Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

Some things just demand you pay attention to them. Doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong. It’s when things go unnoticed that there could be warning signs that will get most into trouble. People focus primarily on whether they’re right or wrong. Important of course, however noticing something when everyone else may be oblivious to it can be a determining factor in one’s success in the future. Preparing or interpreting when, where, or if a decision may need to be made I will contend is on par with making the decision on how to act if needed. It’s on this note once again I am compelled to make a few observations that are screaming to me warnings of caution. Understand I am not saying I’m right or wrong in my assumptions, but as stated before, it’s knowing when to pay attention when no one else is that can set you apart from the herd. Which in turn is why people seek me out. So here’s a short list with a few caveats for you to ponder.

  • Apple® is adding $10’s of Billions of dollars in market capitalization weekly and at a rate that is unseen in the history of the markets.

I am an everything Apple consumer at this time. I have shed everything PC over the last 2 years. I think Apple and their products are the best at this moment in time. But the stock price and the performance or future performance of the company seems to be a little too far ahead of itself. There are so many people investing in shares of Apple because of the assumptions it will continue to go up forever is scary. If Apple has just a hiccup in its performance the reaction in the price could be not just significant, but could be down right devastating to many whom just don’t understand markets.

  • Facebook® is buying a company named Instagram® for $1 Billion dollars.

I have heard nothing but praise on how smart this acquisition is from the so-called “smart crowd” of the financial channels et al. I have only one thing to say. “They have yet to turn a profit meaning they make NO money, and the claim to fame is you can make your pictures look like it was taken on a Kodak® camera?” I haven’t seen this type spending of other people’s money (share holders) under the umbrella of prudent since the last time the government released a budget. Keep in mind Facebook itself has yet to release its own IPO for the market to digest. They say it will make them a $100 Billion dollar company. Seems to me spending money before the checks have been cashed is a little foolish, but I guess that’s old-fashioned these days.

  • For the 2719’th time. We once again are warned that the 4662’nd deal to save the EU was never really a deal, and once again fears of catastrophe are back on the table. Greece is worse than it was before, Italy, and Portugal are not any better since everyone was told last time they were. And now the country they said there was nothing to worry about since all the others had been spared (which of course by self evidence shows that was a lie) Spain had what some called a “disastrous and troubling” bond auction.

At what point does one not understand that all the deals that have been touted across the newswires, televisions, and such have been a little bit more than disingenuous? If things were fixed, then why do we have a crisis that threatens the entire Euro zone near daily? When I speak with someone and I hear them say something to the tune of, “Well that’s off the table now they resolved that.” I just end the conversation politely and move on because the only thing resolved is their interpretations based on the talking heads not substance.

As I stated earlier who knows what will happen next. But being aware and watching signals that others are either unaware of, or have no inkling there might even be signals is what sets the average from the top performers apart.

I’ll leave you with this. Remember a little while back I wrote about a few companies that everyone (maybe even yourself) said, “I think you just don’t get it because it’s different this time.” Below is Groupon®. The company that snubbed its nose at Google® when they were offered $6 Billion dollars to buy them. They said no rather smugly. Well let the record show you can now purchase Groupon stock at a 50% discount than when it was first offered. A little poetic don’t you think?

Get Yer Groupon here at over 50% off!

Sometimes the more things change, the more things stay the same. Being a Chicken Little is just dumb, but watching Canaries in the coal mines could quite possibly save your life. Just keep your eyes, ears, and minds open.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The Dirty Little Secret of Entrepreneurship

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of April 8th)

The dirty little secret that keeps many from entering the world of entrepreneurship or what sends them back running looking for a “job” is this. “There’s no one else to blame for their failures or success but themselves.”

There was a time I would have argued against that statement. Personally I would have debated against it using more or less the same thoughts many of you reading this are currently thinking. But the more I have researched, the more I find myself standing on firmer ground.

