Category Archives: Business management

Thinking “different” on the day Steve Jobs died

Through no one’s fault but my own, I lost a month’s worth of work and email. I am typically very compulsive about weekly backups on my laptop. But in early September I found myself distracted by company in town, a busier-than-usual social life and beautiful, cooler weather in which to pursue adventures on my bicycle instead of my keyboard.

I’d look at the backup drive as I headed out the door and think, “tomorrow.”

Then Steve Jobs died. And on the same day, so did my MacBook Pro. My co-worker, Mala Blomquist, called the loss an empathetic death by a loyal machine in mourning for its founder.

My laptop did, after all, take a rather startling and dramatic leap from a high place, landing on a hard, stone floor in exactly the right position to completely destroy its hard drive.

The guys at MacMedia in Scottsdale quickly replaced the drive, but the possibility of full data recovery looked bleak. So I had them restore my world to Sept. 5, and have spent the last week trying to recreate what has happened since then.

In a way, the fact that this all took place on the day we lost a visionary and legendary corporate leader has helped me keep my perspective. I kept finding myself thinking, “What would Steve Jobs do?”

I knew he wouldn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself. Losing a bit of data would be nothing but a minor annoyance to someone who didn’t let pancreatic cancer dilute his creativity or drive.

I figured Steve Jobs would see my dilemma as an opportunity. A chance to “think different.”

So I challenged myself to do the same. Most importantly, I decided I was not going to panic. Mala noticed the difference. “You’re handling this a lot better than the last time,” she said. (That would be the time I spilled a whole cup of coffee on my keyboard, ruining another hard drive after a period of lapsed backups.)

I decided to look for the advantages of my situation. Instead of berating myself for my stupidity/carelessness/lack of responsibility, I decided to pat myself on the back for resourceful efforts I came up with to get around the situation. It became a game: If I no longer have [whatever], where could I find it? You’d be surprised to realize how much of your life is out there floating around. I recovered a precious recent photo of my two grown sons because I’d uploaded it to my Facebook. My art director had copies of several documents I thought I’d lost. Other staff members searched their outgoing email and resent requests they’d made in recent weeks.

In losing copious notes on my “to do” list, I had a chance to rebuild my work strategy based on true priorities instead compulsively tended minutia.

I’ve dropped some balls in the last week.  I’m sure there are more out there waiting to fall. But guess what? All those horrible consequences that perfectionists like me worry will result when we’re not 100% on our game? Didn’t happen.

As my friend and colleague Vicki Balint always says, “If nobody got cancer and nobody died, it’s been a good week.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go run a backup.

Powered by interns

When you run a small media company like ours, maintaining a steady stream of capable interns is the difference between muddling through and really moving forward. When you can confidently offload some of the routine tasks involved in creating and editing content for publication (for print and web), you finally find time to tackle the big-picture tasks that hover too long on the “when I can get to it” list.

So it was with a sense of excited anticipation that I returned to Phoenix after a five-day trip to Seattle (where I spent some all-too-rare time with my two brothers) to welcome two summer interns to the RAK family.

Robert Balint. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One is very familiar. Robert Balint, son of RAK multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, is something of a returning veteran. His first stories appeared in Raising Arizona Kids in 2008, when he was still in high school at Brophy College Preparatory.

“Girls on the Mat” was about a female high school wrestler, “When Your Child Doesn’t Make the Cut” was about young athletes facing rejection and “Physicals Keep Athletes in the Game” explained what doctors look for during sports physicals.

That same year, Robert shared insights on his participation in the Phoenix Sister Cities program and many of us followed his blog posts during that trip. (We look forward to reading the next installments in his “Daily Occurences” travel blog when he leaves in July to spend six months studying in Argentina.)

Robert, who just completed his sophomore year at Boston College, will be with us for about six weeks before he heads to South America. During his internship, he will be writing for our collaborative Sports Roundtable blog, to which my husband Dan, who missed his calling as a sports reporter, periodically contributes. Dan and Robert teamed up in the multimedia department during Robert’s internship last summer, when they produced a great video piece about a high school football lineman competition.

