Take It Off Line Because Email Sucks

Stop Sending Emails & Call the Client

Let me get it out of the way so I don’t waste your time. I believe this is so obvious that maybe this post is frivolous. So here’s my point: Stop sending emails and call the client (friend, relative, anyone) with whom there may be either a misunderstanding or dispute. That’s all. That’s the post. If you’re a glutton for details, here’s an anecdote:


I produced some web development deliverables for my client as we worked our way toward his new website. These included a site map, some content and a content template for creating more content.

What is created for the client and paid for by the client belongs to the client. Indisputable. Right?

Nevertheless, we had a dispute.  And that’s the fun part about business. The indisputable can be disputed.  Hey, everyone’s got a point of view.

So how do you resolve it? I sent him his deliverables by email. He expressed his concerns by return email.  In an effort to address his concerns, I sent him more tools (basically, access to an online tool). He balked. Oops.

My good client wrote a nice email expressing frustration. I’d sent him an invoice. He didn’t think I’d given him what he needed. He interpreted gaining access to the online tool as kind of a brush off as in “you take it from here.” No, I didn’t mean that.

Once again, email had failed. It failed me and it failed my client. Email sucks.

I had many feelings. But the prominent feeling was that I was not going to litigate this dispute or misunderstanding by email. I wrote him back, by email, with two responses:

  1. When would you like to talk. And would you like me to come to your business to talk in person.
  2. Regarding my invoice, you owe me nothing. You only pay me if I deliver value. And, then, you only pay me for the value you believe I delivered. That’s my fine print.

Email is an incredible tool. But it is not the Swiss Army knife of communication. It is, in fact, a terrible medium. Because:

  1. People can’t write. The message is lost or confused.
  2. When people write they can become emotional
  3. People can’t read. TL;DR (Too long, didn’t read)
  4. When people read an email they misunderstand
  5. Email is often for cowards. Face it, you’re scared of the real time interaction

If you’ve got a problem that is being discussed by email, and this is true in business and with friends and family, take it off line. Get on the phone. Go f…..ing see the other person. Use your voice. You’ll do great.

Is It True That I Invented The Internet AND The Personal Computer?

In the About Sonny Cohen section of this website I state, “Yes, I did invent the personal computer and then the Internet.” A flip remark if there ever was one. I guess I better explain.

Photo of Altair Computer by Dmitry Sumin from Flickr and used under Creative Commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Altair 8800 Computer. Probably the first microcomputer that was sold to consumers around 1975.

In the early to mid-1970’s, hobbyists built simple computing kits. The ancients remember Heathkit, Altair, etc. Some of these kit manufacturers put together a set of circuits on one board. TaDa! The motherboard was born and shortly thereafter a more or less functional computer.

Did I invent any of this? Nope. My contribution was introducing these nascent tools to the market with cartridge games (think Fairchild Channel F Game Console) and then the Apple I followed quickly by Apple II (IIe, II+, IIc, IIg, IIgs, etc.). The personal computer was a “movement” that I, with hundreds of others helped lead. Yes, together with many others I did help to realize the personal computer from its tangle of wires and circuits. In 1977 I met with Steve Jobs and became one of the first Apple Computer Dealers (an extinct species). We were off to the races.

Photo of telephone and modem by Bryan Alexander from Flickr and used under Creative Commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Modem with Phone

And yes, I did invent the Internet, too. We just didn’t call it that. We called it the telephone system. Some called it “Ma Bell.” And we connected our computer to the phone system. We called it a bulletin board system or, to be cool, BBS. And when somebody used their computer to call our computer they could do exciting things (consider the time!) like leaving a message or downloading a computer program or even entering a virtual room and connecting with other computer visitors. Wow! Yes, we were very cool nerds. And, again, with many others we helped paved the way for the modern Internet.

I know, saying I invented personal computers and the internet is a stretch. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Zoom Lite : Tips for Small Organizations, Groups & Clubs

Preparing for that Zoom presentation

One new literacy required of small organizations is the ability to conduct Zoom meetings and, in particular, presentations.

That monthly guest speaker, some announcements, homemade brownies and coffee have been a staple and the glue which helps hold your purpose-driven communities together. While not really as satisfying as a face-to-face evening, the online meeting with Zoom or collaborative tool of your choice can provide continuity not to mention an activity to fill a calendar that may have too many gaps during our Covid health crisis.

