Cpg umpire

This spring and summer I served as a volunteer umpire for the baseball league in which both of my sons played. I have always been a bit of a baseball rules nerd and umpired a few games back when I was a teenager. But this was the first year that I found myself on the field as an adult.

It was a learning experience — and one that gave me some takeaways not just for next season when I return as a man in blue.

Appearance Matters

For each game, I showed up looking like a professional umpire with a uniform shirt, gray slacks, and black shoes. That helped me get respect from coaches and parents that I didn’t know. In fact, as I was walking on to the field for my third or fourth game, one parent said to me: “Wow, in our town we just have volunteer umpires.” I explained that’s all I was, too, but clearly the uniform sent a message that helped me be more effective on the field.

You Need to Have the Right Tools

It can be very tempting to cut corners to save money. I did that with a few pieces of equipment that I bought early on. And it cost me in the end. It turns out that when you have higher end protective gear, you get hurt less. Sure, i could have worn plain black sneakers instead of professional plate umpire shoes, but then I’d probably have a few broken toes now. It’s important to invest in the tools that will make you more effective (or, in this case, safer).

Nobody Expects Perfection

Being an umpire is a hard job. So is whatever you do on a daily basis. I often talk with colleagues who are concerned about making a mistake. Ultimately, most customers, clients — and even baseball fans — accept that none of us are perfect. They simply expect that we do the best we can given the resources available. At the same time, we need to learn from our mistakes so we don’t keep on making them over and over again. Sure, there will be some malcontents who will gripe no matter what, but it’s more important to focus on the 99% than the tiny vocal minority.

Practice Makes You Better

Each game I tried to take one aspect of my performance and improve it. By the time the season ended this past weekend, I was a much better umpire than when I started out on a cold Saturday afternoon in April. At work, I thought I knew everything when I was a 22 year old punk staffer. I now know that experience has made me better at my day job too — but I still continue to learn and improve every day.

It’s Important to Communicate

When you’re umpiring games with volunteer parents as coaches, chances are there are a lot of rules they don’t know. I always felt it was important to answer their questions about rulings, even if it meant taking a minute or two during the game to talk it through. Sometimes people who are upset just want a reasonable explanation. I generally found that once they understood what my decision was and how I got to it, they were OK. That’s the same philosophy I apply with customers, clients, employees, and anyone else I encounter in the workplace.

Don’t Have Rabbit Ears

Not every coach or fan agreed with every call I made. There was plenty of chirping from the benches and the stands during each game about everything from balls and strikes to tag plays at the plate. And it got more frequent and louder once we got to the playoffs. And that’s fine. Baseball is a sport with passionate fans and a lot of binary (yes/no) rulings that the umpires must make each game. That’s going to bring out some emotion and dissent. But as an umpire, I couldn’t take it to heart or I would think I was doing a lousy job out there. As businesses, we need to take a similar approach. We need to hear criticism and assess it, but we can’t allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by a small amount of negative sentiment or we will start making bad decisions.

Keep Your Smile

Anyone who has met me knows that I tend to smile and laugh a lot. I believe it’s important to enjoy whatever I’m doing and hopefully that helped me get through some situations as an umpire. I know it helped during some of the longer games in hot weather when everyone could share a laugh even as the game was in progress. I have seen other umpires get grumpy about any dissent and who just looked uncomfortable being there. Fans can tell and they don’t like it. Neither do customers.

If you run a subscription-based web service — or “software as a subscription” (SaaS) to be all fancy about it — you know that it’s not as easy as an inventory-based business to measure. If you’re selling widgets, you can figure out what your product cost is and then calculate your margins based on how much you sell and at what price.

Ultimately, subscription software is similar, but there are key differences. Since commitments are effectively open-ended — regardless of whether you sell by the month or year — you need to be able to calculate things like lifetime value and churn rates to figure out just how profitable you are. The nice thing about a recurring revenue business, though, is that you have ongoing revenue streams from a single customer without having to sell them more widgets. But how do you accurately forecast revenue and profitability?

As someone who has owned and operated a SaaS company for almost 13 years, these are issues that I have had to work through over time. When I started out, I had no clue what I was doing. Even today, I could be better at the measurement and metrics side of my own business.

