorse. Why should people buy it? How will it help them?

On my side, I’ll help a bit with the custom promotions. If you have a high-traffic site or other responsive community, I’ll give you a special discount code exclusively for your readers. This will help increase sales and also ensure that all sales are 100% credited to you. If you want to do an interview for your audience, I’ll do my best to accommodate your request.

Regardless of whether my program is a good fit for you, think about these questions when deciding what you are going to share with people who trust you.

  • Do I believe in the product enough to tell my friends and family about it?

  • Is it truly win-win? (Will my visitors benefit from these endorsements or ads? Will I sufficiently benefit from taking the time to do this?)

  • Is the merchant credible, both in terms of their general practices and with the specific products being offered?

  • Is there any way I can use this to compliment something I already do?

If you can answer "yes" to these questions for a particular opportunity, it's worth considering. If not, there are better things you can do with your time and energy.

If my program sounds like something you’re into, send me a note with some info on how you plan to promote the guides. I’ll get back to you shortly.

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Trust and Authority: A Marketing Lesson

Trust and Authority: Shop Yourself Happy
Image by Estherase

As promised, here is the analysis and full results from the latest product launch. But first, a few notes on trust and authority – the good kind, not the kind you should fight against.

Having established that all purchases are highly emotional, and that buyers conduct an elaborate, internal analysis about price and value whenever they choose to purchase something, let’s talk know about trust.

We experience a certain combination of fear and trust whenever we buy something. The fear is that we will have wasted our money; the trust is the expectation that we haven’t. We look for immediate validation. Is the first song on the record good? Does the first article in the magazine hold my attention beyond the title?

If trust is confirmed, good. If not, we get worried. That’s why it’s important, whenever you sell something, to work hard at establishing and keeping the trust of your customers. Validation can come in many forms (and it’s good to mix it up a little), but the more, the better.

“Working for Yourself” Case Study

Two weeks ago, I launched my second information product, the Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself. I completed this one after a month of writing, including an all-night session in Sri Lanka, and a few days of recording audio after I had returned to Seattle.

It was no exaggeration to say that I was hesitant to create a product that had to do with making money. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with making money – we all need money, and I prefer earning it on my own instead of working for someone else. Aside from robbing banks, those are the only two options (and I suppose that bank robbers are technically self-employed).

I was hesitant because I knew that when you sell something even remotely related to finance and employment, certain people get twitchy on you. They think you are up to something suspicious, even if you have an established reputation you probably wouldn't want to squander.

By the way, most rational people don’t do this, only those who were suspicious or skeptical to begin with. The rational prospects look at the offer, consider the qualifiers and “reasons why,” and then make their decision based on the value consideration. If yes, they buy; if no, they don't -- but they don't usually think less of you for it.

It’s Kind of Like Saying Who You Vote For

This week I received my early voting packet for Washington State, and I was proud to cast my vote for Barack Obama. In 12 years of being an eligible U.S. voter, this is the only time I can remember being genuinely excited about electing a candidate. There are a lot of good reasons to vote for change, but for me one of the most important is that this election has the chance to restore America's standing in the rest of the world.

If you don’t like Obama, do I worry that you’ll be turned off by my saying who I voted for? Not really. I have friends who support John McCain, and I don’t suddenly think their opinions are invalid just because they have reached a different conclusion than I have. I read blogs that are somewhat critical of both mainstream candidates, and as long as they don’t hit me over the head with too much rhetoric, I don’t mind.

It’s only the people who decide that you are a bad person or somehow naïve for expressing an opinion who will get upset.

I don’t care much for intolerance anyway, so if someone stops reading because I say I like Obama, then I think they’d probably be offended at something else sooner or later.

In the end, I decided that the same kind of principle holds true for creating a product about finance and self-employment. A few people get mad because it’s “not what you are supposed to do,” and a lot of other people will happily support you. Others decide it’s not right for them, but that’s OK – because they still care about other things you’re doing. I'll show you all three groups in the analysis here.

When I launched the first guide on Discount Airfare, I was careful to explain my controversial (apparently) opinion that artists should be allowed to make money. I did that to preempt the complaints about selling a product, lest I be unfairly accused of "selling out."

This time I took the qualification process even more seriously, clearly explaining several good reasons to not buy my product at the beginning of the launch process. I did this because I wanted only the customers who I knew would be thrilled and find the product very useful to them.

The Launch Day

I always get up early when launching a new product. In this case, I set the launch time for 7am PST, and I usually need at least 45 minutes to review everything before the actual launch.

I used to launch products and web sites at 8am EST, which meant that after I moved to Seattle I’d need to be up around 4:30 a.m. to accomodate this preference – but I decided that 10am EST would be just fine for this one.

Test… test… test.

There are always a few surprises when you sell something new. No matter how many times you test things, something will always go wrong for someone. The order link won’t work, the thank-you message won’t go out, the site will go down – count on it. This is why it’s good to stay close to the phone and email during any launch.

This time I got up at 5:30 a.m., ran through all the logistics, placed a test order, and so on. A few minutes before 7:00, I made my coffee and uploaded the order page to the site.

The Response

Some of you said you liked how I was willing to share real sales figures in a recent update. I’ll do the same thing here.

My initial goal was to sell at least 100 copies of this product in the first week. Within 24 hours, almost exactly 100 copies had sold, helping me reach the goal six days early. Yay!

