Taking Time to Be Idle: Make Like a Child and Dream ...

One of my New Year's resolutions is to read for leisure. Seems that for the past couple years, I'd pick up a book to do research or improve my profession or learn to be more productive or to simplify my workflow. There's a lot to be said for that, but I realized I never read for fun.

It was because I was feeding a culturally imposed need to constantly take in information. But after this holiday season, I felt a strong longing to read for personal enrichment (for feeding my spiritual or artist self) or just to have a laugh!

I decided to go with the first book my hand gravitated toward on the shelf, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, one I'd never read though I bought it more than a decade ago when building my Writer's Digest-suggested library. You wouldn't guess it was published in 1938; Ueland's principles are timeless and inspiring.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT One passage that resonated deeply was when Ueland speaks of the "dreamy idleness" of children, and how adults and children are wildly different in how they spend their time:

When a child is taken somewhere by his parents, he is not thinking nervously: are they late or early? is the furnace running at home? etc., but he lives at rest and looks out the window and sees and thinks. He lives in the present. That is why children enjoy looking and listening so much. ... They have tremendous concentration because they have no other concern than to be interested in things."

Children aren't burdened by the responsibilities and worries that adults have, but wouldn't it be great if we could all resolve to tap into our inner child every so often and really enjoy some quiet time to feed our imaginations? I remember as a child seeing shapes in the sky by staring up at the clouds for long stretches of time. I spent a lot of time observing nature. Ueland contends that the idleness in going for long solitary walks, watching the sunset or even sitting quietly in a chair is essential for enabling our creativity to flourish, for allowing the ideas to flow.

UNPLUG MORE AND REACT LESS I know several writers who've made resolutions to unplug this year, turning off ringers and checking their email only at designated times throughout the day, so as to encourage longer stretches of project time, rather than spending the day in a reactive way. I am starting to do the same.

A great tip shared by designer/writer Jenn Cole: If you check your email first thing in the morning, you're training your brain to operate reactively in short spurts, rather than in the non-staccato, big-picture-thinking way that creative projects require. So schedule set times for when you'll tackle your inbox.

Are you willing to channel your inner child to encourage your imagination this year? Share your favorite way to do so by commenting below.

In daydreams,

Carla

An Indigo Christmas

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is listening to Christmas music. As a songwriter, listening to these tunes, many of them written by the greatest songwriters of all time, fills me with joy, not just for the season, but for memories of Christmases past.

My sister-in-law surprised us (thanks, Sara!) with the delivery of "Holly Happy Days," the long-awaited Christmas album by the Indigo Girls. I was thrilled to receive it. In this digital-download world, I love it when an album release gives good reason to buy the physical CD  instead of merely downloading, because the packaging is just. that. cool.

The CD front features a bow enclosure like a gift-wrapped box. After opening the bow, inside is a pocket with three decorated pieces of cardboard, made to look like hanging ball ornaments, each with an old-timey design on one side and the lyrics to an original tune by Emily and Amy on the other: "Your Holiday Song" "The Wonder Song" and "Mistletoe."

Each ornament has a top for inserting a hook and hanging them on your tree (which I happily did)! What a great way to showcase the lyrics to these tunes in an interactive way that stretches the brand and essentially enables fans to make the Indigo Girls part of their respective Christmases.

Brilliant. And soul-warming. And, oh yeah, the music is pretty great too. :)

What are your favorite CD package designs? Perhaps it was a piano-shaped box set? Tell me about it in the comments!

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Fa la la la la,

Carla

An Upcycled, Unforgettable Thanksmas

There is nothing quite like creating one-of-a-kind gifts that will remain in the hearts of your loved ones for life. Thanks to Catherine Charlot, the Brooklyn fashion designer behind Upcycle with Himane, I was able to make this holiday season unforgettable.

Catherine's work is featured in this month's O, The Oprah Magazine, so I feel as though I've stumbled across her amazing talents at just the right time (before she's too busy to return my calls!). In looking at her designs on Big Cartel, you'll see that her work consists mainly of transforming umbrellas, yoga mats and other found/discarded items into beautiful handbags and clothing, making them even better (hence the term upcycling, not just recycling). But when I met Catherine at a Style with Glee event and she mentioned she can also upcycle the clothing of a loved one who has passed into functional and fashionable handmade items that can be used in that person's memory, I knew what I wanted to do for my family for Christmas this year.

ENVISIONING UNIQUE HOLIDAY GIFTS This past summer, I commissioned Catherine to create Christmas gifts for my family from the clothes of my father, Anthony Arnone, who died of lung cancer in September 2010. I wanted to make this second holiday season since his passing extra memorable for my family, so I showed up at the Himane workshop with three bags of my father's pants, jackets and ties, and Catherine proceeded to start combining the items and spec out the 18 wallets, handbags and eyeglass cases for my family members.

Since I won't be home for Christmas this year, we set a deadline for the week of Thanksgiving, when my husband and I would surprise my family with these gifts at my mother's house, combining the two holidays into Thanksmas.

REACTIONS TO HIMANE'S WORK The end result was phenomenal. Catherine's designs are fresh and inspired, and she maintained the integrity of each fabric, using them in their entirety, linings and all. My family was absolutely stunned and thrilled by the pieces, and were not only in awe of Catherine's handiwork, but also of the idea itself. My dad's best friend said that now he can "carry his buddy with him in his pocket every day." My mother was incredibly touched and couldn't get over the gorgeous handmade designs.

I can't thank Catherine enough for having made my holiday season so special, and I hope that others will look to her to create similar projects to enable lifelong memories of their own. Catherine is the subject of an upcoming documentary by filmmaker Rob Weiss, and I can't wait for more people to learn of her amazing talent and compassion.

CONTACTING CATHERINE CHARLOT / UPCYCLE WITH HIMANE Enjoy the photos, and please let me know in the comments if you have any questions. To contact Catherine, visit her blogher Himane Facebook page or email her directly.

