Emotions

I believe that my wife thinks we are living in poverty.  She is continually saying, “The house is too small!” and “We have nothing to eat!” and “I have nothing to wear!”

But the truth of the matter is that we have plenty of space, plenty of food, plenty of clothes.

I believe she is just easily irritated, as she will likely be by this blog post.

We are in the process of buying a house, and she has decided that she wantses a specific house.  She wantses it!  The problem with deciding that you wantses something so badly is that it does big damage to our bargaining position.  If we can’t walk away, then we really have no leverage.

Oh, we can bluff and say, “No way!” and “Do that or else!”, but at the end of the day, we will likely be buying the house.  It is a nice house, but, like me, it’s got lots of problems.

Broken lights, an old roof, run-down water heater, open “hot” wires in the closet (Geesh!), outlets that blow the main breaker on the house if anything is plugged in, an aging roof, an aging water heater. Big problems. Small problems.  Problems.  And lots of good stuff, too!

But my lovely wife loves the house.  And we will do our best to haggle, but we will bend over and take whatever pebbles the seller throws our way.

Why?  Because we are big, dumb, emotional people.  That’s why.

I am emotional about my wife, and she is emotional about the house.

Vacation Communication

In the 5 years I have been running my company, I have not taken a vacation day.  I work 7 days a week, stopping only for meals, family time, and sleep.  That’s over 2,500 days without a break.

The reason why I haven’t taken a vacation day is two-fold:

  1. Communicating a vacation to my clients is a relatively big task.
  2. I worry about leaving my business and reputation in the hands of other people.

Communication

At my old 9-to-5 job, when I wanted to take a vacation day, I would simply get approval from my boss, turn on my email vacation auto-responder, and update my voicemail accordingly.  That’s it.  3 simple steps.

In my current job as the owner of website development and website hosting businesses, I have to:

  1. Let all 50 or so of my clients know that I will be out of the office
  2. Arrange for emergency website support in case a website goes down or gets hacked
  3. Arrange for emergency server support in case a server goes down

Each of those 3 tasks is rather large.

Consider this.  My companies are very hands-on and our mission is to provide the best customer service possible.  In order to provide great service, we need to be available.  It is that level of service and availability that has been my vacation achilles heal.

But I am going to try.  I will be taking a vacation from May 22 – 27 this year.  That’s right.  6 days of not answering my cell phone, not responding to email, not talking with clients.

Reputation

For better or worse, my company represents me and I represent it.  It is a tough thing to put my company’s reputation in the hands of other people.  The best I can do is cross my fingers and hope that I put my company’s fate in the hands of able folks and get some good luck in terms of server up time and website mojo.

I never thought that I would be the type of person who is scared to take a day off, but I am.  I am scared to death.  But I fear that if I do not do this, my company will suffer a worse fate – customer attrition through poor service caused by burnout.

I worry about and feel the affects of 5 years of 7-days-a-week working.  I am tired.  I am burned out.  I need a break.

It is entirely possible that taking a vacation will help me on numerous fronts – personal relationships, energy level, ideas, business development, etc.  I really only see upside to it.  So why is it so damn hard to take a break?

Mired in the Day-to-Day

My days are filled with a variety and wealth of to-dos – some urgent and some not.  Managing these to-dos along with paying bills, creating invoices, managing client relationships, etc. takes a great deal of my brain power and energy.

The complex and pressing nature of all of this makes long-term thinking and high-level strategizing on a day-to-day basis very difficult.  For example, I have a client that needs X done by tomorrow, but I want to plan for a vacation.  To date, the client has won out every time.  It is the path of least resistance.

Just because I am going on vacation does not mean that my clients will suffer.  Quite the contrary.  The people that I will put on call are amazing and in many ways better at what I do than I am.  It just takes time and energy to put them on call.

Fellow freelancers:  Can you relate to my experiences? What are your experiences and concerns with vacation planning?

 

Do the Work

I was sitting around tonight researching some computers in anticipation of an upgrade at some point in the near future.  I was thinking about how fast and how awesome this new computer might be and how it would increase my workflow and allow me to create awesome things.

Then I realized that I have been spending a lot of time thinking about creating awesome things while not actually creating anything of note.

So, I decided to put down the internet for a bit and work on my forthcoming WordPress calendar plugin.  I wanted to go to bed with the feeling of having actually done something interesting and possibly even having learned something.

