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.

  1. This is the big one. Everyone is on Facebook. Heck, even my grandma gave it a shot, although I did have to do all the work for her. But anyway, your business needs to have a Facebook profile. And it needs to be easy for people to find. A good tip is to add a little blurb on your receipts that say something like “Add us to get info on discounts and promotions”. That alone will attract the budget conscience shopper but isn’t enough to garner a loyal following.

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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. [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…]

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.

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.

  1. Hold meetings when people can actually attend. Meetings that start at 1:00pm on a Tuesday can only be attended by a select group of people. I know my boss isn’t going to give me time off to go to a supervisor’s meeting every week. I’ll have to take vacation and find someone to cover my shift. Regular working folk are available in the evenings and on the weekends. Meetings should happen when people can actually attend them.
  2. Or, don’t make it so you have to be present to participate in the meeting. These days most of us have web cams, telephones, email, or instant messenger. We should be able to present our opinions on a proposed law or ordinance over the internet even if we can’t attend. This would give everyone the opportunity to weigh in on issues that are important to them.
  3. Make supervisor and mayor office hours mandatory. I’m not a real political person but there was some planned construction in my neighborhood I didn’t agree with so I wanted to talk to my supervisor about it. I called her office and found out when her office hours were, took some time off work, and when I got there her staff told me she was gone for the day! What!?! It was a lot of work for me to get there and I was pretty steamed that she left early. I did get to speak with her chief of staff but I felt disrespected. Politicians should have mandated office hours and they should stick to them.
  4. Make it easier for constituents to submit cost saving ideas. I had this great idea about how the City could save some money on the paint they use to paint lines on the streets and curbs. You have no idea how hard it was for me to find out where to send the proposal in. I didn’t want any money, I just wanted to give my idea to someone to think about. I eventually found a guy in the public works department but I have no idea if he took it seriously or jut through it in a trash can.
  5. More town hall meetings. I think town hall meetings are great for everyone. It’s a chance for constituents to meet their elected leaders and to ask questions. It’s hard to push and idea under the rug when hundreds of people witness you asking it.

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.