A blessed holiday season to you all,

Carla

Establishing Business Policy: What's Your Honor Code?

If you wear glasses as I often do while working, then you know how great it is to walk into any eyewear shop and get a free adjustment when you need it. Until about a year ago, I'd offer money for the service, and the answer was always, "No charge."

One day, after passing by such a shop reminded me that my glasses were a bit off-center, I went inside. Curious about the no-charge response, I asked the clerk and he replied, "It's an unwritten code in our industry that we make adjustments for free. We do that as a courtesy, and hope that you'll think of us the next time you need new frames."

Such a simple policy, and while many people who take advantage of it may never return to that particular optician, it's far more valuable to get the occasional taker for a new pair of frames or an eye exam than it is to charge $5 for every adjustment. This big-picture thinking can help build your customer base, slowly but surely, and a loyal one at that. But don't be discouraged if you currently lack a professional code or company policy; it's never too late to establish one and build trust with your customers or clients.

ESTABLISHING AN HONOR CODE FOR YOUR BUSINESS This got me thinking, What's my honor code for my clients? My immediate answer has to do with quality control: When I come across a glaring typo online (usually in a headline or subhead), I will always speak up (and tactfully so), regardless of whether that website belongs to a client of mine. That's because I not only have a deep respect for the written word, but also for anyone trying to put his or her best foot forward, and I want that person's marketing materials to be presented as professionally as possible.

Yes, there is always the risk that my pointing out a typo could result in a defensive or adverse reaction, but this hasn't been the case so far; most people are grateful that the typo was caught. And if I'm lucky, that caught typo will make a person think of me the next time he or she needs copywriting or copyediting services.

Do you have an honor code for your business? Please share it by adding a comment below. I'd love to hear it!

Onward,

Carla

Connect with me on Twitter.

Talking Social Media Strategy & Crowdfunding with America’s LinkedIn Lady

It was my extreme pleasure to join Carol McManus America's LinkedIn Lady — on "The LinkedIn Lady Show" on Toginet Radio. Talking shop with Carol is one of my favorite things to do, and we covered a lot of ground, including crowdfunding and my latest musical pursuits.

Listen to the podcast on iTunes (choose the 10/19/11 episode) or you can download it directly from my site. Carol began our chat by focusing on my corporate experience, then transitioned to the significance of my domain name, my recent site launch and my songwriting news.

PODCAST HIGHLIGHTS By listening to the podcast interview, you'll get in on:

1) The name Saidandsung and how my songwriting informs my copywriting (8 minutes into the podcast).

2) My involvement with the new musical IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU (10:20 into the podcast), now playing at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick.

3) How Crowdfunding can help you move projects forward (18:36 into the podcast) and why I chose RocketHub.com.

4) How I used Social Media for My RocketHub Campaign and how I use it for my business (32 minutes into the podcast).

5) The #1 tip I learned from @BloggingMentor Annabel Candy to help separate my 2 selves on Twitter (34 minutes into the podcast).

6) A frank discussion on Social Media Strategy — thoughts on automated tools, the future of Facebook and more (45 minutes into the podcast) — with Carol's "Marketing Minute" partner Ken Herron a.k.a. @PurpleComm.

UNDER THE (POSITIVE) INFLUENCE At one point in the podcast, Carol asked me about my business influencers, and I gave her a handful:

+ Annabel Candy of @GetInTheHotSpot a.k.a. @BloggingMentor (34 minutes into the podcast): I learned such great Twitter tips and blog tips from Annabel and her "Successful Blogging in 12 Simple Steps" book!

+ @RobinDickinson (39:52 into the podcast): Robin was the first source I turned to for lessons on how to tweet. His Success with Twitter video was terrific for learning nomenclature, strategy, etc. He continues to inspire through his Facebook page.

+ @JasonWomack and @DyanaValentine (40:45 into the podcast): Two superb coaches/professional instigators whose workflow and big-picture ideas (often in the form of fiery I-dare-yous) are all kinds of inspiring.

+ The authors of "The Wealthy Freelancer" — @EdGandia, @petesavage & @steveslaunwhite (41:10 into the podcast): This book not only helped me get to the next level in my freelance career, but it also lead me to form a friendship with freelance illustrator @DonnaBarger, who is also a terrific accountability partner.

+ Jennifer Shaheen of Technology Therapy (48:15 into the podcast): Jennifer's Advanced Facebook for Business webinar is full of tips and long-term strategy ideas.

And, honestly, Carol continues to be one of my biggest influencers. Each week, I learn so many great pointers from her show, especially about LinkedIn and business strategy. You can tune into "The LinkedIn Lady Show" every Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST on Toginet.com, or listen to her half-hour show at 9 a.m. EST Wednesdays on WGCH AM 1490 in Greenwich, Conn.

I've had a lot going on this past month or so, and like I said in a recent blog post, it takes a village. I'm so grateful to be surrounded by inspiring collaborators, colleagues and friends, and look forward to what's to come!

Onward,

Carla

Mover, Shaker, Art-Maker? Consider Crowdfunding, with Tips on Day 26

I'm 26 days into my music fundraiser on RocketHub.com, and I'm 93% there, thanks to the kindness of friends, family, colleagues and supporters! Just 4 days to go, and I'm so excited to get these demos printed and pressed so I can start using them as my calling card.

I thought I'd mark this almost-there occasion by spreading the word about crowdfunding, for those out there who may not know what it is, and who may benefit greatly from it.

WHAT IS CROWDFUNDING? Crowdfunding is a form of fundraising popular among artists, musicians, scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs that is generally carried out via the Internet. The process involves making your project's purpose, plans and outcomes known to a large audience (through social media, email and often the making of a video to let prospective funders know what your project is about), in the hopes that even small contributions will collectively add up to reaching your set fundraising goal in a finite amount of time. Many crowdfunders make it possible for people to donate as little as $1 to their projects, and set a time limit of anywhere from 30 to 90 days.