Well, it is approaching 1:30 a.m., and I can say that I feel better about myself now than I did a few hours ago when I started on this adventure.  I fixed a bug in the plugin and re-factored some code.  It feels good to be productive, and, somewhat surprisingly, it feels bad to think about being productive while not actually being productive.

I need to remember to do the work more often.

Qwest CenturyLink Has No Integrity; Why $86 is everything.

Some of you might recall a bad experience I had with Qwest’s customer service team 3 years ago.

Today I went to bat again, defending the little guy against the tyranny of illogic and greed.

The battle over $86.93

I spent about 45 minutes on the phone today with Qwest/CenturyLink, because my bill increased from $36.99 to $67.98 in May, $54.45 in June, $50.98 in July.  Very random increases.

Qwest’s low-level customer support gal told me that some promotions expired, which caused the increase in my bill.  This was an unsatisfactory answer on a number of levels.  To top that off, I learned that I have been paying for a service called Qwest @Ease for the past 10 months – a service I never requested and certainly do not desire.

Qwest @Ease cost me $129.90 over the course of those 10 months.  I don’t know how I got signed up for it in the first place.  I certainly was not utilizing the service, which offers a yearly PC scan (I use a Mac), an email account (I use gmail), and some online hard drive space (I am the owner of a web hosting company and have no need for whatever crappy server space Qwest might provide).

The initial customer support person, claiming powerlessness, transferred me to her boss, Ray.

At first Ray was condescending and rude, telling me that I was getting too good of a deal as it was – seriously.  He copped an attitude and said that I was getting some $10 discount over the past 11 months.  Regardless of what discount I was getting, that wasn’t the issue at hand.  I wasn’t calling Qwest to check on the net balance of any over-charges and under-charges.  The issue I was raising was one of being OVER-charged, not under-charged.  So poor listening there on Ray’s part.  And double negative for being a jerk.

At the end of the day, Ray credited my account $42.97 to cover 3 months of that stupid @Ease service that I never asked for, never wanted, and never used.

So here’s the problem – I am still out $86.93 on the Qwest @Ease service.  That is not a victory as far as I am concerned.

With a clearer head tonight, I made a commitment to cancel my Qwest internet service.  I signed up for USI Wireless, which for that same $36.99 offers roughly 5x faster service – jumping from 1.5 mb/s to 7 mb/s.  Plus, I get to support a local company.  Double victory for me.

Was it worth it for Qwest?  They lost a 4-year customer over an $86 dispute.  A dispute that I feel I was in the right on.

So where did Qwest go wrong?

In my experience, Qwest has trained their customer service team to be chintzy, tight-fisted with refunds, and rude (more on this later).

Is it a winning strategy?  Maybe.

Qwest’s unwillingness to listen to WHY I wouldn’t want the @Ease service points to a bigger problem of values within the company.  What does Qwest really value?

Maybe Qwest values that $86.93 more than the value me and my paltry $36.99/month.  That is certainly how it seemed on the phone today.

But it doesn’t take a genius to see how $36.99 per month can quickly make $86.93 look small.  In fact, it will take a little over two months.

Over the course of a year, I was scheduled to spend $443.88 on Qwest internet service.  Is it worth it to piss me off over an add-on service that I never used, never wanted, and never asked for?

Me.

I own a small company and am always listening to clients.  Seriously.  I am always seeking feedback on my communication, the stuff I produce, my tone, my costs, etc.  I don’t believe that Qwest cares about integrity.  I do.  Maybe for a company of my size I need to care about each customer.  Maybe I need to listen.  Nope.

I know of many companies in my line of work who value the dollar above all else.  They are cut-throat with their clients and are inflexible.  It is very possible to make a good living this way.  Qwest certainly has.

But that is not the type of company I run.  I value every client.  I really do.  I care about people.  I have gone to great lengths and devoted big resources to making clients happy when I could have easily dropped them.  Why do I do this?

Because I value integrity.  I value my reputation.  I value people.

Qwest does not.

Rules for Idea Generation

Rules for idea generation:

1. Say “yes” and “thank you” to every idea. Get excited about others ideas even if they are small.
2. Generate 100 ideas without stopping. Write them all down on a white board or a big piece of paper. Writing them down so everyone can see them is important. Don’t stop until you get to 100
3. Don’t judge. Just don’t. Say “thank you” instead.

