Being old, looking young (or something like that)

On the occasion of my 58th birthday, I took a picture while I was at the gym.

I’ve been working out on a regular basis for about 23 years. I started because dancing is fun and I enjoyed the choreography part of aerobics classes. Later I became an instructor because we were house-poor and it was the only way I could get a membership to a gym. But then a funny thing happened: I got into shape and discovered how good it feels to be strong. Since then I’ve been a dedicated exerciser, both cardio and strength. I’m not super-buff but when I looked in the mirror on my 58th birthday, I was kind of proud of myself. So I took this selfie.

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How to survive a conference or trade show

Some of us leave our homes or offices several times a year to head across the country or the world to attend events. Whether it’s a trade show, conference, seminar or meet-up, it usually represents long travel, many nights in a hotel and long days on your feet.

It can be exhausting, stressful and difficult – but it doesn’t have to be.

Here are some easy hacks to help you survive and get the most out of your trip.

Wear flat shoes

Sure, heels make you taller and make your legs look awesome. Got it. Now put them back in your closet and pull out your most comfortable professional-looking flats. Because wearing high heels puts stress on your lower back, increases the weight load on the front of your foot, causes bunions and often hurts like hell. If you have one event that requires no more walking than cab-to-door, go ahead and bring the heels. But you absolutely may not wear them for any extended walking.

Choose suits or clothes that are kind

This is not the moment to pull out that designer suit that you bought at the sample sale last year because it fit you that one day. If it’s too tight, you will be miserable and it’s just not worth it. Bring clothes that make you comfortable. If you’re going shopping, consider choosing clothes that have some kind of stretch factor. There’s a reason millions of women are wearing their yoga pants to the grocery store – no, you can’t wear your yoga pants to the conference but you can use the same kind of thinking to choose what you will wear.

Bring extra underwear

In that four minutes you have between the all-day seminars and the team dinner, change your undies. A fresh set will do wonders for your well-being.

Don’t drink too much

It’s incredibly tempting to knock back a few alcoholic drinks at the post-show cocktail party. You’re tired, you’ve worked hard and you deserve it. Besides, everyone else is drinking. But think about this – if you restrain yourself, it’s much less likely you’ll do something you’ll regret later, plus you’ll be less exhausted and generally feel better in the morning. If you really really want to have one, have ONE – and try to make it something with some nutrients or hydration in it, like a bloody mary or vodka soda. And remember to –

Hydrate

Air travel is extremely dehydrating, and it’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re running around all day. Pop a bottle of water in your bag and remember to sip from it now and then. Your muscles and joints will feel better, your system will thank you and even your brain will function better when properly hydrated.

Carry healthy snacks on the trade show floor

There’s nothing worse than that 2:00 pm hunger when you’ve had no chance to eat lunch. It can drive you to factory-produced packaged jalepeno cheese-stuffed pretzels from the concession stand, which look gourmet treats when you’re hungry but leave you questioning the meaning of life shortly after you eat them. Practice safe food by tossing some nutritious snacks in your bag before you go. Great candidates include almonds, dried fruit and protein bars (check ingredients; some are heavily processed or loaded with sugar). One tactic I like is to order an extra bran-raisin or other healthy muffin at breakfast and pack it along in case I miss lunch.

Be in good shape before you go

Obviously this isn’t a tactic you can loop in at the last minute. Keeping yourself healthy and strong makes you feel better every day and helps you in everything you do. You can find lots more about this here.

Bring a tradeshow lifesaving kit

Throw these items into your suitcase and have them with you – they’re small, light and can be hard to find or expensive when you’re on the go.

Baggies: It may sound crazy but these can come in very handy (for example, to carry that leftover muffin to the show)

Band-Aids: Even flat shoes can cause blisters, which are excruciating without a Band-Aid and manageable with one.

Safety pins: Have you ever lost a shirt or other button and then have to spend the day tugging on your clothes while worrying about what’s showing? Enough said.

