Thankful For…

It seems to be an easy mark this time of year. Thankful social media posts are everywhere. #Thankful … 30 Days of Thankful … #ThankfulFor … all prompted by Thanksgiving. While it seems like an easy thing to jump on the bandwagon – the kind of thing I normally avoid – it actually got me thinking this year. The last year has been an amazing year full of too many reasons to be thankful. In fact, it’s been quite a great 4 years for me. So I thought I’d put fingers to keyboard and write a little something about my personal thankful list. And yes, it’s pretty personal.

I’m thankful for a supportive family – immediate and extended – that encourages me, doesn’t hold back their support and lets me know how proud they are of me. Thank you Sonya and my daughters for lifting me up. Thank you mom and dad for providing such a great base on which to build. The compliments I receive are passed on to you. And thank you to my grandparents – the legacy you all started is flourishing and it’s a beautiful sight to behold.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than me in Talons Out Honor Flight. With this, I’m grateful to my sister-in-law Bobbie for asking me to be a part of showing Honor Flight the Movie, and letting me help launch this local hub. I’m thankful for the volunteers who help us at every event.

I’m proud to serve next to some amazing people on our board. I’m beyond thankful to the community (personal friends, strangers, businesses) that has stepped up to honor our Greatest Generation. This has afforded me the chance to meet some amazing men and women and hear their stories…the history of our country. I’ve been fortunate to speak in front of some terrific groups and meet some of our lawmakers, local state & federal.

In all of this though, is the chance to surround myself with heroes. Military and civilian alike, who give of their time, talents and treasure. From World War II Veterans to currently serving military, I am blessed to know our men and women who serve their country. Families of service members, supporters and others all have come together and continue to amaze me. Thank you.

My gratitude extends to my professional life. I enjoy where I work and what I do. When you love what you do, you never work, right? While it’s hard work, I certainly enjoy it. The support of the leadership team at AmeriFirst Home Mortgage means the world to me. Not only do I get the tools to ensure success, I’ve been able to build a team around me to take our efforts to an even higher level of success.

To top it all off, our successes get noticed. I have the privilege of sharing our story and the inbound marketing strategy & philosophy with people from around the world. From presentations at the INBOUND conference in Boston to a continuing education course at the Greater Kalamazoo Association of REALTORS… from interviews on podcasts to regular contributions in seriously cool marketing websites, I am thankful for the opportunity to spread the inbound message.

Finally, I’m thankful that all of this is possible through my faith in our Creator. I love my & Sonya’s church – Riverside Church – but it’s even bigger than that. My relationship with Jesus Christ has deepened over the last few years. After a divorce, I could have slid into depression or a destructive lifestyle. Instead I began to strengthen my faith. It’s not always an easy life – God doesn’t promise us that. In fact He promises us trials and tribulations. But I’m still blessed well beyond what I deserve. I only hope I can continue to pay it forward and bless others, and give God the glory when things go well. Without Him, it wouldn’t be possible.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. This holiday season, I hope your Christmas is blessed, your Hanukkah is joyous and your winter is filled with fun. Cheers.

Is a College Education a Waste of Time in 2014?

Is-a-College-Education-a-Waste-of-Time-in-2014I’m looking at my career path, and others I know, and wondering if college is for everyone. Is the traditional path of 13 years of school followed by another 4 or more of university, really the best fit for most of us?

Are companies who only consider people with 4-year degrees missing the boat on some fantastic talent? I published my thoughts on LinkedIn. Below is an excerpt.

In the current job market, many jobs require a college degree. Oftentimes these jobs require a 4-year degree. A lot of companies won’t consider you past the initial round without it. This is a huge mistake. Companies who do this miss out on too much talent.

This idea that people without college degrees don’t measure up to those with degrees needs to change. Some careers need long-term education. I wouldn’t want a high school graduate opening up my dad for a heart surgery. A lawyer without a deep knowledge of law would be laughed out of a courtroom or corporate boardroom. We wouldn’t want the scientist working to cure cancer to have dropped out of college in her first semester.

