MonthFebruary 2011

A Simple Afternoon Haircut

Originally written this summer, in the days leading up to my marriage to a wonderful woman.

So today I got my haircut. A long overdue errand which rendered me looking more like my driver’s license (taken during a particularly lazy and long-hair growing effort in college) and less like the sleek, sexy, fiancée, to be married in less than a month man who I am.

And I had a thought as I was attempting to communicate to Donna, a nice but nearly impossible to understand Asian woman who was cutting my hair how much the hair cutting experience has changed since I was growing up. I grew up in a small town where there were two barbers. I went to one, Potter’s Barber Shop, religiously. The fellow who owned and ran the place was named Mark Brennan (I believe, his last name wasn’t Potter as everyone in town assumed who did not know him).

I went to his shop from an early age. I was taken there by my parents at first then starting going on my own not only because it was familiar to me. But I loved the atmosphere. Mark was a jovial man and loved to talk sports. I’d listen to the old timer’s talk about the Redskins and the Orioles (this was long after the Washington Senators and long before the Washington Nationals). As I grew I’d interject and we’d shoot the breeze about sports. Local, college, professional. It didn’t matter.

It was great fun and great banter. Later in life when I was middle school I did a little bit of work for Mark. You see, he also started running a sports card business out of the shop. And I helped kids with cards from the case, and rang up customers for cards as he cut hair. He paid me in cards since I was completely hooked on them at that point and clearly didn’t have a good understanding of money.

But I was happy and he was happy to have me since he could focus on hair while I sold cards and when we needed his advice, he would pause, provide it, and keep on cutting. I loved my first job there. I was always excited to come home with my new packs of cards and see what gems were hidden inside.

That was part of the fun of card collecting as a boy. You never knew who you were going to get in a pack of cards. What rookie card would one day become valuable. What special edition card you’d get a hold of. Who you could find, then trade to a friend for a card you wanted. I was a big Karl Malone fan. Partially because we shared a name but mostly because I just loved the way he played. He was a big man who had a soft touch. He could pound the boards just as easily as he could hit the 20’ jumper. I loved to watch him play with John Stockton, The two of them were magic on the court.

This all hit me today as I was sitting in the chair, surrounded by women in curlers, a cacophony of voices young and old, and the din of a hair salon. And I thought back to that simpler time and simpler place. Three chairs. One case of cards off to the side. A couple different boxes of cards lining the back wall, a tiny bathroom, small coat rack and about a half-dozen chairs and benches along with a generous selection of magazines to read or thumb through.

I miss those hair cuts with Mark. Shooting the breeze about the upcoming football season. Looking at the row of autographed pictures he had from the various Redskins and other professional athletes he had met. I feel like that was a simpler time in a simpler place not too far away from where I am now. A mere 60 miles to the west. Over a mountain and into a sleepy little country town.

Getting Started with Social Networking for your Business, Part II

Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

In this second part of our article on social networking, I answer several questions about how to establish your prescence on Facebook and Twitter.

I understand that you need a personal Facebook account before you can set up a business account. The business account is in some way linked to the personal. Is that correct?

If you have a personal Facebook account, you can use that account to create your business page. If you set up the business account from your personal account, you will be able to interact with friends and family through the personal account and still have the ability to maintain your business page. There is a procedure for creating an account for business use only, but you will not have the usual level of interaction with others that a Facebook account provides. It is probably best to create a personal account, and then set up your business account from there.

Keep in mind that your personal page and the business page are separate from each other. If you decide, after creating a business Facebook account, that you’d like to interact with people on Facebook, there is a “Create your profile” link on the top of the business account. After clicking, Facebook will ask you for additional information beyond the email address and birth date required for the business account creation. Facebook does not allow one person to maintain multiple accounts.

To create a business account, go to this page, which will walk you through the process. Facebook has created a Frequently Asked Questions page, to assist with initial setup and getting started questions. Scroll to the bottom of the page for Business Account specific information.

Someone mentioned that if a business has 25 or more friends/followers (or whatever the terminology is) they can get a shortened Facebook address (username) with the business name. Any ideas on this?

When a business account is first setup the URL will be http://facebook.com/pages/YourBusinessName. Once your page has 25 fans you can claim a username for your page. The username becomes your new URL. In Facebook terms, a fan is a person who goes to your page and clicks the “like” button. For instance, if you to go http://facebook.com/coke you will be redirected to Coca-Cola’s page. On the very top of the page it says Coca-Cola with a Like button. Click that button to become a fan of Coke. The same applies to your business page. Once 25 people have become fans, head over to http://facebook.com/username and select a name for your page. If you get an error saying you’re ineligible, it most likely means you do not have 25 fans yet. Be advised, it is possible to change your username but you can only do so once so choose wisely.

Once I have a page setup, how can I get people to visit my page? Mashable (a site offering news and information about social and digital media) offers a good, basic guide to getting people to visit your page here.

I’ve read that Twitter has put out a helpful guide for business users. Where can I find this guide?

Facebook is pretty straight forward for anyone who remembers their old high school or college face books. Twitter, on the other hand, can be a confusing and scary world of short messages and weird symbols. Thankfully, Twitter has put together a comprehensive guide for businesses that want to use Twitter. It is located at http://business.twitter.com/twitter101. This guide will walk you through everything from getting started and learning the lingo to best practices and case studies. This will help you determine if Twitter is right for you. While in most cases, Facebook is right for just about anyone, Twitter is a little trickier. This guide will help you decide if Twitter can help your business, and will help you decode the jargon on Twitter.

Getting Started with Social Networking for your Business, Part I

Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

You can’t walk down the street or visit a web page without seeing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace or some other site calling for your attention. Like it or not, social networking is here to stay. The World Wide Web is evolving; it started out similar to traditional media with a broadcast style. Someone would post information on a website; others would read it with limited interaction.