More copies have continued to sell every day since then, and a number of people have asked about setting up a consulting session – something I didn’t really like to do before, but now I’m considering as a limited commitment for people who have already started their very small businesses.

The total conversion rate from the first week of regular readers was about 3.4%.

Since 1% is a general marketing baseline and I deliberately tried to disqualify people from buying the guide if it wasn’t a good fit for them, I thought that 3.4% was great. If anything, I want to be sure that I don’t focus too much on this side business while I continue to work on the more important goals of getting my book contract (more on that in a moment) and building our community here.

After all, even though I sold about $4,000 in the first 24 hours, the figure of 100 buyers represents only a small subset of readers. I have to keep the focus on the reason why people come here to begin with: to hear about unconventional strategies for life, work, and travel.

You guys are why I am doing it, whether you buy something or not… although naturally, I greatly appreciate the support and endorsement of your investment.

Good News / Bad News

The bad news was that, like last time, I heard from a few people who were upset about something that seems fairly irrational to me. Without fail, these comments come in from people who have never bought anything, and in fact have never communicated with me before.

I’m going to quote from one of these emails below for your consideration:

You preach about everyone being the master of their own destiny, but expect everyone to buy your [expletive] ebook on making money. This was a good blog until you blatantly tried to rip us off. How could you possibly try to [expletive] tell me what to do?

At first I thought this guy had meant to send this message to someone else. Expect everyone to buy? Blatantly try to rip you off? Tell you what to do?

I’m at a complete loss as to how anyone could get these ideas. I actually told people why they shouldn’t buy the guide, offered a more comprehensive guarantee than any I’ve ever heard of, and said that the primary goal of the guide is to help people create their own freedom to do what they want. Ironic, isn’t it?

There’s not much I can do in these cases except say, “I wish you the best” and move on – never argue with a crazy person, my mom likes to say -- but it does make me a little sad to hear how misguided someone can be.

Anyway, I know that the vast majority of people don’t think that way. Such is life with any kind of marketing in the blogosphere, even the no-hype kind. I posted the email here not because I’m upset, but so you can see that there will always be critics out to write you off whenever you do something of interest.

The lesson for me in this case is to avoid being distracted by random, negative messages like that. Before the end of the first afternoon two weeks ago, I had 60 new customers who were excited about the new product. I should have been thinking about those 60, and then the additional 40, and then everyone else who is happy -- not one negative message that I don't feel is valid.

Here is a sampling of the feedback from new guide owners:

First of all, congratulations. You've put together a great guide. It's helpful, realistic and down-to-earth, and I think it's one of the best ebooks I've read in a while. Very well done, and I hope it gets picked up widely!

Every bit as good as I'd expected, so many congratulations on putting together such a fantastic resource. I know a lot of people will benefit from it, including me. I've been in business for more than twenty years, and my view is that it's loaded with invaluable tips and top ideas which I'll be putting into practice myself.

I especially enjoyed the strategies for starting a microbusiness - especially the parts where it's broken down into pros, cons, and next steps. Including actionable items that I could get started on NOW is extremely helpful, especially for getting me to get off my butt.

I have about 50 reviews like those so far, both from the new guide and the first one. I’ve also asked people to send in suggestions for what could be improved in a future version or an email series I’m doing for the buyers. The feedback I’ve received thus far from many of you has been excellent. We’ve already issued some new material on the basis of those comments, and more will be on the way.

What’s Next

I have three more Unconventional Guides outlined, but at least two of them won't be written until early 2009. For now I want to continue promoting the current guide and working with the affiliates who are selling it around the internet. I’ll probably do a short post on the unconventional affiliate program in the next couple of weeks, but for now if you’re interested, just check out that link and let me know.

My number-one, most important work priority right now is finishing the latest version of my "real book" proposal (it’s up to 40 pages; who knew such a thing had to be so long?) and getting the process for the publisher shopping fully underway.

Next spring, I want to take the business side of things further and do a series of webinars for those who are interested. The webinars will be like the guides, only in multiple sessions and highly interactive. Anyway, more on that later – as mentioned, the proposal completion and book shopping are the most important projects for me at the moment. Onwards and upwards.

Lessons Learned

Miraculously, I don’t think I made any huge mistakes with this product launch. I’m certainly open to constructive feedback, and I realize there are things I could have done to increase the sales further, but overall I’m happy with the results.

Here’s a couple of technical points, for those interested in the details:

  • I haven’t quite made up my mind yet about using different domains for the different products. For now, the Discount Airfare guide and the Working for Yourself guide still “live” directly on this site, although I also have a simple structure set up on UnconventionalGuides.com. I should probably decide what I’m doing with the navigation before launching the next product

  • Someone asked why I am using e-junkie and PayPal to facilitate the payments when I say in the guide that having your own merchant account is a better solution. Good question. The short answer is that I don’t want to comingle my bank accounts (at least, as little as possible) and we are coming to the end of the 2008 tax year. I didn’t really start this project to make money, but if it continues to do so, then I’ll probably incorporate a more complete payment processor in the beginning of 2009.

(If those two statements don’t mean much to you, don’t worry, you’re not missing out on anything terribly important.)

The Best Lesson

When people trust you, they know you are going to put out good work. Some of them are actually willing to pay for it.

I’m tremendously grateful for that trust. Thanks so much.