I follow the above rules when writing blogs, writing music, brainstorming band names, brainstorming baby names, thinking of blog posts to write, generating business ideas, figuring out why my girlfriend is mad at me, and countless other times, places, areas, and ways.

Generating ideas is a process.

Why Radio Shack Lost My Trust and How T-Mobile Regained It

Yesterday I described how I saved $50 per month on my cell phone contract.  Today, I am going to share the story about how I got there.  Let me begin by saying it was no cakewalk.

I purchased a new MyTouch 4G last Friday at a mall kiosk in Rockford, IL along with an $80 monthly contract.  The phone never worked properly.  In fact, it didn’t work at all.

I spent Saturday morning on the phone with T-Mobile trying to solve the issue, and the final conclusion was that I needed a new sim card.  Not a big deal, except that I was in unfamiliar territory in Madison, WI without access to the internet, so finding a T-Mobile store would not be easy.

The T-Mobile customer service representative directed me to a nearby Radio Shack for help.  The rep put me on hold while he called the store to verify that they would be able to help me.  I asked if the Radio Shack sim card would be free for me, and the rep said, “Yes.”

Upon arriving at the Radio Shack, I was informed that they didn’t have any sim cards and that I would have to go to a different Radio Shack across town.  So I drove 20 minutes to the Radio Shack at the West Town Mall.

The staff at this Radio Shack seemed to want nothing to do with me, but I pressed them anyway, explaining the situation and asking for the promised sim card.  They refused, saying that I could pay $25 for a new sim card.  Having just purchased a new phone, I wasn’t about to shell out another $25 for a sim card, especially when T-Mobile promised me a replacement one for free.

So, I left Radio Shack angry and disappointed. I decided to cut my losses and head home, with plans to bring the phone into my local T-Mobile store when I got home.

Saturday night I arrived home in Minneapolis and headed over to the T-Mobile store.  After spending the last 6 hours in the car, I had time to stew and was rearing for a battle.  Surprisingly, my local T-Mobile store was unbelievably helpful.

Within 5 minutes, I had a new sim card installed and was on my merry way with a working cell phone.  *and there was much rejoicing*

Buuuut I was still dissatisfied with the phone, itself.  The MyTouch 4G is an amazing phone – twice as fast as my iPhone and with 100x cooler features.  The big downside is that it sucks up battery life like there is no tomorrow.  I had to charge it twice per day.

Ultimately, I decided to return it to my local T-Mobile store, not knowing how the store would react.  Returns are always a weird thing, because stores like Wal-mart and Target accept returns with no questions asked, but other stores can be ornery about returns.  Thankfully, this T-Mobile store was a “no questions asked” type of store.

After explaining my situation, the sales guy at the T-Mobile store gave me everything I wanted – a refund for the MyTouch 4G and a month-to-month plan for $50/month.  +1 for T-Mobile customer service!  They earned my loyalty for the foreseeable future.

Radio Shack, on the other hand, committed the ultimate corporate sin of disappointing a customer and letting the customer leave unhappy when they could have easily helped said customer out.  For better or worse, I will probably never enter another Radio Shack store.  It’s not that I believe them to be all bad or anything, but why waste my time there when there are all sorts of other stores offering the same items?

That particular Radio Shack store definitely suffers from poor management, a topic which I will address in a forthcoming blog post.

How I Saved $50/month Switching from AT&T to T-Mobile while Still Using my iPhone

My AT&T iPhone bill for the month of November, including taxes, was $97.70.  That included 450 minutes, 1500 SMS messages, and unlimited 3G internet access.  After a quick switch from AT&T to T-Mobile, my bill for December will drop to around $60…AND I will have an upgrade in service!

Below I outline how you, too, can save $50/month or more.

  1. When your contract expires, do not upgrade your phone.
    I have and will continue to use an iPhone 3G that I purchased 2 years ago.
  2. Move to a cheap month-to-month cell phone plan with T-Mobile or another provider that your existing phone is compatible with.
    In my case, my iPhone 3G works perfectly on T-Mobile’s network.
  3. Drop unneeded services.
    I dropped text-messaging (SMS) completely and went with a 200 MB data plan with T-Mobile

That’s it!  Here is how my costs broke down on my recent upgrade:

I WAS paying $39.99/month for 450 minutes; I am now paying $39.99/month for 1000 minutes.  That’s 550 additional minutes per month, which I will use.  I was always counting my minutes and regularly exceeding the 450 minute allotment.

