Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Jobless at 58 Sounds Like an Entrepreneur to Me

Yesterday the New York Times ran a headline that read, “At 58, a Life Story in Need of a Rewrite.” The article was about Michael Blattman, who’s been out of work since January of 2008. Blattman is a 58-year-old MBA with a strong resume in financial services who once earned $225,000 a year.

After a year and a half of an unfruitful job search, it seems obvious that this guy should start his own gig. It’s unlikely that the financial sector will be in a hiring frenzy anytime soon. Blattman has applied for 600 jobs, according to the Times, and has scored exactly three interviews, only one of which was in person. It doesn’t look good for him being gainfully employed at a hefty salary anytime soon.

startercards.0626When I hear about people like Blatmann, first I want to shake them and then I want to find their address and send them a deck of our Start Your Own Company cards. He clearly has experience and expertise to share, having worked with the Federal Reserve and the Sallie Mae student loan program, as well as teaching business classes at the University of Maryland.

Why is he not starting his own company, or at least hanging out his shingle as a consultant? The cost of going into business for yourself needn’t be much of a hurdle, in an age when you can incorporate online with LegalZoom for $139 and launch a website with a free template. Perhaps there’s a growing need for guidance in applying for student loans, or maybe he could consult with schools on some aspect of providing financial assistance. Or it could be that his real passion is wine or carpentry or backpacking or piano and this is his chance to start a company doing what he loves.

He’s clearly got time on his hands that might be put to better use. He mentioned to the Times reporter that he had “zero” planned for the coming week, and he admits to driving two towns over for groceries, just to kill an hour or so. Blattman is divorced, but has given up on computer dating sites for now, because women apparently don’t show much interest in 58-year-old guys who are unemployed. It seems his life could use some positive momentum.

Blattman comes across as intelligent, likable, capable. He has years of contacts and a strong reputation in his industry. Why not use the thick skin he’s no doubt developed over his 18-month job search to sell the services of his own company, rather than trying to get hired by someone else?

He may have excellent reasons for continuing to job hunt rather than creating his own income. But I wonder if he just doesn’t realize that starting a company doesn’t have to be that hard. When I run into someone stuck in that spot, I want to get up on my soapbox and shout about how Starter Cards take you through the process, one manageable step at a time.

This is the era of unintentional entrepreneurs. People who never considered themselves the entrepreneurial type are creating their own work when they can’t find suitable jobs. But unintentional or not, every entrepreneur has to summon the guts to take that first leap.

Like anything else, launching a business can be broken down into a series of smaller tasks. If you know a Blattman out there,  send him or her to the Starter Cards website  for that Start Your Own Company deck. And if you’re Michael Blattman, give me your address and I’ll mail you a deck as my gift.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Twitter Etiquette: Is It Okay to TweetDeck or TweetLater Your Blog Posts?

3251920072_b5527f10fe_oWhat do you think about people who use TweetLater or TweetDeck as a way to post a link to their blog many times a day? I was taught that technique by Michael Gass, the social media guru to the ad agency world. Michael has created a huge inventory of posts (most of which read like informative articles that remain evergreen) and has one of those posts appear as his Twitter update every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’ve also seen similar recommendations from others writing in the social media field.

There are some who are violently opposed to that method. Like  Aliza Sherman, for instance, who is known as a Web pioneer and social media maven. (Fast Company magazine named her one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in the blog category, and Newsweek called her one of the Top 50 People Who Matter Most on the Internet.) I was on the phone recently with Aliza, who was very kindly giving me some feedback on a social media product we’re developing at Tribe. When she got wind of the idea of using Twitter essentially as a publishing platform, via TweetLater or TweetDeck or some other tool, she said, and I quote:

“That is horrible. That is disgusting.” Aliza believes strongly that using a tool to imply you’re on Twitter when you’re not is totally unacceptable. She had a great line, while we were talking, and we were both so struck by it that she turned around and tweeted it while we were on the phone: “Social media is conversation; not a new form of advertising.” I wholeheartedly agree with that.

Businesses using social media as just another way to distribute advertising come across as boneheaded at best, untrustworthy at worst. The conversation part of social media is that it’s a two-way street. Unlike a TV spot or magazine ad, which is a company telling people what they want them to think,  social media allows consumers to talk back to companies, and to talk to each other about those companies. Today, more people get their information about a brand from other consumers than from the brand itself.