RocketHub.com is the crowdfunding platform I chose for my "Send a Hamilton to Harrison" CD project. One of the biggest reasons I chose this NYC-based dot-com is because unlike some competitors in the space, RocketHub enables you to keep whatever amount you raise, even if you don't reach your goal (minus the site's nominal fee). For me, this was an important consideration in today's economy, as some friends and family may not be able to contribute.

Another big distinction is that crowdfunding isn't charity; it's a two-way transaction. Donors — or as RocketHub calls them, fuelers — receive rewards in exchange for their donations, and the greater the donation, the greater the rewards.

A music-related project (like mine is), for example, may feature rewards that range from public recognition to copies of the work to dedications, customized compositions and at-home concerts.

START WITH PEOPLE YOU KNOW Most of the people who will contribute to your campaign will be people you know, as crowdfunding is about reaching out to your closest, most supportive network of friends and family first, then branching out through blogging, social media and email asks. However, there are fuelers out there who are frequent patrons of the arts or other projects and may be looking to support a project like yours, even though they don't know you personally. This is common among projects by music artists (like fellow songwritier Kerri Leigh, whose campaign to record her album reached an overwhelming 129% of its goal), as fans can connect with their music from all corners of the Internet.

CROWDFUNDING TIPS I'VE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY To see if RocketHub (or crowdfunding in general) is right for you, check out RocketHub's list of Crowdfunding Basics, and explore some of the projects currently underway. You can also head over to the RocketHub blog because I've shared some insight of my own experience in crowdfunding in the final paragraphs of an interview with RocketHub Co-Founder Vladimir Vukicevic. The RocketHub staff has been extremely supportive and helpful throughout this nearly 30-day adventure.

You just may find that RocketHub is right for your next project.

I welcome your comments and questions below.

Good luck!

Carla

Follow me and RocketHub on Twitter.

New Site, New Music: It Really Does Take a Village (and Sometimes Red Bull)

Wow, the past three weeks have been a whirlwind! After some all-nighters, daily Red Bull (Am I in college again?) and a little help from my friends, I'm happy to announce some exciting developments: First off, not only are you viewing Saidandsung.com's new look, but I also launched a fundraiser on RocketHub.com to get my latest song demo pressed! We made a silly video for the campaign — click below to get a glimpse of what this project is about, how you can help move it forward and how to get your hands on the music:

As of this post, I'm nearly 80 percent toward my goal and I've got just 8 days left to complete it — if you can, please consider sending a Hamilton my way to get your own copy of my tunes and other fun rewards!

Here's Where That Village Part Comes In It really does take a village for big projects to come to fruition. None of this progress would have been possible without the help of the following wonderful people (you may be able to use some of their services for your own projects):

+ S.W. Senek ... The playwright-director and EVP of Eagles Talent (and also a dear friend) conceived, directed, filmed and edited the RocketHub video, and whose son, Sheldon III, plays the role of The Last Hope. Plus, a special shout-out to Sheldon's wife, Krysta, who was so patient as we invaded her home for the shoot. And my goddaughter, Josephine, for being so darn adorable on set!

+ Tricia Okin ... This graphic designer/food blogger/woman-about-world was instrumental in giving me ideas for my video, and basically taught me not to be afraid to ask others for help.

+ Dyana Valentine ... The wily Muse and professional get-you-movin' solutions gal was the one who forced me to name a hard deadline for my Web site launch. And boy, there's nothing like a deadline! She also took the time to interview me about my music and get to the heart of why I'm doing this: because I want to help others embrace life experiences and give themselves permission to feel whatever they need to through my music.

+ Nick Norris ... This principal at identifiDesign not only gave my site a fresh new look, but he also jumped in at the 11th hour to fine-tune the site pre-launch and held my proverbial hand through the switchover!

+ Lauren R. Popek ... A designer with identifiDesign.com, Lauren created not only the cover art for my CD, but also my rebus-infused logo (the fact that I get excited by that reveals my inner nerd, but oh well). You can find more of Lauren's work on her own Web site.

+ Allen Mogol ... What can I say about my copywriting colleague and friend I recently voted Most Likely to Be a Business Coach Someday? Allen kept me focused on the light at the end of the tunnel, helped refine my ideas and gave those all-important Lombardi-esque pep talks that kept me sane!

+ Ted Allen ... My fellow songwriter also had a crowdfunding campaign for his upcoming album, so he consulted on the organization of my campaign and the content. His current album, "Nothing to See Here," is so likable and catchy, I highly recommend you take a listen!

+ Thomas Fisher ... Besides being my co-writer on some of the tunes — and my life partner! — Thomas was immediately on board with the video concept, and really dove into his portion of it. He's a talented performer as well, plus he provided the accompaniment and gorgeous harmonies for the "Send a Hamilton to Harrison" song; I couldn't have done it without him.

+ Adam Harley ... Besides being a recording engineer and producer with the best set of ears in these here parts, Adam is also a great videographer who can create attention-grabbing promotional videos for your business as well as local cable commercials that look anything but local.

+ Mark Buono ... Another skilled recording engineer, producer and wicked drummer, Mark worked his magic on my tunes, adding tracking that enhanced the production and even expertly replicating the acoustics for whenever I'd change up a lyric or an entire section!

+ Craig Wilson & Mat Leland ... These two musicians/songwriters/producers/engineer extraordinaires got the ball rolling on this demo years ago, when they tracked, produced and played on the first versions of these tunes at Haven Studios in NYC. Though the songs have developed over the years, I'm so grateful to Craig Wilson and Mat Leland for their work on this demo as well as for their collective belief in me as a writer.

+ Stephanie Harrison, Christina Lea, Brooke Campbell, Thomas Fisher & Fortune Creek ... The singers who brought their unique styles to these songs are all songwriters themselves, and I know that's why they were each able to give such heartfelt performances. I'm happy to suggest you visit their sites to hear their own work: Stephanie Harrison ("Prettied Up" and "The Clearing"), Christina Lea ("All I Could Do"), Brooke Campbell ("Listening" and "Go On") and Thomas Fisher (solo "Where We Begin" and "Rather Look at You" with Fortune Creek.

