• May 2015
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Hilary Kaye, NAWBO OC

                                                                          Click here for bio.
I'm desperately seeking an oasis of calm

This morning, I was taking a yoga class and trying my best to be “present.”

I tried to focus on my breathing – very slowly in, and then equally slowly out. I tried to remember not to hold my breath and not to breathe through my mouth, my usual means of getting air in and out. It's amazing that this isn’t second nature.

I tried to get my body into poses that felt foreign and verged on uncomfortable. Put simply: I tried to stay within the confines of my yoga mat for the full 90 minutes of the class.

I say tried, rather than did, because being “present” – without thinking about my future to-do lists or my past gosh-I-didn’t-do lists – is not easy. In fact, it’s a Challenge with a capital C. I’ll be doing fine for a while, but then some minuscule thought worms its way into my brain, and I’m down a rabbit hole. I know this is why meditation success has eluded me, too.

I’ve only recently begun doing yoga, though I've been thinking about it for years. It’s been hard to tear myself away from the endorphin rush of spin classes. But I know it’s good for me.

“Everyone is here to learn something," the instructor said this morning. "The limber people are learning to be strong. The strong people are learning to be limber. It’s all about practice.”

Frankly, I know I’m not limber, and I suspect I’m not strong either. I guess I’m there to practice everything. And especially to practice how to be “present.”

I hear people constantly talking about how much they dislike the frenetic pace we all live in today. There’s almost no escape. I don’t know anyone who LIKES this pace, yet we are all victims of it. I’m not sure there is a cure for this – but I can see clearly that the ability to distance yourself at least temporarily from this crazy frenzy is one way to lessen the negative impact.

Being a business owner is a blessing and a curse. I happen to consider it mostly a blessing, but I admit that being unable to turn off the noise in my head is a curse. For now, I’m going to continue to seek calm in my yoga sessions. I’m going to practice and practice and practice until my 90 minutes is an oasis in my frenzy. And then maybe my frenzy will be less so.

Are there any businesspeople out there who have achieved this yoga oasis and can give me encouragement? Or maybe some folks who have discovered a different way to cope with life circa 2010? Enlighten all of us, please!

Baseball and business
Baseball is my sport. Sure, I’ll watch a football or basketball game if a social situation arises and it’s prudent to do so. And, occasionally, I’ll watch tennis at Wimbledon time. But I’ve been a baseball nut all of my life – courtesy of my Brooklyn-born Dad – and there seems to be no sign of this passion subsiding.

When the World Series rolls around, and the playoffs involve either my favorite team, the Dodgers, or my second-favorite team, the Angels, I’m jazzed. It’s a bit strange that they both have the words "Los Angeles" in their names, but I guess that’s one oddity we’ve all learned to live with. So you can imagine my glee now that both teams are in the hunt. Ah, maybe a freeway series isn’t an impossible dream this year. SoCal would be bathed in crimson red and royal blue if this occurs, as L.A. battles L.A.

But why am I talking about baseball in a business blog? Actually, baseball and business have interesting parallels. I like to think of baseball as the thinking person’s sport. Baseball differs because it has only a moderate level of action. (OK, some people would call it slow.) It rarely succumbs to violence, and it displays carefully crafted strategies from inning to inning. Kind of sounds like a day in the office for me – moderate action, no violence and lots of strategy.

Just take a look at the Dodgers’ playoff games so far. In the first three games, they showed how baseball is a team sport. No one player carried the team, everyone worked together – superb pitching, timely hitting and strong defense. They tended to play “small ball,” rather than rely only on home runs. Starting pitchers laid the foundation, with the bullpen throwing strikes to close out St. Louis.

And the Angels proved the same thing on Sunday, sweeping the Red Sox with team play. After Sunday’s game, Angels Manager Mike Scoscia commented that “the house of cards topples if they don’t all do it,” referring to the two-out heroics of five players to fuel the come-from-behind win.

I think of business as a team sport, too. There’s no way I could do what I do without an A team surrounding me. And no one here hits home runs day after day, either. Each role is important, whether on the front lines or in support. We work in teams, and we all get excited when any one person or team scores big here. Sometimes, we hit home runs – getting clients’ news into top-tier media, even on the front pages or covers. Other times, we play “small ball,” getting little mentions here and there and using social media channels like Twitter and FaceBook to make noise to just the right audiences.

