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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Gardening Lessons

Today’s the day my kids’ small garden gets judged in a countywide 4-H contest. They have participated in this contest the past 5 years, won it once and won reserve champion last year. Because we’re urban gardeners, we only enter the small garden division because we just don’t have the space to be competitive in the large division. We have a larger garden on the other side of our double lot backyard, but our neighbor’s shade trees reduce its food production.

This is not going to be a winning year. Our only shot at being competitive is that perhaps the other entries have struggled through the wet spring like we did. In early spring, during record floods and rainfall, our back yard looked like a lake. On the day of the worst rain, the entire yard was underwater except the high spot where my daughter keeps her backyard chickens. I began searching for a temporary home if we had to evacuate them.

2010 Garden Entry, Reserve Champion Winner

The water receded. Slowly, the ground dried enough to be tilled. We cleared it one Sunday evening in anticipation of its being ready to till Monday morning. That night, another 2 inches of rain fell. A week later, the garden was finally tilled, and we raced to plant. A few days after that, we were able to plant the large garden as well. We barely got it planted when the rain began again.

The garden survived. Normally, the week before our contest judging, the kids prepare the garden to ensure everything is mulched, weeds are gone, and all is well tended. Last week, during a hard rain, water briefly stood in the entire garden again. They couldn’t get into it because their weight would compact the soil. Yesterday, it was borderline dry, and they did what they could.

2008 Small Garden Contest Entry

Later today, a judge will arrive to inspect the garden and ask questions. It won’t be our best year.

The best prize we’ll get this year is in character development. When circumstances are tough, don’t quit. Make the best of what you have and work as much as you can. And in the words of every farmer since time began, remember…

There’s always next year. We can try again.

Stake Your Name

Mr. Leatherman, homesteader, shooting hawks which have been carrying away his chickens, Pie Town, New Mexico (LOC)photo © 1939 The Library of Congress | more info (via: Wylio)
In the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, potential homesteaders raced to stake their claims for free land, as was seen in the movie, Far  and Away.

We have been in a Digital Name Rush for the past 20 years, with people racing to save their name in the digital flavor of the day. It can be hard to predict which platform will become next year’s digital flavor, so general advice is to reserve your name when a new platform appears on the horizon.

Sometimes in that Land Rush, there were disputes over claims; if someone left a claim empty, sometimes someone else took it.

The same thing can happen on social media. I recently learned of high school teachers who opted not to be on Facebook. However, some of their students who didn’t like them created a fake profile for their hated teachers. They snapped photos in school hallways and wrote malicious updates. The teachers got the accounts disabled. However, the damage had already been done.

My best solution? Stake your name.

Yes, you may think a personal Facebook page is a waste of time. Nevertheless, you need a page to stake your name. Put a recognizable photo of yourself on that profile so people know it is you. The average Facebook user has 130 friends. If you belong in the “I won’t use no Facebook camp,” you still need to gather at least 50 friends.

If the unexpected happens, and someone creates a faux you, you have a defense and friends who can help you report the faux you. This is a preventative Facebook measure.

Oh – and if your friend needs to hire someone to help them set up that profile or learn to use Facebook without being burned, I would be glad to help. I might even show them some ways they can use Facebook to build their communities, help their friends, and develop their personal brands.

My Clients are Heroes, Not Sheep

Sheep on bike pathphoto © 2006 Eva | more info (via: Wylio)
I recently saw a tweet where someone said his clients were dumb sheep prone to harming themselves, who needed to be sheered instead of slain.

How sad. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I’ve never had a single client or student who meets that definition.

My clients are heroes. They are incredible people, who have often met challenges and overcome them. My job is to help them leverage technology to make their lives easier and their businesses more efficient. If I didn’t believe in my clients and their potential,  how could I help them achieve greater success?