Many ventured into the world of self-employment (for this discussion I’m speaking of owning your business) for different reasons, but for brevity I’ll contend with what I believe are the two dominant reasons for most. Either they felt hindered by their boss or company and want freedom from all that entails, or they felt unfairly compensated in comparison to how much revenue they were either generating or saving their employer. What happens next is what separates the true desire for self-direction and everyone else.

Making the break to go out on your own has all the euphoric trappings found in many business books. Some call them “How to Guides” I call them “Romance Novels.” Just as love stories are filled with a cacophony of fresh flowers, walking on clouds, and love forever after, most business books paint the world of entrepreneurship as if any haze along the path should be viewed as a cloud of perfume because once through it, you’ll come out smelling sweeter on the other side. For many whom made this jump, perfume is not the first scent that comes to mind.

If you listen carefully to those struggling with being on their own, you can distinguish the ones whom truly have the greatest chance of success from the rest in how they describe their challenges. The ones that “get it” will describe their obstacles of not finding or reaching a solution to a dilemma in terms of “yet.” You’ll hear “I just can’t seem to break through this wall, maybe I’m not looking at it properly or I’m doing something wrong, but I’ll find a way some how.” The ones in love with the “idea” of self-direction tend to say things like: “My old boss or company is competing unfairly against me. They just want me to fail so they can laugh.” Or you might hear: “They must have called my old contacts and bad mouthed me, why else would I be having a hard time?” I could list hundreds of these but I believe you get the point. One is looking at obstacles and looking for ways to work through them. The other is lamenting that there shouldn’t be obstacles.

When you’re working for someone else it’s easy if the sale or something else doesn’t get made or done. You always have the excuse book to pull out so anyone within earshot can hear and agree with you when you start reciting lines from the “Blame it on X” reference guide. “Our prices are too high! The credit department won’t give them the proper terms! I had to go to some dumb meeting and couldn’t follow-up!”  And on, and on.

Once you’re on your own things like competition, being shut out, inability to get proper pricing, and alike never leave you. Actually they may get more intense. What makes this challenge worth the price of achievement and so invigorating is once you’ve made the break, it’s not what you get to keep, but what you get to leave behind.

That little book of excuses.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Adventures in Stupidity: HR and Passwords

What at first seemed to be an uproar has now seemingly fell below a whisper. Job applicants were being asked for their Facebook® passwords so that prospective employers could view their accounts to determine if the candidates were acceptable to hire. I will say this as clear as I possibly can so nobody can misinterpret my response. “Who on this planet thought this was not only a good idea but an acceptable request? Followed up with, “Who signed off on it, and are any of these people still employed, and if so why?”

This is what happens when HR (Human Resource) departments are left to their own devices. Does anyone with any sanity believe that the person who first thought this was a legitimate request think they would ever allow this demand on themselves? But what happens over and over and over again is that many HR departments live within their own universe. All one has to do is watch how quickly some meaningless training program that demonstrates little results will be accepted throughout an industry. If one HR dept. implemented it somewhere on the planet Earth, well then it must be unquestionably revolutionary! Hence my cynical view when I hear someone quote a new and improved version of “Left Brain, Right Brain Thinking.” These are designed and sold primarily for the HR genre. The thinking goes as such; If it’s “New and Improved” well then it must have been successful before or they wouldn’t make a newer version right? And now from coast to coast some meaningless or detrimental training program will sweep nation.

As tough as I might seem on the HR genre, they are by no means alone in their follies. I lay the blame just as hard if not harder at the so-called C level management that allows this to take place turning a blind eye to deaf ear on it.

One of the foremost considerations any corporation or business around has today is the acquisition or the retaining of talent. Talent is what propels companies forward. And if you want to start asking prospective talented people for such things as passwords to their private accounts as a condition to being hired by you, then you had better be allowing that same talent access to your own passwords and accounts to help them understand why they thought they should have applied to your firm in the first place. Because in every sense of the matter. They would be insane to supply theirs, even more so than it is as stupid for someone to ask them for theirs.