Another parallel between baseball and business is luck. Yes, luck. We encounter good luck and bad luck in business, just like in sports. In baseball, good luck can steal a win from an opponent, as it did for the Dodgers in Game 2 against the bad luck Cardinals. Dodgers Manager Joe Torre considered the walk-off win in the bottom of the 9th a lucky break. I was there, and I’m still marveling at the split-second turnaround from near loss to triumphant win, stemming from an unfortunate error by the Cardinals.

So, too, in business, we deal with luck. Sometimes a client’s positive news has a straight shot, with no interference. Other times, even blockbuster news can’t compete with Mother Nature, with reporters en masse diverted to wildfires, floods, earthquakes, etc. What do we tell our clients? We explain it was bad luck that their news came when no one cared about anything in business because fire was roaring through the canyons. We did our job well, but the result wasn’t there, through no fault of anyone’s, just bad luck. But that’s not what they want to hear. And that’s not what the St. Louis or Boston fans wanted to hear, either.

In truth, there are a lot of parallels between sports and business, not just baseball. These are some of my idle thoughts when I’m watching the Dodgers or Angels battling their way into the World Series. And if either the Dodgers or Angels are there in late October, you’ll know where to find me. And I’ll be hoping for a team effort and good luck.

To buy or not to buy
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why business people decide what to buy. There are so many options today, with variations upon variations for us to choose from. Whether it’s a product or service, we have a dizzying array pushed in front of us. Buying decisions that used to be straightforward and simple are now increasingly complex and often convoluted.

The biggest difficulty I find is figuring out if a company’s marketing promises are authentic. Am I going to get what I am being offered? Is there going to be a "bait and switch"? The phrase “customer-service oriented” seems to be lurking wherever we go. But how do we determine when it’s true and when it’s bogus?

In truth, whether we are buying a service or a product, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish among companies and sometimes incredibly tough to know what we need to buy. Is this product essential or just an extravagance? Will that service really help me do better in my business? I suspect that today’s fledgling entrepreneur is much more challenged in making sense of it all, as compared to my decisions a couple decades ago.

In this context, I have been thinking about what prompts ME to buy:

I think everyone would agree that having a personal relationship with the company in question is the absolute best option. Knowing the person making the claims gives me confidence that his or her statements are true (or, sometimes, lets me know that they are probably NOT true). In this age of impersonal communications – where e-mailing, texting, IMing and tweeting are commonplace – actually knowing the person on the other end of the transaction can’t be beat. In many situations, in-person meetings are not feasible, but even phone calls can allow a relationship to develop.

I’m also inclined to buy if someone I trust has recommended the company, product or service. Again, a no-brainer. Referrals from trusted folks are like gold, both for the buyer and the seller. And this is where genuine networking comes into play. A business person who operates in a silo is unlikely to get many referrals. But one who is part of the business community and contributes to the benefit of other companies is much more likely to be the recipient of a steady stream of referrals. Basically, if you provide excellent service or sell quality products that are reasonably priced, word will get around.

Next, unless it’s something new on the market, I’m inclined to buy from a source that’s been around the block a few times. I don’t want to risk an important buying decision on a company that has just hung up its shingle or rolled out its tent. Yes, it seems unfair to the newbies, but there’s something to be said about longevity, especially in today’s world, where businesses come and go in a heartbeat.

Customization is another characteristic I look for. I run a small business, and therefore I need services and products aimed at small businesses. I’m constantly being pitched by people with one set of services or one specific product. Their claim is that it’s “one-size-fits-all.” Wrong! In my experience, this rarely works for me. The business world is vast and consists of all kinds of firms, from the virtual sole proprietor working from home to giant global corporations and everything in between. The more customized, the better.

In thinking about how my own buying decisions are made, it helps me position my company’s services to meet these criteria. In looking over this list, I’m confident that our ability to thrive today is because this is how we do business ourselves.

My challenge to you: Think about why you buy. What prompts your buying decisions? And then reflect on whether you offer the same peace of mind to your customers/clients that you seek when you buy. I’m curious – do you look for the same things I look for when I buy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Boring? Hardly!
When I was young and still thinking about the BIG question – “What do I want to do when I grow up?” – I didn’t give a moment’s notice to going into the world of business. After all, that was what my parents did. Both were business owners (my mom in manufacturing and my dad in retail), and both seemed tremendously fascinated with things I scoffed at: financial data sheets, employee hirings and firings, placing orders, making products, exhibiting and buying at trade shows – yuck! Growing up, it seemed to me that their work lives were woven into a fabric of boredom.

In contrast, from as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. My earliest recollection of this notion was at age 8. Whenever asked, I announced that I would be an author and write books. I wasn’t too far off – yes, I did write one book, and then spent plenty of time writing newspaper articles. And I didn’t regret my choice. What could be better than interviewing people with compelling stories and writing interesting (hopefully) articles?