I look forward to working with and getting to know our second summer intern, Sadie Smeck. Sadie is a graduate of Arcadia High School and currently is attending Washington University in St. Louis, where she will be a junior this fall, majoring in international studies and Spanish and minoring in writing. Although Washington University does not have a school of journalism, she is a reporter, writer and editor for the university’s independent newspaper, Student Life.

Sadie Smeck. Photo by Daniel Friedman. I have Vicki to thank for Sadie, too. Vicki introduced me by email  to Sadie, whom she described as “a family friend from our neighborhood, a good student and a hard worker.” While she’s with us this summer, Sadie will be covering community news, education and more.

In the “small world” department, it turns out that Account Executive Catherine Griffiths also knows Sadie. When Catherine showed up at work this morning (with her mom, who’s in town for Hunter Griffiths’ eighth-grade graduation), she immediately rushed over to greet Sadie warmly.

Turns out Catherine, whose older son Harlan has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, was once offered some very wise advice by Sadie’s mom, who was also navigating that journey because Sadie’s older sister lives with diabetes.

Read Catherine’s story, “What I Wish I’d Known about Managing My Son’s Diabetes.”

100 mompreneurs and counting

It was longtime Raising Arizona Kids contributor Brittney Walker who came up with the idea of running a weekly feature on our website about local mothers who are running businesses.

Hard to believe we’ve already profiled 100 of them in our Monday RAK Mompreneur feature.

Brittney wrote the section for awhile, until she took a break to focus on family, community and church responsibilities. (We’re happy to say she’s got the writing bug again and has several assignments in the works.)

We gave the assignment to Brooke Mortensen, who interned with us right after she graduated from college in the spring of 2010 and continues to write for us as a freelancer.

Between the two of them, Brittney and Brooke have covered a wide range of mom-owned businesses. They’ve profiled photographers, jewelry makers, cooks/caterers/bakers and candy makers. They’ve interviewed moms who make fitness fun, moms who help other moms stay organized, moms with a knack for fashion — or finding deals, or dispensing advice — and even a “multi-mompreneur” who runs several businesses concurrently.

Certainly these moms are not lacking in energy, creativity or drive. They are a diverse bunch from all kinds of backgrounds. Each has a unique and interesting story of the journey that brought her to this place in life. But there are two things  that unite them all: passion for what they do and the desire to live life on their own terms so they can keep family as their first and most important priority.

As one of the Valley’s veteran mompreneurs (we started Raising Arizona Kids 22 years ago in my then-2-year-old’s nursery), I have great respect for those priorities and a deep and empathetic appreciation for how terribly challenging it can be to live up to them.

There is nothing harder than being a mom. And there are few things harder than running a business. When you’re trying to do both, your highs are very high and  your lows are frighteningly low. On your worst days, you are ruled by questions and doubt. You wonder why you keep at it. On your best days, you feel enormous pride and a deep sense of fulfillment.

And when you’ve been at it as long as I have, you start to gain a sense of the bigger picture. It’s not just about building a business. It’s about building a community — a family of people who care about something just as deeply as you do and sometimes even more. People who have developed their own threads of friendship and meaning within a context of shared purpose that wouldn’t even exist if someone hadn’t thought, “I wonder if I could…?”

Questions about copyediting

Maggie Pingolt, a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications, called our office to ask if she could interview one of our copyeditors. Ours work on contract, so they aren’t typically in the office.

“I supervise the copyeditors,” I said. “Do you want to talk to me?” I was on my way out the door but we agreed to a time later that day to talk on the phone.

Being interviewed by someone isn’t a routine event for me. I’m used to being on the “asking questions” side of interviews and I was surprised to realize how hard it is to talk about the things you do and think about every day.

Maggie: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Me: Okay, this is kind of a joke, but not really. Keeping up with my email! I get so many hundreds of emails each day it’s beyond manageable. The rest of my job as editor is joyful. I like what I do. But the effort to keep up with my email is a constant source of stress and really eats up my time.