And for everyone who does not want a very small business, as promised, I am not “selling out” (whatever that means). As you can see from recent posts, I will continue to write about lifestyle design, world domination, unconventional travel, and whatever else I come up with that you guys enjoy.

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How to Create an Incredibly Convincing Satisfaction Guarantee

satisfaction-guaranteed
Image by whalt

Here’s an idea: if you sell something, think about why prospects don’t buy from you.

I don’t mean the unqualified people – there are always good reasons why people should not give you money.

But for the qualified prospects -- people for whom your product or service is a good fit -- why don’t they buy?

Maybe you haven’t done a good job with the sales copy, maybe they’re not in the right place at the right time, or something else. But at the heart of the matter, people are afraid, skeptical, or just plain not convinced.

To help prospects come over to your side of the fence, you need an incredibly convincing guarantee. This guarantee has to go far beyond an offer to get your money back.

The basic, “money back within 30 days” guarantee is no longer very convincing. It’s expected. It is the norm.

For Example

I haven’t eaten at Taco Bell in a long time, but ten years ago when I didn’t care about my health, I used to spend quite a lot of time and money over there.

Back in the day (and maybe now still, I have no idea), they came out with what they positioned as an amazing guarantee: “If you don’t like it, we’ll eat it.”

In other words, if you weren’t happy with your cinnamon crisps, they would refund your 59, 79, or 99 cents. I was new to marketing at the time, but I still remember feeling skeptical about this offer. If I hadn’t already been a Taco Bell customer, did they think this offer would bring me in the door?

I mean, my average bill for a full meal was about $2.70, so the risk was very low. They were promising to give me $3 back? Not convincing.

This is why you need to go above and beyond to convince skeptical prospects.

Not many businesses get this, but some do. Look at Zappos, which has done very well selling shoes and service. At Zappos, they actually encourage you to order multiple pairs of shoes and send back the ones you don’t want. They pay the shipping both ways, so you have effectively no risk. That’s incredibly convincing, since the idea of buying shoes online used to be considered strange and unmarketable.

For another good example, look at Kiva, provider of economic empowerment from Afghanistan to Zambia. Kiva facilitates loans between rich people (like you and me) and motivated entrepreneurs in poorer countries. They currently have a 98.6% repayment rate, which is good because the first objection most people have when they hear about loaning money to a farmer in Uganda is, “Does that work? How will I get my money back?”

98.6% is pretty convincing, I think, especially when our own banks in New York and Frankfurt aren’t doing so great these days.

As for me, you may have noticed that I will be releasing my second information product on Wednesday.

It’s called the Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself: Creating Freedom through a Very Small Business.

I’m excited about it, and I know it will help many people. Since I’ve previously explained who it won’t help, I thought it would be fair to explain who it will.

Here is the goal:

  • In the short-term, the guide will help a lot of people start very small businesses which earn at least $200 a month.

  • In the long-term, some of those people will build out a series of very small businesses to escape the tyranny of traditional employment.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

I don’t want to guarantee too much, because as I’ve said before, self-employment is not for everyone and it takes a lot of work. But I also don’t want to guarantee too little, so that’s why we’re doing something unique.

The 60-Day, $2,400 Guarantee

First, the typical satisfaction guarantee applies. If it doesn’t rock your world, you get your money back. No problem.

But here is the second part.

In the first section of the new guide, I will be asking everyone to take the time to set a couple of goals for the new business they are going to start.

My second guarantee is that I will refuse to accept your money if it doesn’t work for you, according to these specific metrics:

Satisfaction Effectiveness Guaranteed

If, after 60 days, someone has read the guide, listened to the audio files, and put in a fair effort on their part (they will be the sole judge) but has not been able to start a project that earns at least $200 a month, then they get their money back even if they like the guide.

In other words, the burden is on me to deliver, or I don’t get paid a dime.

A minimum of $200 a month x 12 months = $2,400 minimum. There are no geographic restrictions or other fine print.

See, I want my products to actually help people. I’m interested in mass accountability, and this is the latest experiment.

What You’ll Get

The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself consists of an online guide and downloadable MP3 files:

  • 55-pages of strategic and tactical info in a professionally designed report

  • 3 25-minute MP3 audio downloads

  • 1 Special Bonus (it’s not from me, so I’m not allowed to say more yet)

  • Free Updates for 6 Months
There are no shipping charges and everything will be delivered through instant download right after purchase.

As for the cost, in the future I will probably price the guide in the $60-89 range, but we’ll kick it off this week for less than that – probably around $45 or so, with a small discount for everyone on the newsletter list.

And in the end, the people who buy it will succeed at a measurable rate far greater than the purchase price, or I will insist that they keep their money. No exceptions.

Fair enough?

Oh, and one more thing: since I know this won’t be for everyone, to make it fun for the whole group we’ll be posting a few specific case studies beginning 45 days after the launch. The goal is to feature real-life stories showing exactly what kinds of "very small businesses" have been created as a result of this project.

Since I don’t know exactly what will happen, this should be interesting… but my hope is that we’ll get some people willing to show actual web sites and sales figures.

***

What do you think? Am I crazy to offer this kind of guarantee?

AND… if you already have a business, what kind of Incredibly Convincing Guarantee can you offer your customers? Is there a way you can rock their world so they keep coming back to you?