After I produced several successful Zoom events, one attendee who has her own organization, reached out to ask me for some tips as she embarked on plans for her own Zoom meetings. Here is my quick list:

  1. Do a dry run with the presenter before the meeting. Make sure they can share their screen, hand control back and forth, access chat. Discuss muting and unmuting participants. And make sure they sign in early to avoid being locked out if your Zoom license has an attendance limit. You don’t want the presenter to be locked out!
  2. Share the conference join link thoughtfully. Perhaps it doesn’t simply get posted to your event website where it can be picked (and shared further) by anybody. Maybe it only goes in your meeting notification email. Yes, you can always require pre-registration. But this is just one more hoop attendees have to jump through to get to your event. Try to avoid creating barriers to participation. Think about it.
  3. Consider using the “waiting room” feature so that each attendee must be individually admitted. I’ve done this for crowds approaching 100 and it is not a problem. It provides some level of control. Keep in mind that “screen names” may not resemble the people who you know by their In Real Life (IRL) names.
  4. Encourage early signins. No matter how easy you try to make this, people will encounter signin challenges. Let them have their signin crisis 15 minutes before start time rather than 5 minutes after.
  5. Offer support for Zoom newbies days in advance. In my experiences with non-technical communities, only a few take advantage. But the few who did really needed help. Be kind. Be patient. Be helpful.
  6. Be explicit that no help or support is available near to presentation time.
  7. If possible, and with the presenter’s knowledge and permission, record the zoom meeting. Make it available on a request basis for a short time (week) after the live event. This goes a long way to satisfy those who forgot the meeting, attended but now want to share it with a friend, or those who simply couldn’t overcome the technology challenge
  8. Have a short script or meeting plan. This will include the familiar structure of calling the meeting to order, announcements, etc followed by the presenter and then Q&A. Don’t take this for granted. Have a plan.
  9. Comb your hair. Maybe you are in your pajama bottoms. But your screen image should not look like you just arrived from the outback.

Your list may differ. And I’ve certainly left some important things off. If there is a bottom line here, it is to be mindful. This is not the time to be winging it. Good luck. Have fun. And let me know what you think.

Earn the Inbox with Content

Earn the inbox with content

I was very sad to unsubscribe to an organization that I completely support. And, let me be clear, when I say support, I don’t mean with lip service. I mean as a contributor. One who gives money. And, although I will continue to give money, and although I completely support this organization, they no longer have access to my inbox. I have unsubscribed.

What’s the Objective?

Arguably, my unsubscribing is a blessing to both of us. Perhaps their email strategy is exclusively to raise money. And their needs are immediate. And they have no interest in a long term relationship.  So if I unsubscribe, I’m not bothered with reminders to give (I do) and they don’t sustain the microcost of keeping me on their email list. Win Win.

Wrong

I don’t see it that way. This organization, a political organization, has a long term interest in me. And they’ve lost this point of contact.

Content is Hard

You know where I’m going. Access to the email inbox is a privilege. And one guaranteed path to earning that privilege is to provide me with useful, current content. It doesn’t’ have to be “Breaking News.”  I welcome insight, opinion, real events, stories. There’s lots out there.

I love you. But all you do is ask me for money. Unsubscribe.

Go Google Yourself

Google’s suggested search options for “Sonny Cohen.” Only one is me and it is not “insolvency.” LOL

I’m working with a group of business professionals to help each of them establish his and her brand online. It seemed natural to me to begin the process by doing a simple search on the search engines to see what sites, if any, I hasten to add, appeared prominently. But what seems natural to me seemed almost surreal to my clients. Yet their response to the results ranged from engaged to alarmed. Had they never done this before? Really? Well, that’s why I’m writing this.

One professional was prominently listed as a partner in a firm – except not the one she is currently with. Another found his status rating in an unfamiliar directory inadequate and his listing inaccurate. And for most there was no particular problem except one: they had almost no presence on the Internet except in their firm bio and LinkedIn. And often the LinkedIn bio linked to a list of the other 12 people having the same name.

So you’re going to search for your name now, right?

Some tips to help you in this search would be to search your name with quotes around it and search variations of your name with quotes such as adding your middle name or initial, etc. Satisfy your paranoia and add unfriendly suffixes to your name search like “sucks”, “arrested” and other bad deeds of your choice. You might as well find what is obvious.

And if Google is your search tool of choice, make it a point to repeat your search with Bing. I won’t share any spoilers so you can enjoy the hunt on your own. But Bing is different, has its own search algorithm and displays its search results in a creative manner.

Based on what you discover, there are a lot of options for you to take to help you shape your digital brand. That’s a post or three for another day. But take the first step and do your own assessment. Go ahead. Google yourself. You won’t go blind.