You just can’t make this stuff up!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Enthusiasm Run Amok

To my niece or nephew I’m seen as old as Methuselah. To senior citizens, I’m still regarded as a kid. But to today’s sports fan I must be regarded as some form of Monk. It would seem that in this brave new world of sports celebrating by cheering, lifting a few bottles or glasses up on high to clink, or even those whom partake in the lamest of rituals the “belly bump’ is no longer acceptable to show how much you care about winning a championship. In today’s world you must overturn cars, tear down signs, riot, set couches ablaze, have multiple fights, multiple arrests, and I guess a shooting or two. I could list more but I’ll leave it there for the sake of brevity.

Last night The University of Kentucky won the NCAA Championship. It’s an absolute storybook ending to just a few years back seemed to everyone we were watching the slow motion train wreck of a great college franchise. Within 5 years this school went through coaches, controversies, and scandal that could rival a made for television drama series. And yet here they are National Champions. So how does a sports fan nowadays show their team some love? Read the above paragraph again. What a shame.

Personally I’m not a big follower of sports any longer. But don’t confuse that with my ability to jump on a bandwagon. I can hop on a bandwagon faster than most Olympic sprinters! But this seemingly blind eyed rationale of celebratory destruction I just don’t get. Call me old-fashioned but I just couldn’t see my Mother cutting me any slack in her disapproval or disgust if I were to use in a defense that the reason why myself or some friends were in jail, shot, or assaulted, was because our team won!

I watched it with the Red Sox back in Boston and was mystified on the rationale back then. The only place I ever remembered such hooliganism was when we would hear about soccer games running mad and out of control in Europe. I feel now as I did then. I just don’t get it, nor do I want too! And what’s really grating on me is watching or reading many giving hackneyed excuses why it’s not that unreasonable for crowds to act or celebrate in this manner. Excuse me but last time I looked most of these actions are listed in the penal code. I personally live close enough to the university that if it was my car they over turned I wouldn’t be thinking, “Hey we won, of course they ruined my car, Go Team!” Hopefully neither would you.

I’m ecstatic that I was here to personally witness such a remarkable event. But I find it a little ironic that I might be seen as some form of party pooper because I didn’t get drunk enough, or vandalize something that would give reason as to wake up in a jail cell.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Beware of the “Hit Men”

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of April 1st)

No, this isn’t about some television series, game, or anything else encapsulated by the title. (Yet it is a chapter in my upcoming book) However the effect this has on the general public, and business as a whole demonstrates a misunderstood, and misguided approach to business. “Eyeballs means sales.” or “All passers-by are potential customers.” They’re not. When I say this at a meeting, it’s at this point everyone in the room turns their head and the room goes silent. (And the person whom invited me begins to sweat)

Usually what I respond with to break the silence is to ask a very simple question, “What’s the value of 1 million hits or visitors that don’t purchase, compared to 1 hit or visitor that does?” Some start talking about conversion rate and it’s value. Others begin raising the argument of credibility in the eyes of others, and so on. But what doesn’t get answered first is the question I posed, which is exactly the point I’m trying to instill. So many people will work more on what I see as a distraction rather than building a real business.

I understand the argument about eyeballs, and traffic, but if that were all there was to it downtown shops, mall stores, and every stand on a boardwalk would never have a sales issue. But they do. The argument for selling a rental spot in a brick and mortar model is sold using the same story you’ll hear from a “traffic” salesman. “There’s so much traffic that goes by here” was yesterday’s pitch. Today it’s, “You need to drive traffic.” No, you need to make sales. If your focus is skewed primarily to traffic, then you won’t be putting in the needed focus on building or improving a product people want to buy. After creating your website your next focal point should be in getting just one hit that actually buys, not getting 1 million of what I call “The look, like, and leave crowd.” The goal for 98% of business websites should be to allow someone who want’s to buy your product or service the place where they can make the transaction with ease of use, feel secure when they use their card, and have a reasonable feeling of expectation that if a problem arises it will be addressed in a reasonable time frame. The other 2% I reserve for the market players that do have actual first needs of “eye balls.” Magazines, television, and newspapers fall into this category. However I will also contend that product should still be first, followed by “hits.” Not the other way around.