Earplugs: In case you didn’t realize your room was directly over the dance club or across from the room full of frat kids, these are the difference between a night’s sleep and a long nightmare.

Eat breakfast

You need fuel to keep going when you’re on your feet the entire day. A good breakfast includes protein, but not too much sugar or fat (which can make you sluggish). Not everyone is a breakfast person, but this may be the one time you want to go ahead and eat something in the morning.

Bring a robe

There will be times you’re just chilling in your hotel room and don’t want to use up one of your few shirts and pairs of pants. Some hotels do have robes for guests, but many don’t (and it’s not entirely clear if they get washed between guests).

Use your phone as a wifi hotspot if you have unlimited data

Hotel wi-fi can be absurdly expensive, and it’s often annoyingly spotty. If you have a smartphone, you can use it as a personal hotspot by going into your settings. You’ll want to check your plan first, since data charges can rack up fast.

Don’t fly home in your suit

If you’re leaving directly from the conference, make sure to put a super-comfortable set of clothes in the front pocket of your suitcase so you can change before flying home. You can read more tips for flying smart here.

By just doing a little planning before you go, you can get more out of your conference or trade show by keeping yourself healthy and happy. There’s just one question that only you can answer – is it okay to nick the hotel amenities?

Goodbye, Amazon – why I quit and won’t ever go back

I’m through with Amazon.

When I first launched my business, Amazon seemed like a great place to sell my 100% natural, vegan and cruelty-free products. They’d give me a platform with the potential to be viewed by millions, if not billions of people, they’d warehouse my products and give my customers free shipping, and they’d take care of the accounting for me. Fantastic!

I set up my account and shipped the first inventory to Amazon. 100 each of five products. However, when the shipments showed up on the site, the quantities were all wrong. There were 83 of one product, 97 of another. Why? There was no way to find out, no one to answer my question. This was to become the standard for each one of the problems I had with Amazon.

Next, I started hearing from people that Amazon wouldn’t let them leave reviews. Reviews are the most important thing for a vendor – they determine how often (if ever) your products show up in Amazon search results. I had given away hundreds of dollars of products to bloggers, co-workers and others so that anyone who liked them could leave me a review – but somehow Amazon, with their access to every kind of data, rejected reviews from anyone with an IP address that indicated they lived or worked near where I did, or were connected by data trails to me in any way.

I tried emailing vendor support – an oxymoron if there ever was one – and got back nothing but unhelpful answers. Each time, it seemed like the person responding hadn’t even read what I wrote or didn’t understand what I was saying. When I tried writing back to clarify the problem, I got a warning email saying the incident was closed and that if I continued emailing them about the issue they would terminate my vendor account.

Any time I had a question or concern, there was no one to speak to and no one to write to. Amazon pushes vendors to their forums to solve problems, but the forums are mostly a lot of frustrated people comparing notes and trying to guess how to fix things.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I put in a removal order for them to send me back all of my inventory. And this was when Amazon really showed how little they care about their vendors.

When I went to pick up the boxes at UPS, they were in atrocious condition – partly open, dented, ripped and covered with tape.

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I was pretty upset when I saw them – but when I got them home and unpacked them, it was what was inside that really shocked me. My carefully, lovingly created bottles and pots and tubes of products had been flung into the boxes with no additional packing material other than what I had wrapped them in.

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They were just dumped into the boxes in a pile with no attempt to keep them upright or organized in any way. One of the shampoo bottles had been badly banged-up and had leaked all over the other bottles in that box. It was pretty gross.

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Since then I’ve taken every single piece out, carefully cleaned the exteriors (which is fortunately is very easy when it’s just shampoo that they have on them), checked the contents to make sure they are fine, and organized them. I listed them on Etsy, which has (so far) been a thousand times friendlier than Amazon. They even encouraged me to put up links to my website and social pages – something Amazon categorically forbade.

