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Affiliates piggy-back on your brand! Beware!

I use a special email service that lets me create a unique email address every time I sign up for a mailing list. I sign up for Amazon as “amazon@specialdomain.com.” Bill’s Bait Shop knows me as billsbaitshop@specialdomain.com. If one day, ads for body part enlargement powder starts arriving in my amazon@specialdomain.com mailbox, I know that either Amazon sold my email address or their list was stolen.

A few months ago, a friend of mine whose newsletter I subscribe to did an affiliate deal with a company we’ll call TalkTalk, Inc. I don’t even remember what joint product they were pitching, but at the end of the day, I was supporting my friend by being part of his program.

Unfortunately, TalkTalk, Inc. is run by professional marketers. Or at least, by people who believe themselves to be professional marketers. They’ve flooded my inbox with missive after annoying missive. Each one has arrived at the inbox previously reserved for my friend’s materials.

TalkTalk sends so many messages that my friend’s messages get buried beneath TalkTalk’s, and his decision to partner with TalkTalk would have me doubting his judgment and the judgment of his affiliates. Since I know him, I know he would never do this to his own list, but still… TalkTalk’s behavior reflects on him.

And therein lies the lesson: if you have an affiliate marketing arrangement with a partner, make sure you know how each of you will present yourselves to the other’s list. Affiliate relationships can be very powerful, but they tie your brands together in a way where your brand is now affected by their actions. You may wish to negotiate up front how many messages your partner can send to your list. Have your partner invite people to sign up for their list, but don’t let them simply piggy-back on yours. Your subscribers didn’t sign up for TalkTalk, they signed up for you. Honor them and feed your own sense of self-worth by giving them you, you, and only you.

How do I manage my brand/content given my forthcoming book?

I’m coming out with the book, “The Get-it-Done Guy’s Nine Steps to Work Less and Do More” in August 2010. I’d like to build a business around the book that’s sufficient to support me. My theory is that step one is building an audience. I want to build my audience as large as possible between now and when the book comes out. The question is: which audience? With which content? How? And is there any money attached (I have mortgage payments to make)?

My content and expertise spans three largely independent areas. While there’s some overlap, the markets and products are pretty much different. I have blogs and newsletters in multiple areas and keeping all of it going for the next year is a huge amount of effort. Right now my priority is purely to build enough of a following to make the book a big hit. Here’s all the stuff I’m doing:

Personal productivity (2 blogs, Facebook page, newsletter, show website). The Get-it-Done Guy. This is the weekly podcast that I host, but do not own. We’ll be adding a tip-of-the-week newsletter as well. There’s a Get-it-Done Guy blog that belongs to me (you’re reading it), a website for the show (http://getitdone.quickanddirtytips.com) with episode transcripts and archives, a Facebook page for the show that has episode transcripts, and someday a book website. I have an email overload audiocourse “You Are Not Your Inbox” but sales are low enough that I’m not sure it’s a viable product.

Entrepreneurship and Leadership (website, newsletter, blog, prior reputation). This was the focus of my coaching business, which I shut down to work at Babson College (#1 for entrepreneurship in the world, 15 years running) last year. My former professional brand is around entrepreneurship and leadership. I’ve been an expert columnist in Entrepreneur.com and on Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, appeared in all the major publications (NYTimes, WSJ, etc.), etc. I have a website (https://www.steverrobbins.com, with its own entrepreneurship subsection), a ten-year newsletter that’s been dormant for about 6 months, and a business-oriented blog. This seems to me to be the “highest status” area, but I’ve been doing it for quite a while and am in the mood for a change.

Career development (product ideas, but no “official” brand here). This came about after I had been volunteering as a career coach for Harvard Business School’s career coaching staff for several years. I saw many students making assumptions about careers and career planning that were flat out wrong. While I’ve never done much with this in terms of professional offerings, it’s an area where I have something to add, at least in terms of creating a product or two. I have a free resource page I used to give students who were working on cover letters: https://www.steverrobbins.com/coverletter

My quandry

My immediate quandry is where should I focus my online and social media presence, brand, and efforts? Maintaining two newsletters (leadership and Get-it-Done Guy), multiple blogs, and developing products in multiple areas is a lot of work. Is there some way this can all be combined? Should it be? Should I simply say adieu to some of my offerings? Should I continue to take coaching and consulting clients even though I’m not promoting that part of my business? Keep in mind I don’t own the Get-it-Done Guy brand, so anything done with that brand and trademark must likely be done in conjunction with Macmillan.

What are your thoughts? I’m less interested in branding issues right now (my ultimate brand will be Stever Robbins, an umbrella for everything I do), and much more interested in where to focus my efforts. Should I restart my business/entrepreneurship/leadership newsletter? Should I shut it down completely? Should I blog everywhere? Should I keep only one blog? etc.

