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In Case You Need To Start A Business: 5 Undervalued Industries To Watch In 2013 (Updated)

Jack of all Trades image via the blog Merlin's World

With a fragile economy upon us and constant talk of cost-cutting, it is prudent to explore alternative means of earning income, even in one's spare time. What follows are five industries that to my mind will only grow. For some of them, I envision them going in a certain direction (e.g. more integrated) but one can certainly explore opportunities as they exist right now. Usually some seal of approval from a third party - licensing, certification, etc. - is recommended or required.  (Of course if you are already employed, especially by the federal government, you will want to make sure to comply with ethics rules before undertaking any part-time work.)
Good luck!

1. Coaching
According to a 2004 article from Harvard Business Review, coaching is a $1 billion per year industry (more statistics here)
This is therapy by another name, and pretty much everyone needs it in one form or another. Due to the stigma associated with reaching out for mental health counseling, and the ability of people to provide advice without obtaining a license, expect the field to prosper. It should grow particularly among the rich - who have time and money to pay for personal services, and who may prefer not to have their status or their privacy compromised with a "diagnosis" and records kept by an insurance company.

2. Personal Assistants
According to one article, rates for personal assistants: $35-50.
With knowledge workers expected to invest more and more time into their jobs, there is a corresponding need for support personnel who can take care of life's issues. This is particularly so for women, who still carry more responsibility when it comes to home and childcare. Expect this field to boom, and eventually for the virtual assistance realm to go mainstream.

3. Wellness Consulting
According to one article, the average cost of a personal physical fitness training session is $56, but most trainers sell packages. One estimate has the wellness industry worth $1 trillion by 2010 (accuracy unknown). Here's an article on how to become a health and wellness consultant.

In the past there were people who could help you lose weight by tracking your diet with you. And there were other people who trained you in the gym. Still others may have provided meditation spaces, spa services, for relaxation and relief from life's stresses. And additional professionals promise nutritional healing for physical diseases so as to avoid the side effects of pharmaceuticals. Going forward, expect an industry to coalesce around the idea of one-on-one personal health trainers to help prevent early aging and recover from disease.

4. Family Centers
According to one estimate, American families visit family entertainment centers 3-5 times per year and pay $22 on average per visit. Another estimate says that the monthly cost of child care in a center is about $972 on average. Another third says that home health care for the elderly costs $16-23 per hour. If you combine elements of all these they would create a "third space" called the "family center."

When I was a kid my mother dropped me off at family home daycare. After work she came home and took care of me. But she did not have to help care for my grandparents, may they rest in peace, till I grew up and left home, and then my aunts and uncles were there to help. Times have changed a lot in a few years and it seems like everybody is either working, looking for work, or going to school. In this environment there is a tremendous need for safe, well-regulated and supervised spaces for family care - of children, the elderly, the disabled, the recovering. These centers would operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and include beds for people who need a temporary place to stay, for whatever reason. The old assumption that "a man's home is his castle" does not hold true anymore nowadays - life is lived together, in more public spaces, and there is an opportunity to create public spaces that are not explicitly commercial (e.g. Starbucks, the mall), yet are paid for and welcoming.
5. Security Guards
According to one fact sheet the average wage for a security guard is $12.42 an hour.
We live in an increasingly networked world, a world where people are increasingly alienated from the ways of the past, and where it is increasingly easy to track people and also to obtain weapons with which to hurt them. In this environment security guards provide not only visual peace of mind but an actual increase in protection. 

Why Republicans Are Losing The Brand War (Along With The NRA)

You don't have to be a genius to see what's going wrong with a brand or reputation. Or even how to fix it.

But you do have to have the courage to tell the client. 

And because the client can fire you - they have a lot of money, power and yes, ego at stake - there's a lot of incentive for courage to fade away.

Clearly the Republicans are what you would call a "challenger" brand. Similarly the National Rifle Association, in the aftermath of the tragic school massacre in Connecticut, is fighting and losing its very own brand war. 

I put them together because they're ideologically aligned, and they're making similar mistakes.

