9.10.2014

Back to Work Blog Series: 5 Steps to Confident, Smarm-Free Networking

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Welcome back to the Amy Mac Blog Series Back to Work: Everything You Need to Know to Get Back in Business — a playbook of strategies to dust off your skills, your resume and your moxie as you change careers, launch a business, or head from the mom force to the work force. Catch up on previous posts here.

In the last post we talked about steps to Crafting a Winning Resume -- today, we're talking about how to network strategically (without feeling like an infomercial salesman) and land that perfect job.

Now that have several important building blocks in place — the 30-second pitch, your resume, trend awareness and social media — it’s time to start building your network in earnest. In my experience, women who have been out of the work force for a while (or are switching careers) tend to quickly discount current connections as viable networking opportunities.

Recently, an accountant friend ready to make the leap back into full-time work said “a dad on my son’s baseball team is a VP in marketing at a local Fortune 500 company. But since he’s in marketing, I’m sure he isn’t be able to help me land an accounting job.” Let’s dispel that myth once and for all: first, I’m sure the company has an accounting department. Second, as a local business leader, he likely has a personal accountant and knows several more.

Start building your network as soon as you begin thinking of returning to work — you’ll be amazed at how many opportunities find their way to you. If your scene has been more playgroup than boardroom the last few years, the options might seem overwhelming. Start with these five tried-and-true networking strategies:

Design a Digital and Traditional Business Card. Make it easy on any contacts who want to stay in touch. There are many options online to design and print business cards. Have some very simple cards printed with your name, contact information and your industry with the word “freelance consultant” after. For example, a retiring teacher looking to continue to work part-time in some capacity would say “Education Freelance Consultant.” Take the same information and create a digital signature for all of your emails.

Pitch to Personal Networks.  Armed with your 30-second pitch and your business cards, start letting everyone you know you’re back on the professional market. This is a time to make an expansive list — everyone from your neighborhood, church friends, parents on the sidelines at your kids’ sporting events, to colleagues you worked with 10 years ago should be on this list.

Connect at Professional Networking Events. Almost every local Chamber of Commerce holds a monthly networking event, not to mention local chapters of various industry associations. These events cost about the same as a typical lunch at a restaurant, and are usually full of leading local professionals smart enough to keep their eyes and ears open for potential new talent.

Invest in Professional and Personal Development Seminars. Seminars on sharpening career and life skills are everywhere these days. Find one that piques your interest and invest in the fee — not only is it an excellent networking opportunity, but it’s also a new skill for your resume.

Scan Local Newspapers and Calendar of Events Listings. Most newspapers have “Calendar of Events” listings. Some of them even helpfully section out the business-related events. Make a point of reading these at least once a week to stay abreast of networking opportunities that will further your job search.

Remember ... when you have a networking opportunity you must have a goal in mind. For example, if you’re at a Chamber meeting, be determined to meet at least 3 new people, learn what they do, give them your pitch, and exchange contact information. Otherwise, it’s easy to settle in at the table for lunch and be monopolized by your seat mate.

And if you’re nervous about pitching to an acquaintance, try the soft-sale approach: ask them a question about their business (something like “what do you do in a typical work day?” or “who are some of your clients I might recognize?”) which then segues nicely into you telling them about your skill sets and career goals.

And don’t get discouraged if you don’t get any bites right away. I have people that I met weeks, months even years ago reach out and say “not sure if you remember me, but I need some help writing a news release…”, so just keep on networking — even after you land that dream job!

Next up in the Back to Work Blog Series: You're already a CEO ... here's how to use it in the working world.

Thanks for reading! (and please ... if you have any questions related to going back to work, send them my way!)


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9.08.2014

Life's Like an Hourglass Glued to the Table


Wow. A giant mass of pointy candy corns comin' at ya. Bad idea. 

Things I've said to at least one of my children this week, in no particular order:

"No, a trip to Seattle is not a reasonable birthday gift request."

"Coke (does not) = Water."

"Please do not call our dog a 'pimp.'" In the child's defense, she was unable to properly define the word, and after learning what it means agrees it does not describe our dog accurately.

