Over the years, I’ve observed that there is a common set of behaviors that is part of what makes people successful in business that I think of as the rules of service. The most successful companies actual incorporate these rules into their corporate culture.

Here they are:

Rule #1 – The customer always comes first

Rule #2 – Your network (business) is your first customer

Rule #3 – You are the most important customer in your network (business)

These are very much part of the western culture, and parts of these are taught to us as we are growing up. For me though, there were subtleties in these rules that took me years to learn, and I’m still learning to apply.

Let’s look at the rules in more detail, starting with the last one.

Rule #3 – You are the most important customer in your network

This one is a subtle part of the golden rule that I misunderstood for a long time. There is a great deal of teaching about sacrifice and serving others, which can be mistakenly incorporated into our values as putting others ahead of ourselves.

Large organizations instill self-improvement into their workers as a way to make them more valuable, and therefore make the organization more successful (e.g. – “Be all that you can be” – U.S. Army).

The problem with this approach of being completely selfless, is that we are missing out on the opportunity to give the greatest gift we have: ourselves.

What I mean by this rule, is that you need to care for yourself before you can care for others. If you don’t remember to breathe, eat, and sleep, you will have nothing to give. If you truly want to be of service, you must instead be the best that you can be.

God grants us all special gifts, our gift back to God is what we do with those gifts. By making yourself the most important customer, you make the choice to make sure your needs are met in order to share those gifts with the world. This is not being selfish, this is the truest way to be of service.

This is so eloquently expressed in the following quote by Marianne Williamson (often attributed to Nelson Mandela):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Look at that last line again: As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

By becoming all that we can be, we liberate others to do the same, thereby improving the universe in ways we cannot imagine. We not only serve ourselves, we give others the ability to serve, and to find their true selves.

Rule #2 – Your network (business) is your first customer

As people, we need help from others in order to do most things of importance in our lives. First we became tribes, banding together in small groups to survive. Then we formed communities, which allowed for a people to begin to explore their special skills. Eventually, we formed companies, which were in essence a more specialized community: join together people with different skills in order to accomplish a common goal.

You’ll notice that I changed this rule to say “network” and placed “business” in parentheses, because I fell we’re in the midst of a return to a more community based way of interacting. People band together in a network, which allows them to accomplish things in a much broader way than simply being members of the same town or company would.

Many of the most successful corporations have incorporated this rule into how they do business. They educate their employees on the importance of treating co-workers as the most important customer.

Why do they do this ? For the same reason that you put yourself first: if the company can’t function well, they cannot serve their customers, and they will go out of business.

By understanding that the people in your network are your most important customers, you strengthen that network. By helping people in that network, you effectively serve not only that network, but all of the people served by that network.

I may have a hundred customers that I can serve one at a time. If I come up with a way to better serve those customers, I can do so one at a time. But imagine if I share that same method with my network. Now not only do I serve my hundred customers, I multiply that by serving their customers too.

From my experience this is an accelerating process: the stronger my network becomes, the more valuable it becomes to everybody in it, and the more effective we all become. Finally lessons on sharing from kindergarten really pay off !

Rule #1 – The customer always comes first

This is the one we all know and is the most obvious. It doesn’t mean that we should do whatever the customer wants at the expense of the network/company or ourselves. It means, that in order to provide a service, we need somebody to provide that service to.

You have to have a customer, and by following the rules, you will be able to serve them with your unique talents coupled with the strength, skills and support of your network. This is also a twist on the golden rule: in order to put the customer first, you have to treat them as you would treat yourself (remember rule #3?).

By helping the customer be successful, you not only help them to continue to be your customer, you also allow them to help you be more successful. Their success improves the success of your network, and helps your network’s to improve their ability to make their own customers successful.

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” – I am the Walrus, The Beatles

Since I’ve been blogging for a couple of months now, I have friends who are asking me “how do you blog?”.

Seems like a simple enough question, so I figured I’d blog about it (seems a little redundant blogging about blogging, but here goes).

The first step of course is to set up your blog.

This for me was very simple, since my hosting provider (1and1.com) includes a Blog widget in their web site tools.  This seems like a straightforward approach if you have a hosting service since most of them have blog software already setup, and you don’t need to worry about any installation or maintenance issues. So in the case of a provider like mine, you just find the website application on their control panel, and walk through a few steps to set it up.