+ Randy Merrill ... A sound engineer at the renowned NYC mastering house Master Disk, Randy made my songs on this demo pop, and I mean in that sparkly kind of way. If you need mastering on your tunes, he's your go-to guy.

I've learned so much from all of these fine people, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their contributions to this effort. You know what would warm my heart even more? If some of you commented below to let me know that you also remember the TV show "Rags to Riches" — it will make me feel less geeky! (Watch the video above to get my drift.)

Onward,

Carla

P.S. Visit my Tunes page on this site to find out about my new musical that opens in New Jersey this month!

Art Is Relevant: Never Forgetting 9/11 and All We Need to Say

There’s a ring I wear on my pointer finger with the phrase “Art is relevant” engraved on the outside. I got it years ago at Campbell Pottery in Cambridge Springs, Pa., near my hometown. This was before I moved to New York, when I was interviewing the shop’s owner for a business magazine’s cover story. While touring the facilities, I spotted the ring and was so taken by its simple and powerful statement that I bought it on the spot; it has been on my finger ever since. It wasn’t until after 9/11 that I questioned my art’s relevance.

Just two months before that horrific day, I moved to New York City after winning a songwriting competition. Finally, I had validation that songwriting was what I was meant to be doing, and that New York was where I needed to be. My family had visited in August 2001, and we viewed the city from atop the towers. Little did we know just two weeks later, everything would change.

Newly rattled, life in NYC at the time was enough to make you question everything, from an unattended bag to the first time a plane flew overhead since that day to the reason you were spared over so many others and you wondered whether you would ever feel safe again, let alone experience joy. Suddenly, pursuing my songwriting seemed frivolous. And the record label with which I had deals pending, like so many others in the industry, was no longer willing to take risks. I thought, “How can I spend time writing songs and poems while others around me suffer immeasurable grief?”

Then I realized that proof of art’s relevance was all around me. A former Windows on the World server I met named Leda Young told me how she volunteered playing piano at the McDonald’s on Broadway near Ground Zero to provide solace to others through music; in doing so, she also helped herself cope with the loss of her co-workers in the attack.

My good friend and writing partner Barbara Anselmi had chosen to use her art and her empathy to compose the song "All Join Together," the title song for a CD that raised over $40,000 for the New York Times 9/11 Fund.

I remember poring over the liner notes to Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising, his album of songs in response to the tragedy, and finding comfort in its universal messages of hope and unity.

From art installations to plays to I-Love-NY-More-Than-Ever T-shirts, artists were funneling their deep sorrow, their camaraderie and their highest regard for their fellow New Yorkers in ways that would begin the road to healing. I began writing poems and songs, some scraps and some fully realized.

Now, 10 years later, James Taylor sings at the memorial to soothe our collective soul. The TV show “Rescue Me,” whose series finale aired earlier this week, has for the last seven years portrayed 9/11-related themes with such honesty, sensitivity and humanity, through both scenes and monologues that make me cover my mouth from feeling so much. In so many spaces and so many places, artists are creating powerful messages daily. Messages relevant to our shared understanding. Messages we need to say.

Today (as I’ve done so every year), I watch the names being read, scored by a lone cello. My eyes well up with every cadence, when those at the podium get to make their personal tributes, beginning with the words “And my …” then filling in the relation to their loved ones lost. Heartbreaking beyond belief.

But whether it’s a brief mention of the life they lead to a full profile in print or onscreen, we share in their stories, and those who tell them do their best to carry on. As we all do.

Zeitgeist Marketing: NYSC Takes a Cue from Weinergate

In previous posts, I've discussed the importance of paying attention to your target audience's changing needs, keeping an eye on what your competition is doing and taking advantage of Proximity Marketing as opportunities present themselves. Today, I want to share an example of what I call Zeitgeist Marketing, or creating key messages that reflect current events or trends at the forefront of our collective consciousness. While out and about in Manhattan the other day, I came across this sign in the window of a Midtown NYSC (see photo):

politicians, get in shape for your next scandalous photo.

Pump up your approval ratings. Join now for our special summer rates.

The sign's snarky copy stems from the recent Anthony Weiner Twitter photo scandal. But the subhead "Pump up your approval ratings" further speaks to the run-up to the 2012 elections and also includes a double entendre in the verb phrase. From concept to execution, this campaign — you'll have to excuse that pun — is brilliant.

Use the News in Your Copywriting & Design

Whether you're an entrepreneur, a small business owner, a national chain or a global enterprise, consider how what's happening in the news, in pop culture or in your community affects your target market. Or, as in the NYSC example, use it to craft your message toward a potential new audience.

Of course, you'll want to be careful not to offend your potential customers by crossing the line into vulgarity. NYSC avoids this caveat with aplomb.

While you may have your marketing plan for the entire year mapped out, promos can be just as mutable as your customers' tastes. Don't merely stick to what's worked for you in the past. Look to the world beyond your URL or your brick-and-mortar store — attention-grabbing, of-the-moment taglines await.

Onward,

Carla

Converse with me on Twitter.

Facebook Therapy: Tech Therapist Offers Smart Tips for Business Owners

Forward Motion was thrilled to welcome to the show Greenwich resident Jennifer Shaheen of The Technology Therapy Group, a full-service Web design and marketing development group.

Jennifer is savvy across all forms of online marketing, but our focus for this show was how businesses can leverage their Facebook presence to gain traction and new customers.

The podcast will soon be available. Please email me to be notified when it's up.

Show Host Carmen Carrozza and I have both taken Technology Therapy's Web classes to get up to speed for our respective businesses, and Jennifer has packed so many tips into our show!

On this 25-minute podcast you'll learn:

+ The Difference Between Your Profile & Your Page

+ How to Keep Up with Privacy Settings (here's a hint)

+ The Rules of Engagement

+ The Specificity of Facebook Ads

+ What Outranks Pages in Searches

+ Posting Strategies for Your Page

+ Facebook Photo-Synthesis

Carmen and I extend our sincere thanks to Jennifer for sharing these tips with our listening audience.

