Right…Wrong…and Caveats

I was asked the other day what I thought about the markets and the tear they seem to be on once again. All I could do was shrug. The person then followed with “But you had so much to say before?” of course the person was trying to goad me but hey, it comes with the territory.

As many of you know I have written many articles on why I believed the markets are not acting in ways one would presume. I wrote many times why I felt as I did and gave the reasons why. They’re all in the archives, and unlike most, I haven’t run away from what I’ve said or wrote. However, with all that said, as of right now my warnings could be viewed as wrong. The market continues to climb higher by the day. Not only higher but within spitting distance for many indexes to have erased 2008 as if it never happened. No one could be happier at being wrong than yours truly. But saying I’m wrong doesn’t mean I was not “right” in my reasoning or my conclusions to the perils or pitfalls possible. (and are still very present)

As of this writing there have been a few things active in the markets that has never been present in its history. High Frequency Trading better known as HFT makes up more than 70% of all the daily trading on the exchanges. That info is per the exchanges themselves. HFT buys, holds then sells a stock in approximately a few milliseconds! How’s that for long-term investing? In other words, its machines trading with machines. Remember the “Flash Crash?” That was caused by the machines. But so far so good I guess. Euro stability? Well, as of right now the 259th agreement on agreeing to agree sometime in the future if they agree seems to be working. But again as of this writing, there is NO agreement. Talking heads are all over the financial channels where they were once stating the breakup of the Euro would be catastrophic for the US markets now say Greece would be a non-factor. Well that makes me feel much more secure I guess. Another point  that the “wicked smart crowd” told us over and over again was to watch all the money on the sidelines come racing back into the market when we broke above certain levels. Well we’ve not only broke them, but we’ve broken levels above those also. How’s the volume? Monday’s volume was the lowest non-holiday trading day in a decade! Data points such as GDP, Unemployment? Well what was once considered bad is now good! Of course the way it’s said across the TV screens, “The signs of a healthy market is when it can go up on bad news.” Just makes one feel all fuzzy. But that’s what happens with fuzzy math I guess.  But the market is what it is, and right now it is up and it just may keep going to which no one will be happier than me.

But why I said what I said, and why I think what I think has not changed. And If I had to write it all over again, or had to talk on the subjects again I would not change a word.  I would only emphasis one point.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst, be prepared for both.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Being Proficient in Bad Habits

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket Magazine week of Feb. 5th)

There’s an old axiom of “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s also the knee-jerk response from someone whom either doesn’t want to change, or by someone who can’t get another to change. Either way the statement is for the lazy, not for the dogs. (Dogs actually like new challenges.)

Although some will use this phrase as to not engage in trying something new, what they will do is unconsciously learn, adapt, practice, and reinforce bad habits all the while never knowing they ever acquired any. One of the main reasons this goes on unnoticed is they relate time dedicated to a pursuit, to time equals expertise. It doesn’t. Just because you’ve been doing something for years doesn’t mean that you’ve improved. What can also happen is the longer you’ve been doing something you may unwittingly be getting worse. Discomforts you may be feeling from tasks might not be that you no longer like or can’t do something. Rather the underlying problem causing you pain can actually be from a bad habit you don’t realize you ever picked up. I’ll use myself as an example.

I have been running on average 5 miles daily for decades. However I was starting to have injuries far too frequently. I was starting to believe what I hear so many people say –“Well you are getting older” or “You just can’t be doing that stuff forever” and all the others. The problem was, I was starting to think maybe they had a point. I wore only the best shoes. I was disciplined in taking recovery time between days on and off. I guess hanging up the shoes was inevitable. But really, was that it? Stop? Give it up? The answer was no. Here’s what happened next.

When the New York City Marathon was taking place there was a story about barefoot running. I had heard about this technique, however I discounted it. I mean after all, I had been running for decades and have also invested in the finest footwear brands (and most expensive!) available. What became apparent was that I didn’t need to learn anything new. I needed to drop some bad habits I never realized had been acquired.

It all made sense when I watched a video and noticed the technique they were demonstrating was quite similar to how I would run when nursing myself after an injury. Then it clicked. Instead of running the way I previously did that was very similar to the pain-free way, I had not noticed over time I had changed my style to something dramatically different that was now causing me pain. And I had been reinforcing the discipline over and over again for so long it was now what I thought was proper or the correct way. It’s not often we have an epiphany, but here was one that cuts right across so many situations.

Just how many times have we found ourselves wondering why something in business or in life that we once truly loved doing is now causing us distress to the point that we want to “just hang it up” as another cliché goes. Or, are the things causing us trouble some form of a bad habit we never realized we acquired, and that is the true reason for our discomfort?