"A few years back, I was struck multiple times in the face with flying candy corns while making your bed. You had stored them in your pillowcase, I assume for convenience in indulging a late-night, crack-like sugar addiction. As Halloween season approaches, I'd like to remind everyone to please not store any type of candy, whether soft or incredibly missile-like in hardness, in one's pillowcase." Seriously, I almost lost an eye.

"If I say 'I can see your cheeks in those shorts,' I do not mean the cheeks upon which you apply rouge. Please remove the shorts immediately and place them in the giveaway pile." 

"It's never too early to start thinking about sorority rush, so please stop posting pictures of your mangled feet on social media. I'm sorry that cross country is ending a potential career as a foot model and perhaps hampering your ability to wear shoes ever again, but if one more shot of a blue toenail and skin bearing a resemblance to road kill pops up on my feed, so help me I'll do something drastic. Please don't try me. I'm very creative. And loud."

" _______ causes acne." (Fill in the blank with whatever objectionable action you desire. In the last three days I've used eating candy, stealing my makeup, back talk and forgetting to flush the toilet.)

"If you mention again how in X number of days you'll get your driver's permit and that 'I'll be the passenger in my own car' I will ground you, I swear it." It makes me feel anxious and old and I don't care for it.

Actually this entire post makes me feel anxious and old. But also relieved that thus far the worst social media picture is of a foot and that substance abuse is limited to candy corn and Coca-Cola. But still in a state of disbelief that I have a child who keeps demanding we take her to drive circles in empty parking lots. Isn't it funny how our number one job as parents is to teach them independence, and then when that independence finally asserts itself it clinches us around our hearts with the ferocity of an industrial-grade vise?

Ah, the push and pull of parenthood.

Mothers and fathers of babies, and toddlers, and even elementary school-age kids, remember this: for every shoelace you tie, or every pureed sweet potato you scrape off your wall, for every time you fall into bed exhausted after wrangling multiple wild and filthy children through the bath ... there will come a time you will yearn for the simplicity of those days.

Yep, I said simple. I know those days are rough. Exhausting. You're chasing a constantly moving target, and my Lord what a mess it creates in its wake. But one day you wake up, and all of a sudden there is a target. And it's no longer your target ... it's theirs. There's talk of GPAs and college essays and setting up shop in some dorm room on a faraway college campus. And my friend, you will yearn for those days of shampooing crusted pasta sauce out of someone's hair right after you pick up 72,458 legos for the millionth time in a three-hour timespan.

I think this quote from Robin Williams' character in Dead Poet's Society sums it up nicely:

"...if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? ---Carpe --- hear it? --- Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day ...."

Because every single time I look at my daughter, the one with the mangled feet who's mentally calculating her GPA in her head as we speak, that awful political chant pops up in my head like a whack-a-mole ...

"Four More Years."

Gulp.

XO---
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8.29.2014

Autumn? I'm not sure what you mean ...

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This time of year you'll find any Southerner (and anyone without the proper drawl who lives down here and knows what's good for 'um) at a football stadium. Probably multiple times per weekend. I remember reading once that in the South we have four seasons just like anyone else, they're just slightly different than you were taught in school. South of that Mason-Dixon line we say "Spring, Summer, Football, Winter."

True to form, on this weekend's docket:

High school football game (Go Raiders! Beat Milton!), middle school football game (Go Raiders! Beat whoever we're playing!), college football (Go USAFA Falcons!) and more college football (Go Vols!).

We'll also squeeze in barbecue at my sister's, the Decatur Book Festival and fireworks at our neighborhood lake (it's an impressive show. Not quite as outstanding as Boomsday in Knoxville:
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I mean, those folks use 5 tons of dynamite, but it's like the neighborhood version of that ... no bridges, and far fewer drunk undergrads.

Hope y'all have a great weekend!

XoXo---

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8.28.2014

Winding Up for the Pitch

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Is your mouth watering at the mere thought of the sublime fragrance of succulent, sun-warmed peaches interwoven with brown sugar and a hint of fresh vanilla bean and freshly ground cinnamon? Ahhh .... yes? Are you concerned with whether the restaurant owner paid $1.84 or $2.03 per pound for those peaches? Yeah, didn't think so ...