Be sure to follow Jennifer on Twitter as well!

Onward,

Carla

19 Recorded Words: A Father’s Day Tribute

You know me; I'm a words girl. The number of words in my monthly business column hovers around 950, while a typical client project may involve my crafting thousands of words. But this Father's Day, I am focusing on just 19 words — those left on my voicemail by my father on the evening of December 6, 2008. It was a college hoops night to remember, when Michigan upset undefeated Duke (ranked No. 4 in the nation). It was a big deal, especially since Michigan's program had been flailing and hadn't been to the Big Dance since 1998.

I saved the voicemail at the time because, as a diehard Wolverines fan, I delighted in hearing the phrase "Michigan just beat Duke" repeated at will. I couldn't watch that game for some reason and had to DVR it, so hearing my dad's message gave me reason to rejoice early. Also, my dad was so emphatic in his delivery of the message that it became one of my favorite slices of his personality. (His "All right?" at the end of the message was his cute way of negotiating the voicemail system.)

Technically, Duke was ranked No. 4 at the time and not No. 2, but for all I know, he may have been looking at a different poll. The fact of the matter is that the voicemail has become my sole audio recording of my dad's voice, one I enjoy to this day, in fond memory. I continued to save that message, for 21 days at a time, over and over. And even with two BlackBerry crashes since, the voicemail remained because, thankfully, voicemails are not part of the phone's hard drive; they are part of Verizon's voicemail system. I've since recorded it onto my computer as well as onto a backup phone.

You see, 14 months after he left me this voicemail, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He put up a good fight, with chemo and radiation treatments, and he even walked me down the aisle just four months after his diagnosis. I am so grateful that we had the wedding when we did, having planned it in just six weeks, rather than taking the usual year or so of planning that most couples allot. Had we done that, my father would not have had the grand time he did (thanks to a transfusion the day before), let alone be able to dance with me. Just 15 months after that glorious day, he passed away, making today the first Father's Day without him.

My father was not a man of many words. In fact, when he'd call or when I called him, I could safely bet that the conversation would last no longer than 1 minute, often less. They ranged from quick check-ins to letting me know about a restaurant he read about in Gourmet magazine to a recap of games from the night before. He was the one who got me into college football and college hoops, and he followed the teams I followed, though he had other favorites. Year after year, I'd consult him first on my March Madness bracket.

In fact, in experiencing all the first-year milestones since he passed last September,  the sports-related milestones (during which I'd call him or, if I was home, we'd watch in the same room) stung the most: college football on Saturdays, especially the Notre Dame-Michigan game and OSU-Michigan to close out the regular season; the BCS Championship; the Super Bowl; the Big East tournament; the start of March Madness; MLB Opening Day; and the NBA Finals, to name the most significant so far.

Yes, sports were always our common connection. I was ultra-competitive growing up, the fifth of six children and the one put in charge of copying the family football pool using carbon paper. We'd spend Sundays watching every NFL game and gnashing our teeth over our losses. We'd even pick horses for a weekly "Let's Go to the Races" game held on the local TV station. In school, I played both basketball and softball, and even when I was on a losing team, I'd go all out. I know that made my dad proud. Himself a standout athlete in high school, he hit one of the longest home runs out of Erie's Ainsworth Field, and he tried out for the New York Yankees but was called back to Erie after his father suffered a heart attack. He gave up his dream of playing professional sports so that he could carry on the family food business, and he continued to own and operate Arnone & Sons Food Importers for 50 years. Most days, I have the utmost admiration for him for making that sacrifice, but sometimes I secretly wish he could've pursued his Major League dreams.

So today, for the first time in my life, I won't be giving my dad a Father's Day card or sending him a gift, and it feels weird. But I am so incredibly grateful that I had saved that voicemail on a whim years ago so that I can now hear his voice any time I want. That message, along with my wedding DVD, are what make him seem most alive to me, and the photos and memories throughout the years fill in the rest.

Much love to you, Dad. I miss you more than you know. And to anyone else who is spending this Father's Day with thoughts of loving memory, hang on to those — and take comfort in knowing that he knows how much you love him.

Go Blue (not Duke blue, but Maize-&-the-Blue blue),

Carla

Comparatively Speaking: The Positioning Tell-All

When it comes to marketing, how you position your company in relation to your competitors can speak volumes about your business, and also set its course for success. Conversely, if not kept in check, how you speak about your business can deter prospects from becoming repeat customers.

That’s why in addition to marketing materials, many companies create specific language (sometimes an entire vocabulary) for staff to use when speaking directly with customers.

So how best to position your business against your competitors? Let’s explore a scenario.

The Lowest Common Denominator A customer walks into your retail shop — a chocolate shop, for example — and while the customer does enjoy the products, she raises a health concern over the way the chocolate is handled. One way you wouldn’t expect the shop owner to defend his shop is by saying,

Misguided, yes, but across many industries, from manufacturing to retail food to professional services, I’ve heard this rationalization used often. I understand the desired effect is to pump up the company as compared to a competitor’s poor practices, but this reply does little to instill confidence in the well-meaning customer’s eyes, and it certainly doesn’t build loyalty. Such statements are meant to deflect attention from the matter at hand, leaving the customer feeling empty, invalidated and, most importantly, perhaps unwilling to grant the business owner with repeat business. It’s essentially a distraction technique, and it’s not a good one.

Compare Up, Not Down Just as playing a sport with players who are better than you makes you work harder to play up to their level, business owners should make realistic comparisons that push them to get better and better at what they do.

Take time to think which companies out there have a mission statement that’s similar to yours or operations that serve as a model for your company; those are the businesses you should be emulating in your daily practices, in the tone of your marketing messages and in your interactions with customers. Telling people your establishment is “the neighborhood’s answer to Starbucks” is a respectable and easily understood comparison.

