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Christmasham ChristmasinJamaica
For me, there is simply nothing like Christmas in Jamaica. There’s a surfeit of riches that Jamaicans enjoy over the Christmas Season: Christmas caroling in the weeks leading up to Christmas; the almost palpable buzz of the elusive Christmas spirit in the streets, shopping plazas, buses, through open doors and roadside stalls; the excitement of the throngs heading to downtown for Christmas market; reggae-infused Christmas songs; Jamaican rum cake; festivals and parties galore; Jonkonoo and of course the camaraderie in Half Way Tree plazas on Christmas Eve to name just a few of my favorite things. So there’s nothing I would have wanted more than to follow in the footsteps of fellow Jamaican Tessanne Chin, winner of the 2013 The Voice competition who flew to Jamaica straight off her sensational win to celebrate Christmas in Jamaica with her family.

SeaPicAnd although there is nowhere else I’d rather be than in Jamaica at Christmas – barefoot outside a Portland villa, steps away from one of our famous sun-dappled beaches, bare feet deeply burrowed in powder-fine sand, sorrel drink in hand, pineapple glazed ham and escovitch fish waiting on the table – the next best thing is launching the book campaign for my debut novel Journey to the Land of Look Behind. That’s why I’m still offering the first the ThreeChapters_LandofLookBehind for free!

Now – at last –  after many years of perseverance, insights, countless rewrites and untold editing, my debut novel Journey to the Land of Look Behind has been published and is now available in both paperback and ebook versions. And I couldn’t be more thrilled and enthusiastic to share with the world what has been my passion and dream for some time.

Every woman  – as she comes into her own  – asks imminent questions that help define and inform who she is, what she’ll stand for and how she’ll navigate her way in this world – on her own terms or on others’.  This is the essential truth that propelled me to write  Journey to the Land of Look Behind, a story about a young woman who returns to her island home Jamaica to help care for the father who abandoned her and the aching tug-of-war and winding journey that leads to her authentic self.

So What’s the Novel Really About?

lookBehindCoverIndigo Wade, a brilliant engineer and aspiring sculptor, is frustrated with her son-child boyfriend, Reed, pressured by her domineering mother, Lena and struggling through a fractured relationship with her distant and indifferent father, Capo. An urgent, disturbing phone call precipitates a trip to Jamaica where past memories resurface, life lessons are learned and new beginnings are started. Sage advice from her Aunt Mercie helps her deal with antagonistic siblings left to survive the wreckage of lives abandoned by a father who skillfully navigates relationships like a calculated chess grandmaster and lays bare the spiraling, wounding trajectory through their lives.

Balanced on the threshold of two worlds, neither of which she fully belongs, Indigo must face questions that help her define her own truths. Who are we when stripped of easy monikers: daughter; father, sister, friend?  Should she give up her promising career to pursue her dream of becoming a sculptor?  Can she steer her father toward a place of redemption and at what cost?

NewOrleansSet in New Orleans and Jamaica, Journey to the Land of Look Behind centers around abandoned daughters who have been thrust into the world, fatherless, who have had to fend for themselves and find/claim their worth any way they can.  Countless Caribbean girls and women – not unlike black girls in America or in Africa and across the globe must make their way in life without the love and support of their father.  Not surprisingly, some of the most painful aspects of their lives are symptomatic of the wound of the fatherless daughter.  Their stories – with their themes of female identity, self-emancipation, abandoned or fatherless daughters  – are achingly familiar  are universally relatable.

Whether Caribbean, American or African, far too many of us grapple with the wound from the missing father and this is a tale about the travails of the wounded daughter.  As most of you know, I am a consummate storyteller and I feel that an intimate story, interwoven with some poignant truths and humor lighten this impactful story and the way it bleeds into the landscape of our lives is one worth telling.

In the coming weeks I’ll be blazing a trail with a kick-ass media campaign and promotion leading to several book signings in Jamaica, New York, New Jersey and New Orleans.  Hard copy and eBook versions are already available here on my website, on amazon.com, itunes and lulu.com.  To pique interests and set tongues wagging – in a great way! – Please take a moment to share with friends and acquaintances and post on your Twitter and/or Facebook timelines. You can still read the first  ThreeChapters_LandofLookBehind for free!

Look out for the JTLOLB book trailer, Facebook and Twitter posts as well as Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns.

Stay tuned for more…

Lying in agony on an operating table, Lisa Espinosa, 43, was certain she was minutes away from death.

The promise of inexpensive cosmetic surgery lured her to the Dominican Republic in April 2004 where a physician in a makeshift operating room performed breast augmentation surgery, a tummy tuck, and liposuction, during which Espinosa contracted a virulent infection. Instead of recovering, the feverish and seriously ill Espinosa, a clinical grant manager of infectious diseases at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was told she would die if she didn’t get a blood transfusion.