My rule of thumb is that tweets should be helpful or useful — or at least interesting — to others. Tweeting that is selling instead of engaging bugs almost everybody. I also try to veer clear of too many tweets that reek strongly of self promotion, although if I get booked for the Today Show, I’ll probably mention that. I also try to avoid tweets that fall into the “Who cares?” category, like “I’m eating a yogurt.” (I actually saw that tweet one time.) On the other hand,  I do enjoy seeing tweets that give an interesting glimpse into someone’s personal life, but then again, I classify that as “at least interesting.”

A link to a blog post can be helpful and useful — and interesting. But when it’s repeated over and over on a TweetLater schedule, does it become annoying? Or an abuse of Twitter? Or does it just make it easier for more people to discover something helpful to them?

Twitter is a river that we dip in and out of, a river that flows ceaselessly. I think it’s unlikely that anyone out there could possibly see every single one of your tweets, or even very many of them. Of course, those particularly curious about you could click your history of tweets and see numerous links to your own blog. But I don’t get why that would be such a bad thing.

So here’s my question to you: What do you think? Is it inappropriate to use Twitter as a way to promote your blog? Is it okay, but only once for each post?  Is that different from retweeting someone else’s article or post? Do you think it’s fine to set up links to each post as rotating, recurring posts? Or should we be tweeting only in real time, and just as a way of conversing?

Please post a comment below, because I’d like to know where other people fall in this debate. I respect and admire both Michael and Aliza, and I’d like to think they’re both right. Perhaps the answer to whether this practice is appropriate or not is really this:  “It depends.” But on what?

5 Benefits of Using LinkedIn For the Skeptical Communicator

Like many, I entered the world of LinkedIn a few years ago feeling very wary. It was yet another mode of communication to keep track of, and I was already multi-tasking with my phone, email, texting, Facebook, YouTube – you name it. Because I was wary, I tested the waters very slowly. I didn’t throw myself into learning it as if cramming for a test. What could it do that my Rolodex couldn’t do for me when I’d been building that for years?

Fast forward to today when I understand the value of the platform. I feel a little bit like someone who clung to 8-tracks or listened to TV broadcasts on radio. I know I’m not alone. I believe that many individuals and companies are feeling, or are coming to feel, the exact same way that I do. They’re just discovered they’re running a race, and they’re the turtle when they thought they were the rabbit.

There’s a statistic out there that 80 percent of organizations are using or planning to use LinkedIn as their primary tool for recruiting this year. I think this statistic is telling in that companies are trying to catch this flight. I’m not sure everyone is using LinkedIn or any other social media tool in the way that maximizes its true value. It’s more like a box people are checking so they can say, “Yeah, I did that. I made that call, but no one was home.” And then they never follow up on that lead.

The fact is that some of the most talented communicators are the most social media resistant people. I’ve found they’re usually senior communicators who simply think the best and most effective communications are face-to-face and personal. They’ve perfected this form of communication and their understanding of it’s power had usually made them part of an elite group, winning them commendations, raises, promotions and global responsibilities. (I mean, we know the Gen Yers aren’t resistant to social media, right? They’ve been raised on a steady diet of technology.)

So the senior communicator crowd is often sticking to the mode of communication they’ve perfected. They’re not ready to make room for the idea that there are other better ways to do business under certain circumstances to achieve select results.

Here’s what’s made the difference for me and for other key stakeholders in companies and their employers. If you use the social media tools that are out there for the right things at the right time, then you’ll create more time for more meaningful and effective personal communications in your schedule. That’s good for you, those around you and your employer or company. That’s the beauty of it.

Now, back to my journey. There were some good things for me about being a slow adaptor. Because I didn’t jump in and sort of waded in, I had lots of LinkedIn enthusiasts selling me (and they were selling hard–social media evangelists are hard core) on the network’s benefits, which means I picked up some pretty good tips along the way. Here are some of the insights passed along to me:

–       Authenticity transcends mediums. Personality counts. LinkedIn is as personal as you make it. Hello, please and thank you apply in the online networking world, too. If you have a magnetic personality – that will come through online as well. Be authentic because people are looking to connect with people they feel they can trust.