A very good and classic book about how challenger brands fight to win is called "Eating the Big Fish" by Adam Morgan.  Here are some ideas derived from the book, in my own spin. It's worth reading the original.

  • Redefine Yourself: Whatever you were doing before, is not working. Right now the Republicans look like people Democrats don't like and say mostly negative things that the public does not want to hear. "Break with the past."
  • Connect Emotionally and then Own It: Republicans act like they are selling life insurance, not building a relationship. Where is the feeling? How do they connect? Is gun ownership a positive thing? Why? The heart strings are lacking.
  • Be The Brave Underdog: Go to the movies. See Red Dawn, or Step Up Revolution. Republicans come across rich, retro, wealthier than you and me - unrelatable. Where are the fighters, like the girl in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" or the one in "The Hunger Games?" Actually a female in the lead, minorities in the lead, anyone but Rich White Males would be useful.
  • Look For Arrogance & Complacency: Inevitably the dominant warrior will grow fat, happy and lazy on the land. That is exactly the time to to pull an Apple out of your hat. (Again, watch and learn - from those great Mac vs. IBM commercials.)
  • Unapologetic Ad Blitz: The Republicans seem afraid of their own shadow. If their ideas are better, why? Mass communication requires advertising of a unique, relevant convincing idea on a mass scale. As far as the NRA goes, they seem to be speaking only to themselves and to allow a ranter and raver speak for them.
It's not all that complicated to see how these ideas could work. But it's easy to see that they would not be easy for the Republicans/NRA to do. One wonders what will happen. But whatever does happen, it's not for lack of well-documented strategy.

* As always, all opinions my own. This post is a branding/PR commentary, not political advocacy, endorsement or non-endorsement of any party.

Instagram, R.I.P.

Image sources: Grave, Wikipedia. Instagram logo: Asbury & Asbury; see their blog on the Instagram PR crisis.

The Instagram brand is dead. Let's stop and accept this.

Why is the Instagram brand dead? If you don't understand this you are missing the point.

Basically they touched on a fear that people have been avoiding. Which is that they are putting too much personal stuff on the web, and that someone will use it in a way they don't like without their permission.

I can't figure out who would have been so incredibly stupid as to change the terms of service in the first place so that people's personal images could be used for advertisers!

I had to read this twice before I believed it: (screenshot via CNNMoney)

"A business or other entity may pay" Instagram to display users' photos and other details "in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you." 

They really thought people were going to sit back and ignore the fact that their photos could be used by sponsors? With no compensation? Minors included? 

Without going into all the obvious reasons why such a policy would have been ridiculous, I do want to point out that the "backtracking" will have absolutely no effect. 

Why is this?

Imagine that you allowed somebody into your home as a guest. They stayed in a spare bedroom, ate dinner with you and your family, watched TV in your living room, and accompanied you on family trips.

That is Instagram. Not a part of your family, but nice enough and you let them in.

Now imagine that this same person waited till you went away, then invited ten of their friends to come over and par-tay. All night. Drinking your drinks, eating your food, sitting all over your furniture.

You come home in mid-vacation and you find your "guest" and their "friends" taking advantage of your hospitality.

Would ANY apology from this person suffice? Would you ever want to see them again?

This is the dilemma that Instagram now finds itself in. They have trespassed on the generosity of their users, who were the basis of the brand, who were the reason that its relatively insignificant benefits became valuable.

Instagram messed with its social network. 

It's the reason no amount of words will help now, and they should shut the doors and start all over again. Avoiding all issues associated with the negative brand equity surrounding the original name.

Scared of Sequestration? Get to Work.

If you're a federal employee and worried about the possibility of losing your job due to spending cuts, you have one of two choices:

  • Continue to worry.
  • Do something about it.
The advantage of continuing to worry is that you don't really have to do anything, and yet the action of worrying makes you feel like something has been accomplished. Of course the downside is that your situation stays the same.