The news sent waves of fear through her body. Unsure if the blood she would receive on the island would be free of life-threatening infections such as HIV, she initially refused the transfusion but later reconsidered. “I thought about being sent home in a box and what that would do to my mother and children. I gave my verbal consent and shortly afterward lost consciousness,” she says.

But sadly, the nightmare was only beginning. Years later, during surgery to repair the extensive damage to Espinosa’s breasts, her doctor discovered a litany of blunders: the removal of a healthy gland, severed nerves, multiple stitches embedded in the breast tissue, incorrect placement of her nipples, and the aftermath of an infection due to the use of unhygienic instruments, which caused significant buildup of scar tissue because the blood supply had been severed. “The inside of her breasts looked like the inside of a trash can,” recalls Dr. David Watts, the Vineland, New Jersey-based plastic surgeon who performed Espinosa’s reconstructive surgeries.

Espinosa would eventually undergo three painful reconstructive surgeries––the last one in March 2008––to repair the damage from the first faulty surgery. All told, it took her more than four years to fully recover from the ordeal. Unfortunately, her experience is not unique. Hers is among the innumerable cases of botched plastic surgery suffered by the hundreds of thousands who cross the U.S. border into countries such as Mexico, Panama, Thailand, Brazil, and Argentina looking for discounts. Doctors treating these patients have reported life-threatening infections resulting in amputation, massive body cavities, breast deformity and misalignment, damaged or severed nerves, scarring, and facial immobility. Unfortunately, African American and Latino women are increasingly afflicted.

THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION

Long considered an indulgence confined to the wealthy and famous, cosmetic surgery has become an accessible and mainstream fascination. Its increased popularity has been spurred by a number of factors: greater affordability, innovative procedures, and most notably, the popularity of reality television shows such as Extreme Makeover, Dr. 90210, and I Want a Famous Face. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, or ASPS, $10.3 billion was spent on 12.1 million cosmetic procedures in 2008.

While the majority of patients are still white, cosmetic procedures among Caucasians dropped 2% in 2008. On the other hand, procedures among ethnic patients increased by 11% in 2008, with more than 3 million performed. ASPS reports that Hispanics experienced the largest increase, up 18%. African Americans made up 8% of total procedures, up 10% from 2007.

Historically, African Americans have rejected cosmetic reconstruction, seeing it as a way of conforming to white ideals of beauty; however, attitudes have shifted dramatically over the past decade. Cosmetic surgery is now viewed as more of a way to enhance beauty rather than an attempt to look Caucasian. ASPS’s 2008 statistics indicate that 907,141 cosmetic procedures were performed on black patients, with rhinoplasty (nose reshaping), liposuction, and breast reduction being the top three procedures requested.

Dr. Ferdinand Ofodile, clinical professor of surgery at Columbia University, board certified plastic surgeon, and expert in ethnic rhinoplasty, specifically black and Hispanic, explains. “Nowadays, plastic surgery is perceived as a way to streamline and enhance what you already have. The stigma surrounding nose reshaping has decreased, it’s now perceived as a means of creating greater harmony and balance in facial features, thereby increasing beauty while preserving ethnicity.”

A HARROWING EXPERIENCE

Espinosa was referred to the Dominican-based doctor from acquaintances whose surgeries he’d also performed, and she headed to the Caribbean for a surgery she felt was a steal. The package, which included surgery, travel, and five nights lodging, totaled $4,200. “I didn’t tell my family because they would have tried to talk me out of it,” she says. Before the surgeries, Espinosa asked the doctor several important questions, but was reluctant to ask more pertinent ones for fear of losing the sweetheart deal. Although he was not a certified plastic surgeon, he assured her that he’d performed these procedures successfully on many occasions.

Espinosa admits that she withheld information about her liver, medical history, and certain medications she was taking because of her fear of capsizing the deal. During a 25-minute consultation the day before her surgery, she and the doctor discussed her recovery time, bruising, and the need for follow-up care to remove her stitches. However, the focus of the conversation was on the initial $2,000 cash payment. Espinosa adds, “I was still trying to negotiate a price for breast implants; it became a flea market.”

The surgery was traumatic. “The operating room was dingy and old-fashioned. In the corner was a box similar to a trough for feeding horses. I thought of hospitals in the U.S., my instincts kicked in, and I became hysterical,” she recalls. To make matters worse, the doctor now disclosed that a previous patient’s death had been attributed to anesthesia complications. “I was terrified, but here I was naked and prepped for surgery in a foreign country. There was no turning back.” Espinosa was strapped upside down on a gurney, with a cloth placed over her head. Several minutes into the surgery she felt immense pressure from the tubes placed into her body, which quickly developed into full-blown pain. Panic mounting, she noticed the doctor removing surgical equipment from the trough-like box. “My physical agitation annoyed the doctor. He gave me another sedative and told me to be quiet so he could do what he needed to do.”