Well, here’s the funny part – somewhere along the way, I discovered that the business world did not necessarily equate to the boredom I had imagined as a kid. True, the parts that seemed boring then are pretty much boring to me now, starting with those nasty financial documents that permeate the life of every businessperson, whether you are a words person or a numbers person.

But the part I didn’t grasp in those early years was the excitement of being in business and making things happen. Not just finding out and writing about things other people are doing, but doing things myself. And I have been particularly fortunate to have selected public relations as my industry, giving me the chance to make things happen for other people, too. That’s what it’s all about.

Boring? Hardly! Running the business creates a stimulating daily framework, different every day. And layered on top, like the proverbial icing on the cake, are little “rewards.” Just recently, I … :
•    met Nancy Brinker, legendary founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure
•    got a sneak peek at the Crystal Cove Alliance’s Prohibition & Jazz on the Beach benefit that’s scheduled to be held in September
•    watched the amazing Walker family (Farmers & Merchants Bank) receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards gala
•    promoted diversity in the booming green energy industry in California
•    watched Susan Johnson (Susan’s Healthy Gourmet) nab one of just five Orange County Business Journal Women in Business awards
•    helped Russ Williams with his passion for creating ethical excellence in the business world (watch for a don’t-miss event in September)
•    attended an O.C. Press Club gathering where the Fourth Estate debated the wonders of social media.

And those are just a few highlights. Whew! Who said anything about boring?

My point: Times change and perspectives shift. If my parents were still alive, they’d be shocked to see how I’ve embraced being part of the world of business.

Yes, I still write. But by opening my eyes, expanding my mind and doing business with my heart, I’ve created a slice of life in the business world that suits me just fine.

I’m curious – how many entrepreneurs reading this did a 180-degree turn to get to where they are now?

Media: savoring the old, embracing the new
As someone who is absolutely in love with traditional media – think newspapers, magazines, TV and radio – I’m feeling compelled to put in my two cents about what’s going on in the land of journalism. Yes, I know this is not a new topic, but I find myself bringing it up often in conversations, and it’s truly top-of-mind for me.

I confess, I have printer’s ink in my blood. For full disclosure of where I’m coming from: I read the L.A. Times, front to back, as a little girl growing up in L.A.; I was editor of my high school newspaper and then editor of my college newspaper (UCSB); and then went off to the Big Apple to the Columbia U. Grad School of Journalism. You can’t get more focused or dedicated than that. And then I worked as a reporter for a number of years before branching off into P.R.

So, I am deeply saddened that newspapers are vanishing before my very eyes. Reporters are suddenly not where they are supposed to be; we find out when their e-mails bounce back. Other reporters are there but are furloughed, which is almost the same as not being there. And those who remain are working their fannies off, sometimes carrying several more beats than ever before.

And let’s talk about the news hole – the term that refers to how much space there is for these publications to deliver news and features. It’s shrinking! I remember when I used to need two arms to cart the L.A. Times into my house on Sunday mornings. Same for the O.C. Register. And carrying them both in at once felt like a workout at the gym. Not anymore. During one windy day a few months ago, the Register was blown into the far corner of a neighbor’s yard. The heft of a newspaper carrying lots of stories and lots of ads is a thing of the past.

Am I crying about this? Yes. But I’m also rejoicing in the new opportunities. I am learning to love the social media channels that are literally exploding around us. They are new and different – something to learn, which I love. There is almost immediate gratification, as their viral nature makes things happen in the blink of an eye. Of course, I do feel a little overwhelmed. For someone used to taking in information while casually turning the pages of a newspaper, absorbing information via short bursts on Twitter or following links referenced in every social media channel is a shock to the system. I sometimes want to hold up my hands and say, “Whoa, hold on! I haven’t read and appreciated those last items yet. Wait!”

This is truly an interesting time in media. The old media hasn’t gone away. It’s still here, and it’s still important. Thumbing through a copy of Inc., paging through the Times or Register, or catching the evening news is still part of our lives – at least for those “of a certain age.” But catching up on Tweets, checking out what everyone is doing on Facebook or connecting with my business contacts on LinkedIn is quietly taking over more of my media time.

I don’t know when this straddling both old and new media will be over, and we will just be left with new media, social media, digital media – whatever you want to call it. In the meantime, I am relishing all of it. Savoring the old, and embracing the new. An interesting time, indeed, for a boomer news junkie.

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