Tag Archives: SOBcon

Talking relationships with Bigg Success

I had a great conversation the other day with Mary-Lynn Foster and George Krueger. We’ve talked a couple times at SOBcon and I’ve enjoyed it. This time, they recorded part of our interaction for their Social Media 4 Business series at BiggSuccess.com.

George and Mary-Lynn are great at what they do. They ask good questions, produce a professional podcast and care. At lot.

Listen to our conversation here:  Promote your business without talking business.

Thanks for the opportunity Mary-Lynn and George.


Solve the problem in front of you

SOBcon is a conference where 150 people who use social media to communicate and relate and learn, spend 3 days talking with each other about how to do those things better. It’s a combination of church and a cocktail party and an “ask the author” session and an episode of  “This Old [marketing] House”  and group therapy (“no one out there understands me” “I understand”).

Genius tableWe were in the first big discussion session of SOBcon last Friday. As I look at my notes, Jonathan Fields had talked about career success, about finding the intersection of a viable niche (my paraphrase: A group of people, constantly renewing, who are actively searching for something that works to alleviate the pain they are experiencing, and who have the resources for that pain release) and your passion (my paraphrase: the ability to solve a problem in a way that makes us come alive.)

Somehow, the panel discussion that followed turned into a panel talking about fear, about how to deal with fear, about dealing with failure.

And then our table started talking about what to do, both about fear and failure and about actually identifying niches and markets and audiences.  We were the genius table, the trouble table: Becky McCray and Sheila Scarborough and Britt Raybould and Nancy Swanson and Steve Woodruff.

As I look at my notes from that conversation, I see a box with a phrase from Sheila: Solve the problem in front of you.

When she’s dealing with a thousand things, with lots of “what could happens” with fears and ambiguities and distractions, that’s where she starts.

And then in my notes, right below that box, I see a list of names.

The list of names is five guys that I know from church, from my work. I know questions that each of the five regularly think about, regularly ask of themselves and of others. I know the questions that a couple of the guys are asking right now, about their future, about their growth.

And I realize that part of finding your niche, finding your market, living out your passion is simply taking Sheila’s advice.

Solve the problem in front of you.

I don’t look at these guys or their questions as problems. But I do see that I have within my ability and resources and interest helping each of these five guys work on the answers to their questions. In fact, I find that idea quite energizing. And in the process we might work through some answers that may be helpful to other people as well.

As I think about SOBcon, as I think about figuring out passion and niches and social media and the other stuff that comes out of that conference, I can do all kinds of planning, dreaming, speculating, and worrying. Or, I can say to five guys, “Have you thought about this way of answering that question?”

So for the next couple days, among other things, I’ll be working on these questions and talking with these guys. They are, I suppose, a very small niche. But they meet the definition. And it’s not about the size of the market sometimes. It’s about helping people who want to understand.

You know what I mean?

put it on paper

Last weekend, my friend Paul gave me a pencil. It’s a great pencil. It’s an expensive pencil, at least as pencils go.

It is tempting to leave my new, cool, sentimental, expensive pencil on the desk. It will remind me of a growing friendship. It would be good stewardship.

It would be dumb.

levenger pencil resting on a pad of paperPencils are not made to look at. They are made to write. In fact, given the choice between a really cool pencil on the shelf and a stubby little golf pencil in someone’s hand creating a metaphor that is going to give some young woman freedom to change the world, a smart person would choose the stubby little golf pencil.

On the other hand, if you decide to actually use the cool pencil, amazing things can happen. You can write more words with the cool pencil. You can write more comfortably with the cool pencil. If you have such a pencil and decide to take it everywhere and take notes and write notes to be sent and generate lists of relationships, lists of metaphors, lists of hope–that would really be good stewardship.

Because, Chris and Julien said last week, you have to put it on paper. The great idea, the helpful thought, the business concept, the picture that will help someone understand their business process or their family structure–you have to put it on paper.