After going through a little more pain to re-educate myself and modify my running style, I’m not only running more comfortably, I’m re-evaluating and applying the same principle and technique to other parts of my life. Because one thing that’s great about a habit, it’s totally under your control to change it from bad to good.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Social Media: Part 2

Here’s something I found that adds just a little more color to what I wrote on “Social Media” Below are a few bullet points from Facebook’s IPO statement that appeared in an article by Chris Crum on WebProNews. You can read the entire article here. These are just a few of the points, the article goes on to point out many more.

From the article:

  • If we fail to retain existing users or add new users, or if our users decrease their level of engagement with Facebook, our revenue, financial results, and business may be significantly harmed;
  • We generate a substantial majority of our revenue from advertising. The loss of advertisers, or reduction in spending by advertisers with facebook, could seriously harm our business;
  • Growth in use of facebook through our mobile products, where we do not currently display ads, as a substitute for use on personal computers may negatively affect our revenue and financial results;
  • Facebook user growth and engagement on mobile devices depend upon effective operation with mobile operating systems, networks, and standards that we do not control. ;
  • We may not be successful in our efforts to grow and further monetize the facebook Platform;
  • Our business is highly competitive, and competition presents an ongoing threat to the success of our business;
  • Improper access or disclosure of our users’ information could harm our reputation and adversely affect our business;

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Social Media: The Business Superhighway to a Cliff?

So you’ve bought into the whole “Social Media” phenom. You see over and over again on news channels, blogs, magazines, and anywhere else the exponential growth in users. Hundreds of millions of users signing on worldwide. You read and hear everywhere about people making so much money, people who are not only making money but seem to be getting filthy rich. That’s it you say, you’re all in. Scrap everything you know or thought you knew, change everything and put all your resources (aka money or budget) into social media venues and wait for the money to start rolling in. Is it rolling in yet? (Insert crickets here)

Facebook® just announced with much fanfare they are going public and selling shares. That’s great for Mr. Zuckerburg and the so-called 1000’s of new millionaires the news media is touting this IPO is going to create, but what about you and your business? The financial channels all say this will put Facebook’s valuation anywhere from $50 to $100 BILLION dollars. (Yes that is a B!) But exactly how are they going to be worth that dollar value unless your company, and other companies like yours can translate all those users to actual buyers of your goods and services. Remember it’s not Facebook’s job to do that. That’s for you to figure out. But that should be easy since there are so many users correct? It’s just the law of averages right? I’m here to say, wrong! If it was than every business next to a superhighway or downtown intersection would be profitable. Need I say look around your own city to prove my point?

The dirty little secret no one likes to talk about is this: Free to use for the user also means free to leave if something else comes along.  If you think I’m wrong, just look to AOL®. Not too much difference in shape or scope for businesses when it was the player of the day. Where are all the businesses that scrapped everything and spent it all on the AOL model for conducting their business? Weren’t there 100’s of millions of users there also? Well there were, then AOL changed and tried to do the unthinkable with its users. It tried to place more advertising in front of their users to monetize itself. The exact thing the user base dislikes the most. How did that work out? (once again insert crickets here) Facebook and all the others are in this same position and once again the only selling point to monetize is the lure (or hope) that eyeballs aka foot traffic can be converted to dollars. Not too easy of a task if history is correct.

The only business I’m aware of that can base its business model solely on foot traffic with any real results is a street performer. And I contend their conversion rate is terrible. After that if you’re in any real business you need hard data about a plethora of details. And businesses like Facebook are not going to share that data with you. (Here’s more I wrote on that topic) And if they do their customers (users) won’t like it one bit. Not only won’t they like it but there are reports now surfacing from credible outlets those very users that you see (or were sold) as potential customers are deciding to leave for other less intrusive reasons.

A survey just released by the IT security company Sophos shows current users are apprehensive about coming changes to Facebook. So much so that over 50% of users expressed concern, and what was even more startling is over 32% of respondents don’t know why they are still on Facebook! (You can read the whole article here) As incredible as that sounds top it off with this study that just came out, Teens leaving Facebook for Twitter by an NBC affiliate. Why? Privacy concerns that Mom, Dad, Auntie, and everyone else is there. So if the kids who are most of the base go somewhere else, doesn’t the other part of the base follow? If that’s so, then it’s only a matter of time before tweeting goes bye bye birdy when the nest overfills there also. Sounds crazy and you might be saying “Oh that won’t happen.” I’ll just once again say, really? How’s My Space doing? I know My Who? Exactly my point.