Whenever I hear the phrase "I need to pick your brain" I think "BLOG POST!" Usually the brain picker has a very specific question related to their business or cause, but strip away the specifics and the principles are useable for darn near any communication ... whether you're looking for a job, pitching a product, or just writing a sternly worded letter to your homeowner's association.

A little background: one of my dear friends is launching her own business. Very exciting stuff. I can't share more due to national security restrictions (kidding, she's just still in prep mode), but it's a solid concept that she'll take out into the world very, very soon. So, said adorable friend comes to me with this query:

"How do we prep for the big pitch on a super-tight budget?" 

This can be tricky. When you're low on capital it's tempting to go cheap on marketing. But if your print or digital marketing comes off as "budget," your audience starts getting antsy. They start wondering if you've really thought this whole thing through, are you fly-by-night, do you go single-ply instead of double which is both cruel and wasteful, are you stirring up more questions than you are solutions ... not exactly a confidence building exercise for you or the audience.

Take the time to build thoughtful, compelling marketing messages and package them professionally -- whether in a letter, with a website, or with a gorgeous printed piece -- and you'll find your audience takes you far more seriously and is far more likely to do what you want ... whether that's buy something, agree to something, or give you a raise!

Here's my advice how to Land the Deal on a Shoestring Budget:

Adopt this mindset: you're not selling ... you're telling a story. In order to really connect with your audience, you must package your story in a way that lets them see themselves with a better life. I stumbled upon this video from a TED conference that sums up this concept so well that I want you to hop off my blog and go watch it ... but then you have to come right back. Watch at least to around the 5 minute mark (where he talks about how Apple creates their story by turning the message on its head,) but I encourage you to watch the whole thing (my favorite quote: "Martin Luther King did not give the 'I have a plan' speech. No, it was the 'I have a DREAM speech.')

Take care of the basics. Grab testimonials from your current customers and incorporate the best ones into your marketing materials. Start collecting statistics on everything: your sales, your customer satisfaction rate, your customer retention and loyalty ... whatever you are doing, you can collect stats on it. Why are testimonials and stats so important? Because people are more willing to try something if someone else has vetted it first and is happy with the results.

Get very solid on what makes you better than your competition. What are you doing differently -- and way better -- than your competitors? The question of "why should I go with you over them?" will come up, whether you're giving a presentation or someone's just reading your letter. Have a compelling answer.

Remember you have two audiences: the gatekeeper and the end user. So, let's say you're trying to convince the owner of a restaurant (gatekeeper/person who has buying power) to buy your brand of fresh peaches for their world-renowned peach cobbler. Yes, you need to address the owner about how your exquisite, farm-fresh peaches in plenty of time daily to prepare for the lunch crowd, and for three cents less than your competitor. Guess what? The folks tying on their napkins at lunch (end user) could care less that your peaches cost the restaurant less. Nope, they want some hot-from-the-oven peach cobbler that makes them feel a little shaky it's so good. You must appeal to both audiences to land the deal.

Flip your message on its head. Don't get so caught up in your awesomeness that you fail to tell your target audience how your product makes their life better. Talk about their needs first, then about how you fill that need.

Budget for an excellent marketing professional to help you craft your story. This is not a sales pitch. Hire me, hire another qualified professional, just hire someone to help you pull together your brand story professionally. I believe more businesses go up in smoke because they put more money into their systems or supplies and failed to invest in excellent marketing. Guess what? It doesn't matter how amazing your product is if no one knows about it. True story. Companies that see the value and invest in marketing are more successful. Hook up with a great marketer ... it's worth every penny.

There ya go. My brain dump for August 2014. Totally just saved you the cost of a Starbucks, but potentially created a craving for peach cobbler. I shall not apologize.

XO ---
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8.22.2014

Show and Tell

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I know I've promised not to craft on this blog. Or pressure you into organizing anything, or painting anything, or planting anything. Please do not misconstrue this post as craft-like pressure.

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Because heaven knows Back to School season (can we go ahead and call it a season? Because it is. And I swear it pretty much starts before I've gotten the kids home from the last day of the previous school year) is already uber stressful. There's registration, purchasing the right back pack, gathering school supplies, returning school supplies after meeting teachers and discovering they want completely different supplies, and of the utmost importance: procuring the perfect first-day-of-school outfit.