How does your network benefit you?

I’m writing a passage in my book about the power of having a large network. The more supporters you have, the more your network can support you without being a burden on any one member of your community.

Do you have any examples of how your network has helped you? As usual, your response constitutes approval to use your comments in the book.


What causes you stress?

I’m working on the book’s “de-stressing” chapter. I’m not happy with the current draft and want to reorganize it. I’m brainstorming about different causes of stress and how that might drive the chapter.

What are your major causes of stress? Mine are deadlines, broken software or hardware, bad customer service reps, and low blood sugar.

How about you?

(Please note that by posting a comment, you agree it can be used in the book. If you want specific attribution, please mention it in your comment.)

To Cut or Not To Cut

The reality of my current book draft is that I need to cut a lot. Thanks to my not understanding the difference between pages in Word and printed pages, my last manuscript was about twice the length the book needs to be.

The organizing principle for the book is my tag line: Work Less and Do More.

My editor just unveiled to me her suggestion that we cut two of the longest chapters entirely: Building stronger relationships and Persuading People.

Her argument is that those topics have the least to do directly with Working Less and Doing More. While I see a clear connection between engaging and persuading others and rallying them to your cause (I am, after all, a leadership development guy), in a book on personal productivity, they just might not be a close fit, especially if I’m 30,000 words over my word limit.

I’m emotionally invested.

Yet some of the material in these chapters is near and dear to my heart. I have some tips in both areas developed from my years involved with social psychology, cognitive psych, and NLP that I think people will find very valuable. But … maybe not quite on topic with the book.

I think deep down inside, I’m afraid if I take these out, people will think of me as too much of just a “label your file folders” kind of guy. To me, the people side of the equation is really key to living a good life (that’s the “do more” part), and when I go out to talk about the book, I’d like to be able to make it clear that I’m not just about sorting your paper clips. To me, that’s “work less” and is the least important part of working less and doing more.

Having a fulfilling life, however you define it, is “do more,” the most important part. For some people, that may mean sorting their paper clips. For others, it may mean building a multinational consortium to develop clean energy. For others, it may mean being a good spousal equivalent and parental unit. For others, it may be about catching the perfect wave, regardless of whether anyone else is even there to see.

My inner motivation is all about helping people reach their full potential. Being organized and efficient is only part of what that’s about for me.

What do you think?

  • Do the topics fit?
  • Should I cut them entirely?
  • Can I eliminate them from the book without slotting myself into a narrow, “clean your office” type niche? (David Allen, for example, is very much about having a Zen mind, even though his techniques live in the details. Very much like mine.)
  • Should I save them for a future book?
  • Maybe they become part of my speeches based on the book, even though they’re not directly the book.

I’d value your feedback, because I’m a bit too emotionally attached to the material to be objective.

    How do you define multitasking?

    I’m working on my book chapter about multi-tasking. There are studies out there that show multitasking severely degrades performance. From what I can tell, however, they’re talking about trying to do two things at exactly the same time. For example, talking on the phone and typing an email.

    The kind of multitasking I find particularly pernicious is having multiple conflicting “top priorities,” which results in my spinning my wheels back and forth over the course of a day and doing less good work on either project. So it’s not at-exactly-the-same-time multitasking, but more like, rapid-switching-between-incompatible-tasks multitasking.

    When my friend C— thinks of multitasking, she thinks of teenagers listening to music, IMing, and doing homework. To me, that seems less like multitasking and more like multi-sensory stimulation. Though if the IMing happens during homework problems (as opposed to between them), it could fit the definition of multitasking.

    What does multi-tasking mean to you? Is there a difference for you between the do-things-at-same-time versus have-many-things-on-your-plate-and-switch-frenetically-between them?

    Please note: by answering, you’re saying it’s fine for me to put your answers in my book chapter. Unless you give me other attribution, in the credits I’ll try to list your Blog login name or your full name if you include it somewhere in your post.

    Don’t use price to choose a computer!

    As you know if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I own both a Mac and a PC. I’ve been a PC user since MS-DOS-only machines. Two years ago I switched to a Mac after having to do three complete disk wipes + reinstalls on my Windows machines (two desktops and a laptop) in the space of six months. I continue to own both systems, and am often astounded at the lack of business thinking people betray when they shrilly scream their throats raw about how much more expensive it is to own a Mac than a PC. Here’s my response. I’m approaching the question like a business person and will try to show why, for me, it’s not even a close comparison.

    If you’re a pure home user, my points may not apply to you. If you run your own home business, however, read this carefully.

    A friend (“Murgatroid”) just posted this to Facebook: My friend wrote: Linux is cheaper than Mac…I’m gradually migrating to Ubuntu for my everyday stuff.

