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Why shoe cobblers are smarter than bankers

Why shoe cobblers are smarter than bankers

Along with chimney-sweeps and milkmen, cobblers are nearly extinct. They ply their trade in fewer and fewer places having been relegated to the hollows of New York City subways and discount storefronts in suburban rinky dink shopping centers. Nonetheless, a few shoehorns are steadfast in their trade, these indomitable and hearty cobblers demonstrating a resilience against the throwaway mentality our generation will be remembered for.

Cordwainers make shoes while cobblers resole, stretch, resurface, reshape and reheel them. Perhaps not surprisingly, some shoe repairmen are thriving with honed business models and steady revenue from mostly white collared businessmen. In New York City, for instance, financiers and bankers can’t seem to break ties with the healers.

Where have all the Cobblers Gone?

  • 30 Rockefeller Plaza – The F/D Subway has Eddie’s Shop where bankers sit reading newspapers while getting their shoes coddled and cobbled, the gawking tourists stopping at the window and snapping pictures.
  • Columbus Circle 59th Street – At Nivelo Shoe Repair you can get your pronated shoe heel replaced while getting a haircut, too.
  • Penn Station 34th Street – Soen Shoe Repair will fix the heel on your wife’s Christian Louboutins – while you get a straight-razor shave.
  • Chelsea 8th Avenue – Romano Cobbler is known for sole saving, specializing in Joh. Rendenbach leather soles.

I went to shoe cobblers to get my shoes fixed while working on Wall Street in the 1990s, but what I learned from them changed how I view business forever. Sound business strategies and shoe maintenance have a lot in common. Long before I became a website manager, I built electronic trade order management systems for money managers, writing their specifications, designing their UIs and writing their user guides. Bankers and traders are a fickle bunch, their rapid-fireness and volatile natures mirroring the shark tank that is Finance. These investors are known for their unbreakable discipline and independent thinking – I got to know this regal class of businessmen during my formative years in New York City. Shoe Cobblers versus BankersBut there was one man smarter than the lot of them – someone I met when I was too broke to buy new shoes, so I frequented his shop called Minas Shoe Repair. Minas worked a lower concourse storefront at 2 World Trade Center. He was something of a sage when it came to doling out business advice, and the financiers trusted him. He was keen to splint Auden wingtips or buttress the foxing on Gucci toe caps. He advised that Italian wedges crack if you don’t fortify the welt, and he insisted on buttressing new soles with rubber so the tread keeps the ground away from the leather. He told me a few important rules for maintaining shoes, encouraging me to nurture them the way an entrepreneur nurtures a business. Here’s a few more nuggets of business advice I gleaned:

  • Anticipate problems before they happen – A new pair of leather-soled shoes, for instance, requires the installation of thin rubber soles to keep them pristine. Evaluating shoes and understanding their strengths and weaknesses allows you to compensate and promote in advance.
  • Repair often – Similar to a good business model, shoes require a tweak here and a fix there to keep them going.
  • Polish with spit to dispel the grit – Nothing beats a professional shoe shine to properly calibrate a pair of cowboy boots, but don’t be afraid to use your own resources to bridge the gap between professional consulting services.
  • Outsource the maintenance – Be good at what you do and delegate tasks to someone who specializes in them. You’ll never polish the way a professional shoe shiner can.
  • Source quality polish – When it’s raining or snowing, the best water repellent is the natural lipids of mink oil or a premium shoe polish. The synthetic oils derived from petroleum are cheaper in the short term but will not keep the leather in the long term. Find the best resources available and pay up for them.
  • Be patient when breaking in – Jumping in too deep with a new pair of shoes is bad for your feet and bad for the shoes. Business models have kinks that need working out, too.
  • Know your limitations – Shoes with a dash of class and panache aren’t made for a rainy day, so be sure to fortify them accordingly or not wear them at all. Sometimes you need to wear rubber boots despite the folly of their style. People respect utility over good looks.

Minas knew that maintaining a smart business starts with fundamental analyses to identify strengths and weaknesses that lead to the achievement of objectives. For shoes, we want comfort, performance and good looks. Business is not much different, and looking good while making money remains clutch for our generation. Profits come by striking a balance between maximum returns and minimal sacrifice while looking graceful along the way. Likewise, nurturing a long life for a good pair of shoes follows the same model.