–       Don’t expect anything. This is according to Fortune 500 Steven Burda, who has amassed over 30,000 connections on LinkedIn, making him the #1 most connected and #1 most recommended person on the entire LinkedIn site. “You can’t post your profile and think you’ll get a job offer the next day as a VP,” he says. “You’re delusional if you think that. You have to work at it. It’s taken me years to develop my network. I started with a few people I knew and trusted and grew it from there. Networking platforms – they don’t do all of the magic.”

–       There’s quality within quantity. This is another gem from Burda: “People will say to me, ‘Do you really need that many people in your network? Are you telling me you have a relationship with all of them?’ ‘Of course not,’ is that answer. But there is a small group of people who I do talk with often. And, for people who contact me asking for help, the breadth of my network is valuable regarding its huge numbers. Plus, for myself, I can say with 99 percent certainty that if I lost my job and sent a message to my connections, within hours I would have several job offers.”

–       Have a goal. You need an entry point to make effective and efficient use of your time. If you’re overwhelmed by how to get started, sit down and think about what it is you really want and who’s the best type of contact to help you. Is it really a VP, for instance? Yes, there are plenty of those on LinkedIn, so it’s tempting to shoot right for the top, but they’re likely to be pretty swamped. Maybe look for director level people in a certain function with a certain type of experience in a specific location. Also, the power of LinkedIn isn’t whom you know. It’s whom that person knows. So don’t get stuck in step one, unless you’re goal is to cement relationships you already have.

–       Get interested in other people. Burda says the best thing about LinkedIn is the ability it gives you to gather intelligence on a person before you reach out to them. It means never again going into a meeting not knowing something about who you’re meeting with – about their experience and background and, of course, with a quick vibe about their charisma level and what’s going to be important to them. You’re not going to solve complex problems with your connections overnight, but you will have the opportunity to learn and share from as many people as you are able to connect with in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What’s Your Pet Peeve on Twitter?

twitter peevesHave you been tweeting long enough to have your own pet peeves on Twitter? That usually happens about Phase 6 in what seems to be a fairly predictable cycle in the transformation from Twitter newbie to devoted user. The phases seem to go something like this:

Phase 1. Not understanding what all the fuss is about over Twitter.

Phase 2: Deciding to give it a try, but often in a limited way, like “I’ll do it just for one month.”

Phase 3: Following a whole bunch of people, in hopes that they’ll follow you back and shoot your follower numbers through the roof.

Phase 4: Pruning your list of follows, when you realize you’re following a ridiculous number of people you’ve never heard of and couldn’t care less about.

Phase 5: Deciding that Twitter really is pretty cool, and trying to talk everybody you know into joining.

Phase 6: Developing into such a Twitter veteran that you can name at least one Tweeting practice that annoys you every time you see it.

What bugs you? The auto reply to a new follow that includes a sales message? An update post that promises zillions of followers in 24 hours? Maybe it’s people who post links that don’t work. (I’ve done that one myself, I think.) Or people who send out ten updates in a row so your entire computer screen is filled with multiple versions of that person’s face. There are people who are tormented by the inspirational quotes tweeted daily by some. Others seem to appreciate those.

An update on what someone had for breakfast is cause for an unfollow to some. Endless tweets of chest-beating and self-promotion turn the stomachs of others.

Post a comment below to share your opinion. What sort of tweet drives you crazy?

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

4 Important Reasons to Start a Company When You Can’t Find a Job

woman blank biz cardIn this recession, many companies are being launched by people who never meant to be entrepreneurs. These people haven’t long harbored the dream of being their own boss; They just haven’t been able to find a job and are thus taking matters into their own hands. The New York Times published an excellent piece yesterday  titled “On to Plan B: Starting a Business,” by Mickey Meece that touched on several of what I consider to be important themes in today’s entrepreneurial landscape.

1. It’s not crazy to launch a business during a recession. Contrary to the general assumption that  starting a company during an economic downturn is particularly risky, it appears to be no more risky than at any other time, according to a 2009 report from Ernst & Young. In fact, the survival rate is about the same for companies started in good times or bad. The Kauffman Foundation offers some reassuring statistics supporting the idea that companies fare no better or worse when launched in a recession or bear market.