However, most jobs out there aren’t rocket science – or medical science in the above example. Rather, many jobs, careers or vocations could benefit from people with specified education based on current trends and information.

Read more here: Why University is a Waste of Time for Today’s Job Market

What do you think?

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Do I Need to be on Every Social Media Channel as a Business?

Do-I-Need-to-be-on-Every-Social-Media-ChannelI had an interesting chat recently with someone about social media. The question was basically, “There are so many different social media channels – do I need to be on all of them (as a business)?”

First let me say this: Social media is a personal choice. There shouldn’t be a requirement, and there really aren’t written rules about them.  However, I’m going get up on my marketing soap box a bit here and tell you what I’ve found in the world of marketing.

If you don’t “do social media,” then don’t.

If it’s not in your make-up to share tidbits about yourself with others, or hear from other people on their days (or see pictures of their kids, cats, dogs or vacations), then by all means avoid Facebook. However, if your job relies on personal connections and relationships, social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest can prove to be nice tools in your arsenal.

You don’t have to be on social media. You also don’t have to have an email address or a telephone. However, if you’re not ready to communicate with people in the manner in which they’re ready to communicate, then you’ll miss out on some of the benefits. Instead of simply avoiding the tool, maybe experiment a little with it, or learn from someone using it already…and see if you can put it to use as well.

Don’t spread yourself too thin.

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram, Path, Tumblr, Pinterest … you have no shortage of sites to choose from in the social media sphere. So where do you go? All of them? Here’s my advice: find the one that matches your strategy and concentrate on that one first. If you decide to branch out, fine. But don’t spread yourself so thin that you don’t use any of them well.

Each social channel has a different use, audience and purpose. If you’d like to connect with housing market professionals like real estate agents, LinkedIn is a great place to spend some serious time. Be sure to join local groups and weigh in on the conversation. Don’t just sell, sell, sell.

If you’re into sharing personal stories with people and eventually getting around to occasionally mentioning how much you love your job, join Facebook and share what you want to share. You can then mix into the conversation once in awhile something like, “Headed to work on a Monday morning and I don’t hate it. I love helping people buy the right home with the right financing. Life is good!” This keeps it in people’s minds that you A) do mortgages and B) love what you do & your company.

If you have shiny object syndrome and you love to follow multiple conversations all at once, join Twitter. You can follow writers, sports stars, actors, real estate people and average people and spout off about whatever you want to in 140 characters. It’s a fun conversation, but it’s not for everyone.

Pick one and get good at it. Then if you want, branch out and try others. But don’t join all of them and leave your account unattended. The downside to being “on all social media” but not really being there is this: Imagine opening an office for your business, paying money on the lease and making a really great sign … then never showing up. If you’re not taking part in the conversation on that particular social channel, then you’re a ghost. When you’re a ghost, no one can find you. And those who do find you are scared to do business with a ghost.

So the short answer is find one social media channel to get good at and practice your art in. Then branch out some. Remember, each social media platform is generally indexed by Google. So if you want people to find you by name when an agent refers them to you, your name will come in Google associated with the social media channel you’re most active on.

Download the book to find out how to go from the T-V newsroom into inbound marketing

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Content Marketing: Quality vs Quantity

Content-Marketing-Quality-vs-QuantitySo you’ve decided to dabble in content marketing for your business. Terrific. Content builds trust. Trust builds relationships. Relationships, as you know, build business. The debate often had over content is whether a ton of content is best (for search engine results and the opportunity to share it all on social media!) or whether less content but higher quality is best (people share quality content!). My answer based on experience and research: both.

I’ll start with a simple idea: You can create amazing content, but if you’re doing it once a month (arbitrary time reference – there isn’t necessarily a magic time frame here) then readers won’t come back. They’ll forget about you. On the other side of the coin, you can create tons of content every day but if it’s crap, no one will keep coming back for more. So your goal is to create different levels of quality content regularly. Let’s dive into this philosophy.

What is “Quality Content?”