Minas had nurtured his business since 1969 when he began the long journey from his native Greece to America, arriving in New York with no money and little language skills. He first worked in a kitchen before he was able to save enough money to open a shop on 18th Street. But he aspired to bigger heights and by 1977 Minas Shoe Repair opened in the World Trade Center. He doubled the size of his business and sourced help to keep up with the growing clientele. He was thriving.

But then it happened.

Minas Shoe Repair was destroyed in the September 11th attacks. Hundreds of businesses were obliterated and thousands of workers were forced away from downtown Manhattan. The migration of the major investment houses Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bear Stearns occurred long before the attacks on September 11th forced the other big houses to follow suit. Over the years Minas had come to rely on the suits to keep his business humming, but he suddenly found himself – at the age of 60 – having to employ that advice he doled out regularly to his customers.

His regression toward the mean eventually took Minas to his current location on 67 Wall Street, but those tumultuous years following New York City’s biggest disaster nearly broke him. Stacy Curtin interviewed Minas in 2011 and wrote how he clawed his way out of near bankruptsy to return to his place of prominence as Wall Street’s Cobbler Sage:

And his customers come from all over the city and the outer boroughs. “I used to live at the Crest [apartment building] right next door. Now I actually live and work up in midtown,” says customer Noah Bogan. “I don’t really trust any other shoe repair shops, so I still come back here.”
– Minas Polychronakis

Our aptitude for grasping various methodologies in business comes from many places. There’s a lot to learn about strategy from the guys responsible for shoeing those who deal in quotes, spreads and margins in the ETF, IRS and FX markets. Traders and bankers know a lot about business strategy – sure, but how many of them have actually run their own business while plying their trade?

So when the going gets tough, the surefooted are the ones who understands the utility of a good pair of shoes – and the confidence to take them where successful business resides.

Shoe Cobbler

Beyond Content Farms: Better Content Management

Beyond Content Farms: Better Content Management

There are four basic steps for managing content on a website – focus it, source it, create it and disseminate it. Clearly, the hardest part about implementing these steps is the repetition that must accompany them. Search engine optimization (SEO) benefits result in the ability for a website manager to repeat these steps on a regular schedule. Whether it’s every day, every week or every month, these steps for managing content should be repeated like clockwork. Consistency will win the race.

Focus it
Google looks for consistency and keyword expertise when indexing websites. In addition to demonstrating a clear objective and purpose, Google offers a number of other tips to avoid creating bad content. A lack of focus on a particular topic damages SEO more than most website managers know. For that reason, website managers should be focusing content around consistent keywords to demonstrate their niche. Yoast is the de facto tool for choosing keywords to focus content, providing suggestions for long tail keywords (containing multiple words) that suggests which keywords are best. (Blotter uses Yoast and you should, too.) Not being disciplined and consistent in administering a website could be your biggest mistake.

Yoast

Using Yoast will help improve your long tail keyword strategy – reflecting what users see when they type a search term into a Google search box.

Source it
Content farms (also called content mills) employ large numbers of writers to produce text. Google hates them because the content is soulless and pedantic. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the practice of a room full of scribes producing content for a website, the results too often have bad grammar, disparate information and (at its worst) plagiarism.

A better strategy is for website managers to nurture relationships with individuals who understand the mission of the website and have expertise in it. Quality sourcing is why most companies with a successful SEO strategy delegate the responsibility of content creation to internal employees. Sourcing it within is the trend for most start-ups, for instance. Each employee must write on a regular basis.

Create it
Managing content on a website is all about demonstrating expertise on a particular subject. Creating informative content that demonstrates thought leadership or demonstrates a unique or compelling argument is what all good viral posts and videos have in common. Blotter follows and recommends the Ann Handley model for publishing dynamic content, but Blotter has simplified it to focus on the good of the good writing style:


The Good of the Good Writing Style

  • Good anticipation
  • Good data
  • Good teaching
  • Good writing
  • Good rewriting
  • Good logic
  • Good simplicity
  • Good reiteration
  • Good natured
  • Good editing

Disseminate it
We’ve mentioned many times how having a website is not enough for successful SEO. Most people use networking through LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to get personal references from friends, or they look on review sites such as Yelp! or Google Maps to answer questions about perspective businesses. The dissemination of media should be a carefully choreographed affair touching on every kind of outlet, sending content to as many social networking services as possible – in tandem.