2. Technology and social media make it easier than it’s ever been to start your own company. Just imagine how much harder it would be to start a company a decade or two ago — without the Internet, without email, without cell phones. You can research competitive companies and potential customers online. You can find legal services online, so you can incorporate without even leaving your desk. Creating a website no longer requires the services of a programmer, since there are numerous website templates and tools out there, from inexpensive to free. You can even use social media to market your products and services. A tremendous amount of business resources are available now that just didn’t exist before.

3. Starting your own business can give you some measure of control over your future. The current job market can be tough on egos. While the jobless rate is almost in the double digits, many companies are sidestepping much of the etiquette that once was common practice. You send out resumes, email decision makers and place phone calls, and it might seem as if you’ve just launched them all into a black hole somewhere, judging from the response you get. You may score an interview, but then never hear back from that company again, even to tell you that you didn’t make the cut. Launching a business at least gives you some concrete actions you can take that will result in visible progress. Week after week, you can see that your efforts are beginning to materialize into a company you created out of thin air.

4. Even if you get another corporate gig, it’s still good to have that Plan B. Let’s say you launch your company and then you get that big job offer you’ve been waiting for all this time. If your business is something you can continue to do on the side, it might be helpful to  have that additional income. That side business is also just as useful for your mental health. When you have a bad day at work, or your job future seems  uncertain, it can be enormously reassuring to know you’ve got something else to fall back on.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Everyone’s Got Something to Blog About

You don’t have a blog yet? What’s that? You don’t even really get what a blog is? You don’t know what you’re missing.

As Seth Godin says, “The word blog is irrelevant. What’s important is that it is now common, and will soon be expected, that every intelligent person(and quite a few unintelligent ones) will have a media platform where they share what they care about with the world.”

What do you care about in the world? No matter how narrow the niche, there is an audience who will be interested in what you have to say. There are blogs out there about a guy who crochets (The Crochet Dude), reading programs for the incarcerated (Prison Book Program Blog) and on everything related to perfume (Now Smell This).

1f38851Think about what you know best and then think about your particular point of view on that topic. For instance, Kim Gay of Match Healthcare Consulting knows nursing homes like nobody’s business. Her specific point of view on nursing homes is that everything from profitability to patient advocacy depends on building relationships. Her company provides leadership development and change management for healthcare, and I bet she’d find plenty of interested readers for a blog on the importance of relationships in her industry.

Chris_WautonNo matter who I’m with lately, I start thinking about what their blog would be. For instance, I had lunch the other day with Chris Wauton of Narrative Planning. Chris is an Oxford-educated account planner known as a leader in his discipline. He’s worked with some of the ad industry’s best agencies and has provided the strategic thinking that led to many well-known campaigns. Over our Persian kabobs and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, he started telling me about his approach to understanding consumers — based on methods he’s gleaned from crime investigators. Chris has always been able to spin a good yarn, so he entertained me with a handful of stories and insights related to his unusual approach, any one of which would make a fascinating post.

Starting a blog would be a good business move for both Kim and Chris. It would provide an opportunity to showcase their expertise in their industries, as well as a starting point for conversations and connections with interested (and interesting) people all over the world.

But another benefit of writing a blog is that it keeps your mind nimble and active. The exercise of writing a short  piece every day or week (or however frequently you post) provides a nice warm-up for your brain, sort of like doing a crossword puzzle over your morning coffee.

Once you begin posting with some frequency, you’ll find that you have an endless stream of ideas for more posts. Everything you read, everyone you meet, every trend you notice in your industry –or in the world around you — is fodder for your blog. Writing your posts encourages you to voice an opinion, and to put it in writing. It offers the opportunity to hear how your thinking was helpful to others, or to debate your position and possibly have your mind opened to the way someone else out there thinks.

The most important benefit of writing a blog is that offers a way to be more engaged in the world. A reason to think. A chance to connect. And, as Godin mentions, to express your unique perspective on what you “care about with the world.”

If You’re Not Using LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, Then You Might Be The Only One

10032396Based on the ever-growing number of people who are using social media – both inside and outside of work – I believe it’s fair to say that if you’re not leveraging this channel then you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice. That’s not to say that quality doesn’t beat quantity every time – I know this is what some of my friends and colleagues (especially my Boomer friends and colleagues) will call to say the minute they read this post. Obviously, the quality still needs to be there. But with the large audience that social media provides, you’ve got to make use of the quantity when it’s right at your fingertips. And when it’s done right, that demonstrates quality thinking.