And it feels good to be selling via a platform that has the same values as my brand. I may never succeed in making Bright Planet a household name, but at least I know I’m  in the right place to try.

Stop teaching tolerance. Do this instead.

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I’m opposed to tolerance. We’re supposed to teach it, practice it and model it to our children. I think that’s a bad idea.

Shocked? Read on.

First, take a moment to think about the meaning of the word tolerance. What does it signify about the thing being “tolerated”? It’s not good. For example, we tolerate a toothache until we can get to the dentist for treatment. We tolerate extreme heat or cold if we’re forced to be outside without proper clothing and shelter. When we just can’t tolerate pain any longer, we turn to strong medications for relief.

Nothing that gets “tolerated” is anything that we consider to be good, worthy or desirable. So what are we saying about ourselves when we say we need to learn to “tolerate” other people?

Surely this is not what we mean to advocate that our children do when we’re teaching tolerance – to grit their teeth and suffer through the presence of those people who are different from them.

Words matter, and by using the word tolerance we are telling ourselves that it is still okay to feel superior, to feel disdain and to feel privilege. Perhaps you never meant that when you used the word tolerance, but think about the word itself and you may begin to see it differently.

But the original idea is good – it’s just the word that’s not. So how can we do this better?

I have another idea. Let’s take tolerance out of the rhetoric – and while we’re at it, let’s toss out inclusion and acceptance as well. They all assume a basic it’s-my-world-first attitude that’s never been acceptable and is no longer – tolerable.

Instead, if you want to teach and encourage the right kind of attitude people should take toward others who are different from them, try using this word: respect.

We can never truly all see ourselves as being of equal value with equal rights if one group thinks of themselves as putting up with the others. No one has the right to make that kind of claim.

So no, don’t teach tolerance. Instead, teach respect – even better, show it to others yourself so that your children and the people around you will see how things should be. Let’s start right now.

Are you ready for social media? Here’s a 5-point checklist to guide you.

Some marketers are making a lot of noise saying you’re missing tremendous opportunities if you’re not on social media. And that’s true – the potential is huge, and for many industries it’s still largely untapped.

However.

Not every company or brand should be on social media. Success in the social world begins with a company’s internal structure, culture and environment. Certain types of cultures are going to work well with social, but for others it’s a minefield of potential crises and disasters. Here’s a handy checklist to help you figure out which type you are.

You might not be ready for social media if…

  1. You think social responsibility campaigns are only about faking it for good PR
  2. The true nature of your business is to make money at the expense of everything else
  3. You don’t really care all that much if your employees love their jobs as long as they do them
  4. The information in your new business pitches is more than 2% exaggeration (or, you know, not true)
  5. You’re afraid of what your customers might say about you.

If you saw yourself in that list, you’re not ready – but you’re still not off the hook.

Even if it’s not right for you right now, it’s still a good idea to understand what drives great social. That’s where your customers are beginning to look for you – so you might want to think about what you can do to help your company’s culture evolve away from dated models and toward what today’s customers are beginning to expect.

Social media isn’t about posting or tweeting or taking pictures of your lunch. Those are simply tactics (and your turkey club looks great, but think about whether it fits with your brand’s objectives). Social media is really about sharing with your community and providing value to your customers and prospects. So if you’re the kind of organization that puts selling at the top of the priorities list – and I’m not knocking it; it’s a viable business model – you’re not ready for social media.

But start giving it some thought, before your competitors swoop in and steal your market share simply by being more available and responsive to the community. Because that definitely is not a viable model for any business.

Five Steps to Healthier Plane Flights

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Halfway to Chicago, I paused while squeezing cheese out of a plastic tube onto a packaged cracker from my $16.00 “Tapas Box” to wonder if there isn’t a better way to fly halfway across the country.

I’d learned to endure getting dehydrated, cramming myself into a coach seat with my knees banging into the seat in front of me – oh gezundheit, man across the aisle, and thank you for flying with bronchitis – smelling the hard-boiled-egg sandwich the woman behind me brought for her dinner – and why is it that hard boiled eggs smell so bad when you’re not the one eating them? – noticing the woman next to me side-eye-reading what I’m typing on my computer (hi there ma’am, yes I’m talking about you!), and all the other wonders we all experience when we fly.

But should plane flights be something you have to endure? Could there be a better way?

The happy answer to that question is YES. It just takes a little bit of planning – and I’m here with a handy five-point checklist you can use to help make it even easier for you to make your next flight your best flight ever.

1. Entertainment

Flights can be pretty boring. Airlines count on that to get you to slide your credit card and pony up six bucks or so for a slew of TV reruns and ads. So –

Be prepared with the things that you find most interesting. If it’s movies and TV, load up your iPad or laptop with really good stuff. Or – have you been trying to find time to read a good book? Here’s two (three, four, etc.) hours of uninterrupted you-time; a gift to you from the friendly skies. Grab your story in paperback (it’s lighter) or the e-format of your choice.

For me, a flight is a great chance to read a really good magazine. Knowing I’ll be picking up Fast Company or another mag I don’t usually get my hands on is almost enough to make me look forward to flying.

And of course, there are always games. You’ve probably got a few on your phone that you like to play, but don’t overlook those on paper. I’m a big fan of Split Decisions in the New York Times Magazine. It only shows up every few months, but I put them away for when I fly because they’re such great brain-teasers (don’t forget to save the answers from the following week as well).

2. Nutrition and hydration

The “Tapas Box” cannot be allowed to win. At the very least, buy a decent salad or sandwich in one of the many take-out spots that have popped up like mushrooms around all the gates. Even better, make something healthy and delicious at home and bring it with you. Keep in mind that anything considered to be “gel-like” may not make it through security, so leave the heavy mayo at home (it’s not good for you anyway) and be cautious about things like peanut butter or hummus as they may get confiscated – again leaving you to the dreaded Tapas Box.

Some great choices for foods you can carry through security include nuts, dried fruits, whole grain crackers, hard cheeses and raw vegetables. Fruits may or may not be allowed through – the agents have a lot of discretion and you don’t want to be getting into an argument with them.

You won’t ever be allowed to bring a bottled or boxed drink through security. Don’t annoy them by trying (it’s never a good idea to annoy a TSA agent). Buy a giant bottle of water on the other side of security, or – moneysaving hack – bring a big empty bottle and fill it at a water fountain by the gate. Prefer it flavored? Bring some drink powder along and tap it into the bottle.

3. Comfort

Nothing says comfort like a narrow seat with 8 inches of legroom and a shared armrest. But it doesn’t have to be total misery.

Wear comfortable clothes and dress in layers. The same flight can be both cold and hot, and you’ll be ready for both. And while your skinny low-rise jeans are cute, after three hours in that narrow seat you’re going to wish you’d worn stretchy leggings and a big soft shirt. Just saying.

For the trek through the airport and on board the plane, comfort extends to your feet so be sure whatever shoes you wear are kind to you. You might want to think about slipper-socks for the plane too – that way you can take your shoes off and give your feet some freedom while keeping them warm.

On the topic of shoes, anyone who flies knows the annoyance of having to remove them to go through security. My number one recommendation to circumvent this (and it comes with a lot of other benefits) is to get TSA pre-approval. It’s a fairly easy process, and that green checkmark on your boarding pass gets you a fastpass through security with your shoes on your feet and your laptop in your bag (at most airports).

4. Slumber

If you really can sleep on a plane, you are a lucky human. For the rest of us, you can improve your chances by giving your head a place to rest and gaming the light and sound issues a little bit. A neck roll pillow will let you rest your head without getting a major neck crick. You might also really appreciate having earplugs and an eyeshade along with you.

Also – you didn’t hear it from me, but if a wee drink helps you nod off, you can save money by bringing your own. The tiny bottles available at most liquor stores are 1.7 ounces each. The TSA allows each person to carry on as many 3.4 ounce bottles of liquid as fit “comfortably” in one quart-sized, clear plastic zip-top bag. Cheers!

5. Interaction

There are some people who love getting to know new people, and others who fake sleep on planes purely to avoid having to say a word to anyone. Whichever camp you fall into, your neighbors will appreciate it as much as you do if you thoughtfully accommodate them. If you just want to sit and think quietly, it’s a good idea to bring a book or magazine just to have open on your lap to show you’re not in chat mode.

And there you have it! Just a little planning before your flight will help make it a much better experience.

(Written from my seat on board United 1159, service to Newark NJ, with a big bottle of water and a bag of smoked almonds to keep me going.)

p.s. The image at the top is real, and I took it with my iPhone. Google “Maho Beach” (it’s in St. Martin) and you’ll see a hundred pics just like it. The KLM 747 comes in every day at 12:30 and the airport is 50 feet from the beach.)

The surprising mistake B2B brands make on social media

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Now that we’re well into the era of B2B on social media, a lot of business-minded companies are seeing their competition building communities and creating marketing value with a robust social media presence. And as these brands begin to recognize the value, they are starting to put their own community management programs into place.

For a few marketers, this is great news. They’re out there making connections, communicating with customers and prospects, generating positive sentiment for their brands and building their audience numbers.

But before you jump in, here’s a surprise: The most common way B2B brands go wrong on social media is actually by being too cautious. Here’s an example.

Company WXYZ decides it’s time to get social. Reasonably, they determine that LinkedIn looks like the smartest option for a business-oriented company. They start by setting up a well-written, well-optimized company page and begin posting updates, including thought-leadership pieces, technology articles and videos. Great so far.

What happens next is not as positive.

  1. They don’t generate new content.

WXYZ’s content library quickly dries up after their existing articles and videos are posted, and no time or budget is allocated towards blogging or other new content creation.

The marketing team decides not to curate and share other people’s relevant content. “We don’t want to support other companies on our page,” they say.

Their company page ends up looking more self-promotional than informative. Visitors who land there have no interest in becoming followers. Potential audience – including those who might share content or become loyal customers and advocates – is lost.

  1. They overlook employee advocacy.

Personnel receive no training or guidelines about optimizing their profiles. Many of them have no profile at all, while others don’t link to the company page. Others are poorly written, lack keywords, etc. WXYZ’s page rank suffers, both within LinkedIn and in Google and other search engines.

Personnel are not encouraged or coached to become brand advocates. A huge opportunity for sharing and engagement is lost. Most of the content that does get posted on LinkedIn is never shared by employees and goes unseen by potential community members.

  1. They don’t populate any other channels.

WXYZ declines to create a Twitter profile, Facebook page or other social channel, reasoning that there are too many opportunities for time-wasting chatter or mistakes. The opportunity to capitalize on vast communities and to share LinkedIn posts on other platforms is lost.

A remote sales manager uses a version of the company name for their Twitter handle. The account is mostly dormant except for occasional photos of the sales team at trade shows. Company customers and prospects who search for WXYZ on Twitter see only this stream, which holds no value or interest for them – and they don’t follow, engage or share any of their own content.

  1. They leave the social element off their owned properties.

Without a blog or high-value downloadable content on their website, and lacking social channels to drive website visits, growth of WXYZ’s audience database is slow. Outbound marketing and email programs deliver very few new leads, and opt-outs shrink the lists almost as fast as they grow.

Does any of this sound familiar? It’s a story that’s happening all too often – showing that no social presence at all can be better than a presence which is sporadic and poorly managed.

There’s so much opportunity right now, especially for non-visual and commercial brands who may be the first in their industry to establish a strong presence on social media.

Your customers are already there. Go surprise them!