I’m not saying that social media is going away or can’t be profitable. What I am saying is there are road signs everywhere that are flashing caution. Or as I read once “Proceed Slowly..Wash Out Conditions Apply.”

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

You’ve Reached Your Goal…Now What?

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket Magazine week of Jan 29th)

Setting and reaching a goal you’ve set is a wonderful experience. Regardless of the size, just setting it and actually reaching it deserves applause. But this is where the applause now stops. From here on in, it’s an inside game. It is here so many either get frustrated or get what I like to call “Goal Fatigue” because they will now continually seek or wait for some external force to validate their new goal or progress.

After you’ve reached your first goal the rules for setting your next goal in the chain change. If I’m wrong then why do so many people make the same New Year’s resolutions over and over again? Many start the gym membership but quit within weeks. Some start the diet but never stay on it. And others sign up for the school but never get the degree. I could go on but you get my point. And that brings us to, Ok…Now What?

More than likely you set your goal then gave yourself a reward for finishing which is as it should be — that’s step one. Step two is the exact opposite. You are going to get the reward first. Yes I said that, first! The second part of goal setting is an inside game, it’s between your own two ears, any kind of validation from the outside world is extra. This is a point the so-called “Gurus” and others get absolutely wrong. Let’s use quitting smoking as an example. You did step No. 1, which you should be praised and commended for. But now you have to continue. Step No. 2 is not to repeat step No. 1 over, and over, and over again. You won’t do it, so step No. 2 should look something like this: I spent on average of $ _____ a day. That totals $______ per week, or $_______ per year. As a reward, and reminder why I am doing this, I am using the money I would have spent smoking and purchasing _________ today!

If you notice I said today, not tomorrow, not next week, not I’m saving up, but today! You need to remind yourself why, not remind others, but you. Others may also benefit but from here on out it’s all up to you. No cheering crowd a month or one year from now is going to help in keeping you in pursuit of your goal as the tickets for a vacation, jewelry, watch, or other item you have in your hands now will do. If you wait you won’t do it, and the same will happen to the goal. It too will go unfulfilled. The excuse that I don’t have the money right now doesn’t fly either. You would have found the money somewhere somehow to smoke right? Then get a jar and put the actual money in it daily. See how this is getting to sound serious? That’s because it is, and the reason why so many stop after step one.

You can do this with anything you want, just fill in the blank. Diets? Sure… start with step No. 1, at step NO. 2 go into your closet and weed out every article of clothing that is one size too big. Regardless if new! On your way home from Goodwill® stop at the mall and buy one article one size smaller than you are now. You can repeat step No. 2 as long as you like. See the difference?

You can apply this goal-setting method to anything you want in life from habits, to jobs, or anything else. It’s once you truly understand that the applause you’re working for is to come from you and not anyone else, goals become fun, entertaining, and a lifetime of fulfillment.

Now go set a goal, and have fun!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Intellectual Property: “We’re Heading for the Clamp Down!”

There has been much to say lately about recent events. Legislation backed by big business, governments, and others have many in an uproar. There is good reason to be weary of this heavy-handed legislation, but there is another side that many just don’t get. “What I create and own, I created and own, not you, its mine so hands off.” That is a very crude, over simplified statement but I meant it that way. It’s to the point. Just because technology has allowed for manipulation or distribution of products doesn’t give anyone the right to use it anyway they see fit just because they can. It’s this lack of understanding how seemingly innocuous deeds not only open up a can of worms, but open an entire worm farm. All the while the perpetrator feels indignant and lays down as defense that this is a so-called “right” because it’s on the internet. But really is it?

Once again let me be clear, I am NOT stating I agree with SOPA/PIPA/ACTA or anything related. What I am stating is the defense being offered for these regulations not to be implemented is exactly what will give them even more reason to enact them. By their own deeds they might be sowing the demise of the internet as we now know it. I’ll give you an example to think about because I believe it’s a great thought experiment for you to use. You should be able to come at this from both sides, 1: As the creator of the original idea, the owners, and people portrayed as involved or appearing. 2: By the person who created the new fictional idea and story line. Sorry I have to use a link but you can not participate in the experiment if you don’t watch this trailer.

What you need to remember is this is something created by a fan, not someone affiliated with the owners, actors, or studio that owns the original content or copyrights. And although it’s very good work, it’s fantasy and not the work of the people, actors or studio that are displayed. Its intention is obviously to give the illusion, but at what point does this fantasy morph into something that is detrimental to the actual brand, studio, or actors? The argument that it never would be is not a defense. Things happen and that’s why there are certain rules to protect ideas because there are real lives with real money, and livelihoods at risk. Just pose to yourself that you own the rights to the ideas, the actors, the studio, and everything else associated with it. Does someone have the “right” to create something like this and distribute it with the defense of “If someone were to confuse this for the real thing, well that’s their problem.” I feel this argument and non understanding of just pure business practices and models is exactly what will give the people who want to use a sledgehammer to swat a fly a steam shovel to bury the internet as we now know it. Here’s a few questions to get your mind working on this exercise. there are many more, but you can hear the lawyers battle cry over the hills for both sides.

