Friday For All!

This week has moved pretty quickly, and I’m kicking off my last weekend of true freedom before school starts. Here’s a few great reads:

 

For the designers, via Braid Creative: Imitation vs. Inspiration

For those looking to exit the game, via MMM Blog: The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement

For the marketers, via Daily Muse: Word-of-Mouth Marketing Secrets from Mastermind Saul Colt

For the writers, via Forbes: Want to Co-Author My Next Column? Let’s Collaborate!

 

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My Corporate Life

I’m excited to continue the “My Corporate Life” series on the blog. My goal is to bring in some other corporate perspectives and career paths, so that we can all learn from some other corporate areas and environments. If you would like to be featured in the “My Corporate Life” series, please contact me for the details. I’ll be featuring the guest posts as time permits in my regular posting schedule, and I would love to hear from you!

 

This post was written by FrauTech, an engineer by day and a blogger by night. You can check out her insightful posts at her blog Design.Build.Play. or EngineerBlogs, where she frequently contributes!

 

What I am, professionally: I’m a mechanical engineer working in industry.

What is my daily/weekly job like: I do a little of everything. At the core, I’m making design decisions on products we buy to integrate in our product as well as designing parts and creating drawings for the items we produce. So sometimes I’m calling vendors or researching off the shelf parts. Sometimes I’m working with a vendor to get them to build us a custom part and sometimes I’m making and updating drawings and parts lists and controlling our internal configuration. I also write test plans and go to the lab or out to the field to test the new equipment.

What I like about my job: It’s nice when there’s some project that I get a decent amount of control over. Most programs have so many people senior to me that I’m only doing the work after the design decisions have already been made. But every now and then you get to have more control over your project and it’s very satisfying to see something all the way from conception to design plan to testing to final implementation.

What I don’t like about my job: Probably the same things most people don’t like. There are a lot of personalities and a lot of engineers at many levels, including into management. People don’t always agree on what the best thing to do and many departments are quick to point the finger at each other.

What’s the next level for an engineer: Some engineers move into senior technical specialist roles and many others move into lead and management positions. Though I’m comparatively junior, I find that you are forced to move up into project management types of responsibilities rather quickly and already spend a quarter of my time in meetings. If you work for a large corporation, as I do, there are many options that might be available to you.

 

Thanks, FrauTech, for sharing your corporate life!

First Impressions

This outfit garnered comments like, "cute" and "trendy" when I wore it to the office.

Dress: Target

Cardigan: Target

Bracelet: Target

Tights: Target

Scarf: NY & Co.

Earrings: NY & Co.

Boots: Charlotte Russe

Belt: Forever21

Like the outfit? See more details here!

 

With the New Year, my gym has been particularly crowded with people trying to improve their appearance. And, my workplace is on a “spring cleaning and updating” mission, so I’ve got first impressions on the brain.

I’m working on another office decor project, which includes paint and furniture to improve the look of our conference rooms. We’re setting up a coffee bar in our big conference room, and we’re getting nice mugs with our logo on them. We want our guests (ie: future customers or potential investors) to feel like we’re put together, welcoming, and that we have superb attention to detail. The first impression is crucial, from the moment they walk into our office, not just when they tour the shop.

The same is true for candidate or new business meetings. It’s said that people will make a judgement about you in the first 10 seconds of meeting you, so every aspect of your appearance and demeanor need to be perfect, the moment you walk in the door. Your hair, clothes, posture, and tone of voice are all taken into consideration before the interview even starts!

The first impression is a double-edged sword though, as you can’t tell everything about a person or a place just by looking at it. Here’s a few reasons why things aren’t always as they seem:

– We’re trying to make everything top quality in the office, so that our customers and investors will think that everything we do is top quality. But, we offer significant cost-savings as our main value proposition in the marketplace. So, isn’t it somewhat counter-intuitive to spend top dollar are centerpieces and coffee mugs? Maybe we spend less on our appearance so that we can spend that money on higher quality tooling and more experienced technicians?

– There are many physical components of my job, and in my interview suit and heels, I may not look like I can bend and move in ways that allow me to lift heavy boxes or assemble a booth. But don’t be fooled! I can put on jeans and flats with the best of ’em, and I’m quite strong for my size.