See you all on Wednesday morning…

###

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Working from Anywhere on the Planet

1) Working for yourself, especially while traveling, is not as easy as most people think. The fantasy and the reality are quite distinct, and it takes a lot of work to be successful. 2) Working for yourself, even while traveling, is awesome! The freedom is great, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Both statements are completely true, but naturally, we tend to view the idea of self-employment and extensive travel through only one of the two statements. I'd like to look at it a bit deeper.

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Good Reasons to Keep Your Money

Money - Keep it
Image by moal

Marketers tend to deliberately over-hype their products in an attempt to break through a crowded marketplace. In an environment where we receive 3,000 advertising messages on an average day, the idea is to be bigger and better – but if that’s too difficult, the theory goes, we can at least be noisier.

I’m coming out with my second information product exactly one week from today, and instead of trying to sell you on it, I thought I’d tell you why not to buy it.

On Monday I’ll explain how to create an Incredibly Convincing Guarantee. The idea is that most promises of “satisfaction guaranteed” aren’t that convincing at all anymore. Almost everything we buy has some kind of guarantee, but we still end up ignoring most of those 3,000 messages each day.

Since I’m in the marketplace of ideas, I’ve decided to create a guarantee for my own product that goes beyond the usual. I think I’ve found something unique, and I think it will resonate. I also can’t wait to tell you more about the guide itself – which currently runs to more than 55 pages and also includes several 25-minute audio segments.

I was going to write about both of those things today, but then I got worried… what if I’m writing for the wrong people?

See, I want to deliver great products to the right customers, and I am the first to point out that there are usually a number of good reasons to keep your money instead of exchanging it for something else. Therefore, I need to do some disqualification for your benefit and mine.

The next product will be called the Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself. The subtitle is “Creating Freedom through a Very Small Business,” and that’s basically what it’s all about:

Creating Freedom = finding a way to work for yourself instead of someone else, or at least finding a way to bring in additional income that allows you to do more of what you want and be less dependent on a job

Through a Very Small Business = not trying to start the next Google or Amazon.com, but instead building a microbusiness that brings in at least $200 a month, and potentially a series of these opportunities that eventually allow you to quit your current job

Please understand that this is not for everyone. Not everyone values freedom over traditional employment, and not everyone wants to have a business of any kind, even a very small one.

The ever-insightful Tim at Soul Shelter recently wrote a post entitled In Praise of Salaried Employment. Reading it was an affirmation that I (still) don’t want a “real job,” but I see Tim’s point -- and it also served as a good reminder that not everyone wants to work for themselves. Like most art forms, the way people on the outside perceive self-employment is quite different from the way it actually works for most of us who practice it.

Why Not to Buy the UG to Working for Yourself

As mentioned, there are many good reasons to not buy any particular product or service. A few of them for this one are:

If you’re looking for the quick path to riches. Feel free to keep looking for that – but please, not here. If I had found such a thing, I would probably not be selling it in a low-cost ebook. I might still travel around the world, but I don’t think I would sleep on the floor of airports from Rome to Dallas to save money.

If you don’t like to learn or aren’t willing to work. I use a lot of irony in my writing, but there is nothing ironic about this. A lot of people are simply not comfortable with learning new things, and if you have never worked for yourself before, there’s a lot of things you have to learn.

One of the things I mention in the guide is that you don’t have to be especially intelligent to earn money without a job, but you do need to be willing to work.

If your primary goal is to build a huge business. I have nothing against huge businesses for the most part; I just don’t know anything about building them. I’m far more interested in finding a way to pay the rent so I can do what I want.

On a higher level, I’m also interested in convergence and alignment, where my whole life is related to what I want to do for myself and how I think I can best help others. But in a nutshell, this guide is just about starting a very small business. Getting the cash flow coming in. Ready, fire, aim – that kind of thing.

If you are a complete beginner to technology. I write almost exclusively about online business because that’s what I’ve done for ten years. If you don’t know how blogs work or how Google makes money (for example), there will be more of a learning curve. The guide is targeted to the low to mid-intermediate level – not the guru who knows everything, but also not the complete beginner.

Don’t worry too much about this if you’re on the fence – I am a fairly low-tech person. I write on a $500 laptop and don’t do any programming or complex work at all. But I mention this because if you are going to work online in some kind of business, it does help to be fairly proficient with the world of computers. You should know what eBay is, you should probably have your own internet connection, etc.

***

Creating Freedom through a Very Small Business

I do not know how to create internet millionaires because I am not one myself. What I have done instead is find a way to create a lifestyle that works for me and gives me a great deal of freedom. It’s not a four-hour work week, but I spend a lot of time doing exactly what I want to do instead of being tied to a desk somewhere.

For me, the freedom itself is the most important thing – it is definitely the highest goal and most significant benefit of working for myself. That is what I know how to do, and that’s why the subtitle of the guide is “Creating Freedom through a Very Small Business.”

It can sometimes be unpopular to say so, but money and freedom are related to a certain point. Is there anyone who can argue that it’s fun to be poor? Let’s be honest: it sucks.

So you have to do something to avoid that, and if inheritance or litigation is not an option, then you either have to work for someone else or work for yourself.

I have chosen to work for myself. And if you’re interested, I’ll tell you all about what I do and how you can work towards creating your own freedom, doing it your own way, creating your own rules. By popular demand, I’ll include a lot of personal stories (especially “big mistakes” I’ve made along the way) and a lot of specific, actionable items you can take to get started right away.