It’s Saturday morning. I’m preaching tomorrow morning, something I do two or three times a year. I have great ideas for tomorrow, some ideas that will, I hope, give some moms feeling great pressure to be perfect some hope.

But thinking I have great ideas, writing about those great ideas, that won’t help anyone.

To make a difference I have to take that cool pencil (or this old laptop) and the idea, and put it on paper.

I’ll talk to you later. Go change the world in the meantime. One pencil mark at a time.

making me cry

glenda watson hyatt presenting at SOBconI’m sitting at SOBcon, listening to Glenda Watson Hyatt.

She is a disability conscience.

It’s working.

She is talking about how to make blogs accessible. She is talking about how to to make it possible for people who can’t hear or can’t see or who are color blind or who have limited movement to have access to what you want to say.

And I am sitting here with tears in my eyes.

Not because of how amazing it is for someone with cerebral palsy who can only type with her left thumb. If that were why I was in tears, I’m afraid that it would be too close to pity.

It’s because as a conscience she is inviting me to consider whether what I am doing as a blogger, what I am doing as a pastor, what I am doing in my conversations takes into account the person I am talking with.

And the truth?

I’m not thinking about how to help people hear what I am saying.

That’s not false guilt. I get false guilt. This is real guilt.

I don’t speak up. I never thought about putting labels on my pictures that would be helpful for a screen reader. I haven’t thought about people who are colorblind not being able to read links clearly. I haven’t thought about people who might not know what SOBcon is. (A conference that is helping people learn how to blog better).

I never thought.

Glenda, typing with her left thumb, put her presentation into an ebook about accessable blogging.

Thank you Glenda.

Relationship is the argument

A bunch of guys are eating supper together. It’s Thursday. The week is almost done.

It’s a pretty normal group of guys, a cross-section of personalities and incomes and professions that you might find in any startup.  Which is what this is. A couple are really loud. A couple are sitting quietly, eating. One is picking at his food.

The don’t realize it at this moment, but they are at a corporate strategy meeting. The boss knows. He’s the thoughtful one in the middle of the group. He’s watching the chatter. He seems quieter than usual, more deliberate. At one point he moves away from the table for a bit. He moves from person to person, picking something up from the floor by each one, or something.

Eventually, he sits down. He talks quietly.  Everyone leans back, surprised. The guy who was picking at his food looks up. The boss hands him a chip with salsa. He takes a bite, and then excuses himself.

The boss sits up straight. Somehow, it just became clear to everyone that this isn’t a social gathering for dinner and drinks after a tough day. As he starts talking, this sounds like the beginning of a major marketing push, a whole new phase of operation.

“I’m leaving soon.”

“Here are my new directions.

Love each other.

You know the way I’ve treated you, been patient with you, given you encouragement and hope and patience, the way I’ve loved you? That’s what you have to do with each other. The way people will know that you are part of this group, the way that people will know that I was ever here, the way that people will believe that what I have been saying and doing are true is if you love each other the way I’ve loved you.”

And of course, the first guy to speak says, “where are you going?”

And of course, the boss’s response is patient.


I’m heading to SOBcon this afternoon. It’s a conference for bloggers, a small event for people who are wanting to do better, to be more effective. The theme this year is “the ROI of relationships.”

I’m not a business blogger. I almost don’t fit. But I like the people and I like the conversation. And this morning, as I read the story above, I had a new level of understanding of a familiar story.

What Jesus was saying was that the ROI of relationship, the return on the investment in other people is this:  people will only believe that you actually follow Jesus if you love other people who follow Jesus.

So if you are a church and you want to have an effective marketing plan, one that tells people that what you are doing is real, pour your money into helping people love each other rather than into advertising. Or pour your time into building relationships rather than just buildings. Or pour your love into people who are different than you are but are following Jesus.

I know. There is supposed to be love outside churches. But we often can’t even love inside churches.

I laughed a little this morning when I thought about the story from that Thursday night dinner. I thought about the guys listening to Jesus, and Jesus saying he was leaving and that they were to love and then Peter saying “where are you going?” I wondered what really came next.

