Sunday, March 29, 2009

Parking Lot Feng Shui

I have a thing with parking lots: some are great spaces and others stress me out. Perhaps my issue goes back to when I first started driving and hit a few cars in parking lots and in parking garages. I hate tight spaces in any form! Now give me a tight parking garage space with a parallel-parked car behind me and I’m done for. I have sweaty palms when I cruise down the slope that is the Corcoran Street parking garage in Durham and most Harris Teeter lots give me the chills. And now that I have a newish car (less than two years old), I’m hyper-concerned about where I park. My husband’s the same way. A year ago my husband’s company moved to a new location and Hubby didn’t like this parking lot. “It’s too hilly and the spaces are too tight.” He solved the issue by parking in the back and by parking in the last possible row.

I do the same thing and I really parked far away when I first owned my first new car – a 1996 red Mustang. I used to park it on the side, but then the other employees (and I knew it was them since we hosted very few visitors), but slightly ding my car. I remember taking it to the body shop almost every day. I stopped doing this when the body shop manager thought I had OCD, and instead parked my car in the back next to a Dodge Intrepid. My parking friend also didn’t want his car hit by reckless co-workers who had too many bags and papers to close doors properly.

So what makes a good or bad lot? A good lot has plenty of wide spaces and it’s flat. A bad lot has hills with tight spaces and multiple entrances. In other words, it has bad feng shui.

I think that where you park in a parking lot says a lot about you. You already know that I park far away from everyone else, but here’s a parking lot etiquette nugget I learned from a veteran saleslady when I just entered the job market after college. I was on this extended ad exec interview for a local paper in Charleston (I didn’t get the job) and she told me that we couldn’t park in the front by the store. “Why?” I asked. She said, “Because those spaces are for customers and we’re not buying anything. We don’t want to make the owner angry right off the bat by taking up his spaces.” And she was right. When I later interviewed at Belk for an assistant store manager position, I impressed the security guy who later told the store manager, “She knows something about customer service: she didn’t want to take up your customer spots. You should hire her.” And they did.

I’ve trained my son Daniel to look for spaces at the Y and have told him not to help me find the handicapped spaces. Unlike some kids, he never complains that we have to walk a certain distance to get to the front door since he knows that our car won’t get dinged the further we park and the more hemmed in we are by a median.

Networking for Moms

Pictured Judy Homer and Christina Hagan
It’s a scary world out there if you’re considering going back in the work force after you’ve been a stay-at-home mom for a while. It’s probably scarier after you’ve given birth to your first child since your identity has changed: you’re a mom now and that’s what some people will only see you as. Some women embrace being called “Kyle’s mom” instead of their given name, but others want to be known for themselves and to carve out a work identity. Of course, this can be very difficult if you’re a mom who has switched careers after the child, or who has taken a long break while staying at home with the kids.

So let’s say you’re a stay-at-home mom who wants to return to the working world as an entrepreneur or as a consultant. Or maybe you want to return to a job like your old one, but without the crazy hours. How do you get back into the swing of the working world before you’re even there? Morning and lunchtime networking groups, that’s how. They are all over the Triangle and some meetings correspond to preschool hours, so you won’t need to have someone watch your child. In these groups there are women who are solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, artists, therapists, and those that are employed with a small business. I’m a member of several that meet on Wednesday mornings. They all run on a tight schedule, and they include introductions and a speaker. Maybe you don’t a job lined up and are looking, don’t know what’s out there, but you want your name to get out in circulation. In this case, networking groups can help. With a women-centered networking group, you can find supportive women you will get to know and trust, which will be especially important down the line, when you need someone in your corner when you’re looking at job possibilities.

But, you say, you don’t know the first thing about networking? No problem. Here are a few tips to get you prepared for your first networking group meeting.

• Go with a friend or know that you’ll meet your friend at that particular networking group. With a friend by your side, you can introduce her to other people and take some of the pressure off of yourself
• Have a goal before you enter the meeting room. Ask yourself, who do I want to meet today? It’s OK to say that you only want to meet one person or have one good conversation. Quality trumps quantity at these meetings since you’re there to build relationships and not to find a job when you walk out.
• Print up business cards and have plenty to give out. Make them simple with your name, number, address and hopefully the name of your blog – You do have a blog, right?
• Once at the networking meeting, be useful. Offer to help someone if they are looking for a name or product that’s within your area of expertise. And then make sure you follow up with that person that same day if possible.
• Work on how you’ll introduce yourself. If you’re not working say, “I’m a graphic artist looking for opportunities.” No one wants to hear that you have no money and you’ve been pounding the pavement for eight months without success.

I’m so grateful for my networking groups because they’ve provided me multiple chances to work on my introductions, to work on my presentation skills (I’m now a sought-after speaker), and to work on my people skills. If you go into these groups knowing that friendships and business relationships take time to develop, you’ll be joining for the right reasons, and you’ll have a net when you start your own business or make a career move.