That’s why I was excited when I clicked over to David Skok’s “SaaS Metrics 2.0 – A Guide to Measuring and Improving what Matters.” It’s more than a blog post. It’s actually a crash course in the economics and management of a subscription-based web service business. It includes fantastic charts, sample information and real world behind-the-scenes data and insight from two of the major players in this arena — NetSuite and HubSpot.

Thanks to Mukund Mohan for tweeting about this piece. It’s a must read if you are in the business or thinking about getting into SaaS.

The Interplay Between Content, Sales, and Marketing

by Chip Griffin on January 23, 2013

Two of my New England social media friends had a bit of a debate about content marketing yesterday. Chris Brogan strongly argued that your writing needs to contain an “ask” to be marketing and CC Chapman just as forcefully disagreed.

First, let’s take a look at the actual argument. Then we can explore the more fundamental question about the role that content plays with both sales and marketing.

Chris Brogan:

And Never Waste Content Without Offering an ‘Ask’ of Some Kind

If you’re not putting some kind of potential hook to future business into your efforts, you’re not content marketing. You’re writing. And that’s great. But it’s not going to help your business, as such.

CC Chapman:

One of the rules that I share with audiences and clients all the time is to “share or solve, don’t shill.” Having an ask in every piece of content would become shilling in a rapid fashion and that is going to turn people off. But, if you share useful information, peeks behind the curtain or answer questions that are being asked you are going to be more attractive to the audience you desire.

Chris knows this. For years he has been creating content that isn’t full of shilling and yet today he is telling his flock to do exactly that.

In the simplest possible terms, I agree with CC on this issue. However, I think much of it comes down to understanding the difference between sales and marketing. What Chris says certainly applies if you are looking at a piece of content as a sales tool. However, sales and marketing are different, albeit related, animals.

Sales requires a clear call to action because it drives directly to a specific decision. Marketing, on the other hand, can be successful in building awareness and reminding potential buyers and influencers about the value you have to offer. Half of the battle for many businesses in simply being in the mind of a buyer when it comes time for them to make a purchasing decision. As a consultant, I know most of my prospects don’t need my services when I first talk to them — or at least may not be prepared to commit. Some of my marketing efforts, then, are designed simply to keep my name in front of them so when they have that “aha!” moment, they will remember to ask me for a proposal.

Let’s look at some real world examples of content that may have marketing value without including an explicit ask:

  • When an artist performs the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, is that marketing or just singing?
  • When Richard Blanco read his poem at President Obama’s second inauguration, was that marketing or just reading?
  • When an inventor gets interviewed on 60 Minutes, is that marketing or just talking?
  • When the head of an advocacy group gets an op-ed placed in the New York Times, is that marketing or just writing?
  • When a fundraiser sends a congratulatory note to a potential donor, is that marketing or just scribbling?

Of course, the argument isn’t nearly this simple — otherwise CC and Chris wouldn’t be having a disagreement. There’s absolutely value in introducing sales into your marketing efforts from time to time. That’s where Chris’s demand for a strong call to action plays a role. But you need not ask for something every time.

In the era of content marketing and social media, so much of what we do is about building relationships. Those relationships require trust and mutual benefit. That’s where CC’s admonition to “share or solve, don’t shill” comes in.

Writing might be just writing if you put it in your journal, but once you distribute it to potential buyers or influencers, it usually becomes marketing. When you add an “ask,” now you have sales.

When Media Focuses on Advertisers, the Audience Loses

by Chip Griffin on January 22, 2013

As media outlets scramble to find workable revenue models, they often focus on advertisers and lose sight of the consumers. Ultimately, a strong audience helps generate income, so that’s a mistake

An old friend of mine wrote on Facebook this morning about a minor New England snow event overnight:

That wasn’t so much of a storm as a little snow. Why must we hype every little snowfall into a named storm???

My response was simple: “media ad revenue.” Sure, the Weather Channel dresses it up as a public service. Here’s some of their official logic:

  • Naming a storm raises awareness.
  • Attaching a name makes it much easier to follow a weather system’s progress.
  • A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.
  • In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication.
  • A named storm is easier to remember and refer to in the future.

But ultimately it allows the Weather Channel to increase readership and viewership since they “own” the name (it isn’t generated by a government agency, as is the case with hurricanes).