Decide on Your Differentiator So what can you, as a small-business owner, say to position your business, and how can you say it in ways that build up your business while remaining respectful of other establishments? You need to determine your differentiator — what sets you apart from the competition. Some common considerations:

1. Emphasize Your Value

If price is what sets you apart, then emphasize your affordability when speaking of your competition. And remember, emphasizing price doesn’t mean that your product or service lacks quality; perhaps you provide most of the value at a fraction of the cost. In downtown Harrison, Paul’s Cleaners, 368 Halstead Ave., is able to offer 30 percent less than the competition for quality service, and that is how they position themselves.

2. Emphasize Your Service

Perhaps you provide such exceptional service that the difference in price is well worth it. Say you’re looking to display a special photo or piece of art. If you go to your local picture framer — for example, Igor at Masterpiece Framing, 243 Halstead Ave. — you’ll pay more than if you were to pick up a cheap frame at Target, but the value is far greater. What you’re getting in return for your investment is the skill of a craftsman who takes great pride in finding your perfect look, as well as someone who stands behind every frame he sells, so you know your special photo will remain a treasure for all to see.

3. Emphasize Your Quality

Is there an aspect of your business besides price or service that sets you apart from the competition? Perhaps it’s a restaurant’s unique ambiance. Or it could be that your food is gluten-free, like 97 Lake in West Harrison, which also emphasizes that none of its dishes are frozen; every item on the menu is fresh and cooked to order. For many people, that will be the selling point that gets them in the door.

Talk Back Once you’ve determined what your value proposition is, you’ll be able to say it with confidence when speaking to customers about how you hold up against your competition. Give it a try, and e-mail me if you need help crafting yours!

Now get to it,

Carla

Visit saidandsung.com.

NOTE: This column was originally published in The Harrison Report. It is being reprinted here with additional photos.

‘My Guy’ Philosophy, Part II: When to Say Goodbye

Last month, I detailed the concept of the “my guy” seal of approval when it comes to services, and why we go with our guys: price, loyalty, and comfort being among the top factors.
But as loyal as we are, there may come a time when we have to find new guys.

“No, I could never leave my guy,” you might say. But surely there are things that could make us change our mind about one of our guys and make the switch to someone new?

Below are three times when I think you might consider it:

1. Your Guy Goes Out of Business This one’s a no-brainer. Time to ask your friends and family for referrals to their guys.

2. It’s All in the Family Speaking of families, another reason you might leave your guy is if someone in your family goes into the same business. I say “might” because I know some of you would never leave your guys, not even for someone who shares your DNA. But don’t be surprised when Uncle Lou announces he’s bought the local auto repair shop. I’m just sayin’.

3. A Guy of the Times As technology changes, so should any business. Those that choose to stick with traditional operations, marketing, or production may find themselves gradually losing customers. This is because so many consumers today (much to my chagrin) are focused on quantity rather than quality, or they gravitate toward the latest and greatest.

Even exterminators are up on the latest technology: An ad on the subway touts a bug-identifying iPhone app! More and more, business owners are realizing that to gain that competitive edge, they need today’s technology working for their business.

Talk Back Are you a business owner utilizing an app to connect with your customers? Let me know by leaving a comment!

My Guy Reader Write-In Thanks to Purchase resident Lenore Castaldo for sharing the story of her guy:

My Guy: Rocco DiPietro

Industry: Fine finish carpentry and all-around floor-and-tile guy, 914-646-0889.

Why My Guy: “I’ve known Rocco for about three years. I got him through Danny Rosamilla of Rosamilla Landscape, Inc. Silverlake is a tightly knit community, so getting a referral is never a problem. Woodworking is Rocco’s main business, but he can also renovate a kitchen and bath with no problem. He is punctual, fair-priced, neat and trustworthy – qualities that are becoming increasingly difficult to find.”

A My Guy Tweet-In A Twitter friend who runs a primo event-planning business in New York City read last month’s column and wrote me (in 140 characters) about his air-conditioning guy. I’ll let his tweet tell you:

“I have a party AC guy. Found by ref, & met him on the street w/$5.5k CASH 2 days b4 event. I ONLY use him! He’s loyal 2 me 2.”

Tell Me About Your Guy Got a guy here in Harrison you’d like to tout? Email carla@saidandsung.com or send me a direct message on Twitter (@Saidandsung) with your story and I’ll spotlight your guy in an upcoming column.

A Stylish Contribution to Autism Speaks We all know how hard it is to get a haircut on a Monday; now you can do get a haircut while giving to a great cause!

On Monday, April 18, Hair Creations, 245 Halstead Ave., presents Accent Beauty for Autism, a benefit hosted by Manager Anthony Rende beginning at 10 a.m.

The Hair Creations staff will offer women’s haircuts for a minimum donation of $50, and $30 for men. Eyebrow shaping is available for a donation of $40, and a blue extension can be done for a donation of $10. All money will be collected at the time of the service in cash and check only, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the group Autism Speaks. Call 914-835-1350.

NOTE: This article was originally published in The Harrison Report. It is being reprinted here with additional photos and expired event notices removed.

Look forward to hearing about your guy!

Carla saidandsung.com

Where’s Your Killer Web Promo Video? Talk to My Guys at FUTUREHYPE

Pick a video, any video ... Do one big thing for your business by clicking here to view the online portfolio of the best video production guys I know. It takes merely one minute to see why I vouch for their artistry time and time again.

On this week's Forward Motion (PODCAST HERE), Carmen and I sat down with Adam Harley and Alan Kirschen, the creative artists behind the video production company FUTUREHYPE Media.

With production studios in Larchmont and Scarsdale, FUTUREHYPE creates everything from 60-second commercials for Fortune 500 companies and 30-second local cable spots for small businesses to web promo videos that provide a company overview on company websites.

Click here for the 25-minute podcast. The conversation begins 5 minutes in.