Why Send Welcome Emails to New Subscribers

I am so embarrassed. I have been producing and sending targeted emails (don’t call them email blasts, dammit) for 13 or 14 years using tools from service providers such as ExactTarget, Bluehornet, CreateSend, MailChimp and ConstantContact. Yet not once have I initiated contact with a new email subscriber by sending an initial email that welcomes them to the email communication.

Wait! Before you make me wear the Scarlet S (for spammer) on my chest. Let me explain.

Best Practices

I’m a good person. I adopt best practices. I believe in opt-in emails. I loathe unsolicited emails and the brands that send them. I hate it when non-profits, like WTTW Channel 11* and many/most others, share my contact information unless I tell them not to. So then why have I never sent a welcome email to subscribers who recently joined an email list?

Lazy

In part, I’m lazy. Not lazy like I don’t give a damn. But lazy as in most of the lists I’ve worked include people who are already receiving communications. For example, email is just a transition from print. Adopting and sending communications by email was an evolution and not a traumatic surprise. The content being delivered was useful and informative, not promotional and annoying. Moreover, the proof was in the analytics. Very few people unsubscribed. Open rates of the emails were at or above what might be expected. The system seemed pretty healthy and it was all good. But the truth is, I was skating on thin ice.

The Dark Side

Lazy, ok. But I got sloppy. I have a client who acquires email addresses whenever customers sign into their in-house wifi system. To be clear, the customers voluntarily contribute their email address as a condition of using the wifi. And I imported these emails into my email service provider. Not exactly opt-in. OK, not opt-in at all. I had moved to the dark side without realizing it.

After the first mailing, I received an email from “Sander” who told me he loved the client’s business when he’d patronized it in Chicago, but he lived 4000 miles away and wouldn’t be back soon. But Sander was wondering how we had obtained his email address. He wasn’t angry. Just curious. But I was the deer in the headlights. I apologized to Sander. I told him I’d misbehaved and promised to fix things.

The Thing I Fixed

Today, I sent an email to 60 new subscribers whose emails I had acquired from their wifi connection. First, on behalf of the owners, the email thanked them for their business, stated the company’s mission and solicited feedback. Then I explained how their email address had been acquired, asked permission to keep them on the subscriber list, promised to never share their information and provided several links to unsubscribe to any further communications.

Imperfect Solution

In a perfect world, every email subscriber opts in to a list. However, I believe an honest and transparent appeal to “prospective subscribers” to continue to receive ongoing email communications is an ethical approach to the dilemma of securing a new email subscriber. For this purpose the “Welcome” or “Thank you for your business” first email is an essential tactic in the email marketing arsenal. I won’t be caught flat-footed again.

What do you think?

I’m interested to know what you think about sending one initial email to people whose email you have acquired but who have not given explicit permission to be on a subscriber list.

* Chicago Channel 11 WTTW’s privacy policy: “…from time to time we may disclose personal identification information about you as an individual user (such as, for example, your full name, street address, telephone number or e-mail address) to one or more third parties in order to expand our membership base and increase support for our programs.

3 Things Lawyers And Law Firms Should Do Online

At a dinner conversation on a trip wholly unrelated to legal marketing or the Internet, the wife of a BigLaw partner whose son was also a BigLaw partner prompted me to identify three things law firms and lawyers should do on the Internet.

I had been talking in generalities about digital marketing and she wanted specifics. It was a great question and, wanting to appear brilliant, I stumbled out a response. My answer was brief and, in reflection, on target. But I felt the good question deserved a response more thorough than the quick witted one I shouted over the mealtime din. This is what I answered – the longer version:

One: Claim and Manage Profiles

This seemingly innocent task seems to be fraught with fear, misunderstanding and ignorance. In fact it is strategic, protective and opportunistic. Few firms or lawyers do this effectively. The participation tasks are assigned to administrative people and the “marketing department.” It is far more than populating one’s LinkedIn profile with the same undifferentiated bio that appears on the website. Content from profiles are increasingly becoming re-purposed as the web grows increasingly social and apps and sites become interconnected.

Two: Create Content

Successful professional service providers must create content to be effective marketers. Lawyers perceive marketing as sales and sales as dirty. Nothing replaces the business development value of one personally networking in places where clients reside such as causes, country clubs, the symphony and skyboxes. But publishing authoritative content can often be the deal breaker for selecting one lawyer or firm over another. My data is anecdotal but it has grown steadily over the entire time I’ve been serving this industry. An entire industry has grown up around content marketing and there is a good reason for that. It works.