The time for that will be Wednesday, October 8, at 10am EST / 7am here on the West Coast.

On Monday I’ll tell you all about the unique guarantee, what you’ll get, how it works, how much it costs, and so on.

Sound good?

For Everyone Else

I needed to address the fact that the Working for Yourself guide is not for everyone – which will hopefully be clear now. If it’s not for you due to any of the reasons mentioned above (or something else), you won’t be left out of the party entirely.

I write three times a week and will never charge for that. I’m currently writing the sequel to the World Domination Manifesto, which will be released in January. I have more plans for the next 6-9 months that all involve scaling up the project without putting ads on the site or selling anything other than a few more teaching products like this one.

And as we did last time, I’ll also post a detailed analysis after the launch with what went well and what I could have done better.

Here is the launch schedule:

Friday, October 3: Working from Any Country in the World
Monday, October 6: The Incredibly Convincing Guarantee
Wednesday, October 8 (10am EST): The Launch

Thursday, October 9: Chris retires! (Wait, probably not yet. It may take a few more days.)

Thanks for listening, and see you all next time. Feel free to share your feedback in the comments section.

###

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Time Is Money?

time is money?
Image by Planetina

I came back into Seattle last night after two weeks traveling around the world. In the morning I went up to my local Starbucks, on 45th Street in Wallingford. These two corporate guys were sitting there, wearing suits and carrying briefcases.

In Seattle, you don't see people dressed like that as much as you do in other cities. Over here, a shirt with a collar is considered “dressing up.”

As they were talking, one of them said, "Well, we should go. Time is money."

I looked up from my nearby table. Time Is Money, hmmmm.

Have you heard that one before? Hold on, we'll come back to it.

First, think about something. Amazon.com has at least 270 books on time management, but most of them fail to consider a basic question:

How can someone actually manage time?

When you manage people, you give them tasks to complete and check in on them once in a while.

When you manage a project, you make neat little spreadsheets, break out the Getting Things Done book, and chart your progress along the way.

But with time, none of those things apply.

You can't tell time what to do.

You can't give time a raise when it performs well and fire time when it doesn't meet your expectations.

Nope, you can't manage time. Too bad about all those books. Someone should have said something before the 270th author started writing.

Like it or not, time just marches on.

More Bad News

Unfortunately, there's more bad news about time. (Sorry.)

Like money, time is limited. But unlike money, once time is gone, there's no getting it back. You can't earn back what has been spent.

Time is closely related to the concepts of regret, inaction, indecision, and wistfulness.

All those things we left behind at some point.

Damn… don't you hate that?

***

Time can not be managed, and when it's gone, it's gone forever.

But if you're waiting for good news, you won't be disappointed.

Here it is:

THERE'S STILL ENOUGH TIME FOR WHAT YOU NEED.

There's still time to start that business, take that trip, start running those two miles that will help you run the marathon six months from now.

Or better yet, fill in the blank for yourself based on what you've always wanted to do (but have kept putting off for some reason).

Ready?

“There is STILL TIME for me to ____________________”

Got it?

If not, you may need more than a few seconds to think about it. It's worth your full consideration, even though time is money.

Whatever you choose, hold it close to you. Make it your focus, and don't let anyone take it from you. (Any number of people will try to.)

Back to Starbucks

The guys in the suits have left, but I'm still thinking about what they said: "Time is Money."

According to the time-is-money people, I've been wasting a lot of time this year.

  • I traveled to Iraq, Mongolia, Pakistan, and 20 other countries -- all without an agenda, or anything really important I had to do there
  • I spent an absurd number of hours standing in line or sitting on park benches waiting for train or bus stations to open up all over the world
  • I opted out of the next phase of graduate school and worked toward building a career as a full-time writer
Before that, I spent four years working for free in West Africa, so you can probably guess what I think about the link between time and money. No, there's nothing to that idea. So much for that, right?

But wait. Maybe I've got it partly wrong too.

Time is not the same thing as money, but it does have tremendous value. I don't want to be like the Ozymandeus that Percey Shelly wrote about:

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair."

Nothing beside remains: round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Nope, don't want that.

Instead, I want to treat valuable time with the respect it deserves. I WANT TO DO SOMETHING REALLY GREAT with the valuable time I have.

How about you?

The Best Strawberry

Oh, and by the way -

Research shows that the average user clicks away from blog posts somewhere around the 300 word point. Since you've broken the curve and made it further than that, here's an old story that always makes me smile.


Image by myriorama

The story is about a Zen student who is running from a tiger in the forest.

The tiger is catching up to him, and the only way out is to jump over a cliff that leads to certain death on the rocks below.

With no real options, the Zen student jumps over the cliff, and just manages to grab on to a branch halfway down.

Beside the branch is a bush of wild strawberries, and the student reaches over with one free hand and takes one.

With the tiger above him and certain death on the rocks below him, he slowly eats the strawberry.

And as he does, he thinks, "This is the best strawberry I have ever tasted."

***

Thank you for your attention. Now, get back to work.

Because Time Is Money… right?

###

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The Unconventional Guide to Sleeping in the Dallas Airport

sleeping-in-DFW-airport
Image by nibag

Today’s (short) update comes to you live from DFW, also known as the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. Last night I slept on the floor here after flying in from Seattle prior to a 6am connection this morning.