Blotter uses social media aggregators to help organize the parallel publishing of media. Hootsuite is one of the more popular tools used by website managers to aggregate and disseminate media, but Blotters prefers BufferApp, a service which not only pulls in the major social media services to one place, but lets you schedule when to send out the messages over the course of the weeks to come:

Content Dissemination

For most website managers, content originates on a website and trickles out to social media outlets. For this reason, these websites should be top-level domains (i.e., dot-coms). Consistency in publication schedules and consistency with internally linking nomenclature is also necessary. That means that you must ensure a consistent naming convention for long talk keywords as well as permalinks. To create a good permalink, create a title that encompasses the long tail keyword,” that literal phrase someone might search. Make sure your “Permalink” matches the title exactly, using dashes to separate spaces:

Good nomenclature

(Use dashes to spell out article names literally.)

Finally, a website manager should remember to keep a calendar and enforce the publishing schedule like a drill sergeant. Whether you only publish once per month or once per day, make sure it’s at the exact same time. Following these four basic steps for managing content on a website should result in better content and better SEO.

Are domain registrars worse than hookers?

Are domain registrars worse than hookers?

A registrar is a lot like a prostitute in that they both take your money, the difference being that the hooker tells you in advance you’ll be screwed.

Okay, that’s a little harsh. Prostitutes don’t try to sell you useless add-ons while pitching their service: “Would you like to buy some shampoo to go with your oral sex? Howabout you pay me extra and I’ll black your name outta my little red book? And for an additional fee I’ll provide you with your own phone number, too!”

But while they’re all solicitous in their propositions – often to the point of annoyance – the domain name registrar can also keep you in bondage for years to come. For most of us, registrars are a necessary evil, someone we never really wanted to be with in the first place. Registrars versus HookersExperience helps us to understand what each domain name registrar offers. Our focus on five popular domain name registrars may help you choose the best answer to this prevailing question: Are domain registrars worse than hookers?

Prostitutes don’t hold you hostage
One of Blotter’s clients is being held hostage by the registrar Melbourne IT, an Australian-based company specializing in affiliate registrars. After repeated attempts to contact the company at https://www.melbourneit.com.au/contact-us/ as well as multiple phone calls to their support line at +61 3 8624 2300, this registrar has refused to unlock the domain name and proceed with sending the authorization code. The problem resulted from a mismanaged alliance between Melbourne IT and the now defunct contact at AT&T, Inc.

It appears the Registrar http://www.melbourneit.com.au is cybersquatting on our domain name. I’ve called the company a number of times (no answer) and have submitted multiple support tickets at both abuse@melbourneit.com.au and on the website. Because you have refused to provide us with the Authorization Code for the domain name XYZCLIENT.com, we are escalating our issue by filing a complaint with ICANN because we consider you to be unresponsive to our request for transferring the domain name XYZCLIENT.com.

Registrars who don’t cooperate should be reported immediately to ICANN, the governing body of domain names. ICANN will eventually resolved this matter.

Prostitutes don’t sell you add-ons like registrars do
NetworkSolutions.com and Godaddy.com are the worse offenders of useless and distracting upgrades with their multiple selection options that have nothing to do with registering a domain name for the first time. It’s quite amazing anyone uses them at all given their daunting interfaces.

Network Solutions sells you three hosting options under “Website Options” and five options under “Enhance Your Website” that include email management and “Web Forwarding” for $12.99/year. The final screen offers an additional “Private Registration” option for 100 years at a rate of $999.00 (claims to help prevent spam). The interface is fairly straightforward, however, and most users should be able to wade through these useless add-ons without too much distraction.

Network Solutions Options 1 - 2

Network Solutions: 1 – 2

Options

Network Solutions: 3 – 7

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Network Solutions: 8 – 9

Godaddy, on the other hand, has price advocates who point out that discount codes and other membership programs bring the cost of a domain name down in the long run – renewals average $8.47/year. It’s the novices who pay for the veteran’s price breaks, however. Godaddy’s nine upgrades are downright confusing for first-time users, with two protection upgrade options, four hosting upgrade options and three email options.