Now, the web is evolving into a far greater social experience. The social web is a two-way street. When you talk to your customers, they can talk back, for better or for worse. The old broadcast style is losing out to conversations. This can be great for your business. Instead of talking at your customers and hoping they hear you, you can now talk to them and the feedback you’ll get will tell you whether your message is working.

Social Networking is not hard. In most cases, it requires an email address and five minutes of your day. The real difficulty is how you use your social networking presence. Just as everyone can put up a web page, everyone can set up a Facebook account or Twitter feed. Driving your customers to them is the challenge.

How do you get people there? You engage them. Remember, the web is a conversation. Have a friendly tone. Remember yo’re talking to people, not at them. Run offers and specials for those who see your page. Give people a reason to keep coming back. You have an opportunity to capture their attention like never before. In the case of Twitter and Facebook, if a customer chooses to “Like” or “Follow” your page, every time you post they will see it in their stream of other updates.

The effectiveness of your social media marketing depends entirely on how well it’s planned. Creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t guarantee results. You have to put a public face on your company. Make yourself likeable. Provide value to your customers. For instance, if you’ve recently had a large job canceled with an odd color or size of paper, let your customers know. “50% off all prints on lime green paper. Supply limited, get it until it’s gone!” Demoing a new machine? Tell them about it! “See our new XYZ 1000 demo, save 20% on color prints using the new machine. One week only!”

Just as you would in traditional advertising, you should give people a call to action. Get them into the store and keep your current customers up to date with new savings or machinery announcements. Where you’d never run a print or radio ad about having 5,000 sheets of lime green stock from a canceled job, you can post to Facebook about it for free, and a bargain-hunting customer could take it off your hands quickly. Social networking gives you the freedom to reach out to your customers in ways they may not have previously expected, and the connections you build with it can benefit you both.

Some thoughts on Internet Security

Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

It’s not a glamorous topic. When you hear the words Internet Security, the first thing that pops into your head is probably viruses, spyware, phishing and other tribulations of the Internet.
However, there is another type of internet security you should be aware of, and that’s security for your web site. We have recent reports of two sites that were defaced or hacked in some way. Unlike the image you see on the news, of the elite hacker sitting for days engineering a secret way into web sites, both of these problems could have been easily prevented with a few minutes of time and a little attention.

First, create a good password. This goes for passwords to your server (FTP or File-editing access), passwords to your email, and passwords to your web software, like an online ordering system. I’m not saying you have to make the password look like “Th1SizAg0OdP@s$w0Rd” but also don’t make them “password” or “CopyShop” or your company, spouse, pet, or child’s name. Birthdays are also a very common source of passwords. The idea is not to make the password so difficult you will never remember it, but also to make it hard enough that no one would be able to guess it with a few minutes of trying.

Second, keep your software up to date. If you are running a content management system (CMS), online ordering system, or shopping cart of any type, make sure it is up to date. New releases of these applications often contain security fixes to help keep out would-be intruders. While this may sound daunting, many modern web applications like these have simple update links to click and they will update automatically. Similarly, many web hosts provide a “1-Click” update functionality. Of course, if you’re working with a company to provide your web site then they should already be taking care of this for you.

Third, keep a critical eye. This is not so much a tip as just a warning to remain vigilant. Often times, intruders gain access to systems not by hacking them by guessing passwords, or exploiting flaws in software, but by “social engineering”. Social engineering is a fancy word for trickery. One of the more common forms is a fake email pretending to be from a trusted source such as a friend or colleague, a paper or supply vendor, a large retailer like Amazon, or even your bank. The purpose of these fake emails is to direct you to a web page that mimics the look of the actual page and getting you to enter your username and password so they can then turn around and access your accounts without your knowledge.

A good rule of thumb is that if something looks suspicious, it probably is. If you get an email about a recent order from amazon.com that you never placed, or a note from your bank about a large purchase you don’t remember making, don’t click the link in the email, as it is most likely going to redirect you to a fake site. Go to your browser and type in amazon.com or YourBanksName.com. If you have any question, a call to customer service is a surefire way to verify the authenticity of the message.

All of these are simple things you can do to save yourself hours of headaches and repair work should your website or server become compromised. The moral of Internet Security really is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Stats and false idols

When I started going to the gym I was obsessed with stats. How far could I walk? How much weight did I lift? What did I accomplish when I was there?

And that discouraged me. I had to hit the magical numbers I told myself I had to keep the same pace. I had to keep up. Otherwise, what was the point in going at all?

I was missing the point. I need to get up and get to the gym. The rest doesn’t matter.

I need to break out of the funk and haze filling my head. I need to lose the cloak of exhaustion weighing heavily on my shoulders. I need to get to the gym. The free one. The one a short couple floors below me where I live. I need to stand up and walk downstairs. It could not be much easier.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Chinese Proverb

The journey is to regain control of my weight and with it my health and lifestyle. That single step is that first step out the front door towards the gym. I am working to make that first step a habit so I can follow it with many more steps. I am on the journey. I am making the steps.

I need to discard the false idols along the way. They only pretend to be short cuts, cheats or dead ends on my journey.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/peroty/status/33357232712196096″]

Stats were my first false idol I had to discard. When I started it, I was convinced if I tracked my progress in terms of calories burned, miles moved, and weight lifted it would keep me coming back. In reality, it became overhead. Another set of data I had to record, categorize and track. It became a road block.

As of tonight I have removed that road block.

Gone are the iPhone apps to record my workouts. Gone is the need to capture the “Great Workout!” screen of the treadmill. Gone are the list of reps and weights.

Tonight is a check mark. Yes, I went to the gym.

With the help of a pared down Health Month I intend to keep my journey going and make it to the end of my thousandth mile.