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Hard Times Can Be a Gateway to New Beginnings
By Carleigh Lowe Monday, October 12, 2009

One of the best parts of working at Harvard Business Services, Inc. is talking to budding entrepreneurs every day. We are inspired by the passion our clients possess for making their dreams become a reality. Over the years, we have seen that staying optimistic through tough times is a key ingredient to being a successful entrepreneur. We know that these are tough times, but we have noticed a strong, positive trend of people successfully reinventing themselves despite the circumstances. An article in USA Today showcases a few entreprenuers who are turning lemons into lemonade.

Below is an excerpt:

For millions of Americans, the recession has been a curse. For a relative few, it's something more complicated: A catalyst for change. An opportunity to grow. A kick in the butt. In some cases, economic necessity has been the mother of re-invention. It has forced people to pursue careers they might never have considered if they hadn't gotten — or quit before getting — the ax. So a lumber mill worker becomes a nurse, a bus driver turns to welding, a paralegal sets out to sell cosmetics, an interior decorator learns to cook barbecue. Some unpack an old skill, like the piano. Others trade on a personal passion — for people, pets or, in one case, piñatas. Some get help from the government. Others go it alone. Their optimism is based on two convictions: That even in hard times, people still will spend on things like their dogs, their kids and their looks; and that things such as flexible hours, casual dress and a shorter commute are worth a few lost dollars. Above all, they agree that if they hadn't been pushed, they never would have made the leap.

Andrea Kay, author of Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers, says many people hang onto jobs they don't like, oblivious to the fact that their unhappiness — which they mistakenly think they can hide — hurts their performance and attitude. "Typically, not until someone is forced out of what they've been accustomed to doing do they feel the need to change," Kay says. It's the same in every economic downturn, says David Kyvig, a Northern Illinois University historian who wrote Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: "When things are going well, we tend to stay with what's working. When they don't, we explore something new."

In a surprising number of cases, we're happier — "if, after the shock, anger and fear, someone is willing to see there's an opportunity to do something different," Kay says. "Then they ask, 'Why did I wait so long?' " Research indicates that workers who change jobs generally are more satisfied in their new positions than their old ones, even though they often take cuts in salary and benefits, AARP economist Sara Rix says. In this recession, "I don't want to whitewash things — some people barely scrape by," she says. "But there are success stories. They give other people encouragement that there is something out there."

Let us know your recession success story in the comments. We would love to hear from you!

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Mastering Tough Questions From the Media
By George Merlis Friday, October 9, 2009

Back in the early 1980s, when I was producing the “CBS Morning News” (now renamed “The Early Show”) Diane Sawyer, the co-anchor, booked an interview with former President Richard M. Nixon.

This was a considerable time after Mr. Nixon had undergone the grilling by David Frost depicted in the play and movie, “Frost/Nixon,” and through his books, articles and speeches, the former president had recast himself as an elder statesman. Moreover, Ms. Sawyer had been an aide in Nixon’s White House and when he left Washington in disgrace, she was one of a tiny handful of staffers who accompanied him into his temporary exile in San Clemente, CA, where she helped him organize his papers.

So you can understand how the former president, now living on an estate in New Jersey, might expect a benign interview from Ms. Sawyer. What he got was an on-camera third degree that made the Frost interview look like a tea party in Mayfair.

My point is apolitical; it is simply that every reporter, even one you know well,  is capable of doing a tough interview. Perhaps, because he anticipated gentle handling, Mr. Nixon was atypically ill-prepared for the onslaught.

I tell this story to all my media-training clients because I want them to prepare for tough questions, even when they assume the interview occasion is unlikely to prompt them. In fact, I have formulated a law of interviews:  “Anyone unprepared for tough questions will be asked tough questions.”

Here's a case history:  I was preparing a financial services company for a news conference announcing the California test rollout of a new credit card product. When I asked them what tough questions reporters might ask. The lead spokesperson said, “Oh, we won't get any tough questions. This product is so great.”

“O.K.,” I said. “Pretend Ralph Nader is coming to the news conference. What will he ask?”

“Well,” said the lead spokesperson, “he'd probably ask where he could sign up for our product.” That brought laughter from his fellow panelists.

Do I  need to tell you what happened at the news conference? The first question was worthy of a criminal prosecutor in its tone, severity, and insight.  The spokespersons just sat at their table with their mouths open. What happened next was the journalistic equivalent of a shark feeding frenzy; the reporters tore them to shreds.

Interestingly, a year later there was a national rollout at a New York news conference and this time the clients drilled extensively, developing persuasive answers to tough questions. They were ready for combat, but this time there was no reportorial onslaught. Perhaps lulled by the huge buffet breakfast the client laid out, the New York and national reporters didn't ask a single tough question.