There’s not a whole lot to say about sleeping on the airport floor, at least in Dallas. Anyway, it’s over, and now I’m flying to Miami and beyond. At the moment I’m posting this, it’s 5:12 a.m. local time, and we’re boarding in 10 minutes. Eventually I’ll get to Cairo and tell you all about that.

But first, I have an important question for you.

In early October, I’m going to launch the next Unconventional Guide. It won’t actually be about sleeping on the floor of the airport – as mentioned, that would be a pretty short guide – but instead, it will be all about money and freedom.

Specifically, I’m writing an extended series of strategies and tactics about Earning Money Without a Job. So far I’m up to 45 pages, so I need to wrap it up soon… but I’m also going to include a series of audio teachings to complement the written materials.

Over the next week I’ll be outlining those audio segments, and I thought I’d ask you this important question:

What do you want to know about earning money without a job?

On any given day, we have a broad readership over here. Some people are already successful entrepreneurs, some people are in the process of starting something for themselves, and others aren’t really interested in that at all.

But for all those differences, a key similarity is that most people, at least those who have sent feedback somewhere along the way, are interested in freedom. For me, having the freedom to set my own schedule and focus on the things I enjoy is by far the greatest benefit of working on my own. As any self-employed person can attest, it's not always easy, but I think it's safe to say that it's always worth it.

I’ll tell you more about the guide in a couple weeks, but one thing I want to make clear is that creating a small, online business is not especially difficult. There are a lot of people doing this who aren't necessarily smarter than any of the rest of us.

HOWEVER...

It does require a fair amount of work. If there is a 10-minute secret to wealth creation, I haven’t discovered it yet. I know this project won’t be for everyone, but I do want everyone to know that creating a life of freedom is not an instant process.

***

If you'd like to contribute, please let me know any or all of the following:

1) Do you have any specific questions about starting an online business?

2) If you currently work at a “real job,” what is confusing to you about people who work for themselves?

3) If you currently work for yourself (in some form or fashion), what were the biggest challenges to getting your cash flow going?

Finally, if you think of anything else that is relevant, send that along too.

***

You can comment below and I’ll consider using your question or general feedback in the audio materials. RSS and Newsletter folks, that means you have to click through to the site.

(Note that I’m traveling today, so if comments aren’t posted right away, that’s why. They should be up within 24 hours.)

Alternatively, if you don’t want to comment on the site (less than 1% of readers do, but everyone is welcome), then write me from the contact form.

OK, I’m out of time – AA 925 is boarding right now. See you on Friday.

###

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15 Resumé Mistakes That Can Cost You a Job

curriculum-vitae-how-not-to-write-a-resume
Image by superbez

As a self-employed writer and entrepreneur, I don’t normally have much to do with resumés. I do maintain one of my own, but it’s more of an academic CV that gets used only for academic applications. Otherwise, I’ve never really applied for a job or had a use for my own job-applying materials.

I don’t do much hiring either, but every once in a while I get the chance to sort through applications for non-profit jobs. I got that chance last week, and I learned a lot through the experience.

More than anything else, I learned a few things not to do if I ever apply for a job. And if you’re in that position, pay attention to this essay – I can’t guarantee that everyone will process resumés the way I do, but I’d expect that a lot of these principles will be universal.

How to Immediately Lose Your Chance at the Job

Roughly 20 candidates submitted applications for the job in question, and at least a third were completely off the mark. The funny thing is that almost all of these candidates had college degrees and a fair amount of experience, but so many of them made what seemed to me to be basic, no-excuse mistakes.

Because common sense is not always common, I thought I’d share with you their mistakes. Here’s what they did wrong to get immediately shuffled to the “no” pile:

Failing to follow the simple instructions of sending a resumé, a cover letter, and three references. I didn’t see this coming, but perhaps I should have. Several people sent only two of the three required items. Did they think I wouldn't notice that one of them is missing?

Another person wrote in to ask, “Do you want my references now or later?” (Answer: We want them now, just as the instructions said.)

Someone else wrote in to ask, “How do I apply for the job?” (Answer: You apply by sending a resumé, a cover letter, and three references. If that’s too difficult for you, you’re not who we’re looking for.)

Stretching the truth about educational background. Unless you are completely lying about something, I am probably going to see through any manipulation of your educational background, and that is pretty much inexcusable.

For example, someone submitted an application that listed Harvard University as the first line in their educational summary. I assume they thought this fact would be impressive. But looking closer, it was obvious that this person had never attended Harvard. Instead, they took a one-semester, online course through the Harvard Department of Continuing Education.

In case you don't know, continuing education at most U.S. universities is open-enrollment, meaning that anyone can take a class without applying to the university and going through the usual competitive process. The classes are designed for the public, not for college students seeking a degree.

Instead of listing this information on their resumé, they chose to write Harvard University, presumably hoping that someone who doesn’t know better will think they are really smart. You can probably guess what I thought about this idea.

Less egregious but still tacky, someone listed the name of their favorite professor and his academic qualifications. (“I studied with Professor so-and-so, Ph.D., Oxford, England.”) First of all, I know that Oxford is in England. Second of all, I don’t care where your professor got his Ph.D. Where he went to school has nothing to do with your job application.