Listen to the podcast to learn:

+ Why Companies of All Sizes Benefit from Video

+ The Role Music Plays in Promo Videos

+ How Best to Tell A Client's Story

+ How to Respect Your Viewer

What's more, Adam and Alan also happen to be about the most down-to-earth professionals you'll meet. Click here for the 25-minute podcast and hear for yourself. The convo begins at the 5-minute mark.

Follow Adam's new Twitter account: @adam_harley.

As always, you can listen live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on WGCH.com.

Cheers,

Carla

The New Extra Mile: A Phone Call to Action

This week, something delightful happened out of something seemingly routine. After expecting some collateral from a copywriting client and not hearing back, I e-mailed a couple times to get a status update, but to no avail. Worried that perhaps my client hadn't been receiving my e-mail, I decided to place a call instead. Not on my mobile while in transit and not through Skype, but just a good old-fashioned, at-my-desk landline call. Little did I know this small action would make such a big impact.

My client was overjoyed that I'd taken the time to call. He gave me an answer then thanked me profusely, expressing his sincere appreciation, as though I had gone the extra mile. Considering that we've all become so accustomed to e-mailing, texting, Skyping and DM'ing as our main form of communication, I suppose the phone can be considered the new extra mile. We forget how effective, not to mention easy, it is to make a call.

PHONE IT IN FOR SOUND CLIENT RELATIONS

I admit that till this week, I thought shooting an e-mail over was the best way to get a quick answer, but since inboxes can be teeming and tone can be misread from time to time and spam filters can kick messages with attachments to digital Siberia, a phone call may be the clear winner (provided the person answers and you don't start playing tag). Plus, when you're on the phone (or on a Skype video chat, for that matter), you can tell when someone is being empathetic, when they're genuinely excited over a project or when they're multitasking as they're talking. Phone calls lead to a better grasp of your current customer or client relations.

As my whipsmart colleague Allen Mogol says, "the phone call has become the new handwritten note." Sure, we can effectively thank someone in a Twitter mention or in a thoughtful e-mail but think back to the last time you received a handwritten thank you via snail mail. Did it stand out? Of course it did — because it's rare. Phone calls are now thought of the same way. Elegant, unexpected and greatly appreciated.

How do you make good use of your phone? Comment below to let me know!

Cheers,

Carla

Follow me on Twitter. You know, for the times we're not talking on the phone.

Shop Talk: ‘My Guy’ Psychology, Part I

We've All Got Our Guys ...

Oftentimes, when we are in need of a service — and it’s most often when we’re in a bind — we hear a reassuring and all-too-calm friend say, “Don’t worry. Go to my guy; tell him I sent you.”

We’ve all heard this variation on the “I know a guy” seal of approval. It should be noted that when we qualify the word by putting “my” in front of it, it makes the connection more personal: “I’ve got my guy.”

(Please be aware that though I use the word “guy” throughout, it refers to both males and females.)

From mechanics and other repair/service personnel like plumbers, electricians and exterminators to hairdressers/barbers and dry cleaners to even restaurants and physicians, we’ve all got our guys.

Since moving to Harrison, most of my guys that I currently turn to for services were found by word of mouth. Somebody told me about her guy for shoe repair, someone else recommended her guy for hair straightening, another raved about her guy who is an internist, another gave me the location of her guy for an eyebrow threader and one of those prior someones also told me about her guy for a physical therapist.

Of course, it isn’t always a match made in heaven — there’s a special synergy that needs to occur between customer and service provider — but I’d take a referral over a blind search any day.

Just why is it that we stick with our guys for so long? I have my theories:

1. The Price is Right This is quite possibly the biggest reason, especially if we got with our guy early, because that means we were grandfathered in at a great price. My guy for renters’ insurance is outstanding, but I first got to know my guy nearly 10 years ago, so I have an incredible rate that anyone getting to know my guy today probably won’t receive.

My husband has a guy who fixes his computer, and the No. 1 reason he always goes with his guy is because he’s highly affordable. Again, who knows if that’s the case for his guy’s other clients? And there’s the caveat: When referring your guy to someone for whom price is the deciding factor, try to leave that portion of the conversation, and let your friend and your guy figure that out.

2. Loyalty Face it, we are all rather protective of our guys; we will defend them to the end. They’ve seen us through so much. And from time to time, our guys may let us down — not delivering when they said they would; not doing a thorough job, requiring additional time or expense. But chances are, we will still recommend our guys because they will make good on their mistakes, sometimes in the form of freebies, and it’s hard finding someone you can trust. Besides, there’s something so satisfying about being able to say that you’ve been going to the same guy for years.

3. We’re Comfortable I moved out of the city three years ago, but I still make the trip to Manhattan every time I need to go to the dentist. Why? Because I like my guy (actually, my dentist is a she). So something like an hour commute isn’t enough to make me want to take the time to search through the database to find a new dentist in my network — one I may not end up liking.

It’s like dating. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay with the same guy and suffer the commute, than to find someone new. Besides, I think the fact that I continue to come in “all the way from Westchester” has made my guy appreciate me more, and it shows.

Next Month: ‘My Guy’ Psychology, Part II Yes, it takes a lot to change our minds and go with new guys. So what kinds of things could make us change our mind about our guy and make the switch to someone new? Find out in Part II of the ‘”My Guy” series next month.

Tell Me about Your Guy Got a guy here in Harrison that you’d like to tout? E-mail me at carla@saidandsung.com with your story and I’ll print it in an upcoming column.

*****

Opening This Weekend Congrats to Masroor “James” Rajpar and Khalid Channa, co-owners of Go Natural Organic Health Food & Juice Bar, 240 Harrison Ave. (near T&T Luncheonette), on the opening of the downtown Harrison store.

This is the third store of its kind for Rajpar and Channa, who have two other locations in New Jersey (one for 22 years and counting; the other is opening simultaneously with the Harrison store). In choosing Harrison, Rajpar said it was a no-brainer.