In fact, they admit that it’s not all about public service at the tail end of their justification:

Finally, it might even be fun and entertaining and that in itself should breed interest from our viewing public and our digital users.

Ultimately, that’s a mistake. Unfortunately, this is the same media outlet that took a perfectly usable one page digest of the day’s weather and broke it up into multiple pages, presumably to increase page views (and thus the theoretical revenue potential).

The Weather Channel does not stand alone. More and more media outlets have gone to the practice of breaking up news stories over multiple pages. This isn’t convenient for the reader, but it does allow more ads to be displayed. Other websites have become fond of “slide shows” where simple lists get turned into multi-page image galleries. Often the images add next to no value, but again they spike page views and the perception of a site’s traffic.

Successful media outlets will come to understand that the relationship to the audience must come first and revenue will follow. I’m a huge believer in the notion that content does not want to be free, but it’s important to deliver real value to attract a sticky and happy audience that will pay subscription fees, support sponsors, click on ads, or otherwise “pay” for the information provided.

The Web Makes Disruption Easy and Customers Fickle

by Chip Griffin on December 31, 2012

I have been a devoted user of the Thesis framework for WordPress for some time now. I have purchased licenses to use their software for myself and my clients. In fact, this site is built on Thesis, as are most of the ones I have built over the past several years. I routinely recommend Thesis to friends, clients, and anyone else who will listen because it has some nice features to make creating WordPress sites easy and well-structured. It also makes it pretty simple to reuse bits of code from one project to the next without having to dig through complicated theme files.

Naturally, when I needed to build a new website for a marketing project for Franeo over the weekend, I turned to Thesis. I discovered that there was a brand new version of the product, which made me pretty excited. As a tech geek, I always enjoy playing with new features.

Unfortunately, I found the totally revamped Thesis interface to be much more difficult to use. Yes, it appears that it may give more flexibility than earlier versions, but it comes at the cost of a pretty steep learning curve. I even watched a Thesis power user’s unofficial video tutorial for what should have been a simple task — and it took him more than 5 minutes with repeated mistakes and confusion to get the job done. (Honestly, I would have reshot the video, but so be it.)

So I figured if I was going to have to learn something new, I should conduct a quick review of what else is in the marketplace today. In the past, I have used Genesis, but I never quite fell in love with it. I was about to take a new look at it when I stumbled across a WordPress framework that hadn’t really caught my eye before, although I had heard of it.

Headway seems to offer everything that the new version of Thesis promises — an easy, clickable interface that allows even non-designers to create pretty sites. Yes, it still requires graphic design and CSS skills to produce something more than a pretty vanilla site, but it does take a lot of the challenge out of basic layout and formatting. Bottom line: I found it to be a a nice product to use.

This isn’t a review of Headway vs. Thesis — I may do that at some future point. Instead, I’m writing about this to underscore the point that the web makes it easy for one product to disrupt another. Finding new product options is often as easy as typing something like “Thesis competitor” or “Thesis alternative” in a search engine.

With the ease of finding replacement products, customers become more fickle. Companies — especially those that depend on the web for business — need to be constantly aware of this. It cuts both ways. It can be a great way for upstarts to find customers, but it’s also a threat to incumbents who may become too complacent.

CC Chapman’s Amazing Things Will Happen

by Chip Griffin on December 12, 2012

Disruptive ideas don’t always have to be fancy inventions or monumental scientific discoveries. Sometimes, it’s just some healthy common sense provided in a compelling fashion. Delivered to the right person at the right time, it can have a truly disruptive impact.

That’s how I see CC Chapman’s latest book, Amazing Things Will Happen. It’s got a nice combination of CC’s personal history, motivational stories, cautionary tales, and business insight. It’s not a business book or a self-help book, but it can fill some of those needs for folks who like such things. It’s not an autobiography, but I learned things about CC that I didn’t know after being his friend for a number of years now.

I guess that means that Amazing Things is everything that it is not. And that’s a good thing. It’s not trying too hard to be a “typical” book. Like CC, it blazes its own path.

It’s easy, enjoyable reading that can’t help but inspire you to reexamine what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. It contains practical pointers for maximizing your time and achieving work-life balance. CC really believes in finding ways to be happy, not just successful.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a worker bee, there’s something for you in CC Chapman’s Amazing Things Will Happen.