To me, the most exciting part of my job is to see a light bulb turn on in someone’s heart when they suddenly realize new possibilities or decide to try something new. Once, when I returned to a corporate client after teaching them Excel for the first time the week before, the h.r. manager met me at the door and told me,

 “Mary, you’ve awakened a sleeping giant. Everyone in last week’s class is trying new ways to make their jobs easier with spreadsheets.”

Walt Whitman must have seen the same possibilities I do when he wrote “I Hear America Singing.”

Here’s to the unsung, ordinary heroes who live extraordinary lives.

What do you do that’s extraordinary? If you aren’t sure, I would be glad to help you find it and help you show how remarkable you are by way of social media or other technology.

Your glass isn’t half empty or half full. It’s full to the brim with possibilities.

Go for it!

Profit is NOT a 4-Letter Word

International Money Pile in Cash and Coinsphoto © 2011 epSos .de | more info (via: Wylio)
“I want to copy the graphics of your book series without buying them. Will you email the pictures to me so I don’t have to photocopy them?” A friend of mine who’s written a series of books was once asked that question.

“Will you send me your presentation so I can use it to give to my friends?” I was recently asked. “I can’t afford you so I just want your presentation.”

I strongly believe in helping non-profits and those with challenges. In fact, I’m so sympathetic that my husband told me that my next philanthropic endeavor is to raise money for the Biever Family College Fund.  Profit is NOT a 4-letter word.

My presentations are my work product. I share parts on Slideshare. However, I am not going to give away my full presentation for others to use. My name is on it, and it’s my brand. My time and expertise went into creating it, along with what I say with each part. If I let you use it, I dilute my brand.

I explained to my friend that a lawyer won’t give you a lease template for you to make your own. Instead, the lawyer takes the template and adjusts it to fit your needs, using time and training for which you are charged. The same applies to my work.

I don’t walk into a restaurant and ask them to give me a free meal because my budget is tight. If I don’t have money, I eat somewhere cheaper or fix my own. If I’m desperate, there are food pantries and other resources so I won’t go hungry. Doesn’t the same apply to owners of small businesses?

How to handle the flow of requests for donations of money, products, and me?

Make a donation budget. Plan, pick and choose who you help and how much to help and how much you can afford. When that amount is capped, you can explain to those asking for more that your donation budget for the year has been met and wish them well. When you focus on building your business to make it MORE profitable, then you can help others more in the future.

If you don’t value your own work product and think it’s worthy of buying, no one else will either.

The Socializer

“I can do this!” one of my clients exclaimed after I helped her create a social media schedule that would fit with her business day.

Afterwards, she told people I had “Socialized” her. That inspired this ad campaign, The Socializer. I joked about copy for the ad. Then my husband and daughter of The Copper Lion took my idea of The Socializer last night and created the graphic.

Learning to leverage technology is frustrating. What I do is help you help yourself and find how to make it work for you. We will most likely laugh along the way because a dose of laughter helps the lesson go down.

I wish I could put the theme song to The Equalizer with the graphic. Back in the day, the Equalizer helped equalize the odds of regular people facing tough challenges. I do the same today, as The Socializer.

Frustrated and want to hire some help to make social media (or Excel or Word or Outlook) easier to unravel? Give me a call! Write on my wall! Tweet me! Email me! I’ll be there, ready to help.

Coffeehouse Friends Among Us

Coffee timephoto © 2007 Roger Price | more info (via: Wylio)
My favorite part of business networking is sharing coffee. Earlier this week, I was enjoying a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop with a business coach I had just met. We talked about the importance of talking with people wherever we are.

“I’ve tried many different contact management systems and found the simplest approach is often the best,” he told me. “Your contact management is only as good as the information you put into the system and the effort you put into knowing other people.”

As we talked, the lady who buses tables paused at our table. “I wanted you both to know I’ve liked talking to you and will be leaving soon.” She shared with us that she was moving to another city to be closer to her children and would soon be working her last day.