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Also, you have to find the perfect lunch box. I suggested my husband might want to upgrade his mode of transportation for his midday meal a few years ago, as perhaps it could be misconstrued as unprofessional to tote one's sammy and banana in a torn Wal-Mart plastic bag to a Fortune 500 company. As a joke I purchased this lovely 1940s era lunch pail at Scott's Antique Market in Atlanta and offered to pack his lunch for him. He said he'd only take his lunch in this when he wanted to catch himself a little tetanus, so we have called this the Tetanus Lunchbox ever since.

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The Tetanus Lunchbox is enjoying its day in the sun, y'all.

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Anywho, my sister introduced me to this lovely blog called Talk of the House. There are a million kazillion blogs about lovely homes, but this one's my new fave. She does all this fun and creative decorating around the seasons, which inspired my little Back to School entry table. So thanks, Kelly, for the fabulous idea. And giving me the excuse to pull out the Tetanus Lunchbox, along with the girls' elementary school yearbooks and other school-themed books.

Which of course led to digging out pictures of the girls in preschool. Which made me sit in amazement at the many ways they have changed, and the many ways they have stayed the same. Which led to a bizarre mix of exaltation and melancholy, which may or may not have led to me eating some of those Smarties candies. (By the way, my sister suggested mixing in some Dum Dum lollipops to see if anyone caught it. Genius idea which I sadly never implemented.)

The best part is 95 percent of this stuff I had around the house. Which is good, because it left time for me to take care of other Back to School emergencies, like:


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XOXO ---
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6.23.2014

In Lieu of Orange Daisies

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Even though we've lived in Georgia for nearly 12 years now, long enough to collect a basket full of tschotskes bearing various emblems of the state (I mean, have y'all ever seen the Big Chicken? It is, in fact, a sight to behold), and nearly 20 years since I last claimed Tennessee as my official residence ...

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I just love the juxtaposition of the Georgia glass with the floral reminder that our blood still bleeds Orange.

Hope y'all are having a splendid summer!

XOXO ---

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5.12.2014

No-Asterisk Living

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We've all heard the term "use your words." Usually aimed at a preschooler off-the-charts on the emotional scale and extremely low on the articulation scale. When I came to the unfortunate realization that it is quite likely the advice, life lessons, inspirational quotes and whatnot I pass along to my daughters was likely traveling in one ear and out the other, I decided to do what I love ... use my words and write stuff down. I'll have to pack a lot of punch into these little bursts, because let's face it ... if we want something to be memorable - no matter the audience - we better be quick. I'll address these directly to my kids so hopefully one day I can just say "boy problems? school problems? can't find anything to eat problems? Check blog post #102. It's your parent now!" Kidding, but I do hope this will become a sort of reference for them, and that maybe, just maybe, you'll find something interesting in here too. XO - Amy Mac

Ladies:

There are no asterisks in life.

That is to say, there's never a report card that says
*by the way, the teacher sucked

There's no adjusting the game score because
*the refs weren't fair

No one gets credit for an incomplete chore because
*I have an awful headache, I'm exhausted, I think I pulled a muscle, I'm allergic to clean things

Life is based on results. You get results because you figured out a way to work around the asterisks. You will have teachers that suck. You'll have refs that aren't fair. You will feel less than ideal anytime there's a task you'd like to procrastinate completing, especially if you allow yourself that empty luxury of a life built with asterisks.

Decide on the results you want (an A, a win, a clean room so I don't confiscate your phone because your room looks like several stores -- including but not limited to clothing boutiques, athletic supply stores, dirt factories, office supply centers and various food shops -- have exploded and the remnants have all settled like retail volcanic dust upon the floor in your room) ...

and decide to get those results no matter what it takes.

I find it helpful to write down the results for which I'm aiming. Because in your heart you'll know where those asterisks could have been, and the satisfaction of having succeeded anyways is sweet indeed.

Love, Mom*
*Saying "are you using an asterisk, Mom?" the next time I blame running late on the dogs could be hazardous to your health. Xoxo!
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