    I was horrified at this penny-wise, pound-foolish decision. Here’s my response:

    Murgatroid, if you’re looking at cost, my guess is that you consider maintaining your system to be a fun leisure activity. If not–if you think maintenance is part of your business–you need to take a good, hard look at how you value your time. Your time is not free and in an economy like this, spending it networking, establishing a reputation, getting your name out there, and doing billable work is far, far more valuable than using your time to save a few hundred dollars on a computer.

    I find “cost of computer” discussions to be void of business logic. You’ll use a computer for 3+ years (if not, you’re buying a toy, not a business device), and for many of us, it’s our #1 most important work tool (with our phone a close second). Over three years, you’re probably paying about 66% less per day for your computer than you pay for your cell phone or cable TV, even if you have a top-of-the-line computer.

    “Ok,” you say, “but what about the price difference between PCs and Macs? PCs are still cheaper than Macs.” Although a case can be made that Macs and PCs are comparable when you factor in the configuration and performance details, let’s pretend a  Mac costs $500 more than an equivalent PC. Fine. Over 3 years, that’s 45 cents/day. If you save a single day of your time in increased productivity or decreased maintenance costs over that entire three years, you’ve more than made up the difference.

    I’m sure Ubuntu is a great choice for you. Not being a techie, I have found most of the free software to be incomprehensible when it comes to installation. I never get to the point of being able to try it because the learning curve just to find and install it defeats me much of the time.

    Download these 16 different subsystems from 9 different open source archives. Make sure to use “uhbykgu -gye” to install them and not “uhbykgu -gyf” as you normally would. If you’re using the Glorp CC#% compiler, try using “-ggg” to enable the advanced infrastructure option, but only if you have a ZZTOP 234/8 Motherboard.”

    In short: if you factor in the cost of my time, the cost of ongoing maintenance, and the learning curve of open source, for me, it’s a no brainer that the Mac is the best business decision by a wide margin.

    A random price breakdown of factors people rarely consider.

    The software bundled with the Mac alone easily makes up for a big chunk of the price difference. iPhoto, iMovie, Mail, Address Book, and iCal all come bundled on the Mac. While Windoze has a few bundled pieces of software, I haven’t found them as functional or speedy as the Mac applications. For my main productivity apps, Mail, Address Book, and iCal, there’s simply no comparison. You’d need to buy Outlook or Office to get that functionality on Windows.

    To get the full Office equivalent on the Mac does require a separate purchase. A five-seat license of iWork ’09 (so you can run it on all your family Macs) is $99. One copy of MS Office for Windows is $379.95 for a one-seat license of the standard edition. I’ve used the iWork applications for two years now and once over the initial learning curve, I can produce everything I can with Office, only typically it’s faster and looks prettier.

    Upgrades are cheaper. Apple users bitch about paying $100 for an upgrade to the Mac OS. A first-time purchase of an iWork family license is 25% cheaper than a single-user upgrade for Office. If you ever plan to upgrade, your Windoze is racking up $$ much faster than your Mac.

    Software updates are smoother. If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know I’ve twice had Microsoft Update apply some critical update and destroy chunks of my system. I’ve never had that happen with Apple. It doesn’t mean it won’t someday, but the Microsoft updates seem to do it once a year or so. Walking in to a busy workday to discover my computer needs 3 hours of maintenance to recover from a security update is not fun.

    There’s far, far less maintenance. I once had brief responsibility for administering a network at my first job, and I got in the habit of keeping logs of all computer downtime, the reason, etc. Even my one remaining Windows machine–on which I install no new software, I spend more clock time each month doing maintenance activities of some sort than I’ve spent in two years on my two Macs. There’s simply no comparison. (“What do you mean disk space is low? I don’t use this machine and I cleaned up disk space a month ago? Oh. Poking around, I see the Windows Update patch installer has gradually accumulated 5Gb of installer files. Are these safe to delete? … research, research, experiment, experiment, pull hair out …”)

    For enterprises, the math may be different. If you have to remotely administer a gazillion machines, maybe it really does make sense to use Microsoft enterprise-wide management tools. But that’s if you look at the cost of maintenance as hours-of-IT-staff-time only. If you factor in user downtime, user frustration, mysterious lost files, etc., your total enterprise-wide cost to own those Windoze machines still may be comparable.

    Geeks are different.

    Some people loudly cry, “But I just do the maintenance myself!!” Yeah, yeah, yeah. And your opinion is irrelevant to the other 99% of the population. If you happen to consider maintaining your Windoze or Ubuntu to be leisure activity, then that’s fine. But don’t pretend that your situation compares to those of us who want nothing more than to leave our computers on a desert island forever so we can get on with our lives.

    People who have to pay for maintenance typically pay $80 for a program installation and rates that go up from there for anything serious. That doesn’t include the expense of shipping or driving their computer to the repair place and being without it for days while they diagnose and fix.