As I have sipped coffee and discussed business strategies, this lady who buses tables has been extraordinary. When I’ve moved to a table with an electrical outlet, she’s always gone the extra mile to ensure my table is clean. No matter what’s happening in her own life, she’s always been kind and had a smile on her face for customers.

When she chatted with us, I realized my new business acquaintance had let her know she mattered, just as I had. Her character reference of him confirmed my gut instinct that this is someone I wanted to know better and wanted to work with in business.

The person who makes that extra effort to be kind to the bus lady at the coffeeshop just because and not because she’s a potential strategic business ally will most likely go the extra mile in business too.

The best contact management system begins with a dash of human kindness.

6 Ways Tumblr Introduces Blogging to Students

Tumblr Iconphoto © 2007 Chad Swaney | more info (via: Wylio)
If you are looking for a way to introduce teen students to blogging, consider Tumblr. As a free mini-blog platform, Tumblr has a small learning curve but introduces its users to basic blog concepts they will encounter in more complex platforms like WordPress. Tumblr doesn’t have the bells and whistles of WordPress but works. It helps a new student blogger master the concept of blogging on the go via mobile.

How Tumblr introduces blogging to students:

  1. Themes. Users have some selections for themes – some paid and others that are free. Though it lacks the flexibility of WordPress, it helps a student instantly see how a new theme changes the whole feel of a blog. They will learn technical skills that will give them an advantage if/when they move to more complex blogging platforms.
  2. Public/Private Posts. Students who create public accounts will need to be taught common sense public posting – how to share information without being stupid – to reveal themselves without revealing everything.
  3. Mobile Post as You Go. Tumblr lets students begin to experience posts on the go. This is especially helpful with photos and video. Students who develop this mindset will be well-prepared for the next generation of blogging.
  4. Short is Sweet Writing. This platform helps students develop their writing skills for the new generation of web readers. Studies show those who read on the web scan when they read. Students who learn to write things in short snippets will be better prepared to write for this audience. 
  5. Video. Students can learn to embed video on their Tumblr, following the same steps they would with WordPress. This gives them a first taste of embedding code into a post.
  6. Tags. Students learn to tag their posts via category.

Every student heading to college needs to already know how to begin a blog and post on it. They will most likely need to do so for at least one college class. If they learn those skills before college, they can focus more on the quality of their blog content than the technical stresses of beginning a blog. A student can have multiple Tumblr  blogs.

Both WordPress and Tumblr have frustrating learning curves when you first begin to use them. Keep plugging through that frustration, and it will get easier.

Recommended steps to start and master Tumblr:

  1. Customize your name, graphics, and photo.
  2. Post a photo.
  3. Post a blog.
  4. Post a quote.
  5. Post a link to other information.
  6. Embed a video.
  7. Follow other tumblrs.
  8. Reblog what someone else blogs.
  9. Update your tumblr via a smartphone.

After you master these 9 tasks, you’ll be able to maintain your own Tumblr.

Your Profit is My Cheeseball

Cheese Ballsphoto © 2011 Geoff Parsons | more info (via: Wylio)
This week, I gave a presentation about my services to a business networking group.

When a cheeseball company made a presentation at a previous meeting, they brought product samples. The cheeseballs were delicious, and it was easy to imagine serving them at a party. As a computer coach, I don’t have the delicious samples to everyone to taste.

I realized while planning my presentation that I could offer my own version of a cheeseball: a ten minute presentation on how social media can brand you and your business, build your business network to find new business, and broaden your presence. Everyone in a business networking group wants to figure out new ways to make money.

Instead of just listing my products and explaining what services I offered, I folded those products into my presentation and answered a basic need of my audience. They got a taste – a sample – of how I could help their business make money by way of social media.

Good sales presentations are NOT catalogs of who you are or what you offer.

Good sales presentations ARE vehicles by which you inspire the audience to realize how you can meet their business needs.