At what point is it parody? At what point is it too much like the real thing? Is the work up to the quality that all the actors, studio, directors, and backers put their name on? What if it was your product, would you approve? And Why? What would happen if your fan base took it as real? What if your fan base thought your were trying to use it as a mask for a plausible denial public release story? Or using it to see if you were to go ahead with such project? What if when you or your stars were out on the Red Carpet or at other venues talking about an upcoming film all that was being asked of them was if this bogus trailer was the real deal? What if the entertainment channels and media venues became relentless in their questioning and you couldn’t say anything other than to answer questions about something that wasn’t even real? Would that hurt your brand, your marketing, your sales, your actors or studios reputations? What happens if your fan base likes the idea of the fictional trailer and is disappointed in your actual release of something different and start bad mouthing your product or actors for not having the vision to adapt the bogus trailer?

And that is just touching the surface!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Adventures in Stupidity, Customer Service

If there’s one thing people sneer at it, it’s the term “Customer Service.” This has become such a joke that it rivals any signs of intelligence let alone “service.”

This entry once again is something that happened to me, not someone else…Ready?

My wife had previously subscribed to a magazine. She had been a loyal subscriber for years, but decided not to renew. What did this magazine decide was a great way to woo her back? Send threatening letters of amounts due for renewal as a way to intimidate her to start the subscription that she had cancelled. She was notified that her magazines were “On Hold from mailing” and would not commence until she paid for the renewal. I think writing and telling them “Cancel Do Not Renew” on her last invoice was not clear enough? (and yes she was paid in full) So I wrote back to them via their email billing server. I wrote (and I’m paraphrasing) “This subscription has been cancelled and we no longer receive your magazine and have no intent of doing so again. If I receive another threatening invoice from your magazine stating we have been put on notice to your “Collection Department” I will report you and your magazine to the proper authorities, and you can take this up with them.”

Here’s a screen shot from after I hit send:

Apparently they must be very busy handling all their other happy customers. And they wonder why they’re losing business!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Breaking Through an Entrepreneur’s Crisis: “No Time to Sell!”

(My column as appeared in Upmarket Magazine week of Jan. 22nd)

In today’s world of ever-changing economic conditions one thing remains constant, “If you’re in business, you need to sell, period!”

Of course this comes as no shock to anyone. However the excuse of having no time as the owner, founder, chief cook, and bottle washer is irrelevant. If you can’t find time then your only alternative is to now “create” time. This can be done, but by all means forget about reading books on “Time Management.” I can’t think of a larger waste of your resources as a business owner. The frustration for owners or entrepreneurs is they only see the act of “selling” through the traditional salesperson model. If you’re currently bogged down in everyday tasks because you’ve either lightened up on staff, or your business has increased and you’re currently filling voids yourself, you will not only find excuses for not adding anything that resembles an additional task, but the sheer thought of going out and “selling” will be avoided. Trouble happens when the delay of resolving this dilemma gets amplified into a crisis. The more you find ways to allow yourself the alibi of “having no time” (and you know you will) the faster it will take you into crisis. There is another way. Change from Selling to Informing. Become a “Thought Leader” in your business community.

Many have read books or learned much through trial and error. What you may not remember is just like your views and actions changed from employee to owner, you now need to change your tactics on how you sell as compared to someone you would hire. As an owner it’s a daunting task to conceive let alone try going door-to-door pushing your wares. But as a “Thought Leader” you can reach prospective clients in your respective area of business by offering insights on your business that can or may impact other business people. You could talk or give a speech at civic events or local chamber meetings, etc. This can multiply your efforts and in turn help in allotting for that most precious of resources, time.

Here’s an example:

You own a small breakfast hot spot. You need to get the word out you’ve changed the menu or added new items. All your current customers already know what you’re doing because you sell them on any changes with your on-site interactions. But now it’s about people who don’t know right? So, do you hire a salesperson to hit the streets and tell more? Spend precious resources in failed advertising campaigns? Go knock door-to-door yourself after you washed the dishes? Of course not, however what you can do is talk to other like-minded individuals about aspects of your business that is comparable with either troubles or triumphs they too might be experiencing. Speaking at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting about the way gas prices have put pressure on your food suppliers, and the ways you have met these challenges goes a lot further to provide your business with exposure to possible new patrons than “Hello I’m John or Jane from Our Diner. Let me tell you about this week’s menu special.” I also contend this carries far more credibility than if you decided to donate free pastries to the very same event.