Telling me you don’t have time to customize the resumé. Every resumé should always be customized to the job you are applying for. Anything less is lazy. But if you really have to submit one that is somewhat generic, don’t write in and say, “Sorry, I’m too busy to update this. Hopefully you get the idea.” Yes, I do get the idea – but you will not get the job.

Dramatically embellishing the duties of a normal job. By normal job, I mean a job in retail or in an office. Most of us have done work like that at some point, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It does not count against you in any way to have that on your resumé.

But here’s the thing – I understand how this kind of job works, and it doesn't need to be spelled out. If you are a barista at Starbucks, just say you were a barista. Don’t say something like this person did:

“Created high-quality espresso and filter coffee beverages in a fast-paced, customer focused environment while operating the cash register. Facilitated custom orders and worked the pastry counter.”

Uh, I get the point. It’s better to just say barista.

Submitting references that are not matched to the position. Your references have to be able to attest to your ability to perform the job you are applying for. In most cases, having a friend or co-working as your reference is not what we need. If it actually gets to the point where I call the people you list, I am going to ask about your weaknesses and what would be challenging for you in this position -- for that, you need to list people who have supervised your work before, preferably in a field somewhat related to what you're applying for.

Most of the references, however, will never be called because I only call them after the first round of interviews. Until then, I’m just glancing at what you have written to see if they seem like a good fit.

Sounding desperate or whiny in your cover letter. “I really, really want this job. I would be so happy if I got this job.” Of course you want the job. That’s why you’re applying, right? But the thing is that 20 other people want the job too, and we can only pick one. If you are whiny, that’s a red flag to me.

***

resume-how-not-to-get-a-jobNot as Deadly, but Still Bad

These next mistakes are less serious, but still send off a warning bell as I’m reading the application:

Listing beginning levels of language study on the resumé. If you are proficient or fluent in more than one language, that fact should definitely be included on your resumé. But if you’ve done one semester of Spanish, you don’t need to tell me about that. Also, if you are planning to study a language in the future, good for you – but the resumé is for what you’ve already done.

Listing a job that you had for less than three months without a good reason for leaving. If it was a short-term contract position, tell me that. If you just left because it didn’t work out, I don’t necessarily think less of you… but you probably shouldn’t put it on your resumé.

Having an AOL, Hotmail, or Yahoo! email address. It’s not that big of a deal, but it looks a little unprofessional. You should have either a) an edu address if you are a student, b) a regular dot-com address if you work somewhere, or c) a Gmail address. Like it or not, Gmail is the accepted standard for email these days. If you’re still using AOL, you’re basically telling me you’re several years behind the curve.

Telling me about your big cross-cultural trip to Belgium. If you have traveled widely, you should put that down. Going to a few countries in Europe or to Mexico on your Spring Break, however, doesn’t count. As a rough guide, I’d say if you’ve been to more than 10 countries, that’s notable. If you’ve lived in a real cross-cultural situation for a couple months or more, that’s notable too… but not a week-long trip somewhere.

Sending me documents I can’t open. Specifically, don’t send Mac-specific files or any files that can’t be opened with universally-accepted software such as Adobe Reader or Microsoft Word. If I ask you to convert them and you don’t know how to do it, you lose even more points. That’s just part of life these days. Speaking of that, see the next one.

Including Microsoft software on your list of “Technical Skills.” Using MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint is more of a life skill than a technical skill now. If you think it’s pretty cool that you know how to use standard applications, I am going to worry that you don’t know much about computers.

Listing a GPA that is less than stellar. If you were on the Dean’s List every semester, that’s notable. If your GPA was 3.8 at a school that doesn’t practice the grade inflation that is now common in North America, put it down. But if your GPA was less than 3.5 and you draw attention to it, you’re telling me that you were just an average student. No big deal, but why bother highlighting that fact when other applicants will probably have better grades?

(One related note: extracurricular activities in college are somewhat overrated in the hiring process. See Cal Newport’s provocative article for more about this.)

Closing your emails to the selection committee with “Rock on.” I use language like that sometimes too, but not when I'm looking to compete for something. I don’t expect excessive formality – you can call me by my first name, and being informal to a point is fine – but “rock on” and “hey dude” are too informal.

Sending new documents (unless absolutely necessary) after you've applied. If you discover that you made a huge error in your materials, it’s acceptable to write again and ask that the new attachments be used in review. But you should try to prevent that from happening in the first place, and if it was just a minor error, let it go. Don’t send in a series of disjointed emails over the course of a few days that each contain different information. Take the time and do it right, once.

***

resume-how-not-to-get-a-jobSome Things You SHOULD Do

It's not all bad news. There are a few things you can do that will help you stand out from the standard of mediocrity that some other candidates will remain stuck on.

Do ask questions. I was surprised that out of 20 candidates for this job, only two wrote in to ask any kind of questions before submitting their materials. I know that many of them probably planned to ask questions if they made it to the first interview round, but to me it shows some initiative to ask a few things before applying. In this case, the job description we provided in advance was somewhat generic (we did this deliberately), so I expected there would be more questions.

Do be unique and take some kind of risk. This does not excuse you from meeting the prerequisites for the job, nor does it mean the risk should be a big one. But when reviewing dozens of applications that all look the same, we tend to start looking only for negative qualifiers – the things I mentioned above. Assuming you don’t have any of those, it’s good if you can stand out somehow.

Explain why you want the job without sounding whiny. Find a way to add something really cool to your resume that really is relevant to the job. If you do that and aren’t disqualified by something else, you’ll at least be interesting, and being interesting can go a long way.

When told no, do be polite. I sent 14 “no” responses in one afternoon to everyone who did not make the short list, and only three people ever wrote back. Those who did all said something like, “Thank you for letting me know. Good luck to the successful candidate.” That is classy. You never know what will happen – perhaps the job will open up again, and I will probably think of people who were nice about not being chosen the first time.

***

Going through this process, at least from my side, was insightful. I cringed when I read the barista's long explanation of "facilitating custom orders" at Starbucks, and I appreciated the candidates who took a few risks without going overboard.

Over the next month we'll have a few rounds of interviews for the six short-listed candidates, and if I learn anything through that experience, I'll write an update here. But for now - some of you out there probably know a lot more about applying for jobs than I do.

What would you add to the conversation?

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United Airlines and the Case for Value

united-airlines-pretzel-case-for-value
Image by SummerTX
I read an interesting article about Applebee’s last week. Personally, I don’t like Applebee’s or its numerous imitators – not eating burgers, chicken tenders, or something they call “riblets” kind of limits the menu of the average Americana-themed restaurant for me – but I enjoyed the analysis of how these kinds of places are trying to survive in an economically challenging environment.

My favorite part was when the CEO was asked why Applebee’s and IHOP (also owned by the company) don’t have healthier choices on their menu. People are more health-conscious than ever, right?

“What people want and what they say they want are different,” she said, and as much as I wanted to disagree, I couldn’t.

This idea, my friends, is especially true with business-to-consumer relationships. In the example of restaurants, people may say they want healthy choices, but (many of them) actually want to go and eat food that is bad for them.

If Applebee’s replaced the mozzarella sticks (531 calories) with a large order of carrot sticks (120 calories), they might win some good press, but their average diner wouldn’t start eating more carrots. He or she would go down the street to the T.G.I. Friday’s or wherever else offered the food they really, really wanted – not the food they said they wanted.

Even though it doesn't attract customers like me, Applebee’s seems to understand what their typical diner wants. But in other cases, companies fail to see the disconnect between what people want and what they say they want…. or they may even manipulate the feedback to reinforce what they wanted to do in the first place.

For example, people may say they want the lowest-priced airline without any concern for comfort, but that’s not usually true.

Most of us know how stressful travel can be, and we don’t appreciate it when airlines cut out the little things that can make the experience slightly better. We know it's not going to be great, but we really do want the pillows, soft drinks, and advance seat assignments that the airlines have been cutting out. It doesn’t take much to provide them, but when you take them away, we’re not happy.

The solution to this problem is not to take even more away, like United Airlines did recently.

United recently announced an all-new series of steps to cut out service on its flights. To begin with, United will no longer offer meals to Economy Class passengers traveling to Europe from Washington, D.C. Instead, they’ll receive the same service provided on their flights throughout the U.S., where you can purchase a sandwich for $11. United is also taking away the free pretzels (really), reducing staffing even further, and discontinuing the lunch service for Business Class passengers on domestic flights.

That’s right, no pretzels, fewer flight attendants, and if you fly to Europe from D.C., you won’t even get a meal. People used to joke about airline cuts – “One day they’ll charge us for seats after we’ve already boarded the plane.” Ha ha.

But wait – one guy who flew JetBlue was forced to sit in the lavatory for 3 hours earlier this year because he was on a discounted ticket. I wish it were a joke this time, but JetBlue has no comment.

Back to United - as several travel bloggers have been pointing out (see here and here, for example), the latest cutbacks represent a new low for the already-low U.S. airlines. It’s a race to the bottom, and those of us who travel frequently are starting to wonder when we’ll finally hit it.

Isn’t it just the cost of fuel?

The airlines say that fuel cost is the main reason for these kinds of cutbacks, but no one really believes that. Oil was at $145 a few weeks ago. Now it’s back to $118, but the same fuel surcharges are still there. Do you think they just forgot to reset them? And how do other worldwide airlines manage to be profitable even with the price of oil being so high?

The funny thing is that United claims to have made these latest changes based on “customer feedback.” I find that claim to be even more disingenuous. Does United expect us to believe that passengers said they no longer want to eat on the flight? Oh, and go ahead and take away the free pretzels while you’re at it?

I’d like to say to United, “You know, go ahead and do this. It will harm your shareholder value in the long-term, since business travelers have even less of an incentive to travel now. But please, don’t lie to us about it. Just say you don't want to give away pretzels anymore.”

Why Competing on Price Is a Losing Prospect

Choosing to compete on price alone is almost always a mistake. Unless you can be the next Wal-Mart, it’s not worth trying.

It’s usually better to give customers what they really want – quality, value, an experience worth talking about – and not the lowest price and lowest service that they may say they want.

Even in the airline industry, some airlines manage to do this. Emirates does, as does Virgin Atlantic most of the time, and even the budget Kingfisher Airlines in India. When flying from Hyderabad to Calcutta in March, I got a full meal and a soft drink – no extra charge. There were no pretzels, but the lentils were quite nice.

***

If you’re in business for yourself, what do you think about commodity pricing and cutbacks? Are you in a race for the bottom, or are you trying to provide good products and services for a fair price?

And everyone else, what do you really want from a business like United Airlines or Applebee’s?

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