Going for the "do something" category has more upside in my view. For one thing, it might distract you from being scared. For another you may be better situated to get another job or start a business if you have to. A third is that you're mentally prepared in case things turn bad. Finally and perhaps most important, assuming that your job stays the same, you will probably be a more motivated and skill-enhanced employee because of any preparation you've undertaken.

Of course on the downside you may invest time and effort in helping yourself, all to no avail - get fired and there is no job waiting for you anyway. But if you think about it - if you really lay that fear out there - doesn't it seem a bit exaggerated, at least for most?

In any case if you do want to try and help yourself out of a sequestration situation, here's what I would recommend:

  1. Look at your job from the perspective of your boss. If asked would they say that they need you? Don't think about whether your job is objectively necessary, or whether you think you're doing a good job, or even the best you can. Are you what Seth Godin calls a "linchpin" - indispensable? Start asking for feedback and improving your job performance based on what they want, not on what you think they need. 
  2. Look at your skills from the perspective of the private sector. Imagine you had to look for a job. What skills and certifications are required now of someone in your field? Do you have them? If not, are there ways you can obtain them? I remember in the "olden days" (that would be the '80s) when the world was not obsessed with a series of often meaningless trophies like this. Well guess what times have changed folks. Study up. 
  3. Look at your clothes. I will repeat this until I am blue in the face. You must give a damn about your clothes. You do not have to be thin and pretty. You do not have to spend lots of money. Dress to fit in and stand out. In DC the basic color palette is neutrals. Accessories matter: scarf (for women), shoes, bag, belt and coat. Don't like makeup? I don't care. Put some on. Yes, men can wear makeup too, a little concealer under the eyes to look less tired.
  4. Look at your words. Are you a "Negative Nellie?" Start talking positive. Nothing is ever so bad unless you're dying, and even then there are cancer patients who get better because they refuse to fall down. Are you respectful and kind to everyone you meet? Can you talk about work issues, issues affecting the Agency and the government intelligently? Do you speak in a refined way? Practice, practice, practice.
  5. Look at your network. Keep your ear to the ground. What's going on at work? In your field? Network, join a professional group. Do not be isolated. Ask how people are doing, even when you don't want something from them. Read the information products others produce. It's about being part of the conversation, and giving to others when you can, because in the future you may need to get a job and you will want to be a known quantity before anyone ever sees your resume. 
If you believe your livelihood is in danger, don't sit around scared of "Donald Trump" and the like. Instead do something to help yourself, and stop being a victim of your own fear.

What Men Do While Their Wives Shop

Smart mall.

If Government Were Run Like A Four Star Hotel

1. Taxpayers would be "guests," and we would fall all over ourselves to win their repeat business.

2. Customer service would be in the first paragraph of everyone's job description.

3. The people who interact with the public would wear name tags.

4. We would ask the public what they need and then deliver it rather than waiting for them to contact us.

5. We would keep our facilities sparkling clean.

6. We would promote high performers and fire poor ones without apologizing or making excuses.

7. We would have multiple guides to Agency-related services easily accessible to customers.

8. We would know who our customers are - it's a segment of the world that cares, not everyone.

9. We would have comment cards and collection boxes everywhere.

10. We would measure performance by the numbers, make the numbers public then adjust accordingly.

"That's Offensive."

Not long into a project my colleague and I were discussing a design that she had made. The colleague somewhat junior.

"I really don't like it," colleague said, referring to an element that someone had insisted on.

"Yeah, that's really bad," I replied. "In fact it makes me want to throw up."

"That's offensive!"

Oh my. I seemed like I had really said something wrong. But wasn't I just agreeing?

When I was little we used to go from New Jersey to Borough Park (an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn) and my dad used to make my mom, me and my sister wear skirts.

"Why can't I wear pants?" I used to ask. "It's so hypocritical the way you act."

My mother tried to explain.

"Women don't wear pants in that neighborhood," she said. "It's offensive."

The other day, at work, someone was lost near my cube. "Is anybody here?"

"I'm here," I said, rather loudly I'm afraid. It was holiday party day.

After some chitchat it was clear she was not going to find who she was looking for.

"Happy Hanukkah," she said, looking at my cube. The lonely blue and white ribbons amid what seemed like endless Christmas decorations.