I WAS paying $15/month for 1,500 text messages; I am now paying $0 for zero text messages.  I was receiving around 250 text messages per month and sending 10 per month.  I will not miss text messaging.

I WAS paying $30/month for unlimited internet access; I am now paying $10/month for up to 200 MB of internet.  I was using around 400 MB/month, but I plan on making up for this by using WiFi rather than 3G access.

On top of all that, if I were to get another nice smartphone such as the MyTouch 4G or the G2, I would be paying another $250 or around $10/month for the phone, plus another $20/month that T-Mobile tacks on to contracts that include a discounted cell-phone (plus I would be locked into a 2-year contract!).  So, I am, in effect, also saving another $30/month of which I will only include $10 in my equation since it complicates the math a bit.  But know that the actual savings is around $70/month!  Wow!

When all is said and done, I am saving $45/month before taxes (or $65/month if you include the hardware discount noted above), which will easily end up rounding out to around $50/month after taxes are added in.  PLUS, I am getting more of the service that is most valuable to me – minutes!

To accomplish this, I switched from AT&T to T-Mobile.  NOTE: You will want to wait until your contract expires before doing this, or else you will be hit with a cancellation fee from your current service provider. It also required me to unlock my iPhone, which was a single click using the free Blackra1n software.

When I got to thinking about it, I realized that the main things I use my iPhone for are:

  • Directions/maps
  • Checking email
  • Playing mp3s and podcasts
  • Making phone calls

As such, I don’t require a whole lot of internet access, nor do I particularly enjoy text-messaging.  For me, this decision was a no-brainer.  I got more of what I wanted (minutes) and save $50/month!

On Video Scrubbers

I just visited an online invoicing website where I was thinking about making a purchase.  I clicked the “learn more” link and was brought to a page with a video.  The video on this page had no scrubber.  That is, I could not fast-forward, rewind, pause, or even see how long the video is.

So, I closed the page.

Why did I close the page?  Because I was a bit offended that the company either does not trust me to scrub through the videos, or the company lacks the technology to allow me to scrub the videos.  Either way, I am not going to purchase a service from a company that refuses me that basic luxury.

Video scrubbing is now the norm online!  No scrubbing is so linear (read: “1997″).

On Front Desk Persons

Michael Cole, a smart and savvy hair-stylist and businessman, says that in order to make more money, hair stylists need to be nicer to their respective front desk people (See video below.).

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“Stop being hateful, and start being grateful!”

This is good advice.

I was a front desk person once.  I loved my job.  Seriously.  I loved coming in every day to work. My co-workers were a joy to work with, and I was given responsibilities that fall well outside of what is generally considered “front desk work”.  I was asked to write articles, build websites, schedule events, benchmark similar offices, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

While I always worked to give everybody great service, folks who were courteous and nice definitely got preferential treatment, all other things being equal.  For example, if I had two meetings to schedule, I would likely have scheduled the nicer person’s meeting first.  This might sound like a small thing (it is), but sometimes being a priority makes your day.

Also, it is important to note that front desk people are the hub of offices.  They are the first point of contact for pretty much everybody that comes in.  A front desk person in a bad mood can really mess with the overall mood of the office.

The following is a true story.

Back in 2001 I was interviewing for a job.  I was neither nice nor rude to the front desk person.  I merely walked up and asked to see the person that I was scheduled to interview with.

Well, I lost that job partly because the front desk person thought I was being rude to her – it was noted in the reasons why I didn’t get the job.  If I had come in and chatted the front desk person up, who knows?  Maybe I would have got the job.

On a similar level, when I worked my front desk job, the higher ranking folks would often come out and ask for my opinion on possible new hires.  They would ask me about the prospective hires’ demeanors and attitudes.  While I made a conscious effort to never tank someone’s chances no matter how rude they were to me, it just goes to show that front desk people are often more powerful than their job title might imply.

So, do what you can to be nice and lift the spirits of your front desk person.  It can’t hurt, and it just might make somebody’s day!