Lawyers, of course, are busily yolked into billable hour requirements. Many are reluctant to share the knowledge they believe they should sell. Publishing in a regulated industry is a challenge. And the layers of review and approval can make it difficult if not impossible to produce timely content. I get it. That’s why cutting through all these obstacles and consistently producing informative non-promotional content makes the successful ones stand out.

Three: Publish Effective Websites

Websites provide a powerful opportunity to really make or blow the firm’s brand. Firms spend 100 of thousands of dollars on their websites. Yet in an annually conducted study of the AmLaw 100 “10 Foundational Website Best Practices”, 75% of firms were rated fair or poor. It is astonishing that they can’t get it right.

Why is this? First, the lawyers get in the way of the marketers. They believe themselves to be experts on design. Their lawyer-staffed web committees can only agree on the color blue. They want to be the same as [fill in the blank] law firm. Moreover, they have a strong tendency to listen to marketers who are also lawyers**. Better they should be talking to marketers whose clients resemble the law firm client and not themselves. Unless all they want to hear is an echo, which seems to be the case.

Did I get this right? If not, what three things top your list?

** There are some excellent marketers who are also lawyers. But being a lawyer is not a prerequisite for offering good legal marketing advice.

The Power of Process

My team had developed a website in record time to meet a client’s immovable deadline. In fact, the site was ready for client final review 10 days early. We were sitting pretty. Or so we thought.

An Arranged Marriage

As we made plans to host the client’s new WordPress website at a reliable and modestly priced internet service provider (ISP), the client introduced a new contact to our team. He was a part-time technology consultant who managed the small firm’s email, internal network and other miscellaneous duties including the start-up website that our team had been engaged to replace.

Who’s on First?

Our new IT partner had his own ideas about where to host. Although we expressed disappointment at this well-known non-performing ISP, we could live with it. The website was not mission-critical and if there were hosting issues down the line, the site could always be moved later or the client would simply accept the ISP’s misbehavior. It was not a show stopper. But then the project really went south.

Now Escape with Both Hands Tied

Because the IT consultant also managed other infrastructure at this hosting site, we were to be given limited access to the ISP. Moreover, our new IT friend indicated his intent to set up the WordPress environment and was preparing to receive our website files and database although we had not sought this “assistance.”

The arrival of this complicating news was followed by an exchange of many emails and several phone calls. Directions from the IT consultant came with incorrect credentials, inaccurate ftp upload directions and somewhat of a tug of war over controlling the quality of the launch. Our process was slipping away and our time was escalating.

The Client is Not Always Right (But they’re always the client)

In the end, the client backed its IT consultant. Instead of $84 for a full year of hosting from our preferred ISP and a smooth and efficient launch process, we engaged in 4 hours of unbillable time wrangling over the IT consultant’s desired process.   Too bad for us. Suck it up. But more importantly and regrettably, the client lost as well. A process we had followed with great success succumbed to an impromptu series of misdirection and errors.

So Now Who’s In Charge?

Most important, the site is not up and it remains an open question as to whether it will be successfully published by the mutually agreed launch date. Failure to follow a proven process has led to other casualties as well. And the open question remains if or when something is not working correctly who is responsible?

Once the site is launched our process would have continued to provide added value including:

  1. weekly automated back up of the site for 1 year
  2. regular (at least quarterly) security and patch updates to WordPress for 1 year
  3. configuration of caching, webmaster tools
  4. 30 day post-launch warranty on the site function
  5. staff training on use of the WordPress interface

Due to limited site access most of this added value, with the exception of staff training, may not be able to be executed. Of course, we’ll do whatever we can with the permissions we have.

Takeaway: Update Our Process

This website launch case story is exclusively about process. It is not about being “right” or being in control. It is about following steps that have been put in place based on prior errors and missteps that we, and everyone, makes on their way toward improving and perfecting a process.

Our one takeaway? Shame on us. Close the hosting arrangement at the very top of the project and avoid surprises. Add that to our process.

Have you had a process disrupted? What have been the implications for you? Share your story.

Top 3 Internet Priorities for Small Business

After I got on my soapbox for a minute about how small business should use the Internet more effectively, Patti Mason asked me what are the first three things a small business should manage on the Internet.

I was talking with “Independent Damsel Pro” Patti Mason from Damsel in Defense. Patti was the guest speaker at our Mastermind Business Networking lunch this afternoon. I was already self-conscious about having passionately launched into a monologue on small business and the Internet and was ready to turn over the floor.  But Patti seemed earnest in her question. I sputtered my answer in as close as I could come to a Tweet. 