When someone asks me how many “hits” my website gets they are usually stunned when I say, “I don’t know, nor do I care.” When they pick their jaw off the floor I like to follow-up with, “The only hit I care about is the one that purchased my services. Because as of this date, my bank doesn’t accept my hit rate as legal tender.”

I’ll bet neither do the “Hit Men.”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The Prose Series: Episode 2

An enhanced Audio Podcast presented in Video format.

The quick hitting no holds barred series based on “Mr. Engineer, please hit the record button and let’s go!”  Unique for its forget about edits and retakes format.

This episode features Mark’s column:
Team Building 101, Dump the Committees

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr in Assoc. with StreetCry Media. All Rights Reserved

(Can’t see the player in your Mobile device? Click here)

Are You Building a Business That Can Stay in Business?

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of March 25th)

What’s becoming apparent across the business landscape is many new entrepreneurs are building businesses for the purpose of not being beholden to any so-called boss. They see that the old model of a “job” is either dead or dying and rightly so are venturing out looking to take control of their own destiny. However what many are not realizing is they may be just changing one taskmaster for another without being aware.

In today’s world one of the unquestionable benefits we are currently enjoying is the plethora of tools that allow a business to start-up, augment, research, or just plain operate for absolutely free. It’s a time in history that has never been so rich with options and yet that list seems to be getting larger with even better tools, but there is a side that most pay no attention to. “What would happen to your business if tomorrow what was now free ended and you needed to now pay for it? Or worse, was no longer available.” Not some distance in the future but let’s say next week or month. What would you do?

Many believe things like this would never happen and brush it off as crazy talk, but I contend if you’re brushing it off you could find yourself at the edge of a very scary black hole when you least expect it. Just ask any Amazon® affiliate caught in the tax debacle that happened in California. In the blink of an eye thousands found that they were basically out of business with no recourse. What would happen if Google® decided tomorrow to charge for their mail service, or their doc’s platform? What would you do? Don’t say it would never happen. Google has a history of deleting or changing them. The latest example of this can be found if you don’t like their new privacy policy that affects all of their widgets. Do you stay as your customers leave or vice versa? Would you pour more of your resources and energy in Twitter® if next month you had to pay per word but could use as many as you like rather than limited to how many you’re allowed for free? Would you even use it at all if that were the case?

There have been some recent cases where Apple® has arbitrarily pulled some very popular podcasts from their service for what they deemed “unauthorized” Apple logos or pictures. Even a picture of a real apple was questioned. Pleading your case and trying to get reinstated is an arduous process and still may not be enough to resume. These courts answer to themselves not to anyone else. Rightly or wrongly, “It is what it is.” But just how would you continue if you no longer had access to the service is my point? Would you continue? Could you? You need to think about these scenarios if you want to be a business. Just because you may not operate in the old world of bricks and mortar does not mean you can escape a fundamental principle of business.

People scoffed at similar notions when I expressed and wrote about what businesses in the brick and mortar realm should contemplate when Greece first showed signs of unrest, months before anyone even heard of the Occupy movement or the mayhem that followed. (So much so I re-posted it when OWS troubles first appeared.) Businesses suddenly found themselves closed, unreachable, or worse. So I ask you to contemplate the most fundamental business principle.

What’s your plan to stay in business? Because anything can happen, and usually does!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

These Birds Don’t Flock Together

These day’s no matter where you get your information you’ll hear metaphors, and analogies thrown around with seemingly no concern how they’re really used in describing a given situation. If it sounds good, well then, it therefore must be appropriate. Not so fast is what I have to say.

Analogies and metaphors help make the complex more understandable in most cases. They can be more than just helpful when trying to get a complex idea or give unknown variables some measure of light. However if used incorrectly by using the wrong one to describe a situation the results can be not only messy, but down right dangerous.

