Using Social Media on a Micro Scale

social mediaWhile social media gets a lot of press for uniting people around the world or making it easier to connect with faraway friends or celebrities you’ll never meet it’s actually a great tool for uniting locals with shared interests. I thought it would be fun to look at the major social networks to see how you can use them in your business to create a community that will lead to loyal customers. [Read more...]

Opening Up Local Government

local governmentMy City is set-up in the following way: we have a mayor and a board of supervisors. The mayor and the board of supervisors also appoint people to boards and commissions and all are responsible for guiding public policy. The board of supervisors and the boards and commissions all hold public meeting which the public is allowed to attend and speak to the board about issues that are important to them. At it’s face, it sounds like a great system. Meeting are open to anyone and you can voice your opinion about issues that are important to you. In reality though it doesn’t quite work like that. Here are my suggestions for making local government more open and transparent. [Read more...]

Building a Business During a Recession

small businessWith the great recession mostly behind us I thought it would be interesting to look at how some businesses handled themselves during the period of 2008 through 2013. There are two examples in my hometown that I thought I would focus on. In the name of journalistic integrity you should know that I’m familiar with the business owners. We’ve all known each other for years and it just so happens they all found a way to weather the financial storm that was the period from 2008 through 2013. They are definitely the exception and not the norm. So how did they do it? Here’s what I learned after speaking with them: [Read more...]

3 Creative Ways to Make a Living

great recessionThe great recession taught a lot of people that they can’t rely on a company or a government to ensure that they’re always employed and have a steady pay-check coming in. Millions who thought they were secure got laid off with little no no warning. Because of this a lot of people were forced into becoming entrepreneurs. They had to hustle to find ways to make ends meet.

I thought I’d share a few stories from locals I know who found their niche after losing their jobs and have no intention of going back to their old lives.

Karla Thompson: The Cooking Professor

  • Karla got laid off from her customer service position in early 2009. She loves to cook and had been toying with idea of holding weeknight cooking classes before she lost her job. The layoff forced her hand and she came up with a 5 night a week schedule that she starting advertising around town. She marketed the class to couples and taught it out of her house. Things started slow but really started to pick up within about 6 months after word spread about how great the class was. Within 2 years she moved the class out of her house and into a storefront and she’s been teaching 5 nights a week ever since.

Vlad Rickenbocker: Professional Trainer

  • Vlad has always been a fitness nut. He even studied to become a personal trainer but chose what he thought would be a more lucrative career in personal finance instead. When he lost his job he took a month to assess the direction he wanted his life to go and decided being a personal trainer was what he wanted. He started a group geared towards young to middle aged professionals that meet in the park ever morning. What sets his training apart from other people doing similar things is the tracking he does. At the start of every class he hands out tactical watches, like these ones, which track everyone’s stats during the workout. That way he can send each of them a report at the end of the month that shows their improvements. Genius!

Nick Karff: Driver

  • Nick bought a sweet new car in early 2008 which he used to commute to and from work. Unfortunately by the end of the year he was unemployed The car payments were high and it wasn’t possible to sell it so he used it to start earning a living. He signed up for an on-line ride service and started driving people around town. It was great for him because not only does he know where everything is but he loves to meet new people. He couldn’t be happier.

A Behind the Scenes Look at a New Dog Park

dog parkI’m not a dog owner but a lot of people in my neighborhood are. A lot of friends and neighbors have been complaining for years about the lack of dog parks in our hood. It never really bothered me that much because I’ve never had a dog and I assumed it would mean more people with dogs in the neighborhood which would lead to more mess on the sidewalks, if you catch my drift. Boy was I wrong!

A few years ago my good friend Nancy decided she was going to find out what needed to happen to get a dog park in the neighborhood. There was already a large park nearby that didn’t get much use so she figured they could put some fences up so dogs wouldn’t run into the street and use it as a dedicated dog exercise area. Sounds easy, right? Boy was it tough!

First off it took Nancy weeks just to get in touch with someone at the recreation and parks department who she could talk to about the space she had pegged for the new park. She was transferred from desk to desk until she decided to go down to their main office herself and see what she could do. She finally found a very helpful supervisor who explained the process that would need to happen to get the dog park approved. It basically involved a lot of permits and public meetings and probably several months of work. He also gave her a valuable tip: get the district’s supervisor involved so he won’t be blindsided by the request. And if all possible make him think it was his idea.

So even though the task seemed next to impossible, especially given that she has a full-time job and not a lot of free time she committed herself to making it happen. She paid a visit to our supervisor and explained how nice it would be for the neighborhood if people had a place they could take their dogs to run and around while chatting and getting to know their neighbors. The BOTH agreed that the park Nancy had been targeting all along would make a perfect location. The supervisors told her he would support her on this but that she needed to do the leg work which meant getting the proper permits and scheduling the necessary public meetings.

She then visited the department of building inspections to find out what permits would be required to fence off part of the park. She applied for the permits and took the docs back to the parks department to the employee who had been so helpful earlier. He helped her out finalizing the paperwork and even offered up a local gym as a spot to hold 3 public meetings about the proposed park changes. She got the supervisor to show up to all meetings, which he was glad to do considering the dog park idea had broad public support. And before you knew it, just 6 months later (very fast by government standards) the fence was up and there was a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new park which Nancy led.