What Gets Measured Gets Done

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being a guest at the last seminar of Rick Grandinetti’s Succeed Inside the Box five-week series. I learned a great deal about perception, goal-mastering and customers, and I also met some great business leaders at the event.

If you crossed a preacher with a business coach, you’d get Rick Grandinetti. Sharp, dynamic, always moving and always entertaining, Grandinetti, the founder and CEO of Morrisville-based VisionPlanning, Inc. uses the Socratic Method of rhetorical questioning to hone his points and persuade his audience to make changes in their life and in their business.

For 2009, Grandinetti is on a new mission to make individuals and, therefore, their businesses succeed even in this weak economy. For fifteen years, this former broker, sales expert, speaker and trainer, has focused on changing corporate paradigms and culture. His talent has solved problems for GlaxoSmithKline, Roche Laboratories, Qwest Communications, Andersen Windows, Public Broadcasting Service, and Ericsson, just to name a few. Besides corporate consulting, he’s presented thousands of keynote speeches and seminars. Now he’s using his expertise to fashion a series of public workshops called Succeed Inside the Box and will have a book by this same name out shortly.

Cary, North Carolina, was the first market for his Succeed Inside the Box seminar, which could be described as the most productive fifteen hours of MBA school squeezed into five weeks. The intensive series ran once a week for five weeks at three hours a piece. Twenty-three business owners and sales executives gathered at round tables to share information, success stories, and challenges. In order to meet and discuss with new people each time, participants rotated tables at the beginning of each session.

Grandinetti often reminded his participants to not blame the weak economy, to set oneself apart from the competition, dream big and to measure everything. Grandinetti stated, “I have the antidote for companies in either a good or a bad economy…because of this economy we’re forced to be business people. You need to distinguish yourself from the competition and do the opposite of what people don’t like about your competition.”

He continued, “I believe in making vision statements a reality. What gets measured gets done. Most people aim too low and hit it. If you don’t have a vision you’re going nowhere. Our vision statement is to make your vision statement a reality.” He then asked the participants what their BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) was to drive his point home about measuring everything. He emphasized, “This slow economy simply exposes a company’s many weaknesses that they should have corrected years ago.”

He also wanted the participants to recapture that “First Day Feeling.” He stated that many times entrepreneurs forget that first day feeling after they start their new venture since they get so bogged down in the daily minutiae of running a company. Sometimes they forget their passion and why they got into business for themselves in the first place. He challenged business owners to recall that initial motivation “and remember how good it felt” and carry it through to their next challenge. Morrisville Mayor Jan Faulkner remembered that first day of being mayor. She said, “When I won the election, I was thrilled, excited, and vowed to increase regional partnerships…I need to go back to Day One…that’s where I need to focus.”

Of course the conversation drifted back to the economy. Rick Grandinetti doesn’t blame the weak economy; rather he blames lame excuses from companies who aren’t examining their sales strategies. The same can be said for business owners who aren’t focused.

He shouted at the group, “It’s not like the Great Depression. We’re not even close. As soon as we seen negativity, we let go. Don’t subscribe to the recession; you’re just hurting your family. You’d protect your family at all costs, right?”

Then he focused on what companies can do to retain and gain customers with three points: solving their problems, retooling the selling process, and feedback. “You need to make your customers’ business better and ask yourself if you have the capabilities to solve customers’ problems. Don’t sell the way you like to sell. Sell to people the way they want to buy. Usually they don’t see how what you offer will make their life better. In addition, you have to get feedback from your customers. Really listen to your customers to find out what they want.”

Judging from the excitement and talkativeness of Rick Grandinetti’s Cary participants, his message of accountability and intention was a breakthrough for many. Grandinetii often stated, “I consult with companies who want to go from ordinary to extraordinary.” The same could be said of how his students, or followers, felt after capping their pens and pushing back their chairs. As they exchanged business cards, the I saw the particpants jump up to form their own Rick Grandinetti-inspired groups to get their weekly or monthly dose of motivation and focus. And even though I just attended one class, I already made three strong connections with my fellow participants.

On Chesil Beach Book Review

On Chesil Beach On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was drawn to this novel from the opening line, "They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible." Now if that doesn't pique your interest and/or set up the story's conflict, I don't know what will. I'm a fan of Ian McEwan, having read Saturday and Atonement, and I knew that I would be in for a ride with his latest book. It's much more compact and taut than the other books of his I read since it only focus on one night and two main characters, Florence and Edward. Like his other works, he focuses on a single moment and how that moment can have lifelong consequences for all of the parties involved. I gave this book a five out of five because in only 200 pages, I felt I knew these two characters, their social situations and what brought them to this moment in time on Chesil Beach in June 1962. If Florence had been more sexually aware, would the night have gone better. Or what if Edward had been more communicative? We can only guess. Or were these two young people even compatible with each other? They seemed so different and only met because they were both didn't want to be where they currently were.

On Chesil Beach is a short, fast read, yet McEwan's prose and the rich details he employs will linger with you long after you set the book back on the shelf. My book club really enjoyed it and we all felt deep sympathy for these two characters who were lost in their time.

View all my reviews.