    And that doesn’t even begin to account for their time. Because for most of us, fixing our computer does not bring time, money, or happiness to us. That means it’s an expense, pure and simple. Time I spend recovering from Windows Update is time I’m not doing work that would bring me income, or playing with things that would bring me happiness. If you’re self-employed, unless what you do is extremely low-wage, it’s almost never a good business decision to fix your own computer if it will take more than an hour or two to diagnose and fix, even if you’re capable of it. Over my 10+ years of Windows ownership, I gradually noticed that most of the time, any problem that took more than two hours to track down and fix would ultimately take days. I adopted a new policy: if I can’t find and fix it in two hours, I simply bite the bullet, wipe the hard drive, and spend the 12 hours it typically takes to reinstall, reactivate, and reconfigure my Windoze. Yes, it takes out a day (thus sucking up enough lost productivity to pay for multiple Macs), but at least it doesn’t take out a week, which is what it used to take with Windoze.

    In short: for me as a business user, the Mac is cheaper. The software is much cheaper. The upgrades to the software are cheaper. Plus, the saved maintenance time is super-low.

    Paulson, Obama, Roberts, Cheney: Influence happens, even if you fool yourself into believing it doesn’t.

    I’m reading an article on how Henry Paulson had talks with Goldman Sachs when he was designing the financial bailout. Of course he claims there was no favoritism or influence. Politicians also claim they’re not too influenced by lobbyists. And a few years ago, Cokie Roberts generated some heat when it turns out she was being paid speaking fees by some companies she was ostensibly investigating. And let us remember fondly Vice President Cheney, whose ties to Halliburton surely had nothing to do with the tens of billions of dollars of no-bid contracts they received while he was in office.

    What all these stories have in common is that from the outside, there appears to be a conflict of interest. Yet those on the inside insist there is none. Fortunately, this is a very, very easy situation to analyze.

    There is conflict of interest. Period.

    There is forty years of social psychology research that shows when you benefit from someone’s actions, you are much more likely to view them in a positive light. You are also much more likely to reciprocate. In fact, you will be willing to reciprocate far out of proportion to the favor the person did for you initially.

    “But I know about these social psychology phenomena, so I don’t let them affect me.”

    That sounds so nice and reasonable. And if everything worked according to logic, it would be. But even as the reciprocity principle happens at a deeper brain level than logic, so it turns out that you can’t correct for these biases by simply deciding to. What you’ll do is continue to be as biased as before, only you’ll come up with new rationalizations and justifications for it.

    I’m not feeling ambitious enough to dig out specific citations for the science I’m referring to, but the book Influence by Robert Cialdini pretty much covers them all, appropriately analyzed and footnoted.

    So I say this to elected officials who are bailing out the companies they have personal ties to, to journalists who claim impartiality while accepting large fees, to scientists whose research is funded by pharmaceutal companies: you are not impartial. You can not be impartial as long as you’re accepting money or favors. The only way to be impartial is to dissociate yourself completely from the influences in question. Otherwise any claim of impartiality will be at best self-deception, and at worst, knowing hypocrisy.

    I wore jeans. Civilization ended. It was AWESOME!

    I wore jeans, fluorescent shoes (see my Facebook page http://bit.ly/gidg for a picture), and a T-shirt to the HBS Club of Boston presentation on “Emerging Billion-Dollar Trends.”

    Nothing happened.

    People I knew talked to me. The presenter hugged me. The guy sitting next to me chatted. A couple of venture capitalists entered the conversation I was part of and were as courteous as they ever are. I had a perfectly fine time.

    No one seemed offended, taken aback, disrespected, or dismissive. My worst fears simply didn’t materialize along any dimension. (I suspected  they wouldn’t. When I noticed how much emotional energy I had invested in being afraid it would be problematic, that very investment was a clue that irrational emotional crap was almost certainly overreacting to a real world situation. The fact that many other people have the same fear does not in any way make the fear more real.)

    Would you wear jeans + T-shirt to business event? Why or why not?

    I am going to a business presentation tonight and am coming straight from my writing haven to the event. I wear jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers in the Haven. I’ve noticed that the thought of going to the business presentation dressed like that is scary to me. Scary. What’s up with that? What am I actually scared of, just from wearing different clothes?

    I try to be concrete with my answer. “It would be bad for my reputation” is the kind of thought I have. But what does that actually mean? Do I think I would lose business? Do I think people would say “That Stever, he wears jeans so he must not be any good at what he does.”? Getting concrete makes it clear to me that my fears are rather absurd in a lot of ways. I’ve decided to dress casually tonight just to see what happens–both with the other people, but more importantly, in my own head as I play mindgames with myself.

    Would you wear jeans and a T-shirt to a business event? Why or why not? If you’d be scared to, what do you actually think would happen?