But it's better to prepare for the tough questions and not get them than to be unprepared and and suffer a barrage of them. What’s the best way to do this? Write down your nightmare questions and then formulate answers. But don’t stop there; you want to use those tough questions to transition to your own message points.

The way you do this is my four-step process: Acknowledge, Bridge, Message Point, Shut Up.

What do I mean?

Acknowledge: Here’s the shortest acknowledgement I know of: “No,”

Bridge: Here’s the shortest bridge I know of, “As a matter of fact.”

Message Point: Here you insert your own agenda point.

Shut Up: Don’t go back and reference the original question.

But what if the reporter asks the question again? Well, he’s just opened the door for you to bridge to a second of your agenda points.

Of course none of this works unless you HAVE an agenda. I always recommend coming up with a five point agenda for every interview. Then, come up with tough questions and cut-and-paste agenda points under each tough question. What you now have is a visual road map you’ll drive down if you get any of your nightmare questions.

And if you don’t get the tough questions, you’ll still have an agenda to deploy. The corollary to the law: “Anyone unprepared for tough questions will get them” is “Anyone prepared for tough questions may get them but it won’t matter.”

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Tips for Creating Accountability
By Carleigh Lowe Wednesday, October 7, 2009

At the American Express Open Forum there is a great post on creating accountability in the work place. Below is an excerpt:

As business owners with 42 things to do to get through the daily grind, not to mention long-term business goals to pursue, most of us are constantly seeking new ways to create accountability – to drag ourselves (kicking and screaming, if necessary) to the finish line.

Here’s five ways to build accountability into your daily routine:

1. Declare goals publicly. This functions on many levels. In terms of an entire company, it could mean publicly stating an ambitious goal and tying it to a date. In terms of individuals, it can mean declaring your goals in front of those you respect – your team, your inner circle of friends, or your family. The moment that you tell someone else you ARE going to do something, an outside gravitational force takes hold, making you feel more duty-bound to reach your objective.

2. Share your planning documents and to-do lists. Whether it’s a timeline with project milestones or a regular old list of to-dos, sharing your working documents transparently with your team builds trust and increases accountability. Essentially, it’s a passive way of publicly stating your agenda and creating a powerful accountability mechanism for getting things done. If your colleagues notice you are constantly missing milestones, they’ll start asking questions.

3. Rewire your focus on short-term rewards. We love instant gratification, which is why it’s so much easier to get the small, no-brainer to-dos done than the big tasks that require deep focus and hard thinking. We can spend our whole day just responding to emails, while we neglect the long-term future of our businesses. Rewiring is about finding ways to take pleasure in the long haul required to truly achieve great tasks and cause real change. We can’t get rid of our desire for short-term rewards, but we can be aware of it. The first step is identifying your long-term goals, and setting up a series of short-term rewards that keep you moving towards – and accountable to – those goals.

 

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Happy Entrepreneurs
By Carleigh Lowe Monday, October 5, 2009

The Wall Street Journal has a great article illustrating why entrepreneurs are so happy. Below is an excerpt:

In the broadest, most-comprehensive survey yet of how occupation affects happiness, business owners outrank 10 other occupational groups in overall well-being, based on the landmark survey of 100,826 working adults set for release today. Defined as self-employed store or factory owners, plumbers and so on, business owners surpassed 10 other occupational groups on a composite measure of six criteria of contentment, including emotional and physical health, job satisfaction, healthy behavior, access to basic needs and self-reports of overall life quality.

 

 

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Top 10 New Business-Related Words and Phrases
By Christina Cornelius Friday, October 2, 2009

New words and phrases are always entertaining and they often are a sign of the times. Below, we have listed our favorites from the business & technology arena. We certainly are excited to add them to our vocabulary!

  1. Flexenomics – The economics of keeping ones spending and consuming flexible in an uncertain financial climate
  2. Instapreneur – An instant entrepreneur via online shops and selling services that allow anyone with something to sell, including an idea or a design, to go into business right now.
  3. Vlog – a blog that contains video material
  4. Virtual Friday – the last day of work or school due to an extended weekend
  5. Green Collar – of, relating to, or involving actions for protecting the natural environment
  6. Cyberslacking – using one’s employer’s internet and email facilities for personal activities during business hours
  7. Prebuttal – a rebuttal for an accusation before it is made
  8. Ego-surfing – surfing the internet for reference to oneself
  9. Mindshare- a company’s ability to occupy a piece of the public’s consciousness
  10. Sock Puppet – a false online identity
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