Thursday, January 29, 2009

Download the calendar for February 2009

Last month I started designing a calendar for 2009. I'm posting a new month every month and encourage you to download it, pass it along to your friends or post it somewhere else. February is done and ready for you to enjoy. You can download it here. It's 5x7 and looks great printed on white card stock. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Developing Staff in a Downturn

Following is the text from an article I wrote for the Boston Society of Architects ChapterLetter. The article is geared toward the design community and how important it is to maintain a firm's most important asset - its people, but the basis of the advice applies to any company.

An economic downturn can present a number of opportunities for the forward thinking firm, including developing your staff with free money from the state. The hurdle is the reduction in billable hours and what that means to a firm’s bottom line. Maintaining the right size staff is a challenge for any company in any industry. A balance needs to be achieved in billable hours and overhead and in slowdowns overhead is often first on the chopping block. Instead of reducing staff to the lowest level needed to complete the work in hand, it’s wiser to continue operating with the best staff to help a firm grow. That means keeping those employees with great promise, but minable projects in hand happily employed.

With more overhead hours available there’s more time for professional development, an often-overlooked benefit during times with heavier workloads and more demanding schedules. One way to use a downtime productively is to invest in new technology, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the training it demands. And the silver lining is that many Massachusetts employers are eligible for training grants that can pay from 50 to 100 percent of an employee’s training costs.

Massachusetts has three types of grants available through its Workforce Development Fund. Grants include Express Grants, General Grants and Hiring Incentive Training Grants (HITG). Express Grants are limited to employers with 50 or fewer employees and pay 50 percent of an employee’s training costs within a year, up to $15,000 per applicant. Training courses must be chosen from a pre-approved list of courses registered with the state. Current pre-approved courses include classes on Solidworks and AutoCad; ArchiCAD BIM courses are pending approval and should be included among the pre-approved course list within the month. The grant application is simple and the turn-around time is quick.

General Grants are available to any size company and can be used toward courses of the applicant’s choice. Grant matches can be in-kind or cash and higher levels of grant money are available to companies creating significant job growth or higher levels of job retention. While General Grants can be generous and courses aren’t limited to a pre-approved list, the application process is arduous, requires a significant amount of preparation and can have a three to four month timeframe for approvals.

HITG Grants are available to companies hiring a person who has been unemployed for one year or permanently separated from his/her previous employer. These are the richest grants available from the perspective that there is no monetary employer contribution required toward the training, with the exception of paying the attendee’s wages during the training time. Applications must be filed within 30 days of a new hire’s start date and the application has a quick three day turnaround.

To learn more about Workforce Training Funds or to apply for a grant visit

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tylenol warms Boston

Tylenol's newest outdoor advertising campaign is amazingly cool, or warm as it may be. The company is running a series of advertisements on outdoor bus shelters promoting their warming liquids line. What makes the campaign unique is in addition to the traditional printed billboard, Tylenol has installed heat lamps on the inside of the shelters the company is advertising on. The ads play on the theme of warm up with Tylenol warming liquids and standing in the bus shelter, looking at the ad you can literally warm up. What resonates most about this campaign is the product solves a need (providing a quick warm to your otherwise feverish, cold, sick body) but so too does the advertising. And on a cold Boston day there is nothing better than catching a spot under the heat lamps when you're standing and waiting for the bus. Thank you Tylenol!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Free font helps save ink

Is one of your New Year's resolutions to be more earth friendly? Here's a creative way from SPRANQ to help you achieve your goal. They've developed a font, available as a free download, which uses up to 20 percent less ink than traditional fonts. There has been a lot of emphasis the past few years to reduce paper, but ink usage also contributes to waste. Ecofont, based on the font Verdano, is versitle enough to be used for the majority of your business printing needs such as letters, contracts, faxes and more, which means you could significantly reduce this year's printing budget. It's another opportunity for your business to prove its committement to going green. Download ecofont today and start saving money while doing your part to conserve more resources. Hat tip to Springwise for bringing ecofont to my attention.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's about real connections, not numbers

Dear All, I’d like to expand my network…It’s a statement that’s all too popular on LinkedIn Groups. It’s a bad side effect of the counters used on the various social networking sites – how many friends, how many connections, how many followers and the egos they create as the numbers climb. It’s time to return to the old adage, quality over quantity. Social networking, like traditional networking should be about making real connections, not to serve as a collection spot for the contact information of hundreds of people you don’t know and will probably never know.

I'm not saying don't connect with people you know, even people you know loosely . But I am asking why would you want to connect with a complete stranger whose main goal is to increase the number of his or her connections? If there's no relationship, there's no need to pretend one exists.

Here's some advice for everyone who want to add more connections - get out and meet people. Go to conferences, networking events, seminars, volunteer for an organization that resonates with you, join a neighborhood group, etc. Meet people, have a conversation, think about what value you can offer them, then ask to connect.

Image by Wen Z.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The value of paid membership programs

For the past two years I've purchased the Barnes and Noble Membership Card, but this year when my membership came up for renewal I faltered. My membership served me well. I first purchased it during a period in my life when I was going to graduate school and the discounts on textbooks paid for the membership. The value was there and I was happy to pay the $25 yearly membership fee. There's also the psychological aspect of saving ten percent on all your purchases just feels good, even if it's only on a cup of coffee. And the reality is, after the first outlay of $25 you begin to forget you had to pay for the privilege of saving.

But then life changed, I graduated with my Masters and no longer needed to buy textbooks and Borders set up shop in my neighborhood. Borders has a free membership program, one of the benefits being a weekly coupon, usually for 20 to 30 percent off the list price of one item. I tend to only buy one item at a time so the free membership outweighs the paid membership for me.

The sad thing (for Barnes and Noble) is I still spend an equal amount of time at Barnes and Noble. I prefer Barnes and Noble to Borders. But now I'm just browsing at Barnes and Noble. When I'm ready to make a purchase I wait for my weekly coupon to show up in my email (it was even better when it showed up as a text message to my phone) and I stop in at Borders on my way home from work to pick up the book I eyed at Barnes and Noble.

If you're offering a paid membership program, no matter how insignificant the price - it's best to keep track of your competitors free programs and make sure you outshine the free program in a multitude of ways. The answer need not lay in matching discounts, but could instead focus on service extras. Ideas include priority lines, VIP reading sections in the store, call ahead shopping services, table reservations at the in-store Starbucks, etc. A paid membership program should be more than a blanket discount on goods, it needs to be special and hold true value for the people willing to pay for it, not just a simple calculation of if I spend $250 per year at Barnes and Noble I should purchase the membership card.