You can find differing definitions and levels of quality content. Sometimes readers want a long, in-depth piece of content like an eBook. Other times, it’s a nice infographic. Another great piece of content is an article – anywhere from around 500 words to maybe 1500 words. Imagine you’re looking for information on a new bed. As you search the web, you’ll find information on beds with memory foam, air mattress styles, movable beds and more. If you want to compare a sleep-number style bed to a memory foam bed to a conventional, and you find a buyer’s guide, you may download it. You might also watch a video that shows how they differ, and maybe a couple of testimonial videos from people who sleep on these beds regularly. What other content would you like to see?

Quality Content: Does Size Matter?

The length of content can certainly speak to quality. A 250-word “article” is unlikely to tell me anything of value about your subject. But maybe the article has a great picture or set of pictures, and the text just supports the images. However, as a general rule a word-count of 500 or more should get your ideas across in a concise manner. Conversely, an article of over 1500 words is more like an eBook or a couple of articles. If you want me to read that much material, prepare me. Let me download it in a PDF or other document. Then I know I’m in for a little bit of a read.

Of course, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. Seth Godin can write a blog post of 100 words and his readers will consume it, share it and love it. Just remember: Seth has been publishing for years. You’re just starting – follow the rules for awhile before you decide to bend them.

“People don’t like bad content”

Define “bad content.” I say a video where a bunch of people dance non-sensically in weird costumes to a weird song for less than 30 seconds and it goes to black with no reason is terrible content with no point or purpose. Yet millions of people watched all different variations of the Harlem Shake, proving we love bad content.

Bad content is video with sub-par audio recorded on a mobile phone (not in widescreen) with no lighting, yet videos like this on YouTube see thousands of views and more. You can’t tell me we only like great, film-quality content.

However, bad content has a shelf-life. If you’re writing articles that have no sense of purpose, terrible writing style that makes it painful to read and you’re just sell-sell-selling people rather than educating or entertaining them, that’s bad content and will drive readers away in droves. If you were to find an article – back to the beds scenario – that talked about the kind of bed you were considering, but was written like a 6-year-old, would you trust that company?

How often should you publish content? You’ll find all kinds of varying answers to this question. At work, I publish daily articles (twice daily when I have the content), 2-to-3 videos per week and countless social media updates. Personally, I update once a month here – I should produce more but I’m not selling an agency so it’s more of a personal mission. But I produce a lot of social content on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ so I’m still publishing.

My advice on the amount and frequency is to publish when you have relevant content for the audience you’re trying to reach. If you’re planning to publish one article every day but you find yourself scrambling for content, consider 3-times per week for awhile until you have the right content. Keep in mind, the content you’re looking for is right in front of you: Screw Sexy. Be Helpful.

You can also read a good opinion on frequency here: How often should you publish new content?

So yes, the perfect answer for “Quality vs Quantity Content” is BOTH. Walk a fine line between too much and not enough. Seth Godin could publish once a year and we’d come back for more because he already has an audience. You don’t. You’ll need some quantity. Just be sure to sprinkle different amounts of quality in there!

Download the book to find out how to go from the T-V newsroom into inbound marketing

6 Best Practices for LinkedIn

I wrote this for an employee newsletter at AmeriFirst Home Mortgage. Our team members use social media to connect with home buyers and real estate agents alike. I thought sharing LinkedIn tips with them would be helpful. 


LinkedIn is a great place to connect with other professionals. Sure, it can be a place to go job hunting. But it’s also one of the best places to talk “industry” with business referral partners, possible employees and peers. It’s like going to business networking event…from the comfort of your home or office.

Since LinkedIn is a more professional atmosphere, it’s helpful to follow some best practices. Not only will this help you maintain a business profile, it will also help to grow your LinkedIn network – a goal of many of us in the referral-business world. Here are a few best practices for the LinkedIn crowd.

Use a professional-looking headshot.

Those of us using Facebook know the importance of using a picture. How many times have you received a friend request and wondered who the person is? That photo avatar helps us know faces. In Facebook, we often use photos from vacations, pictures of kids/pets or maybe a group photo with friends. That works fine for the personal crowd in general.