– Does the “flashy” approach make people question your authenticity and competence? When you’re so stunned by the beauty of the office, or the quality of the suit material, does it make you wonder if the man behind the mask lives up to the facade? Sometimes perfection makes people look harder to find something wrong, so maybe we shouldn’t try so hard to hide “flaws” that don’t impact the quality of the work? For example, many career coaches would probably tell me to cut and straighten my hair, since this would make me appear more “professional”. Licensed decorators would tell me to buy bigger, thicker, more ornate frames for the office, instead of the simple, reasonable quality that I chose to maximize the value.

First impressions can make or break a deal, and I do think that we need to put our best foot (or table) forward. But, I think there’s a lot that goes into creating a first impression, and the reasons behind one choice or another may actually make a candidate or business more attractive. As the old cliche says, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”… and I’ll add, try to take a look past the facade before making your decision! Like the outfit? Click here for more details!

Chess, Poker or Basketball?

I’ve been thinking lately about how business is a game, but pondering which game it most resembles. I’ve come up with three that seem to fit the bill, but I’ve got more caveats and games running through my mind, so this post may get another look if any of those ideas strike me as more relevant in the future! I’ve decided to look at business through the lens of chess, poker, and basketball:

 

Chess

Players: you vs. “the system”

Strategy and gameplay: Slow, methodical pace, long-term strategy, no second changes, winner-take-all

Playing business chess: At first, I thought business was a lot like chess, with two big players trying to take the king. “The system” wants only the best, so it weeds people out at every stage, from the rejection letter for your #1 college choice, to the denial of a promotion, to getting laid off just before your pension kicks in (granted, my generation doesn’t get a pension, so technically, we got weeded out even earlier!). I definitely viewed my career as a chess game for the first few years out of college, thinking that it was me vs. everything that didn’t want me to succeed. I’ve since found, though, that the system is not nearly as methodical as we think it is, and there’s a lot of dumb luck and a lot of winding roads to end up at a version of success. Sure, it may be a chess game on a particular deal, at the highest level of the organization, but I think business is too messy to really be considered a gentleman’s game.

 

Poker

Players: you, your colleagues, your professors, and your bosses

Strategy and gameplay: everyone makes decisions with imperfect and incomplete information, based on a combination “gut instincts” and statistics, ability to walk away after each hand, allowing for “degrees” of winning, combination of long-term and short-term strategies, strategies are often dependent on who you’re playing with

Playing business poker: I think business is much more similar to poker, in that it’s a much more fluid game, with many more opportunities to fix your mistakes. Bet too much on a bluff? Don’t worry, you’ll be dealt a new hand in just a few minutes. Now, poker only allows for so many mistakes, because eventually, you run out of money. The same is true in business. Didn’t get the promotion this year? Don’t worry, you can apply to different companies, make a move to another group within the organization, or bust your butt and get the promotion next year! Business also using incomplete information, so you have to use your knowledge, and instincts, to make the right play, with the right person. Your “tells” change based on who you’re doing business with, and you can’t use the same strategy with every partner (or adversary, as the case may be).

 

Basketball

Players: you, your team, and your opponent

Strategy and gameplay: short-term, fluid strategy, real-time decision-making, team effort, starting over after each score, ability to “come back” many times, fast-paced, physical vs. mental

Playing business basketball: To me, basketball is a much more appropriate game to represent business. I think most companies want to foster a cooperative, team environment, where everyone plays on their strengths. Maybe you’re the person with the slam-dunk, closing deals, and getting contracts signed. Or, you’re the person who runs faster than everyone else, so when there’s a quick deadline, they call you. Maybe you can block and play defense better than your team mates, so they bring you in for the hardcore negotiations and legal issues. I also think business strategy can turn in a flash, just like a basketball game. You were going to pass the ball, but you’re being covered, so you have to pivot until you find your next move in basketball. One of your employees received another offer… do you counter-offer or let them move on? You’ve also got the ability to sub out players in basketball, and you can make sure you put your best players in for business as well. Essentially, the fast pace of basketball allows for you to mold your team and your strategy into the best version for that moment.

I’m still not sure which game is correct, and I think it depends a lot of the industry and organization size. Larger companies with more bureaucracy may play more like chess, while start-ups go the scrappy basketball route. I think there’s also applicability on an individual level, and individuals may play differently than their organization. How do you play the business game?

 

It Started…

Remember the name-change can of worms I mentioned last week? The brand insanity has started! I got a request for letter head first thing this morning, which forced the issue of the plans for a web presence. Since the letter head requires a website URL, I mentioned that a URL required some content. The problem is that, as I mentioned last week, the Parent Company’s website doesn’t really have a place for the new company’s information. I’m currently trying to create a website within a website, and it’s a little complicated.