Listening to Patti Mason at the Mastermind Network Lunch

Here’s a slightly longer version:

Be Informative

You have to have a website with informative content that addresses the needs of your targeted client.  Graphic design is content’s chaperone, making sure it is findable, visible and readable (or heard or seen). But your ongoing energy is in the content you publish.

Be Verifiable

Your digital reputation envelops you. This may be good or bad for society and our remaining privacy.  I don’t know. But right now chances are there is a great deal online about you and your business. Your clients want to know that working with you is a risk-free transaction.  Claim your profiles and manage them. If you have ratings, acknowledge them.

Be Engaged

Business referral is such a significant source of new business. Leverage this power online. Consume and acknowledge the content produced by others. Share what you can of your own. And be authentic.

The best platform in which to be engaged will depend on your business. It may be LinkedIn or Pinterest. It could be Facebook or YouTube. You have to investigate and experiment. Don’t accept anybody’s Top X Social Media list.

What do you think?

So how close to your list is my Top 3 Internet Priorities for Small Business? Let me know.

About Damsel in Defense
Damsel in Defense is about equipping women with the tools to not only keep them safe but also to give them the confidence to know that they have a way out if they ever feel threatened.

Thanks to Robert McCormick for the use of his photos originally posted on Mastermind Business Networking Lake County Facebook page.

Why LinkedIn is a Malicious Mobile App

I was completely caught off guard while working on my laptop computer when LinkedIn displayed a list of my email contacts and innocently prompted me:

“We found 424 people you know on LinkedIn when you added your address book. Select the people you’d like to connect to.”

And there, before my eyes, were all my email address book contacts.

Whoa! What was this about? I never added my address book to LinkedIn. That’s one thing I would never do.

Life in the Transparent Lane

As a matter of professional hazard, I live my life rather transparently online. But there are some things I take some caution to not share. And one of those things is my contacts. For the same reason I don’t like to be robotically solicited to engage in someone else’s network, I don’t want to be the culprit that causes this pain to others. So I mind my contacts as best I can.

About a half hour of online sleuthing – also known as completely wasting my time – revealed a large network of people who had been caught in this LinkedIn scam. And they, like me were pretty pissed off.

At first I suspected that I had somehow slipped up and authorized Google to cough up my Gmail contacts. But this time Google (and I) were not guilty. Then began the search through my LinkedIn privacy settings. Astonishingly there was no information about contact importing. Ultimately after more research (read: wasting time) I was led to the LinkedIn app recently installed on my mobile device. And there it was…

Permissions? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Permissions

LinkedIn Mobile app seizes your contacts and imports them into its platform.

Under “Permissions” in the LinkedIn app is the innocuous authorization to “Read Your Contacts”. It is not an option. It is a condition of using the app. OK, so reading my contacts is one thing. But after highlighting this specific permission, the more onerous truth emerges and it reads,

“Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge.”

Well, there it is. Ouch.

Now, to be fair, something I don’t really feel the need, LinkedIn only uses the information to suggest that I start sending out requests for connection. They’ve even done the heavy lifting of culling my list of several thousand contacts down to about 400 or so actual people who are on LinkedIn and with whom I haven’t already connected. And they ask for permission to extend my invitation to them. I can even customize my invite. How nice? No, not nice at all.

Bad LinkedIn. Bad. Bad. Bad.

LinkedIn: You’ve crossed the line. Your app is malicious. And I’m removing it from my mobile device. And worse, I trust you less. Which is too bad, because I’ve been rather high on LinkedIn lately. But now this. It’s wrong.

Next step: Remove those Damn Contacts

Another half hour of research brought me to the process for removing those contacts from LinkedIn. It wasn’t easy. But if you’ve been caught in this cesspool, here’s how to do it.

1) On LinkedIn, navigate to Connections > Add Connections and select “Manage imported contacts” in the upper right of the page
2) Check “Select All”, scroll to bottom of page & select the greyed out (!) “Delete selected contacts” and accept the double confirmation request
3) Repeat this process because LinkedIn won’t display all your contacts at once. For my 1100 imported contacts I had to do this repeatedly.

After repeating this incredibly time wasting process several times, LinkedIn will deliver an error message. They’re toying with you. And disrespecting you. At some point you will have to start selecting a shorter list of deletes. Begin to manually check names – perhaps 50 – 100 at a time. Keep at it. Eventually all your contacts will be deleted.

Dump the LinkedIn App

Delete the LinkedIn app from your mobile device. They behaved badly and they don’t deserve a place on your mobile device.

What Do You Think?

Have you been caught in this? Do you think LinkedIn should bust into your email contacts and import them to their platform? Maybe you think this is a valued service. Let me know.