Think of LinkedIn as an office. We tend to dress in business attire at work. We have certain manners and ways of interacting. We’re sober. Your LinkedIn profile should mirror this. Not only should you include a photo of yourself, but it should look somewhat professional and the person looking at it should be able to recognize you in person. Below are some examples of what not to use as a LinkedIn avatar (from real-life examples I’ve seen).

  • No beach/swimming pool pictures
  • No couple pictures with a significant other
  • No pets/children
  • Make sure the photo is not a long-distance shot

In other words, use a photo of you in front of a fairly boring background like your office with a fichus tree behind you. Take the photo like a medium-close up (head to mid-chest or waist is good). Don’t pose like a police mugshot in front of a white or gray wall.

Write a summary that tells a story

The summary is where you tell a little of your story. Make this a first person narrative so the person reading it doesn’t feel like they’re reading an obituary. It’s up to you, but including a little about yourself personally is a nice addition. For instance, include something about a hobby.

Fill out “experience”

“Experience” is where you give your work history. Don’t be afraid to go way back in your history. You never know when a past experience will speak to a potential connection. For instance, someone I know will more likely hire a person who has experience in the food service industry, specifically as waitstaff. As you fill out your experience section, be sure to list facts like actual duties in the job, accomplishments and successes. Finally, include volunteer jobs and internships. Just because you didn’t get a paycheck, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real job.

Recommendations – be willing to give them

Recommendations are essentially references. Ask people with whom you’ve worked to write one for you. Ask for specifics, like a success story or hard numbers from a project you completed with or for them. Be sure to also recommend others. Not only does this create a “what goes around, comes around” situation, but your recommendation will live on through their profile. A couple of tips on recommendations:

  • Be honest, not overly flashy
  • Use factual, specific examples
  • Recommend only those people whom you know, and with whom you’ve worked
  • Take time and ask with a personal note, being specific about your request

Join groups – and be active

LinkedIn groups are a great place to make connections. Join a local group, and take the relationship offline with networking events. Be active on group discussions by “liking” and commenting when you can. Just remember, it doesn’t really count when you just say “I like this” or “Good article.” Actually add something to the conversation in a respectful way. Discussions and comments can prove to be a great way to connect with people. Just make sure you’re not spamming the group. Vary the content and sources you’re posting, and spread it out rather than post a bunch of stuff all at once.

When connecting, make it personal


Personalize your connection message.

LinkedIn allows us to connect with people all over the world. Keep it personal. Just because LinkedIn suggests you connect with someone in San Diego, California doesn’t mean you have to connect with them. However, if you think it would be an interesting connection and mutually beneficial, send a personal note on why you want to connect. Don’t send the generic message LinkedIn automatically sends. This means you’ll have to click on the person’s name, visit their profile and send an invitation from there. Expert tips:

  • Make a template for different connections
  • Use their first name as a greeting
  • If you don’t know them personally, explain why you’re connecting

Connecting with others is clearly the point of LinkedIn. Reach out to others in your area that might have something to share with you, and vice versa. Real estate agents, builders, home service professionals (decorating, plumbers, electricians) and other housing market professionals can be great connections.

LinkedIn can be a great place to make business connections, a powerful tool for recruiting, referral business and for learning industry news. Following some basic best practices will help you create a robust profile and a beneficial LinkedIn experience. Connect with me, too!

Download the book to find out how to go from the T-V newsroom into inbound marketing

(creative commons photo credit LinkedIn logo)

Newsjacking: World War II Style


“Smitty” gets interviewed: Newsjacking win

This week the U.S. Government shut down. It’s a serious story, with implications abounding. Unemployment, services cut off to those in need, chaos in Washington, D.C. (well maybe that’s far-fetched .. it’s already chaotic there). However, one side-effect of the shutdown affected me personally. I took this personal connection and turned it into a chance to tell a story to help get attention for a non-profit that needs attention.

I work with the non-profit “Honor Flight.” Our local hub, Talons Out Honor Flight, is working to take World War II Veterans from Southwest Michigan to Washington, D.C. to honor them for their sacrifices so many years ago.