Did Andrew give his brother a dope slap and say “doofus, didn’t he just say we couldn’t go?”

Did Matthew the tax collector and Simon the insurrectionist look at each other and think, “love him?”

Did James and John go back to the conversation from earlier and say, “as long as we get the best seats in the church.”

And as I wondered about those conversations, I realized that if that group had been left to themselves, they would have spilt up. But they weren’t. And they didn’t. And when groups of people who follow Jesus actually care about each other in times of crisis and with differences in personality, people notice.

And when people who follow Jesus don’t care about each other, people notice.

Make sense?

taking some steps

What are you doing for the next month?

If you are a blogger, would you like to join me in a project with Darren Rowse called “31 days to build a better blog”?

Darren runs a site called Problogger. He talks a lot about how to be successful as a blogger. I’ve paid some attention, but I haven’t plunged into working hard at building a better blog.

And then I read a month ago that Darren is running this program. There will be daily emails. There will be daily homework. It will take some concentration.

So why am I doing this? Because of my three words for the year. One of them, singing, has nothing to do with this project. The other two, however, do. I’m wanting to focus this year, to learn to strip away what doesn’t matter and look at what does. And I’m working on deliberate practice, working on the weakest parts of my strengths.

As I look at my blogging, particularly the work I’m doing at 300wordsaday.com, I want to do the best work I can be doing, to make the most of the energy that is going into what I’m doing.

Though I write more to figure out what I’m thinking than to make a living from blogging (which is what Darren has done), I am fully aware that there are people who find value in what I write. Taking that trust seriously means that I need to look at how I can be more effective.

Darren is encouraging us to invite other people. So follow this link to sign up as a friend. (and maybe we can encourage each other).

And then, at the end of that month, I’ll be spending a couple days in Chicago at SOBcon 2009. I went last year with the strong encouragement of my friend from smallbizsurvival.com, Becky McCray. I’m going again for the same reason. What I’m looking forward to, in addition to the great face-to-face conversations with people I know screen-to-screen, is extension of the learning from the 31 day challenge.

As you look at what you are doing, whatever that is, what steps are you taking to do it more effectively, more responsibly, more delightfully?


I can’t figure out what my blog is about. Ten words is the challenge, or 12. And I can’t distill that much.

Becky is trying to help, encouraging, pushing.

But I can’t narrow them down.

So then we went to lunch.

One person I sat with needed to think through a major choice. Somehow, I helped her think through a couple of choices, mostly be helping her think about not rushing.

Another person is thinking about how to take the next step in another choice. So I helped him think about just acting.

So I’m not sure that I’m concerned about figuring out what the twelve words are.

It’s about people.

outta here

I’m hitting the road in about 15 minutes. I’m heading to the Chicago area for a couple things.

Tonight I’ll be spending time with my parents and sisters. Mom is having eye surgery next Thursday. We’re all spending some time together and thinking about how best to help. Both sisters live close to my parents, so there is good care. I live 4 hours away, wich makes care challenging. So we’ll talk.

Tomorrow I’ll be at SOBcon for the day. Called “a business school for bloggers,” it’s an opportunity to understand how to be more effective in our blogging. My challenge will be to apply the ideas to a blog that has no commercial intentions. However, I am about community and faith community and clear explanations of things often made foggy by religious structures. I think it will help.

More than the learning, however, I’m looking forward to meeting people I know but haven’t seen. Becky McCray and I have written and twittered and worked together on the Great Big Small Business Show. I’ve written guest posts for Liz Strauss, Joanna Young, and Robert Hruzek. Thomas Knoll was part of our Lent2008 community. Chris Cree, Rick Mahn, Phil Gerbyshak, Karen Hanrahan (at least) have shown up in the comments on this blog.

In short, I get to interact face-to-face with I’ve shared a part of my life with. It is scary and humbling and invigorating all at the same time.

Oh yes, and one of the speakers is Chris Brogan.

I’m looking forward to this trip.

(Nancy and Becky, thank you)