Setting up the blog on 1and1 (at least on my package) you get a control panel page that shows you what blogs you have set up. You click the button “New Blog”, and you get sent to a screen that asks you to name the blog, and choose a domain.

This was my first gotcha in setting up the blog: I chose my accuweaver.com domain, and instantly my home page became an empty blog.

Apparently the wizard just changes the virtual host to point to the blog software, which would be OK for a brand new web site, but wasn’t what I wanted.

After that stumble, I created what 1and1 calls a subdomain of blog.accuweaver.com to point to. This let me keep my existing site, and created a separate URL for the blog. The blog setup also lets you create the admin user, and decide which email notifications should go to.  Then all you have to do is choose your template, and start blogging.

Now I need to point out that there are lots of other ways to blog. My parents have both been blogging longer than I have, and they use one of the free blogging services (See my Dad’s blog at http://www.virtualbob35.blogspot.com and my Mom at http://closeknitweave.blogspot.com/).

Google hosts this service, and it works pretty much the same way as the WordPress version that I use, but it isn’t tied to a hosting provider. This is probably the best approach for most people, and it also has the same flexibility of hosting on your own web server if you  want to.

If you really want to do your due diligence, you can go to http://www.weblogmatrix.org/and compare all the hundreds of blogging software options, but based on sheer name recognition, it really boils down to WordPress, TypePad and Blogger.

Anyway, that’s enough for this post, there are lots of other blogs out there with information about how to start blogging that do a more step by step sort of guide (I like the one by Paul Stamatiou at http://paulstamatiou.com/2006/05/14/how-to-start-blogging, it’s very thorough and easy to read)

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I recently ran across a post by Michelle Hancock on LinkedIn and noticed that she had her email address showing right below her name. I sent her a LinkedIn message asking her how she did that, and she kindly replied that I could call her and she’d walk me through the process.

As it turns out, all she did was to append the email address to the end of the field for her last name.

So here’s the walk through:

  1. Go to your LinkedIn profile. You get there by clicking on the “profile” link on the right hand side from LinkedIn
    Step 1
  2. You should see your profile as it exists now and some links to edit, choose the one next to your name.
    profile selected
  3. You’ll be prompted to log in again (I think they do this for security reasons).
    login screen
  4. Once you get the edit form, tab to the last name.
    update form
  5. Go to the end of your last name, add a space or two, and then type your email address (or phone or whatever other info you want to show up there).
  6. Click save, and your new profile will display with the additional info attached
    profile selected

The down side to this is the same as the up side: now everybody has your email address, so if you’re worried about SPAM bots, you may want to put a space in there, or type it out as “me AT mydomain.com”.

And that’s all there is to it – now you have your email address where anybody can find it.

Note: Walt Feigenson tells me that this may be against the LinkedIn Terms and Conditions, and that you should only put the email in your profile. I haven’t verified this yet, but when I do I will update this post again with my findings.

I was talking with the recruiter who got me my job at Quovera (formerly Millenia Vision) about why she has the text “{LION}” after her name. She explained to me that it’s an acronym that is for people who practice “open” networking.

I did some searching, and found this site at http://www.themetanetwork/ which appears to be the basis of the LinkedIn Open Networking Community, and signed up.  There was a form to fill out that told about my current networking level on LinkedIn, and finally I got told that I’d go through an approval process.

Once I got the approval email, I was asked to complete my profile. Interestingly the profile on this site has forms for all sorts of other networking profile sites in additon to the ones I’ve seen before (and mentioned in prior posts to this blog). So I’ve filled that in as best I can, and we’ll see …

There are just way too many places on the web that try to help you with networking for any of them to be very valuable. LinkedIn seems to have kept a solid focus and finally seems to have a high penetration after all these years. If only it could keep my address book up to date ….

I just ran across a great post (actually a friend posted the link on Facebook) on social networking called “The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook” by Tamar Weinberg that gives you lots of good ideas on the do’s and don’ts of social networking. Highly recommended for newbies like me trying to figure this stuff out.

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen businesses make over the years is to lose focus on what made them successful in the first place.

Over the last year or so I’ve become more disappointed with Plaxo. They seem to have forgotten that their key differentiation in the market was the way that they helped you keep your address book (and calendar) up to date, and secondarily to keep multiple services in synch.

To me they seem to be chasing social networking at the expense of the things that they already were really good at. Perhaps part of this is because they got bought by Comcast, but losing focus is never a good thing. They gave the site a face lift a while back and added a whole social networking thing with the Pulse bit, which seems to be modeled after some other social networking sites.

The thing that drew me to Plaxo (almost ten years ago now) was that it solved a huge problem for me: keeping my address book up to date. Before Plaxo, I’d SPAM my address book about once a year to see if I got any bounces, and then go through the bounces one by one to update them. This ended up being a lot of work, and had no guarantee of making sure that I had up to date information for anybody. Also there’s the problem that when people change their email address, it doesn’t always bounce, so I could be sending email to a dead account. Lots of companies leave old email addresses open and/or don’t send bounce messages for invalid addresses, so no reply doesn’t always mean what you think it might. And if you ask for a response, not everybody will anyway.

The other problem before Plaxo (B.P.) was that my address book was never very reliable. Sometimes I would get an email, and save it to my address book, but if I didn’t have a business card or some way to gather other information about them, that would be the only information in the address book. So six months later when they moved to the new company, I had no email address or way to find them.

So while I was still working at Quovera, Praveen Shah pointed out Plaxo to us as a cool thing. I fell in love instantly. Not only did it give me a backup of all of my contact and calendar data, it offered to automate my getting more accurate data. A few clicks, and Plaxo sent out an email that gave each person in my address book (who didn’t belong to Plaxo) a personalized message from me with their address information, asking them if everything was up-to-date (and of course inviting them to join Plaxo). If the data was good, they simply clicked a button and my address book was updated to say it was valid. If they had changes, they could enter them in the form that was emailed, and Plaxo would automatically take that data and put it into my address book. Best of all, it was free, and they promised to keep your contact data private.

There was also the exciting possibility that if everybody you knew joined Plaxo, you’d never need to ask for an update again, because Plaxo would automatically flow information changes between Plaxo members in your address book. For that alone, I paid the premium support price because I wanted to see them succeed.

And the other bit that was extremely well done was the synchronization between clients. If you used multiple machines, it was really easy to keep them in synch and for the most part it didn’t seem to have the habit that some other synchronization software at the time did of duplicating everything over and over.

At some point they got a reputation from some people as being a spammer, I think mostly because during the install it was easy to have Plaxo send an email to everybody in your address book even if you didn’t mean to.  I did this a couple of times myself and ended up sending Plaxo requests to people like John Chambers (who of course I don’t really have any reason to email directly). I suspect mistakes like this caused the spammer reputation because you’d get asked about the email, and it was easier to blame Plaxo than to admit that you forgot to uncheck John Chambers when you asked for updates.

Anyway back to the point of this story, with their new social networking focus, they no longer have any way to automatically keep address information up to date for people who are not Plaxo members. In fact the only way you can ask somebody for an update to their information is to invite them to join your Pulse (or the old fashioned email approach). So that works for the people who join and don’t mind having yet another social network to think about, but I’m back to square one for people who won’t join Plaxo (often because of the spammer reputation).

It still gives me synchronization between my different computers, and a few of my online address books, but it’s no longer as powerful as before. I’ll probably still use it if I were in the situation I’ve been in before where I needed to keep my address book and calendar in synch at the client site with my home address book and calendar. But now I need to find a solution for the larger part of my address book updating that drove me to Plaxo to begin with.

So don’t be surprised to get spammed by me with an email that says “I’m updating my address book, and this is what I have for you, please update …”

As to Plaxo – I saw this same sort of thing happen when I was at Excite. We basically were Google: had the best search engine on the planet, our home page was just a search box, and we were doing a better job with the technology than anybody else. But we were smaller than Yahoo (and Alta Vista), and we started to model our web site after a magazine (a lot of trying to match or beat Yahoo instead of focusing on our core competency). It’s my opinion that it was that very loss of focus that resulted in Excite being bought, and folded into one failing company after another.

Excite still exists, and the even still sport the LEP (Little Excite Person) logo, but between losing focus (and of course timing) they are no Google (in fact I wonder if they even do their own search any more).

I am hopeful that Plaxo will reinvent themselves and give me back the functionality that drew me to them, because if they don’t I fear they are destined follow Excite‘s example: they’ll become an also-ran in the social networking space instead of the stellar provider of a technology that can make life better for anybody who uses it.

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I was sitting in an interesting presentation tonight that was about managing your career called “8 Essential Levers for Job (Search) Success” by Chani Pangali, and as part of his talk he mentioned the pardigm shift that is going on with how careers need to be managed.As we moved from small villages to an industrial society, we evolved from a barter economy, where you traded what you do for what you need, to a market economy that was based on doing work that supported the industry.  To me it seems that this resulted in huge shift where many relationships were replaced by intermediaries.

Way back when I was first working at Excite in the heady days of the early web, we used to talk about how the web was going to result in disintermediation (removing the need for intermediaries between businesses). Interestingly enough, that really didn’t happen, rather we saw an increase in intermediaries with all sorts of new web ventures springing to life and placing themselves in the middle of the supply chain by adding value to the transaction. That’s not to say they didn’t change businesses, they just didn’t change the paradigm: witness eBay connecting buyers and sellers, changing the business and creating a new way to sell your goods. But while the business was new, the paradigm was still placing trust in the intermediary.

The web has helped drive a shift in this paradigm with phenomena like blogs and social networking sites. By giving us new ways to network and connect, we are finding once again that the relationship is king. Similar to the way eBay connected buyers and sellers, these electronic interactions connect people by allowing them to find common interests and fill needs that would have been far too costly in the past. I can write this web post, and somebody who I would never have met may find meaning in my words and benefit from them in a way that would not have occurred before. In addition, because blogs are two way conversations, I might be introduced to an opportunity that could change my life by somebody who has read my blog.

This scope of this change is similar to what happened with the beginning of distributed newspapers (and before that the printing press). The press allowed an idea to be readily shared to a more distributed audience, and the distribution allowed that audience to become even larger. With the web, the cost factor is essentially removed from the distribution, so that same idea is accessible to the entire world (and the barrier to two-way communication is effectively removed too).

The paradigm shift which seems to be going on is also related to the competition and change in the market. While our parents may have been able to find a company that they would commit their work to, and in turn receive some assurance of stability and a partner in their professional development, the global economy no longer supports this sort of relationship. Companies have found they can no longer afford to commit or invest in their employees the way they used to, and have (in general) placed the responsibility firmly on the worker.

Recently I’ve entered the world of using the web for self marketing.

I saw a very interesting talk by Walter Feigenson at the last CPC Job Connections meeting about marketing yourself using the web.

I already had a LinkedIn profile, and had my resume on a couple different places, but his talk convinced me that I ought to do some more. So I did the following:

  1. Set up Google reader so I can see all the web changes in one place.
  2. Built a profile on Naymz (http://www.naymz.com), unclear on exactly what this one does.
  3. Ziki (http://www.ziki.com) – Signed up, but never got the validation email. This is supposed to be a job finding service.
  4. Spokeo (http://www.spokeo.com) – Signed up – not clear on what this site does beyond search for names.
  5. Ziggs (http://www.ziggs.com) – Signed up and built profile, this one looks interesting.

Just signing up for these things takes time, getting them to be consistent seems like it will be a pain. It reminds me of posting your resume to all of the job search sites. Not too bad the first time, but then going back to update is going to be hard.

Next thing I did was to add cross links from as many different places as I could to my web site (http://www.accuweaver.com). This is supposed to help with the ranking on the search engines, since the search engines use the assumption that if a lot of sites link to you, you must be important.

I also cleaned up my LinkedIn profile, added links, and added my company to the Companies part of LinkedIn.Then after all of this, I got hit again with the suggestion that I should set up a Facebook profile. Walt had mentioned it, but it took hearing it a few more times for me to act.  It still seems a bit smarmy, and unlikely to be useful as a business networking tool, but we’ll see.

Next: Making sure I’m posted on a huge list of sites I got from Valerie Colber