However, because of the government shutdown this week the World War II memorial is closed to the public. This means WWII Vets with other Honor Flights weren’t going to be able to see the memorial that took us 60 years to build. If you’ve seen the news, you know that’s not what happened. Instead, the Veterans “stormed the gates” and went into the memorial. In actuality, several things likely came together, but the were allowed to visit their memorial.

We decided this was a good opportunity to tell the Talons Out Honor Flight story, to help us get exposure for our inaugural flight later this month. The plan worked, too. A local TV station – WXMI FOX17 – asked to talk to us about the shutdown and our hub’s mission this month. So we put them in touch with one of our Veterans. After the interview aired and the story went online, we shared it on our social media accounts. I even managed to catch the eye of the man who coined the term newsjacking: David Meerman Scott.

From there, we gained the attention of Nancy Schwartz with the website who shared our story on their website. We truly newsjacked the situation, and got attention. The goal of course is to build links to our website, but also to gain attention from possible World War II Veterans and supporters interested in donating. Here’s hoping!


The lesson here is that you can newsjack a current event that relates to you and your cause, when you do it with class and relevancy. It also helps to have a good story that’s interesting to the reporter you’re pitching. And if you want to know more about how to newsjack, read David Meerman Scott’s website. He’s a great resource.

Download the book to find out how to go from the T-V newsroom into inbound marketing

Inbound Marketing for Music: Brian Vander Ark

Growing up in Michigan, I listened to The Verve Pipe long before “The Freshman” was remixed by the record labels and jammed down our throats. After “I’ve Suffered a Head Injury” came “Pop Smear.” Touring with rock legends like Kiss and an appearance by lead singer Brian Vander Ark in the movie “Rock Star” (as a guitar player, not a singer) made it seem like TVP was well on its way to super stardom. However, the music industry churns and churns, and great acts like TVP get chewed up and spit out on a regular basis.

Brian Vander Ark private concert

Photo: Rachel Bryant

Fast forward a couple decades later, and TVP is now producing music that reflects where they are in life. These family albums are catchy, well-written and fun. They’re also a blast to hear your children singing along to in the car. But I digress…

In this world of over-produced music, ridiculously elaborate acts and behemoth record companies trying to maintain their stranglehold on a creative and amazing art, it’s refreshing to see artists like Vander Ark and The Verve Pipe doing something different. Without even realizing it perhaps, artists like this are using principles of inbound marketing to take the power back and reach their audience.

3 Inbound Principles Used by Brian Vander Ark

Buyer Personas: the boys in the band are now dads. They know the people who grew up listening to their music are also likely wrangling kids and cleaning up messes just like them. They know their buyer personas, and they’re speaking to them with content like The Family Album.

Using his knowledge of his fans, Vander Ark started holding concerts where few artists ever venture: his fan’s homes.  With “Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms” Vander Ark takes his music directly to his fans in their homes, where they invite friends over to enjoy an intimate show. Vander Ark knows his buyer personas, and knows that they enjoy this interaction.

Content Marketing: The Brian Vander Ark Soundcloud account offers fans songs for free, as well as interviews and behind the scenes content that allows fans to dive deeper into their relationship with the band. At his “Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms” concerts, Vander Ark encourages his fans to record the show – audio or video – and share it with their friends. It’s a great recipe for viral content.

Social Media: Vander Ark is on Twitter, sharing with fans and retweeting them from time to time. He also shares information about tours. But the best is when he shares things about his life, kids and wife Lux Land so his fans can see he’s real. Social media should be social, not just a place to promote your “stuff.”

The Verve Pipe has a Facebook page of course, where they share news about the band, the latest album and tour information. But they also do cool things like asking fans to share photos over the years. It’s a social place for fans and the band to connect.

Final Thoughts: This shift from relying on a record company to do everything to the artist having the power and responsibility of promoting themselves is the beginning of a revolution. From intimate concerts to viral content to Kickstarter campaigns funding a new record, it’s an exciting new world.

What do you say? Would you host a concert in your yard or house, of an artist you love? Comment below with your thoughts!

Download the book to find out how to go from the T-V newsroom into inbound marketing