The “Contact Us” page in the main navigation bar gives the information for the Parent Company’s employees. But, since those employees don’t handle New Company’s endeavors, we need a contact page for New Company. So, I’m making a link to the contact page for New Company that will live on the homepage for New Company.

The top-level navigation also proves difficult, because we’ve got an “About Us” tab, “Portfolio” tab, and a “News” tab. Where should New Company tab go? It needs it’s own tab, so that visitors can quickly find the information, but technically, it’s part of Parent Company’s portfolio. And, this will be the only tab in the top-level nav bar for New Company, which will probably confuse visitors that end up on pages that are linked from New Company’s homepage.

So, I’m currently mucking around in some website code, trying to figure out the best way to create, link, and organize all this other information. I’m also trying to either use content that was supposed to be for the Child Company that we originally branded, or create new content out of thin air. Top that off with a tiny little deadline off…. oh, whenever they send the letter head to a customer, and this is making for a crazy day! Tips for on-the-fly page creation are much appreciated!

Happy Friday!

It’s been a little difficult to get back in the swing of things, but at least it was only a 4-day workweek! I’ll be enjoying one of my last free weekends before school starts, so here’s some great reads to kick off a great weekend!

 

For the freelancers and independent consultants, via Jeremy&Kathleen: When to Work for Free

For the job seeker, via JobJenny blog (great blog, highly recommend browsing through!): Oh you love shoes and sports, do you?

For the marketer, via Seth’s Blog: A Hundred Little Things

For the busy professional, via Corporette: The Perfect Planner/Calendar

 

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Get ’em Hooked

The screensaver with the "upgrade" option.

 

I had a pretty humorous exchange with my boss yesterday about the Kindle Fire he received for Christmas. He was testing out all the different buttons, settings, and options, and he was excited to show me the screensaver he’d picked out. The screensaver is a picture of a coral reef, and every few seconds, some bubbles float up, and a blue or an orange fish swim across the screen. Pretty engaging little picture, I must say! He commented that he wished there were more bubbles and more fish, and I said that there was probably an option on the settings menu to make the fish and bubbles come up faster, or in different patterns. Upon clicking into the settings menu, he was given the option to purchase an “upgrade” to the screensaver app that would give him all sorts of options on speed, fish variety, and many other COOL features!! I laughed and said, “Smart marketers”. He shook his head and said, “Evil marketers!” He didn’t buy the upgrade, but I found this to be a classic marketing case. So, what did the app marketers do right, and why couldn’t they close the sale?

Hook ’em up front. These marketers used the tried-and-true “free trial”, which allows the customer to decide, risk-free, if they like the product. This has become particularly popular in the tech world, since the results are immediate, and once people learn to use the system, the opportunity cost to switch is generally high enough that they’ll just click “purchase” at the end of the trial. For things like games online, customers want to keep their score, and for the low, low price of $1, they can keep playing!

Make ’em think it was their idea. Marketers know that if someone decides they want something on their own, it’s much easier to convince them that the something they want, is something you provide (as opposed to trying to convince them that they want anything in the first place). So, my boss decided that he wanted more control of the settings all by himself. This means that when he went into the settings menu, he was already primed to do something to meet the needs he already saw for himself. It’s marketing gold if you can find a way to have a natural lead-in to paid features, such that customers already want the feature, and it just so happens that you have the feature available… for a small fee. Depending on the product, the “small fee” might make customers shake their head and think, “evil marketer”, or they might be glad that the provider has already thought of ways to meet their needs.

Make ’em think it’s not frivolous. This is where the app marketers failed to close the sale with my boss. I don’t know how much the upgrade cost, but it was enough that my boss thought it wasn’t worth it. There could be several explanations for this; maybe he thought it was too frivolous, or he didn’t want to be “duped” by the “gimmick” (see his reaction to the “evil marketer”), or maybe he just isn’t the type of person to spend money on apps for his mobile devices. People are willing to spend money on tons of frivolous online endeavors, from Angry Birds, to Farmville, to using real dollars to purchase gold on WoW, so it’s not that the product itself just won’t sell. Huge volume sales are the key to profitability for many of these apps. Of the millions of people with access, you only need to capture a small percentage of them to make a decent revenue. Again, marketing gold if you can convince the customer that your game, app, or “virtual capital” is worth dollars in real life.