Today’s financial channels are currently a buzz with more lines recited from what seems like a Kinder Gardner’s book rather than a Wharton graduate. The economy is currently “Not too hot, not too cold, but just right” is heard when trying to describe dismal GDP numbers, and anemic gains in employment.

What I have noticed more and more is if you begin to reference a bird with yellow feathers you are immediately chastised as “Crying Wolf” before you are even able to finish your thoughts. What comes next is one of the so-called “Smart Crowd” talking over every point while expressing that “They’re just being Chicken Little.” Actually if they would listen instead of talking over everyone, they just might become aware that although the discussion contains a bird, it’s not a chicken, it’s a canary. And the two represent far different implications.

No one wants to listen to someone everyday say “The sky is falling” but paying attention to someone watching a canary day by day is quite another. Canaries were as most know brought into mines to alert them in case of undetectable toxic gases. Canaries are far more vulnerable and would either show distress or be out right dead well before anyone would have issues. So all eyes were on the canary at all times. Today it seems like one just yelled blasphemy from the pews if they state there might even be canaries, never mind watch any.

I’ve always found that the people whom shout down anyone that seems to have a contrarian viewpoint are usually the ones that can’t back up their own argument with data or statistics that can be honestly judged. This is not to say that every contrarian viewpoint is correct. But to venture into unknown territory such as we are currently with unemployment numbers so high for so long, GDP rates well under projections needed to sustain recovery, monetary policies in uncharted waters, and too many others to list.  For anyone to say that keeping an eye on the yellow bird for warning signs is akin to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater is not only crazy, but nuts!

But on the other hand, maybe they’re more afraid of someone “Huffing, and puffing that can blow their house (of cards) down.”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Forget the Forest…They’re Stuck in the Shrubs!

As the saying goes…“They can’t see the forest through the trees” most people won’t even pick their head up to see if there is actually a forest. But they’ll tell you without looking up why “you” have no idea of what’s beyond the tree line. It’s within this lexicon I feel it necessary to enlighten these self-appointed arborists that before they decide to pick out their chain saws so they can get a better view, they might do themselves a favor and start mastering the hedge trimmers first.

There are times I find myself in a state of pure awe at the way people who have no experience in actually running a business begin to state facts and ideas as if they co-authored one of Jack Welch’s books regarding business management. It’s one thing to have an opinion, it’s quite another to state that opinion in a tone and manner as if they pioneered these complexities by trial and error at their own hands.

Viewing the business landscape with a myopic eye can be detrimental. However there are times that you need that laser focus to work your way through difficult terrain. At times you needn’t quantify every danger, pitfall, or species of tree within the forest. What’s needed is the knowledge that there are dangerous animals, rugged terrain, possible swamps, and alike that you may or may not have to navigate through. This understanding comes from spending time in the woods. There is a knowledge to be learned that no book or television show can impart. You have to venture into the forest even if that means you’ll have to make your own tools as you go.

The reasons most self-appointed business arborits feel the need to express what they believe to be factual for anyone listening is because they themselves can not see. They see green everywhere, and they can’t seem to move without becoming entangled within the stalks and roots of their world. Next they’ll go on ad-nausea to express that all one needs is a chainsaw to get a better view. They’ll start quoting brands and specifications they’ve meticulously read. What they fail to realize is they’ve never themselves been in the forest. They’re stuck within thick shrubbery or hedges and don’t know the difference.

Books and television can enlighten you to the dangers and pitfalls that may be encountered within a forest or what might await beyond the tree line. But it’s the understanding that there is a forest that’s critical. Not how many trees there are within a given acreage or what brand of chain saw rated highest by some review magazine the arm-chair arborist feels the need to site.

Just because they’ve watched someone carve an ice sculpture at a party, doesn’t mean by osmosis they’re now ready for a spot on TV’s “Axe Men.” Sounds harsh? Just listen to someone who watched a financial channel more than once. Different field, same conclusions. Because after all…

It’s a jungle out there!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr