Hoping for an If

I’ve been fascinated by and have followed Formula 1 racing since high school. Unlike NASCAR or Indy racing, the technology, and the budgets of F1 are in another world. And when a team of engineers has a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars, there’s no telling hat they’ll come up with. Over the years I’ve watched clever teams subjugate the rule book by chilling the fuel (lower temperatures allowed the fuel tank to hold more fuel); forcing exhaust gas over a movable rear wing to increase the car’s grip; create an electrical charge for hybrid motors by capturing the heat generated by the brakes; use pneumatic bursts of air in lieu of springs to open and close valves because a mechanical spring could never move fast enough when your engine revs to 16,000 rpm. And every year the cars become more fascinating.f1-mclaren-honda

 

And one of the best teams has always been McLaren. Founded by Denis Hulme and Bruce McLaren in the late 1960’s, their team grew to be a technical powerhouse that dominated a variety of racing disciplines. And in the mid 1980s, none other than Honda joined their team as the engine supplier. From 1983 to 1992, Honda engines powered F1 cars to 67 victories, with 44 of those coming from McLaren. And those 44 victories brought McLaren four consecutive world championships.

Following those stunning years, Honda took a hiatus from F1. They came back,sort of half-heartedly, from 2000 to 2004, but not with McLaren. And then in 2014 they announced they would be back with McLaren. And the racing world rejoiced and delighted in this. Fans wondered what sort of technical marvel Honda would produce, what sort of breathtaking innovation would come forth from the Willy Wonka factory of engine manufacturers?

Sadly their return to glory never materialized. While the car above may look like an earthbound missile, it’s been woefully uncompetitive against the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, and Williams. They have two former world champions behind the wheel, the brightest engineers in Japan and England, and a history of technical innovation on their side and they still managed to create an absolute dud of an engine, which created a dud of a car.

What went wrong?

For that you’ll have to ask someone much smarter than me but it’s gotten so bad that one of their drivers recently hoped for an if:

hoping

Did Fernando Alonso really say that?

This relationship seemed to have everything going for them. They had the best budget, team, support, leadership, drivers, and so on. And yet here they are, well into their second year as a team and their lead driver is wishing someone in front of him had wrecked because that might have given him the possibility for a podium, i.e. third place.

Trust me when I say that no one in the racing world would’ve expected this arrangement to yield these sort of results.

Which brings us to you and your business web-based goals. The clients I perform Search Engine Optimization for end up on the front page of their desired key word searches. Results like that do not come overnight, they come after research, website optimization and the publishing of essays geared towards the client’s product or service. And I believe that all the technical know how in the free world won’t achieve results unless you’ve got an intriguing storyteller.

I know I couldn’t save McLaren, but perhaps I can help you. With SEO there’s no secret formula, no white hat methods that only so-and-so knows; it’s solid common sense followed up with carefully crafted essays designed to draw the reader in, get them to engage with your website and convert them to followers and buyers.

Don’t turn over your SEO to an office volunteer then hope for an if. Your social media landscape is too important a commodity for that. My company, Jack Russell Social Media, specializes in front page SEO results. And remember, the best place to hide a dead body is page two of Google’s search results.

Concessions

The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart. ~ Robert Green Ingersoll

Who hasn’t tasted defeat? I have and it hurts. I’ve competed in Tae Kwan Do, Cycling, Cooking, and Business. And in these competitive endeavors I’ve often felt well-prepared and ready for battle. Over the years I’ve brought home trophies, medals, glory, newspaper clippings, TV and magazine appearances, grand prizes, and cash. I’ve also brought home wounds, stitches, bruises, and scars of all shapes and sizes.  In one rather memorable NORBA-sanctioned Mountain Bike race, I knew, just knew I would win. I can’t remember being more prepared or more confident than at any time in my life. Then as soon as the starter’s pistol fired, I was waylaid by another rider and hit the ground hard enough to get a mouth full of dirt and gravel embedded in an elbow. I managed to finish in third place.

Ouch

I’ve been humiliated by a trio of kids on a Food Network show that was supposed to be fun entertainment but it sure felt like a winner take all competition to me. So that’s how I approached it. And when the kids overwhelmingly voted for the other chef, wow, did that hurt. Yeah, nothing like having millions of folks watch along as you get your butt handed to you by twelve year-olds.

As I’ve I grown older, I’ve learned to be prepared for defeat. It still hurts but it should also make me stronger, more resilient, and hopefully more gracious. I’ve also helped others compete and I’ve prepared them for victory, and defeat. Because at the end of the day, we have to be ready to accept the outcome. We can’t blame the officials, the fans, the field of play or the opponents. When we compete, we better have a keen understanding of the rules, our teammates, and our own abilities.

Which brings me to Cam Newton.

There’ so much to like about the guy. Of course his athletic abilities are super human and he’s done wonders for the Panthers. And I like his approach to the game. I love the way he signals a first down, the way his cadence can disrupt the opposing team, and the high fives he gives to his fans after a victory. And honestly I can’t remember any pro football player taking that much interest in the fans, or his teammates. At the NFC championship game, he had all the names of his teammates inscribed on his shoes. With respect to children, especially the ones battling a life-threatening illness, he goes above and beyond what any player in my recollection has done. Yeah, there’s a lot to like about Cam.

And then this happened.

Cam sulks jpeg

And we all know it was wrong. But just catch your breath for a minute and understand that Cam is the leader of the team, not the leader of the organization. There’s Jerry Richardson and after that there’s a host of administrative staff; a GM, assistant GM, Director of Player Engagement, Team Administrator, HR Director, and so on. So my question is, did any of these people prepare Cam Newton for defeat? I know, Cam should’ve been more professional and gracious. But the man is 26 years old and he’s just had his butt handed to him in the most important performance of his life. Of course he’s going to be disappointed and dejected.  Plus the NFL decided to cram both teams into the same conference room so he has to listen to the opposing team brag about their victory. The real question is why the heck was he allowed to go in front of the press in such a foul mood? Wasn’t there anyone in the Panthers organization that had prepared him for this moment?

When Apollo 11 lifted off on its way to the moon, President Nixon had a speech ready just in case the astronauts died. And he was prepared to read it. General Eisenhower had a concession speech ready in case the Normandy landings failed. It’s the hallmark of a great leader to prepare themselves.

Physically and mentally, Cam, and the Panthers, were ready to play football. He’s a tough competitor and I have no doubt he walked into that stadium in the best shape of his life. He’s had an amazing year and he’s led his team through adversity and glory. He’s done wonders for the organization yet when he needed the Panthers organization in his corner, they weren’t there.

Are you prepared for defeat? Are your people?

Work hard. Work smart. Know your opponent’s weakness and exploit them. And when all is said and done and you’ve given it your best shot and you still end up in second place, will you throw yourself on the floor and kick and scream? Or will you hold your head high, do a little self-evaluation, then plot your comeback?

Panthers 5

A Case Study in Cookies

I love making people happy.

In late December I bake chocolate chip cookies and bring big plates of them to my clients as a way of saying Thank  You and Merry Christmas. And today I dropped off some to one of my new clients, a law firm. Recently they had found themselves in a tough situation. This particular firm has been around for 20+ years and they’re seen as the old guard in their particular discipline. And for years they would get four or five referrals a month; new clients sent to them by other firms or previous clients. And life was great until about three years ago when their referral rate started to drop off.

Why?

Greenville, SC has grown tremendously in the last five years, likewise all of our town’s industries. The legal profession is no exception. We’ve had all sorts of attorneys move into this town and open up shop without any regard to tradition. They hang a shingle, have a professionally built website, then optimize their sites for Google, Bing, Yahoo. They get on Twitter, Snap Chat or LinkedIn and tell the world who they are and what they do. And they get out to Chamber meetings, sponsor beer tastings, 5K runs, and they blog twice a month. And soon they’re taking away business from the established law firms that have failed to keep up with the 21st century’s preferred forms of communication.

When this established law firm called me, I knew I could help. They didn’t use Facebook, did not utilize LinkedIn, didn’t have web links on their email signatures and they showed up on page seven or eight of Google’s search results. Yikes!  They approached me and asked for some help so I made some recommendations, built some snappy LinkedIn profiles, created a Google+ page and so on.  I also found one of their partners that can write like nobody’s business and set him up on a blogging schedule and we were off to the races. A great writer is key to a solid online strategy because you can blog all you want but if no one’s enjoying your words, they will not share, comment or engage with your blog and you will not get the most out of your SEO strategy. I cannot say this enough: An effective social media strategy requires a solid, creative writer.

It’s been about thirty days since we got everything up and running and today I was delivering those cookies. The paralegal at the front desk smiled broadly when I walked in.

“Oh John, they’re so excited. We got our first client from our Google page this week.”

Wow. I was floored but damn happy, too. And when she saw the cookies, she was doubly excited. And I got a quick thumbs-up from one of the partners as he headed to a conference call.

Social Media Greenville SC

Chocolate Chip, Oat, Malted Milk Cookies. Got Milk?

Now I don’t promise results like this because advertising is something we should look at with the long distance approach of a telescope, not a microscope. Though I do promise cookies at Christmas time.

Perhaps I can help your company. If you’re not getting the results you desire from your social media or you’re just too darn busy to properly manage it, give us a call. We’ll ask the right questions, plan a strategy then get to work. And we’re anonymous. Your customers will believe it’s you on Facebook or Twitter, and not some guy on the other side of town.  Got Milk?

How Can I Make You Happy?

“Is everything OK?”

“No sir, the pico de gallo is a little old.”
“Oh.  Is it mushy?”

“Yeah, it’s actually a lot mushy.”

“Alright.”

And off he went.  All I could do was watch him carry on with his business of wiping down tables and refilling glasses of tea.  What the hell?

I was having lunch at a local Tex-Mex restaurant that I enjoy.  Their food is above-average, their offerings are much more interesting than the frozen and canned offerings served by the numerous $5.99 lunch special “Mexican” factories, and their prices are fair.  I had ordered a side of black beans with my taco basket, and the beans come topped with pico de gallo.  Tooth of the rooster, that’s the translation, pico is usually diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro with salt and pepper.  As I lifted a fork of the beans to my mouth, I smelled something daunting, a strong aroma that was out of place.  I took a small taste and as I rolled the beans and pico around, I took a good look at the tomatoes.  They were covered in a pasty gray film.  I discreetly used my napkin to remove said tomatoes then looked for a staff member, and waited.

draft-taps

How about if I bring you some fresh black beans and pico de gallo and a cold beer to boot?

 

The young man that had delivered my food walked past and that’s when the conversation ensued. And he shrugged his shoulders and carried on.

Why?  Was he not used to someone complaining about the pico or the food?  Had he not been trained in problem solving?  Did he not care?

I was trying to be discreet because there were other people seated near me and I didn’t need to blurt out, “Hey pal, this is spoiled!”  As I said, I like this place and I’ve had many enjoyable meals there.

A minute later my waitress walked past so I smiled and asked for a hand.

“Yes?”

“This pico de gallo is very old.”

“Oh, sorry about that.” And she kept on about her business.

Oh come on people!  Make it right.  Ask the customer, “how can I make you happy?”  There was twenty five cents worth of pico de gallo on my $9.00 lunch and these two kids are about to blow this restaurant’s reputation.  For Pete’s sake, will someone make a decision here.

A minute later she walked past and I stopped her.

“I was trying to be discreet earlier because this pico de gallo is spoiled.  Please throw it out and bring me some fresh black beans with fresh pico de gallo.”

Well that got her attention.  She quickly returned with what I asked for. And I also had my next blog post.

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, your front line people should be trained in conflict management and problem solving.  If your promises are not being delivered, find out why, ask questions, and train your people to take care of business, right now.  Give them permission to solve the problem right then and there.  We don’t need to go get the manager, we can solve this right now.  How can I make you happy? Let me go get you some fresh beans and pico and how about a cold Thomas Creek to go with those beans?

Don’t let a twenty five cent serving of anything derail years of hard work.

Now that that’s off my chest, how may I help you?

Faster, Harder, Farther

I’m a fairly emotional guy. I don’t mean that I cry often, rather I tend to linger over fond memories. Perhaps too much. Maybe that’s why I enjoy looking through old photographs. Recently my wife asked me to help her find a photo of us from Mardi Gras. We broke out stacks of real photos and spent a few hours reminiscing. The memories flooded past in glossy, colorful, slightly faded pieces of our lives. Four by six, five by seven, and a few wallets; California, Romania, Louisiana, New York, London, and South Carolina. And I found myself wanting to make memories worthy of a photograph.

Taking a photo used to be a big deal. You had to carry a camera, film, and perhaps an additional lens. Then the film had to be developed, photos were printed and paid for. So one only carried a camera if you were going to do something worthy of the trouble and expense. Today it’s so easy, it’s not uncommon to share a photo of a peanut butter and jelly in the process of being made. And where’s the adventure in that?

I want to take more photos like this one, and less of my sandwiches.

Looking Glass

A poorly-timed photograph taken on the top of Looking Glass Mountain, late fall of 1998. That’s my faithful Jack Russell Terrier, Bonnie and my wife Amy holding her leash. As usual, Bonnie is waiting for me.

 

If you’re familiar with dogs, Jacks are notoriously high-strung. They’re smart, energetic, and relentless. Once they decide to do something, there’s no stopping them. And Bonnie was no different. If we went for a hike, a swim in the ocean, a long walk, or a car ride, it was never enough just to go. She had to go faster, harder, farther. Case in point, in this photo she is as usual, waiting on me.

In our relationships, both personal, and business, we should all have a Bonnie. A faithful companion that extols us to success. Someone that we love and respect, someone that we’ll go that last mile for.

In one of my endeavors, I have an entire team of Bonnies. In July, I’ll ride across the state to raise money for the SC Alzheimer’s Association and I’ve got some teammates to encourage and push me to success. Yet I still feel like I’m missing something. I need someone to encourage and push me in my business relationships, and it feels like that’s missing from my life. A friendly competitor, someone to race me to the top of the mountain then pat me on the back when I’ve come in second, or third. We all measure success differently and I don’t use money as a yardstick. Are my kids becoming responsible? Am I protecting my family? Are my clients happy and are they getting their money’s worth? Because life isn’t about the destination, it’s really about the journey and our journey begins anew every morning. And today I’m going to try and pray harder, run quicker, pedal faster, and make my clients happier. And I’d like to do this while I work towards taking more photos of real adventures, and less photos of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

Do you have a Bonnie in your life? Someone, or some dog, that is constantly pushing you to success? I think I do, I just need to remind them.

I Predict a Tie

As Rich Gore made his way to the front door of my restaurant, I put an arm around his shoulder, pulled him close and mumbled, “I’m gonna wipe the floor with Phillipe.”

Rich pulled on his jacket and smiled casually.  “Malik, I’m gonna predict a tie.”

Once upon a time, I was a B list celebrity chef with an A list ego.  And I’ve also had a competitive nature for a very long time, and while that nature has many positives, it also comes with a bit of a downside.  And that’s what led me to spend an afternoon in a local shopping mall wearing a chef’s coat and a red silk boxer’s robe.  The Food Network was in town with a travelling live show that included a wine tasting, cooking demos, cookbook signings and a cooking competition; but with a guy like me on stage, I planned on winning, no questions asked.  Cue the theme from Rocky.  But over in the producer’s corner was Rich Gore.  And he was going to make sure the whole thing ended in a tie.

When show time came the next day, myself and Chef Phillipe Chin each had a mystery basket of ingredients, a picked-from-the-audience assistant, and a pantry of dry goods, the MC Bill Boggs, and a special guest in none other than Southern food authority Nathalie DuPree.  We had thirty minutes to cook and an audience of a couple hundred shoppers watching and cheering us on.  Like many other cooking demonstrations I’ve done, it was on a narrow stage with a minimum of equipment, and little room to work.  But that can be a lot of fun, and I’ve always been good at making do with what I have.  When Nathalie called time, I believe I had three different dishes.  Likewise Phillipe.  And I have no idea what I made, I can’t remember.  But I will remember the next few minutes for a very long time.  Mr. Boggs announced that the winner would be declared through the audience’s reaction and that our producer, Mr. Gore, would measure their reaction trough his computer.  I looked down at Rich as he donned a pair of enormous headphones.  In one hand he held a heavy laptop computer, in the other he hoisted what looked like the antennae from an old Chevy.  The antennae had a wire wrapped around it and it was plugged into his computer.  And those of us on the stage were the only ones that knew the laptop wasn’t turned on.  Rich stood up and waved that antennae around and pretended to listen intently to the beeps of his reaction-judging software while Bill Boggs had everyone cheering first for me, then for Phillipe.  After a couple of minutes, Rich whipped off his headphones and with unbridled enthusiasm announced: “It’s too close, we gotta do it again!”

Super Chef!

Cue the theme from Rocky!

And I stood up there laughing myself stupid.

We did the whole thing again and Bill really got everyone screaming and yelling, first for Phillipe then for me.  Rich directed his antennae towards the loudest screams and the shouts, his eyes wide and intent on judging their enthusiasm.  Finally he ripped off his headphones, threw his arms into the air and with a look of shock and disbelief announced a tie.

“It’s too close to call. It’s a tie!”

Phillipe and I were both laughing so hard that Phillipe chided me.  He was afraid we would give away the secret.

“Chef! Behave, behave.”

“Yes, Chef.”

What was at stake?  From the chef’s point of view, not much.  Phillipe and I both had solid reputations; there was no money riding on the outcome, no contracts to star in the latest cooking show, no kiss from the local beauty queen.  What was at stake was Rich’s reputation and his desire to be successful.  And he measured success in the audience’s laughter, smiles, and applause.  So what if the chicken dishes were thrown together in thirty minutes or less, did the audience enjoy the show?  And the answer was yes. When we came off the stage, me and Phillipe signed autographs, took handshakes and returned a lot of smiles.  And the biggest one was from Rich.

“What’d I tell ya, Malik?  It was a tie.”

That’s a lesson I’ve carried with me for a long time. Is your audience getting what they came for?  Have you engaged your audience, your staff, your customers, or your family?  Are they having a good time enjoying the show, their job, or just their day?  When you’re on the stage, the real winner should be the audience.

Thanks, Rich.

 

 

128 Miles

Have you ever seen that motivational poster that says, “Shoot for the Moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

The Moon

I hate that poster.  For a lot of reasons.

The moon is roughly 240,000 miles away from Earth.  The nearest star, about 4.5 Light Years.  If you don’t remember how far that is, it’s the distance a beam of light could travel in a year’s time.  And remember that light travels at 186,000 miles per second.

And I hate those sort of cheesy, fuzzy platitudes.  And besides, that’s hardly a goal, right?  But 3,000 miles on a bike, in a year, now that’s a goal.

The end of 2014 will mark my second year in business.  And it’s been a very good year.  I diversified my services, found a niche and have exploited that niche.  Along the way I’ve learned some tough lessons on salesmanship and trust.  One particularly glaring mistake was trusting a PR gal out of New York.  The company she represented sold high-end grills and I was a natural for their product.  A guy that can write, manage social media, and has a food background would be the natural fit for a grill company, correct?  Well turns out she was only interested in my ideas.  Three days after discussing my proposal and ideas, I knew I had been “had.”  Ah well, live and learn.

This year I also got back in cycling in a big way.

RTR 4

Halfway through day three of the 2014 Ride to Remember.

I have a cycling team dedicated to one event, the Ride to Remember.  It’s the largest fundraiser for the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association and it happens to be a 252 mile, three day bicycle ride across the state.  All of us on Team Coast Busters have a personal connection to #ALZ and that’s what brought us together.  And in  the process of preparing for this ride, I reconnected with road cycling.  Heaven help me, I do so love it.  About two months ago, I realized that I have a very good shot of putting in 3,000 miles for the year.  Three thousand!  I certainly didn’t start out with that goal.  I just wanted to complete the #RTR with my team and along the way raise a nice chunk of money.  Which I did.  And now here it is early December and I’m only 128 miles away from three thousand.  December…with its endless invitations, cold weather, minimal sunlight and endless temptations.  You would think I would totally devote myself to putting in those final 128 miles, but I’m not.  I’ve already reached my cycling goals for the year, but haven’t reached my business goals and honestly, those are a bit  more important.  If I end the year with only two thousand, nine hundred and forty miles then that’s that.  Not bad for a guy that spent the first half of 2013 on crutches, right?  I’ll delight in the fact that this year I’ve made a lot of new friends, seen some incredibly beautiful sights, lost twenty four pounds, and increased my company’s reputation in Greenville’s business world.

GSC at night

Greenville, SC and the Reedy River at night

The lesson?  Set lofty goals but make sure they’re concrete, something you can track and manage.  But make sure they’re big.  And if you don’t make them, then you’ve still gotten close.  But along the way to achieving those goals, enjoy the view and the fringe benefits.