Godaddy Distractions #1 & 2

Godaddy Steps: 1 – 2

Godaddy Distractions 3-6

Godaddy: 3 – 6

Godaddy Distractions #7-1

Godaddy: 7 – 9

Godaddy.com bait-and-switch options when registering a domain name are not improved with the renewals of domain names which provide eleven options including Email & Productivity powered by Office 365 as well as an SSL option ($69.99/year).

Name Cheap is similar to the other domain name registrars by offering confusing add-ons including cloud email, website hosting and mobile-friendly websites. But NameCheap.com has redeeming qualities to its interface and makes no assumptions, labeling their add-ons under a header Improve Your Site: 1. Hosting for $9.88; 2. Privacy Protection for $1.99 (first year); 3. Email; 4. Mobile-friendly website for $39.95/year.  They’re the most clear of the domain name registrars featured here.

Pairnic is another registrar many website managers prefer for their IBM-esque design and no frills interface while registering a new domain name. But Pairnic.com is not without confusion either, forcing the user to accept a dot-net registration along with your $19.00 (yikes!) dot-com selection. The buyer is forced to accept this “1st year free” .net transaction as some sort of helpful gift, never mind the likely automatic renewal next year at an inflated price.

A final note on domain name privacy protection
Registrars have taken a page straight out of Daniel Gardner’s The Science of Fear:

Fear sells. Fear makes money. The countless companies and consultants in the business of protecting the fearful from whatever they may fear know it only too well. The more fear, the better the sales.

Godaddy’s first step after a website manager selects a domain name to register is to warn users that they should pay at least $7.99/month to “Prevent your personal information from falling into the wrong hands.” For twice as much they’ll throw in something called a “Business Protection” plan which offers phony verification credentials called “Godaddy Certified Domain Seal” to prove to visitors that your site’s ownership is valid.

Which domain name registrar a website manager uses should be based on cost, but must also take into account availability and tools for updating MX records and DNS. Amateur website managers are better going directly to hosting platforms such as hostgator.com or westhost.com who will manage their domain name registrations and their DNS – granted the cost will be a bit more. However, veteran website managers are know the perils of working with registrars well, and they’ll do well to be vigilant to avoid paying for services they don’t need.

Nine WordPress plugins you can’t live without

Nine WordPress plugins you can’t live without

WordPress may be the standard in content management systems (CMS). But there are nine must-have plugins for WordPress to be effective. All have a free version and all provide solutions for expanding a website beyond the simple blogging and navigation functionality WordPress provides. Of course there are many more WordPress plugins that will be needed when a website manager expands the functionality of a given website, but let’s assume a standard set of functional elements will be needed when building and managing most websites: anayltics, communication, spam management, backups, form creation and imaging management:

  • WordPress SEO (By Yoast) – Although Google continually evolves how they evaluate and index websites, it is crucial for a website manager to actively organize content using a united strategy. More than anything else, Google respects organization and consistency where tags, key phrases and other optimization is involved. This plugin has been downloaded and integrated with WordPress sites more than 13 million times.
  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – Even if you’re not actively reviewing and devising strategy around how users are interacting with your website, the Google Analytics plugin provides easy-to-find reference data that can be digested with a glance. For those of us who feel overwhelmed by the confusing and feature-laden dashboard Google provides on its own interface, the Google Analytics plugin appears in your WordPress dashboard as something of a godsend in digestibility.
  • MailPoet Newsletters – While the way users interact and share content from a website changes, something that hasn’t changed is the fact every user has an email address. Sending content within email newsletters provides website managers with an opportunity to share and market website information that otherwise goes ignored. MailPoet allows for the management of targeted mailing lists and provides easy-to-use templates for generating email communications. Drag-and-drop posts and images, then click send. Furthermore, this awesome piece of software empowers users to subscribe and unsubscribe from mailing lists without hassle.
  • SendGrid – If you send your digital newsletters to more than 1000 email addresses it’s important to use a robust server delivery system that will help prevent communications from ending up in spam folders while taxing a servers resources. SendGrid easily integrates with most newsletter plugins to do the heavy lifting when it comes to blasting emails.
  • Akismet – If you deal with comments and users interacting on your WordPress site, then you need a strategy to deter unwanted spam. Akismet is gleefully easy to install and integrate, protecting a blog from comment and trackback spam.
  • UpdraftPlus – Scheduling and performing website backups is more important than any other task a website manager has. If you don’t have a backup strategy in place, then expect to lose your website and all its data. It happens to everyone eventually. UpdraftPlus is a free backup service that ingrates with Google Drive or DropBox to seamlessly backup and store your website in a safe place in the unlikely event you need it.
  • Gravity Forms – At some point most website managers will need to capture information from users who enter information into a form. Whether selling a product or merely registering users for a complex service, Gravity Forms provides an easy-to-use interface allowing for visual construction of forms in a jiffy. By integrating it with Authorize.net (additional plugin required) or other merchant accounts, eCommerce becomes a cinch. Advanced Image Styles
  • Advanced Image Styles – Ever have a problem with your pictures running too close to the text? Manipulating graphics within WordPress can be a challenge when website managers want to go beyond simple formatting. This simple plugin allows you to create image borders and margins, then manipulate image title attributes and the associated CSS Class.
  • NextGen Gallery – This popular WordPress plugin generates photo galleries while downsizing images so that users can easily navigate through your great pictures. Bulk uploads are easy and shortcodes are available in the tool bar when creating posts and pages.