Maggie: Describe your office environment in one word.

Me: The first word that comes to mind is “crazy.” We always have a lot going on at once because we’re a really small staff trying to do the work of a bigger magazine. Call it “crazy,” “chaotic”…any way you can think of to say it that doesn’t make me sound like a lunatic. By the way, this isn’t going to published anywhere, is it?

Just then, our staff writer/photographer, Daniel Friedman, walked by my office door and I heard Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist call out, “Hi, fried man!”

Maggie: If you could change one aspect of copyediting, what would it be?

Me: These are hard questions! I guess the only thing I really wish I could change is that I wouldn’t miss things. We have several layers of copyeditors who read the magazine before it goes to press and yet there is no way to ever get it perfect. You’re never going to be able to change one thing that solves all the problems. You’re dealing with human beings and a complex language with all sorts of exceptions to rules. I like rules, stylebooks…they give me a sense of certainty as opposed to having to make judgment calls.

I wish copyediting didn’t take so long, but it does — to get it right. I wish it weren’t so important but it is. In this day and age, where everyone is throwing stuff up on the web without a second thought, I worry that the value of copyediting, and factchecking in particular, has been lost.

Maggie: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to go into the field of copyediting?

Me: Really know the basics — grammar, spelling…and understand how important factchecking is. Study the AP Stylebook, get the app on your iPhone and use it…basics! I can’t tell you how many freelance submissions I get on a daily basis with typos, grammatical errors, informal language…it’s disrespectful to an editor to be so sloppy. People don’t take the time they should. All writers should think of themselves as students who are trying to impress the teacher.

Maggie: What’s your biggest pet peeve as an editor?

Me: That’s an easy one: People who are sloppy. Sloppiness indicates disrespect…they couldn’t take the time. I’m a firm believer that you do something until it’s as good as it can be, and only then do you let it go.

Maggie: Are there specific examples of grammar or word-use errors that bother you?

Me: Things that bother me? “It’s” and “its”…a lot of people don’t get that you only use “it’s” when you mean “it is.” Not the possessive.

I cringe when I see “all right” spelled as one word: “alright.” And then “there,” “their,” “they’re”…people misuse those all the time.  I can’t stand run-on sentences…all of that drives me crazy.

We all make mistakes; don’t get me wrong. But when I see a freelance submission that has more than one or two it makes me want to claw my eyes out.

A straight line from Point A to Point B

It seems like such a simple thing, really. Start a task. Stick with that task until it’s done. Move on to the next task.

So why is it so hard to do?

At no time in the history of the American office worker have their been more extraordinary tools available to improve worker productivity and efficiency. And yet never have we had more difficulty staying on task.

Doing more than one thing at once is pretty much expected these days. You’re supposed to be able to focus on a spreadsheet you have open in one window, a document in another and your email queue in yet another. For some of us, tending simultaneously to multiple social media accounts (thank goodness for multiple browsers!) is also another routine part of the day’s work.

We’re made to feel that we’re slacking, somehow, if we aren’t good at managing it all at once. Even if the very effort to do so makes us cranky and confused.

I saved the link to this NPR piece when it first came out more than two years ago. I pull it out and listen sometimes when I need a reminder that it’s not always a good idea to allow my train of thought to be yanked from one direction to another. There’s a reason it doesn’t really work.  We’re simply not wired that way.

“Think you’re multitasking? Think again.”

Getting your back up in business

My mom volunteered to organize the purchase of sandwiches for a big seminar that was taking place at her church. She was careful to explain to the vendor that she was only estimating the number of lunches she would need. They agreed that she would provide an accurate number the day before the event.

But when she put in her order for 52 sandwiches, he cried foul. “I quoted you a price based on 100 lunches,” he said. “If it’s only 52, I need to raise the rate for each sandwich by $2.”

They’d never had a discussion about the per-sandwich rate changing if the actual count was lower than expected. And my mom had (wisely) saved copies of their email exchange. So she held her ground. Begrudgingly, the vendor gave her the 52 sandwiches at the original rate he’d quoted.

I’m sure my mom had a stomachache the whole time she was quietly challenging this businessman’s understanding of their agreement. She was still feeling bad about it when she told me what happened. Not because she thought she was wrong, but because she doesn’t like being the source of anyone’s distress.

I count on my mom’s wisdom and life experience to guide me through my own moments of distress. But this time, I felt like I had some insight of my own to offer.

As a small business owner myself, I could certainly relate to the sandwich vendor’s frustration. It is easy to get your back up when misunderstandings occur and you’re the one absorbing the financial blow. But you build a business by protecting your relationships first, foremost and no matter what. So sometimes you have to swallow your pride and do what’s best for your client. (As my grandfather, who owned a dry cleaning shop in western Pennsylvania, used to say, “The customer is always right.”)

And here’s something else. When I feel the most frustrated, it is often my own failures that are to blame. You have to own your part in any misunderstanding. Otherwise, you’re directing your frustration at the wrong person.

The sandwich vendor could have asked more questions and anticipated possible scenarios. He could have made it clear that the price break was only valid if the quantity was at least 100 and that he’d have to raise the per-unit rate if the order number was lower. I am quite sure he will not omit that information the next time he gets a large, but admittedly uncertain, estimate.

It could have been “Beastly,” but it wasn’t

A young girl who lives about as far north as you can get in the northwest Valley went to Tempe to see a movie with her dad.

There are movie theaters closer to their house, of course, but this particular movie, on this particular day, wasn’t playing anywhere else.

It was one of those movies they call “sneak previews.” Promoters, like Barclay Communications, make tickets available to media outlets, like Raising Arizona Kids. We help build “the buzz” about the movie by promoting ticket giveaways in print, online and through social media. Families who win tickets get to see a free movie before it opens to the public.

This girl’s mom won tickets to Monday night’s sneak preview screening of the film “Beastly,” starring teen heartthrob Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens from “High School Musical” fame and Mary-Kate Olsen. (The movie opens in theaters on Friday, Mar. 4.)

The girl was really excited about this “date night” with her dad, who agreed to drive her across town (45 minutes each way) to see a movie marketed to tween- and teenage girls. They had guaranteed tickets, but for some reason the person they talked to at the theater didn’t understand and told them all the seats were filled. Disappointed, they went home.

That could have been the end of the story. But the girl’s mom wrote to me to tell me what happened. She was direct, but respectful. She was frustrated, but avoided blame. She told me her story, she said, because “I just wanted to give you this feedback. My daughter was in tears.” She didn’t ask for a thing, not even an email in response.

When I told Alison Frost, manager of Barclay’s entertainment division, what happened, she responded immediately, in the most positive and professional way possible.

“I am sorry to hear he was turned away but I don’t understand why,” she wrote. “I was there, and we had all the RSVPs for RAK on a list,  and [this name] was on it, and all seating was guaranteed. My guess is that there was some miscommunication between him and theatre…I was going back and forth escorting winners in, so I’m not sure what happened.  I would actually like to speak to him to see what exactly transpired, because I’m a bit surprised and would also like to apologize. I don’t know if you noticed, but I always include my cell number on all winner letters so if any problems arise, I can address them on site.”

I’m not using the family’s name because, well, it turns out the dad didn’t look at the ticket voucher and didn’t realize he had a cell phone number for the lady in charge. And I don’t want to embarrass him for not reading directions. (“Men!!” as his wife wrote back later, when she fully understood what happened.)

What I will do, however, is share how this incident ended. Because we at Raising Arizona Kids never want to be the source of any child’s tears, we are sending the family some movie passes they can use to see “Beastly” (or any other movie) whenever they like. And because Alison Frost feels the same way, she messengered over a box of “Beastly” promotional items — a T-shirt, a Wii game, a “Beastly” mask and other logo items — that a northwest Valley girl will be very surprised to see when it arrives at her home later this week.