If you doubt the sheer force of the numbers, below are a few statistics from the blog20+ more mind-blowing social media statistics.”

– 80 percent of companies use (or are planning to use) LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees during the course of this year.

– Social networking and blogs are the 4th most popular online activities, even beating personal email.

– Since April 2009, Twitter has been receiving around 20 million unique visitors to the site each month.

What Big Corporations Can Learn From Start-up Entrepreneurs

I had an interesting conversation the other day with The Prometheus Institute Founder Matt Harrison, who’s traveling around the country trying to excite Gen Y about the idea of becoming entrepreneurs. His project is called “People for the American Dream,” and his plan is to have a presence at job fairs so that the spirit of entrepreneurship is represented as Gen Yers figure out the next step in their careers. Our conversation had some interesting take-aways for corporate recruiters.

I asked Matt if he thought large corporations would be surprised to look across the isle and see him as part of the competition. “Yes, I think it will be weird,” he chuckled. But he went on to explain that his definition of entrepreneurship is pretty loose (on purpose), saying that newly created jobs that have never existed before within established entities give people the opportunity to build something from the ground up. OK – so that’s a pretty simple idea, but I don’t know that corporations are truly using this as a selling point (when appropriate) to the sometimes angsty Gen Yers who are looking for positions where they feel they can make a difference right off the bat.

With all of the research and buzz about how Gen Yers want their employers to act like parents, I asked Matt (a Gen Yer himself) if he thought entrepreneurial roles were the right fit for them. He said this is where Gen Y is sort of divided down the middle. “Yes, we have notoriously high expectations,” he said. “We’ve been raised in a prosperous environment. We believe we have certain talents and want to be able to express them.

“I think half of us are what I call ‘floaters’ and the other half are potential entrepreneurs. The floaters are who you hear about all of the time. They don’t want to work hard. They’re still living with their parents. They are going the safe route. Some of us want a syllabus even once we’re out of college, and when you have your own business, you don’t have that. But the other half has tremendous ambition and the desire to create value.”

There are a couple of traits Matt said Gen Yers share across the board. “We have a strong sense of social consciousness. We have an intuitive appreciation for technology, and are very confident about using it and coming up with new ideas for improving it.”

And for Gen Yers who feel like a recession is not the right time to start a business, Matt said, “This actually transcends all generations – people’s insecurities are pretty universal. People are afraid they’re not going to make money. They don’t know what their talents are. In the case of Gen Y, we don’t really understand yet how the market works. Anytime is a great time to start a business. Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Apple all started in a down market. You have to throw caution to the wind and get past the fear and live your dreams.”

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Sometimes the Best Ideas for Your Business Come When You’re Out of the Office

Miraval terrace 2It’s hard for entrepreneurs to take a break. For one thing, we tend to be excited about our work, so it’s not like we hate going into the office. For another, when we’re rolling ahead with some real momentum, it’s hard to even see that we could benefit from some stillness.

But some of the best ideas come when you slow down. Even if you have to force yourself to quit moving so fast.

I’m in Arizona today, where I try to come three or four times a year to get still. It takes a few days to shift gears. At first I’m a little edgy and unsettled, but after some hiking and other outdoor exercise in the desert heat, a few massages and some time by the pool, I can feel clarity begin to settle around me.

I wake up early and sit on my terrace with coffee to watch the sky behind the Santa Catalina mountains turn from black to blue. I scribble thoughts and notes in my spiral notebook, and suddenly I find new ideas crystallizing. Often, these ideas or realizations seem obvious in retrospect, but when I was back in the office moving a mile a minute, I just couldn’t see them.

This is where I’ve experienced some of the most pivotal moments in my business. It’s where I’ve had the  ideas for a book or two; where it’s suddenly hit me that it was time for Tribe to shift direction or even reinvent;  where I realized it was time to move from a virtual office to a real one, so we could have everyone at Tribe within the same four walls.

It’s also where I’m reminded, over and over again, that sometimes the best office is the one without four walls.