 As I was told in a management class over 20 years ago, purpose driven beats product driven as a business model every time. If a company that builds refrigerators approaches business from the perspective: we help customers keep their food cold, they will last. If the same company, however, merely thinks: we build refrigerators and sell them, they won’t. Over time, new methods to keep food cold will be developed. The purpose driven company will research better ways to meet customer needs and stay ahead of the pack.

How can you make your business more purpose driven?

Greening Our Diet

: This summer, we decided to greenify our family’s diet and joined Seton Harvest, a CSA (community supported agriculture coop), because it gave us a venue for fresh, local produce that’s certified naturally grown. Our half share in the coop provides us with a minimum of 6 different vegetables each week for 26 weeks.

When I have time, I grind my own wheat to make bread for my family. When I don’t, I’ve generally just bought wheat bread. Now, I buy Nature’s Pride bread at the bread store near our church. The bread has no corn syrup, less sodium, and more fiber and protein per serving.

Having just picked up week 4 of our produce, how has it gone?

New Menus: We’ve gotten kale each week. Other items we’ve gotten include Yukina savoy, escarole, bok choi, tatsoi, and Swiss chard. It took me awhile to figure out how to cook the greens. Our most successful items were crispy, oven-roasted kale and garlic sauteed kale. Tomorrow, I’m going to learn how to cook fresh beets. Salads with fresh lettuce – of many varieties – have become a routine staple. Kohlrabi, cucumbers, and broccoli augment our leafy salads. At least 1 and generally 2 meals daily now include large servings of something green and leafy. My personal favorite was Yukina savoy – I found a Lebanese beef and rice dish to make with its leaves, and the stalks add a celery-type texture with a peppery zing to our salads.

Family Response: They love the bread. Most of the time, my family accepts the greening of our diet. Occasional complaints emerge. When  I sautéed kale, my daughter said she would prefer that to “that crispy kale.” When she learned all the produce was certified naturally grown, she sniffed and said, “You’re just one of those NON-CHEMICAL kind of people.” And I responded yes.

My son told me I could put kale or other greens into any kind of salad with chicken or meat, and he would be fine if he could sneak the green stuff into the trash. (a jest – he doesn’t really do that) He learned when I made the Lebanese beef and rice that it’s not smart to tell your mother after a meal, “That tasted like a fart in my mouth without the smell.”

Benefits: Over the past month, I see improvement. My husband commented our diet change eliminated any acid indigestion he used to have. My family discovered they like bread with flax seed.

Tonight for dinner, we had tacos with salad on the side. I had a surprise with the tacos – for the first time, I bought whole wheat tortillas. Would they eat them? I braced myself for the barrage of complaints. To my surprise, they ate them and asked if I would only buy wheat ones in the future because the flavor is better.

It’s getting easier being green – or at least eating green – one bite and day at a time.

Bells & Whistles Change But Conversations Stay the Same

bellphoto © 2010 Sean McMenemy | more info (via: Wylio)
Don’t get so caught up in the bells and whistles of a social media platform that you forget the basics: it’s a conversation. Listen, respond, add value to the conversation, and don’t bore people. A little love goes a long way. and conversations that teach and delight are the most effective ones.

(Pause while I put on my reading glasses and slip on my Old Geezer boots.)

We’ve had early forms of social media for decades. There was the party line telephone and then the CB radio. When the Internet began, we started to use email and then user groups and email lists. Then social media and texting arrived on the scene. Now we think Skype and more.

With each shift in conversation methods, there is a learning curve. If you fail to adapt to the flavor of the year, you run risks as a business person. Five years ago, one of my husband’s clients told him email was for old people and to only message him on MySpace. So we began our own social media adventure. Our concern was that if we didn’t go where our customers were, our competitors would. MySpace may have come and gone, but our business is still here and growing. Effective use of social media has increased our sales and client base.

Smart strategies can help you leverage those bells and whistles to brand yourself, build your business, and broaden your horizons. If you would like to know how you can do more than play Farmville, to leverage the power of social media, give me a shout.

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