"Happy Hanukkah," I replied. We got to talking.

"Can I ask you a question?" the woman asked me.


"I don't mean to offend you. But why do Orthodox Jews like junk food so much?"

I started laughing. What?

"I used to have a boss who left early on Fridays, for Sabbath. He always had all this junk food in his drawer."

Religion has nothing to do with junk food. But I had a clue what she was talking about. When I was little we used to visit my ultra-Orthodox family in upstate New York. And they always had a "candy drawer."

Then I had what Oprah calls an "a-ha" moment. "Did your boss used to have Oreos?"

"Uh-huh. Tons of them. Chocolate and vanilla."

So I explained that Orthodox Jews love Oreos because they used to be made with lard, and now they have a hechscher (kosher certification), and we simply cannot get enough.

Someone explained to me that Islam is highly averse to public charitable drives, and so the entire CFC (Combined Federal Campaign), with all its pressure to contribute and the public markers of "targets achieved," is offensive from that perspective.

Another person said that as a relatively low-paid worker with children to support it is not fair to expect the same level of contribution as an executive. In fact, it is sort of offensive.

I understand both of these sentiments!

My favorite blogger in this entire world - Penelope Trunk, the best writer I have ever read bar none - became infamous when she tweeted her miscarriage. Wow did the world go on fire at that. She gives career advice, much of it frankly offensive from a modern feminist point of view.

And some of it seems right.

People sometimes say that federal workers are lazy. Some are, that's true. (Like anywhere else.) But if you admit it - and you call for unproductive people to be fired - get ready.

Because in some quarters, "that's offensive" to say.

No matter how good your intentions, you will always say or do or write things that offend others. You may mean well, but others take it wrong; you may have genuinely held beliefs that are out of step with the crowd.

After the Connecticut shooting I wrote a lot about hysteria and gun control. I warned that we should not trample on the Second Amendment. In fact, I said, we should follow the example of Israel and station armed guards at every school. (Israel has stricter gun control on the individual.)

My friends were livid. A Facebook argument raged.

"What? How can you say that? So offensive!"

This is part of the problem with plain writing in the government. We often write muddled even though we can write plain. Because we don't want to risk offending anybody.

I know I'm sometimes undiplomatic. I'll take that hit.

But the worst kind of offensive, if you want to ask me, is communicating in a way that obfuscates the truth.

This kind of offensive is not the same as tact. As political correctness, which has gotten a bad rap. That is about understanding the limits of public discourse. It's a line you should be sensitive to, and you sometimes won't recognize when it's been crossed.

I think political correctness is frequently good.

But at the end of the day if you want to communicate meaningfully, you will offend.

Honesty is not always accuracy. My aunt is forever offending me with her straight but cutting talk.

But if you have to choose between honest and tactful, choose honesty first. If you are always censoring yourself you will never be able to utter a word.

And then, if someone tells you - hey, that's a little too much - you are free to dial it back. (Or not.)

That's free speech in a free marketplace of ideas, and by and large, it works.

Thank you to the people who take their time to read my blog, and to share their honest feedback.

Brand Opportunity: Make Grocery Shopping Not Feel Like This

Photo credit: Phil and Pam

What Communication Really Is

A lot of people labor under the misconception that communicators write pretty words. Interspersed with pictures and white space.

Not so.

The placement of grammatically correct sentences on a screen or page is only the outcome of a much more fundamental process.

Communication is fundamentally about trust. It is what happens when one human being engages in a dialogue with another. A dialogue based on mutual respect and recognition that others have something worthwhile to say.

Communication is goal-oriented. But the goal is not simply to vomit words at your readers. It is to honor their intelligence and critical faculties with a meaningful piece of information or insight.

Good communication is honest. You can hear somebody speaking, as if to a friend.

It is not about obfuscation. About verbal martial arts.

It's not technology, used as a substitute for substance.

If you want to communicate better start with your heart. Open it and keep it open. If you are lying or hiding from yourself, your heart will tell you.

Good luck.