“I didn’t see a health food store in the area; people in Harrison have to go all the way to Mrs. Green’s in Larchmont or go to Port Chester for such a store,” he said. “I believe there are lots of people here who want to engage in healthy living, and I am happy to help with that.”

He’ll even introduce you to a nutritionist. Every Saturday, the store will feature a nutritionist on hand for free consultations.

Go Natural is currently open and is offering huge discounts on vitamin sales — available for the remainder of the month at 40 percent off. The grocery section features most items at 40 percent off, and cereals are buy one get one free. The store also features a selection of gluten-free items, energy drinks, protein bars, weight gainers and protein supplements, smoothies and organic coffee. The juice bar will open in March.

Store hours are Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Accepts credit cards. Call 914-630-4590.

*****

Shop Talk Tip: Open-Door Policy Last Friday, when the weather briefly hovered around 60 degrees, I was delighted to see several shops with open doors while walking through downtown. I found myself more likely to visit those shops; it was as though the owner was saying, “Come on in — we are happy to see you.” Stores like Big Top even placed merchandise outside, which I found myself looking over, even though I wasn’t in the market for anything in particular. There’s just something so welcoming about open doors and sidewalk sales. So when the weather permits, go ahead and let prospective customers know you want them to stop in!

Carla Rose Fisher is a freelance writer for web and print. Visit her website at saidandsung.com.

NOTE: This article was originally published in The Harrison Report. It is being reprinted here with additional photos.

What Customers Want: See the Need, Then Fill It

Business is often as unpredictable as the weather, so when life hands you snowflakes, make the most of them, just like the Harrison Dollar Plus Store did in my town on this snow day (see the sign below).

Knowing another winter storm was on its way, the owner empathized with his customer base and ordered winter accessories like shovels and de-icers and windshield-washer fluid. When it arrived, he grabbed a marker and some poster board and quickly made a sign urging people to be prepared, and reassuring them that the store was their one-stop shop for snow-ready items they may need. The result? These indispensable items sold like hot cakes (something else you could certainly use on a cold day). Paying attention leads to getting paid.

PRIORITY ONE: YOUR CUSTOMERS Sure, the sign he made leaves a lot to be desired in terms of design, but if you're left out in the cold with no ice scraper or shovel, I would guess that aesthetics are the least of your concerns. What matters most is simple supply and demand. By determining your customers' needs, you are providing them with great service — which is what they want.

You notice how rainy days are banner days for those selling umbrellas on the streets of Manhattan? It's because those sellers also paid attention to the weather, enough to know when to kick up their inventory.

For more on how to take cues from the world outside your storefront, read my post on Proximity Marketing.

FOR WESTCHESTERITES The Harrison Dollar Plus Store features some items priced more than a dollar (hence the title), and if they don't stock something you're looking for, just ask and they will do their best to get it. Talk about great customer service. Call 914-630-4777.

Stay warm and well-stocked,

Carla

Want more tips? Check out (and Like) my Facebook page.

What Begins Attachment?

Connecting with Customers, Clients & Partners Honestly, it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint just what draws us to each other, whether in person or online. As Barbauld says, "a thousand nameless qualities" are the reason we find common ground enough to want to continue the conversation beyond introductions.

You never know what it is that draws people to your business. It could be your product or service, it could be your location, it could be your winning charisma, it could be that you once played softball with a customer's niece back in the day. Who knows — just get the dialogue started. Ask questions of your customers and vendor partners. Get to know their likes and dislikes. Soon your bond will be even deeper, and you'll find it even more rewarding to bring value to that person.

In the end, it doesn't really matter what brought us together; what matters is that we connected in the first place, so let's make the most of it!

Happy Valentine's Day to all my readers, followers and friends:)

Love,

Carla

Connect with me on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn.

Viva La Vivolo! Sharing Your Business’ Business Creates Connection

Walking on the main drag a couple weeks ago in downtown Harrison, I was thrilled to a see this birth announcement in the window of Trattoria Vivolo:

The handwritten announcement not only made me excited for the Vivolo family, it endeared me to the restaurant even more. When I thought about it, this sharing of news with the community created an emotional connection between me and this local business.

Businesses look to Facebook and Twitter to make real connections with customers and potential customers every day. But don't forget that relationship-building can also be accomplished with poster board and a Sharpie.

You may not think it, but there are plenty of customers who want to know when you've got something to celebrate. They may wonder what your life is like outside your business, and may be experiencing similar milestones. The may not care to know how you're saving 15 percent or more on your car insurance, but likely would want to hear about upcoming weddings, graduations and birthdays. So don't be afraid to share your own business, in addition to your business proper.

Oh, and congratulations to proud papa and Chef/Owner Dean Vivolo. My best wishes to the newly expanded Vivolo family!

Cheers,

Carla

P.S. Let's create a connection of our own: Find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Chatting with America’s LinkedIn Lady, Carol McManus

Carmen Carrozza and I were thrilled to have Carol McManus, a.k.a. The LinkedIn Lady, on our Forward Motion show on 1490 WGCH. Carol is part of the WCCH family, hosting her own show every Wednesday at 9 a.m. (see below for more info). Click here to listen to the podcast of our chat with Carol.

Many people know that LinkedIn has become a go-to tool for professionals, entrepreneurs and organizations, especially job seekers and headhunters, but Carol cuts through the guesswork of how to develop a strong presence on the site.

Carol shared with us some no-nonsense tips, including:

+ How to Effectively Use LinkedIn

+ First Steps to Creating Your Profile

+ The Importance of Recommendations

+ The Quality (& Quantity) of Connections

+ Getting Personal with Introductions

+ How to Devise a Posting Strategy

Click here to listen to 25 minutes of valuable tips from Carol.

And listen to Carol's show, The LinkedIn Lady, on WGCH.com every Wednesday at 9 a.m. EDT. For those who need a jump-start to creating their profiles, Carol's running a Boot Camp, which you can read more about by clicking here.

Thanks for reading (and listening),

Carla

Follow Carol on Twitter.

And while you're at it, follow me on Twitter.