John or Jane Smith the owner of Our Diner speaking to other like-minded business people about issues they can relate to is far more effective than trying to sell or tell them this week’s menu. You needn’t even tell them you serve food! That fact was already sold the moment you are introduced as being from Our Diner. And for anyone in attendance whom might never heard of your establishment, they have now. As you can see in this example you’re not appearing like you’re trying to sell, but you are selling. This method greatly enhances your return on that most precious investment called time.

Now whether or not the food is any good is another matter. But you can always hire another cook. What you can’t hire is another salesman like you.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

F.T.W.S.I.J.D.G.I.G.T.

(For those who say I just don’t get it….Get this!)

A while back I wrote about my thoughts when Gene Simmons was on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice and was fired in a pretty dramatic episode. As many of you know it had to do with his vision with promoting Kodak®. As of this writing Kodak has filed for bankruptcy but it doesn’t stop there. In a world where everything is changing it has become abundantly clear to anyone in the print business of any kind that if you are to actually deliver a physical product such as a photograph, newspaper, etc. that business model is just about dead. It’s not increasing but shrinking. So just when you think these CEO’s whom are supposed to be at the least “In touch” with the market show once again like music, magazines, newspapers, and others. They just don’t get it.

To back up my statement here is a quote from a Bloomberg piece on the Kodak story. As I said before in the commodity business, there is always someone to do it cheaper than you. And Printing is a commodity business, Capturing memories is not. So what is a company on its last legs to do? I submit exhibit A…

From Bloomberg.com

“Perez plans to increase Kodak’s share of the consumer inkjet printer market, which he has valued at $45 billion, by designing cheaper replacement cartridges. He wants to dominate commercial printing of magazines, books, newspapers and advertising with high volume inkjet machines that are faster and digitally flexible, to deliver smaller and more customized batches cheaper than old-tech presses and plates as the world moves toward on-demand publishing.”

Just like Vegas, when you’re going broke I guess the best strategy is to double down.

Quick someone loan me their phone. No one will ever believe this without a picture!

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

Captain First, Then Rats, Followed by Women and Children!

The disgraceful actions taken by the Captain of the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia once again remind us that there are people in places of authority regardless of the stellar credentials they may have are nothing more than poor examples of vermin. (My apologies to vermin everywhere)

In the wake of the despicable actions displayed by the captain, it seems that many in the crew were just as easily persuaded that responsibility for passengers ended as soon as something endangered them. All of this so deplorable as to the sanctity of trust it makes one wonder if we can take any refuge in thinking maybe, just maybe, I can put my faith here. It’s starting to seem more and more you can’t.

In today’s world there are so many places that we need to put some form of trust into an individual or company. We can try our best to learn about things so that we can make informed decisions but that goes only so far. You can’t fly a jet liner so you have to trust that the pilots and crew are competent. Neither can you ensure that the money in your retirement account is actually there. Why? Need I remind you of Bernie Madoff? Maybe that’s ancient history now since it happened over 2 years ago so let’s give another example MF Global. You remember them. Their the ones with that guy with the title “The Honorable” John Corzine. (They made sure that placard was shown when he first appeared at the Congressional hearing) It seems for some reason he doesn’t know where BILLIONS of his clients funds are. Maybe we should cut him some slack since billions in his past government positions can be the equivalent of a rounding error. And I guess while we’re at it we should cut the captain and crew of the cruise liner some also. I mean really, did anyone think that if the ship was actually sinking they should be there for help and guidance to the passengers? C’mon the ship is sinking “everyman for themselves” is the true battle cry of these disgusting examples of humanity. So what if an airline captain is found to be drunk as he was flying an airliner full of passengers 30 thousand feet above the Earth near the speed of sound. Maybe it was just a once in a career event, not like anyone got hurt right? It’s us who should lighten up, these guy’s are under real pressure, we don’t understand the tremendous pressures this class of us are under. This is what we’ll hear almost verbatim by the lawyers that will be hired. Just pathetic in my view.

As disgusting as all these example of late may be, it just goes to show you that character matters. And the only way one can reserve the right to be mad at this collection of vermin is that you yourself are leading a life of telling the truth, doing what you promised, doing your best no matter what you’re doing, and just because no one would ever know you did it, you do the right thing because you know. If you don’t, then you have no right to complain when it may be done to you or to others.

Character matters and it begins and ends with you.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr