Life of Letter 10

marketing, design, travel, and my thoughts

Archive for February, 2010

My First Think Tank

Well in a little less than two weeks I will host my first meeting with a selected group that will be taking an in-depth look at the association that I work for.  I was able to hand-pick a group of stakeholders that make up each of the many levels of our association.  I tried my hardest to find people with the spirit and mindset to take on this challenge while still fitting the criteria that the association needs.  “Getting the right people on the bus” is one way to put it and I have seen that on more than one occasion while preparing this group.  So far so good!  While we have had some hiccups already in trying to get the group together in person we are going to have a good mix of people present and are going to get the input of those not present before we arrive in Tulsa.  Since the association is for legal professionals we will have an attorney, a paralegal educator, a past-association president, current board member, new member, young association leader, and association staff member.  This group also comes from around the country, works for large and small firms, one is retired, and they are a cultural and gender mix as well.  I wanted to put together the most diverse group of thinkers I could, keeping the numbers relatively small.

We will be able to bring in additional people if we find an area we need more input.  Surveys and focus groups will be held when needed and we will look to the membership as a whole to give us input and feedback as the process goes along.  I know that we will not have all the answers, we just want to have the right people to come up with the right questions to ask.

I developed 20 questions that I thought the group needed to put considerable thought into before we take a look at how the association needs to grow and change.  These questions focus on what our desires and needs would be if we were starting an association from scratch today.  I can’t wait to see what kinds of responses we get from these questions with people coming from such different backgrounds.

Along with the 20 questions we will also be taking a look at the “7 Measures of Success” from ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership and see how we can align the association with these measures to better structure for the future.  In reading this book I am learning a lot about what great associations do, and how we can adjust our current model to fit these proven measures of success.  Some of them are small and some of them will completely shake things up…the group will have to figure out just how much shaking we should do now and how much later.

I am sure I will talk more about the process as we go along, if anyone has any experience in managing a group such as this please leave me comments…I would love to hear what you have to say.  This is going to be a remarkable experience and I am fortunate to be heading things up!

J

Blessing & A Curse

So at 4 p.m. today I get a call from a client needing some time-consuming work done and they need it by Monday afternoon.  The downside of doing freelance work.  You never know when you are going to have a project present itself and you have to be willing to get the job done when the client needs the work done.  That is how you make the clients happy and it keeps them coming back for more work.  While I love the opportunity for more work, because that means more money it does get old at times.  So what do you do?  NOTHING!

If you want to have a business such as mine you have to be ready and willing to work on whatever project a client presents to you, when the client presents it.  When I client asks me “when can you have that completed?”, I always respond with a question of my own…”when do you need it completed?”  It almost always gets a laugh but I am serious.  If you go out of your way to hire a contract worker that contract worker should work under your conditions.  As long as you understand the client understands the cost of your work and you have priced your work so that you are comfortable you as a contract workers should do your best to meet the clients needs.

So that means that this weekend I will spend in front of my computer the same way I have all week…Getting things done.

PS: I would like to apologize to my wife, I will be working this weekend in case I forgot to mention it.

J

Olympic Winter Games

If you are not watching the Olympics then you are missing some amazing things.  Yesterday was one of the best days I have seen for the United States team.  Domination in 2 events with Gold and Silver in Women’s Downhill and Gold and Bronze in Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe.  In the Women’s Downhill Lindsey Vonn threw down a time that defeated her teammate Julia Mancuso by half a second.  To you and I, in our worlds a half a second is fast and would seem like this was close.  If you compare it to the Men’s Downhill you get a different picture.  The time difference between Bronze and Gold was around 4 one hundredths of a second.  Three people in that proximity, now that is close.  Vonn blew people away…and she was hurt.  It looked like pre-sex-addict Tiger Woods at the US Open playing with a trashed knee, except Tiger had to go to a playoff.  Vonn favored her injured leg the entire run, even crossing the finish on one leg…and her time was not even close to being caught.

In the Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe, Shaun White showed once again why he is simply the best.  White had the top three scores that I saw, no one really pushing even his qualifying run.  Of course White is all about the show and entertaining fans…so when it came time to perform he did.  His first run was enough to claim the gold medal but in true Shaun White style he decided to improve on it by adding an impressive run that featured his signature move, something called a Double McTwist 1260, which sounds painful as I sit here typing, much less in actual danger.  White was shown at the top of the halfpipe celebrating prior to the run and even asked his coaches what he should do, maybe just go down the middle?   His coaches laughed and said no…so he went out and had the best run of the Olympics scoring 48 points out of a possible 50…ON HIS VICTORY LAP!  I guess being able to have your own halfpipe with a foam pit on the side of it to practice without killing yourself pays off…who knew?

J

Websites Done Easy!

I know this is an odd post from someone offering website design as a service, but there are things that you need to hire a designer for and things you do not so I want to help you make the decision before you spend money you don’t need to. Here are some easy to use options for you…if these don’t offer you what you are looking for then give me a call! ______________________________________________________________________

So what service should you use to build and host your website? Well I am going to give you a few options. The first option I have for you is also my most highly recommended. It is WordPress. There are two options when looking at WordPress, WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.org is an open-source software that is free to download and use as a design and content management resource on your own host using your own domain. Once you have loaded the software onto your host’s server you can use the WordPress dashboard to make updates, posts, manage the content, and even check out your analytical information of the site. It is a one stop shop that does not take much time to get set up and running if you already have the content created. With this first option you still have to pay for a web host and the host will need to set you up with a mySQL database for the software to work which can cost you a little more each month depending on your host. WordPress.org will give you several plugin options for you to add functionality to your site. You can add RSS feeds, Twitter, Flickr and other interactive options to help make your site more interesting. You will have a few free templates to choose from that will help you make your site unique. There are a lot of resources online that will give you more flexibility for the look and feel of your website.

WordPress.com will offer you both free and paid options, and there is no downloading of software, you will have the same dashboard option when you visit your page and log in to your WordPress account. You will do all your editing through this dashboard making things very simple. Options like plugins and widgets give you a lot of functionality and they are easy to set up and load to your site. There are a lot of template options giving you many choices for the design of your site. Many offer customizable header options to allow you the flexibility to make the site unique. The free option from WordPress.com forces your URL to include “.wordpress.com” in the domain. If you want to use your own domain name then it will cost you. If you want WordPress to host your site and register your unique domain name then it will cost you $15 per year. Not much money for the amount of flexibility and functionality you get with WordPress.

If WordPress is not for you, then I recommend trying Weebly.com. Weebly is a great way to create free and easy websites with a nice interface. The hosting is included so that is a nice plus and you can use blogging features, and other content elements to make your site more interesting. If you own your own domain then Weebly will host your content for free. There are over 70 free templates to use for the look and feel of the website. Weebly will offer you a very nice way to build your website and host it at little to no cost to you and it will make updating the site easy for you and those that will follow you.

TypePad.com is my third recommendation for you to check out. TypePad focuses more on blogging which could be an adequate way for you to build your site. Have you thought about developing a blog and using that as your site? You can easily build pages for your information and also post blog articles to drive traffic and keep the site updated. TypePad will work perfectly for this type of site and it even offers you built-in search engine optimization. There are hundreds of designs to choose from giving your site the look you want.

The last recommendation I have is SquareSpace.com. SquareSpace offers you several options from $8 per month and includes hosting, content management, design and some search engine optimization. They have some truly beautiful templates to choose from and its customization options are second to none. You will have control over every aspect of your site and they also offer you elements that you can insert into the site to improve functionality and make the site more interactive. If you are truly looking to take control of your site while still enjoying the easy to use interface then SquareSpace is for you.

I am sure that there are other options out there and please take some time to make sure that you find the appropriate host and content manager for your site. Just keep in mind that there are pluses and minuses of all services and you will have to pick the one that works the best for you. There are ways for you to save money and increase your impact, you just need to know which services to use. I hope these tips and these recommendations will help you make the best decision you can.

Happy Valentine’s Day

So most of you that know me understand my frustration with trying to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my wife.  Those that don’t know it goes a little something like this: I try to do something and it never works out, so I quite trying!

This year we decided to trick the Valentine’s Day curse and have something on Friday instead of today.  It worked!  We had some friends over for a nice little dinner party and everyone had a great time.  We are a low-key group so it was just that, food, friends and conversation.  Some great stories were told, I don’t have permission to re-tell them on here but I really wish I could…a couple were hard to believe but so good that they could not have been made up.

Now we make it to actual Valentine’s Day and what do we see?  MORE SNOW ON THE GROUND! It wasn’t even supposed to snow, just get colder and we wake up to an inch on the ground and more coming down. The curse is back!  Not that an inch of snow is anything, especially after the winter we have had this year, but we hate cold weather and snow.  We had a nice relaxing Saturday of doing a little bit of work and watching the Olympics.  Oh, and I did our Taxes which was a load lifted.

What is it about taxes that is both frustrating and terrifying each time you do them?  You are frustrated at just how much you paid the government over the course of the year and then you are terrified that you are going to have to pay them even more!  And then from my perspective you have to make sure you claim all your income from the dozens of small client jobs throughout the year and you have to try to hunt and find every little deduction you can so that having the small business is actually worthwhile.  It is a crazy process that I dread each year.  This year it was actually really easy.  My second year of ditching the CPA and using Turbo Tax and I am sold.  Turbo Tax brought over all my information from last year so that was a huge time saver, and all I had to do was enter in my figures from this year, add my business stuff and then it went on the hunt for more deductions.  It took me a few hours but with ski jumping as the Olympic background it wasn’t too bad at all.  And it is done so that is awesome!

Hope your Valentine’s Day celebrations are not cursed like mine, and I apologize to my wife of nearly 9 years.  I love you and since you don’t read my blog, Happy Valentine’s Day!

J

Tulum, Mexico

My wife and I have a theory about traveling to Mexico…pick a great resort that is all-inclusive,on a great beach and just stay there.  We have only tested this theory twice but Tulum fit the bill better than our first journey which was to Puerto Vallarta.  Our trip to Tulum included 3 other couples which made the trip interesting to say the least.  A really great part of traveling to Mexico is that it really is not a long travel day and you make it to your resort in a relatively short amount of time…or so we thought.  Tulum is an exception to this standard.  We flew into Cancun and knew that we would quite a trip south to Tulum.  None of us knew that it would take an hour by shuttle.  The drive was not very scenic and really seemed to take days.  We picked Tulum because of the resort, Dreams Tulum.  We stayed at a Dreams resort in Puerto Vallarta and love it so we took a chance on this one as well.  Once we finally arrived at the resort we were not disappointed.  I would certainly recommend the resort…I would recommend it more if you didn’t have the trip to get to it.  I am not sure that it was worth that inconvenience on the drive.

This Dreams resort was larger than the one in Puerto Vallarta so it was more crowded.  There was also a much younger crowd at this resort, and I mean teenage/college age which lead to a more party atmosphere than relaxing.  There are a lot of beach games and activities to participate in and there were two pools to choose from.  One with a swim-up bar (party pool) and one without (relaxing pool) so there is something for everyone, at least until the party spills over to the relaxing pool.  Not a bad thing, but if you are looking for a place to sit, read a book and relax this may not be the best choice.

We tried to book a snorkeling trip after we arrived but we were unsuccessful as the conditions were too windy the entire time we were there and they would not take people out.  So instead we took a taxi south to the Mayan Ruins near Tulum.  It was a cheap cab ride and a short walk to get to the ruins but it was well worth it.  They are well-preserved and offer some great views and even a nice beach, although it was a little crowded.  I say save the beach time for at the resort but I do recommend making the trip to the ruins.  There is a few places to shop for souvenirs near the ruins with some performers as well, be careful of taking pictures of the performers because they will demand a donation if they see you take the pic…not a big deal really but they can be a little pushy.

Back to the resort.  The food was good, not great.  They had a good variety of options and according to our travel mates the sushi was pretty good.  At least I assume this since it was the appetizer for each evening meal!  We booked a day at their spa which included a massage, steam room, and sauna.  Very relaxing and was a great facility…much better experience than my spa day in Puerto Vallarta.

So the short version of the story is that Mexico is a great place to get away, and Tulum was a nice place.  That said I would probably recommend something close to Cancun or even Playa del Carmen just because the trip from the airport is so much shorter.  We have had good experiences with Dreams Resorts and there is a new one closer to Cancun so if you check it out send me a review and I will post it!

Inbox Management

So I got to work this morning and saw that I had once again let my inbox grow to uncontrollable levels!  I didn’t quite let it get to the 1,000 message mark but it is very close.  This triggers the emergency clean-up mode and I have to dig myself out before I suffocate beneath the weight of all the press releases, thank you, and oops I didn’t mean to copy you on that messages.  I am not sure why I am not better and filing and deleting those as they come in but I never can seem to keep that going…I am an email hoarder!  It is not exciting enough to be a Lifetime series but it is just about as annoying to me.  I sort out the things that are important but those mainly meaningless emails that come in just pile up until days like today…so it is clean up day!

After I sort through the crap emails then I can focus on the 50 or so actual tasks that I need to accomplish.  50 tasks may seem like a lot, and they can be but most of mine are fairly minor so I think I can knock most of them out if I can stay focused and not get sidetracked by more interesting and fun NEW tasks that come in today.

Hope your email stays more organized than mine!

J

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