Computer, Take the Wheel

by Chip Griffin on September 25, 2012

For many, the ability to drive represents a key milestone of freedom in America. The ability to grab the steering wheel and take your car across town or even across the country has been idealized as part of our society for more than three quarters of a century.

Dan Neil of he Wall Street Journal explores the ongoing effort to take manual control of the car out of the equation. There would still be freedom to get around, but the ultimate feeling of control might be diminished just a bit as computers take over the actual driving responsibility.

As someone who personally hates driving, I welcome that day. It simply cannot come soon enough.

My personal desires notwithstanding, here’s why the idea of computer-assisted driving is so disruptive:

The cost of automobile accidents in the U.S. (measured in death, disability, health care and property loss) totals $300 billion annually, according to AAA estimates. The cost of traffic congestion (lost productivity, wasted petroleum, among other factors) AAA reckons at about $100 billion. Taken together, the costs of automotive death and delay equal 2.6% of GDP.

If technology can help make us safer and more efficient in our travels, let’s get there sooner than later.

The Case for a One Term Presidency

by Chip Griffin on August 28, 2012

The premise of this blog is to share disruptive ideas and opinions. Sometimes they can be controversial, as well, especially on the rare occasions that I choose to tackle things like politics or religion. So be it.

In the United States, we had a tradition of presidents serving no more than two terms starting with George Washington and ending with Franklin Roosevelt. FDR’s decision to continue running for re-election after two terms led to the passage of a constitutional amendment that turned that tradition into a rule.

Most presidents have chosen to seek a second term. Indeed, only a small handful chose not to seek a second full term. LBJ’s famous “I shall not seek” speech was given after the 1968 presidential primary campaign was already underway, thus making it less than truly voluntary. The last president who proactively chose not to seek re-election was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

In a 2005 article at the start of President George W. Bush’s second term, Susan Page of USA Today wrote:

Of the 15 previous presidents who have been elected and then re-elected, not one had a more successful second term than his first, according to presidential historian Robert Dallek. For seven, the second term was catastrophic: Felled by assassination or illness, or mired in corruption and controversy.

Given this track record, perhaps we should look to start a new tradition in America: the one-term president. Rather than treating that term as a derisive one as it is now (most use the term to dismiss a politician they dislike, “Oh, we was a one-term guy”), we should view those who voluntarily serve one term as those who go to Washington to make a difference and then move on. Read the full article →

Sometimes the Big Ideas Are Closer Than You Think

by Chip Griffin on November 27, 2011

Undersea Volcanoes from British Antarctic SurveyAs I was perusing the November 2011 issue of Popular Mechanics (via the Zinio app on my iPad, of course), I came across a brief item about the British Antarctic Survey and the discovery of some active undersea volcanoes in the South Atlantic Ocean. “New species have been found nearby,” reports the magazine.

I have always been a big fan of space exploration, but over the past decade or so I have become much more intrigued by underwater exploration. It’s not as sexy as the search for alien life or the quest for an answer to the origins of the universe, but it can be just as exciting — and probably have more practical applications in terms of things like health, energy, and the environment. Plus we don’t have to travel for weeks, months or years just to get in a position to make observations.

There are practical implications to this way of thinking that impact us in our businesses and our lives. It is easy for all of us to get enamored with the idea of solving the biggest problems that get the most attention from the media and the public.

Read the full article →

What Does the Future Hold?

by Chip Griffin on November 18, 2011

I have found myself this week spending a lot of time thinking about what is in store in the future. I have been pondering this question from a number of different angles, including business, product, marketing, technology, and more. I’ve even been considering where I’m headed personally when it comes to things like running (do I try a full marathon next year?).

This has led me to a few observations:

The Future is Unknowable. So Don’t Try Too Hard. We can all make reasonable judgments about what is in store down the road for ourselves and our companies. But ultimately we don’t really know what is going to happen, so it isn’t worth getting too wound up about the possibilities, good or bad.

Stuff Happens. The Future Changes. Just when you think you have the full menu of options for the future in front of you, some new event or piece of information will likely crop up that switches up the dynamic. For example, many of my significant career path transformations have come out of left field and been executed incredibly swiftly.  Read the full article →