WordPress maintains its integrity by allowing website managers access to a vast directory of plugins that are vetted within a community of users. As always, be sure to backup your website BEFORE installing any plugins, and participate in the forums where feedback can be seen and reviewed by developers and users alike.

 

Should I hire a contractor or employee?

Should I hire a contractor or employee?

The question whether to hire a part-time contractor or full-time employee depends on the length of the project and budget. Contractors are good for small jobs while an employee can go the long haul. Both employers and their potential hires should look at the benefits and pitfalls for each model.

Also consider the quality of work a part-time contractor puts in versus a full time employee. Typically, contractors prove adept at task oriented projects, for instance where checklists or repairs are needed. Anything with nuance, however, requires that someone be vested in the project for a longer period of time.

Consider office expenses
Should I hire a contractor or employee?Having a physical location where workers come and focus on projects has its benefits and detractions. Without having to pay for utilities or rent, an employer can better afford their workers. Nonetheless, telecommuting is rife with problems, not the least of which are those workers who claim to be putting in their hours but are not. The federal website HUD.gov offers helpful tips if you’re considering the telecomuting option, for instance the need for increased management, scheduling and training for workers who will work from afar.

What type of job are you hiring?
We’ve outlined a cheat-sheet for those types of hires, starting with the type of job and listing the ideal hire – either part-time contractor or full-time employee. There’s also an assignment for how difficult it is to find someone for each of these jobs.

Type of Job to Hire Ideal Hire Difficulty
Website Designer Part-Time Easy to Find
Programmer Full-Time Hard to Find
Website Manager Full-Time Easy to Find
Sales Manager Full-Time Easy to Find
Data Entry Part-Time Easy to Find
Customer Support Full-Time Easy to Find
Content Strategist Full-Time Hard to Find
Text Editor Part-Time Easy to Find
SEO Manager Part-Time Easy to Find
Server Manager Part-Time Easy to Find
Secretarial Full-Time Easy to Find

Considering your budget
There’s also the issue of budget when considering whether to hire a contractor or employee. There are many online employee calculators to approximate what your up against when hiring an employee. Jolanders has a free version of its downloadable “How much an employee really costs” spreadsheet for figuring out payroll. Employees cost more than most people think. For example, paying someone a $70,000/year in salary could mean you’ll be paying them for vacation days, too. There are also legal obligations to consider when hiring full time employees, including maternity leave and unemployment benefits that will have a financial impact on the employer.

Most companies give employees time off for various holidays, so that should really be included in the calculation. The problem is that different countries can vary in their national holidays, and your company may give certain days off but not others. On average, in the U.S. there are 7 major holidays: New Years Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving (since this is always a Friday), and Christmas. Many businesses also have an additional floating holiday that is sometimes used for Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, or one of the days near July 4th.
http://www.convertunits.com/salary/70000

Do the math
Setting a budget and understanding how much a salary costs means doing a little math. As a baseline calculation, let’s say you are one of those employees who won’t pay for vacation, but will offer 2 weeks off each year as unpaid vacation time.

Total time worked = 50 weeks (2,000 hours)

$70,000 salary = $35 per hour

There are many ways to slice the bread when considering the question whether to hire a contractor or employee. Something gained is also something loss when choosing a part-time contractor versus a full-time employee. It’s best to consider all factors before deciding which type of hire is right for you.