Now I for one was worried about the influx of dogs and their business to the neighborhood but I could not have been more wrong about that. It turns out most dog owners are very responsible people and do a great job of cleaning up after their pets. And the dog park is always stocked with bags which helps.

I love this story because it shows that one determined and dedicated person can make changes on a micro level with nothing more than a little elbow grease.

5 Ways to Improve Doctor Visits

doctor visitFor most of us when we need to see a doctor it means visiting a multi-story hospital somewhere that feels like an office park. Gone are the days when your doctor had their own office in a small building and you knew the receptionists name and the doctor seemed to know your name and you got a lollipop when the visit was over. Ok, maybe visiting a doctor was never really like that for most people or maybe only kids get a lollipop. Either way, going to the doctor these days stinks. It usually means lots of waiting, high costs, and lots of corporate art on the walls. While I’m generally happy with the care I get and have always been pretty healthy there are a few simple changes we could make to improve the experience.

  1. What’s with the small window where the receptionist sits? Whenever I visit the doctor it feels like I just got out of prison and have to talk to the evidence clerk to get my stuff back. And a lot of times there’s actually a plate of glass between me and the receptionist. A great way to improve the overall experience would be to make the receptionist area feel more friendly. Maybe have a pitcher of water available and let the person behind the desk know we’re not at the DMV and that they can smile and talk to us like humans. The receptionist is the first person we see and all I’m saying is it would be great to be greeted with a smile.
  2. Newer magazines. Why does every doctor’s office feel the need to hold on to their reading material for 5 years or more. A newsweek article about the state of the economy from 2009 is not really that helpful or interesting. Get new and interesting magazines especially if you’re going to keep us waiting for an exorbitant length of time.
  3. Don’t bring me into the exam room and tell me to undress just to have me wait there for 20 minutes. I assume this happens everywhere because the doctor’s staff never really knows when each appointment will end so they want to make sure the patients are ready when the doctor is ready. Unfortunately it’s kind of dehumanizing to sit around practically in naked in a backless gown on a piece of butcher paper in a 60 degree room while you wait for your exam.
  4. I don’t mind talking to a nurse if it means I can be seen faster. Most visits don’t actually require a doctor. If you’re getting a standard physical or check-up you don’t have to wait for the big boss, a nurse can do the exam just as well. And I’ve found that nurses tend to be more friendly that doctor’s anyhow which makes the experience better.
  5. Embrace over the phone prescription refills. I had a prescription for a toe fungus recently that I had to get refilled every month for 3 months. It required me to go into the doctor’s office and pick up a new prescription paper that I then took to the pharmacy. I didn’t talk to a doctor or nurse, I just waited in the waiting room for them to give me the paper and I left. Why couldn’t they just call it in to the pharmacy or figure something else out so I didn’t have to keep going back in?

While none of these suggestions will improve a patient’s care I truly believe that they will improve their experience at a doctor’s office.

A Look at the Farm to Table Movement

farm to tableOver the past decade the farm to table movement has really taken off. If you’re not familiar, it works like this: you sign up with a local farm for weekly produce deliveries right to your door. You don’t get a lot of say in what they bring but it’s very fresh and gives you the chance to try new things you woudn’t normally buy at the store. Of course there are plenty of recognizable items like apples, spinach, carrots and the like but you might also get some leeks, beets, or rhubarb. A lot of providers will give you a recipe sheet to give you some ideas of what you can use all the produce for.

I love this movement. Absolutely love it. For one, I like to cook so a surprise box of produce every week challenges me in the kitchen. It doesn’t always work out perfectly but I love it anyhow. Second, it’s a way to support small business and our local farms. You’d be surprised how many small farms there are within a few hundred miles of your home. You don’t see them every day but they’re there. And third, it allows farms to sell directly to their consumers and cuts out the middle man. It’s a win-win for everyone.

So how did this movement get started and is it sustainable? Some might argue that it actually began with the hippies in the 1960′s who tried to get “back to the earth”. A lot of them actually did and ended up starting farms of their own. Then, about 20 years ago a number of prominent chefs, like Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, started advocating for the use of local organic produce in restaurants. Eventually the movement started to take off and moved from restaurants to peoples home. And voila, the farm to table movement was born.

Now to the sustainability part. I truly believe it is sustainable but farms are going to have to stay on top of their games. What would be great is if vegetable farms started teaming up with meat producing farms to offer combined packages. If you can provide people with both vegetables and meat at the same time they’ll have less need to go to a grocery store and less temptation to start buying their produce there again. People like things that are easy so make their lives easy and give them what they want.

Another thing that’s so great about this movement is that it has brought a lot of publicity to small scale organic farming. More people than ever before are thinking about starting their own farms or jut even a vegetable garden in their back yard. People are willing to pay a little more for produce that’s grown in a responsible way that’s actually good for the earth. The more kids who grow up eating organic, locally farmed produce, the bigger the customer base will become. The more than happens the less we’ll be reliant on large scale agricultural facilities that rely heavily of genetically modified crops. Small scale is better for the world and is starting to look like it’s better for the economy.