I still think the Kindle app people were smart marketers, even though they failed to coax my boss into a purchase. Have you ever been “hooked”? Were you impressed or annoyed at the marketing ploy?

Can of Worms

One of my companies recently opened a massive can of worms when it comes to branding. It’s like a project premise from Marketing 101, and if it hadn’t been dropped on me AFTER the fact, I would have really enjoyed this intersection of academia and real-world application. Unfortunately, this branding challenge was dropped on me after it was too late to make a strategic decision. So, now I’m trying to strategize backwards. It makes for fun (well, fun for us marketing nerds) thoughts on branding! Let’s take a look at a few of the challenges I’m facing, shall we?

Company structure. I work for the Parent Company, and this Parent Company is strictly a holding company for Child Company A, B, and C. Parent Company doesn’t actually buy, sell, make, or distribute anything, other than money and marketing prowess to the Child Companies. Child Company B buys, sells, and services aircraft parts and engines. Child Company B recently went into a new market under the name Child Company B, Country. Unfortunately, another company in the new country has a very similar name, so all of the incorporation documents were denied, unless we used a different name. Parent Company decides to just use the name “Parent Company” for this new market. The problem is, Parent Company isn’t actually in the business, and it would mess up a lot of things for Parent Company to enter the business!

Name recognition. In preparation for full-fledged entry into the new market, Child Company B has been actively working for brand awareness. They’ve attended trade shows with a booth that proudly displays “Child Company B”, they’ve handed out business cards with the name “Child Company B”, and they’ve had tons of promotional items and marketing collateral printed and distributed to get people thinking about buying from “Child Company B”. Now, all of a sudden, we’re talking about making people buy from Parent Company… who they’ve never heard of… and never met… and who doesn’t actually even operate in the business! We’ve built a pretty strong reputation as Child Company B, so it’s not just starting from scratch, it’s backtracking!

Logos, websites, and names, oh my! A name change for a company is not as simple as just writing out a new name on a form. There’s logos, websites, promo items, letterhead, email addresses, and the list goes on! From an IT perspective, all of the personnel from Child Company B have emails @childcompanyb.com, and all of the contacts for each rep have saved the reps as @childcompanyb.com. We’ll need to have a completely new set of business cards made, and we’ll need to change all the servers to give them new addresses. We just finished a huge website overhaul for Child Company B, which included several sections on our new market offering. And, we can’t just cut and paste that content in to Parent Company’s site, because Child Company B’s endeavors are completely different and completely separate from Parent Company’s! A “name change” touches so many areas of marketing, and in many cases, kills the brand momentum we’ve already started.

I’m the only “marketer” in my company, and this change was made on-the-fly, so I don’t think management realizes that complexity of this can of worms yet. So, cheers to a marketing case study, right off the bat in 2012! I’m excited to see what I can pull off for this project, and I foresee some interesting blog posts about my action items in the next few weeks.

 

Once…

Happy New Year! It’s time to make resolutions, reflect on the progress made in 2011, and generally consider the bright future ahead in 2012. But, I’d like to take a slightly different look at the New Year, by focusing on the word “once”. I think “once” holds us back sometimes, and instead of using goals, resolutions, and the new year to our advantage, we hide behind it. Here’s a few of my “once” problem statements:

– Once I finish my MBA, I’ll have more time to work out and be involved in creative endeavors.

– Once I get the MBA job, we’ll be able to meet the big financial goals.

– Once we buy a house, I’ll host guests and cook at home all the time.

– Once the New Year hits, I’ll get back to eating healthy, blogging regularly, studying harder, and coming in to work early.

See the theme? I’ve got plenty of goals and things that I want to do in life, but I keep hiding behind some other event. The thing is, once I finish the prerequisite, something else will pop up, and I’ll still be deferring my plans until the new prerequisite is fulfilled. This is how people get to old age, look back on their lives, and realize that they missed out on all the things they said they valued. There’s no magic in a New Year, and there’s no reason I can’t start accomplishing things right now, right where I am.

So, I think my New Year’s resolution is to stop hiding behind long-term goals, to let go of “once”. I’ve talked many times about being ready to take the opportunity, golden handcuffs, passion, and doing something stupid. I’ve found that putting off until tomorrow what I should do today is ultimately unfruitful, even if “today’s” endeavors are noble. What are your New Year’s resolutions? Do you hide behind “once”?