Nearly three days later, Espinosa woke up in intensive care with excruciating pain and no immediate recollection of the surgery. “The nurses and my friends told me I needed a blood transfusion, my worst fear because I was recovering from hepatitis C and was now in good standing. I was terrified of a relapse of hepatitis C or contracting a blood-borne disease,” Espinosa says. She refused, until the doctor persuaded her to accept plasma to save her life. Days later, she was fitted into a full-bodied compression girdle that concealed multiple bruises and wheeled onto an airplane for a six-hour flight to Philadelphia. “I was given several pain pills and told to go to the emergency room only if I began to bleed excessively from my tummy, but that profuse bleeding from my breasts was normal.”

THE REAL PRICE OF BEAUTY

With greater accessibility and popularity come increased costs. According to ASPS, the average physician fees for popular procedures are $3,348 for breast enlargement, $4,197 for rhinoplasty, $5,167 for abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), and $2,881 for liposuction. Consequently, minority women with moderate incomes––particularly those eager for multiple procedures––sometimes opt for dangerous alternatives that cost 40% to 70% less than U.S. prices: offshore plastic surgery vacation packages.

According to ASPS, statistics are not available on the number of patients who have taken cosmetic surgery vacations. However, it is known that these patients usually mirror the U.S. demographic: women age 35-50. For Espinosa, the cost was much higher and not just paid in cash. In August 2007, three years after her initial surgery, she visited Dr. Watts to rectify the extreme puckering in her breasts. “They’d become shriveled like prunes, my areolas were uneven, and there was a large indentation in the left breast,” she says. Hoping to get a breast implant to fill out the indentations, Espinosa was in for a shock. Watts recalls, “The architecture of her breasts was completely changed. The technique and design of this breast lift followed no known principles I was familiar with.” Complete reconstruction and removal of the scar tissue was necessary to facilitate the development of healthy blood supply requiring two additional surgeries over a period of several months. Watts says, “If this had happened in the U.S., the doctor would have had to explain himself before a medical board or lost his license and, at the most, faced criminal and negligence charges.”

WORTH THE RISK?

Despite the prevalence of botched overseas surgery, its popularity continues unabated due to low pricing and accessibility. Wendy Lewis, author of Plastic Makes Perfect: The Complete Cosmetic Beauty Guide and plastic surgery consultant with clients in the U.S., Europe, and South America, matches clients from various socioeconomic backgrounds with appropriate doctors. She insists there are a number of safe, domestic alternatives available to those with limited financial resources. “For example, visit doctors outside of large metropolitan cities or a board certified surgeon trained by a high profile surgeon and the cost is significantly lower,” explains Lewis.

But cheap surgery is only one component of why minority women are low- hanging fruit for offshore doctors. Fear of embarrassment and stigmatization combine to silence and disempower women. This creates the perfect storm, particularly deplorable within a segment of society most in need of vital information.
Many advertised packages offer surgery followed by beach trips, horseback riding, island hopping, and fun-filled adventures in the sun—an impossibility given the acute pain, discomfort, risk of infection, and need for healing time. Because of the relative ease in which plastic surgery is portrayed on reality shows, many potential patients hold unrealistic expectations about achieving physical perfection in an abbreviated time period and are unaware of the complexity of the procedures. Watts says, “The media has given the public pseudo- empowerment to make decisions about which they are neither informed nor educated. It’s a tremendous disservice, and doctors must draw the line and not allow themselves to be talked into procedures they know are unsafe.”

NO SHORTCUTS

Although rare, botched cosmetic surgery also happens on U.S. soil. According to a 2004 ASPS study, serious complications occur in one in 298 cases and death occurs in one in 51,429 cases in the U.S.

Dr. Julius Few, director of The Few Institute for Aesthetic Surgery in Chicago and a frequent medical contributor on CNN and 20/20, lauds the expertise of many credentialed foreign doctors. Still he stresses that offshore plastic surgery is potentially dangerous. “The laws and regulations in these countries are much less stringent and there is no governing board or recourse for the patient if the surgery goes wrong.” Few adds, “Plastic surgery is major surgery. Having an extreme makeover abroad and then sitting on a plane for several hours poses life threatening consequences.” Anticipating the magic of transformation, many patients, like Espinosa, ignore their instincts, opting instead for the assurance of friends or persuasive advertising. Dr. Anthony Griffin, a diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery who was named one of “America’s Leading Doctors” by black enterprise and whose surgeries have been featured on ABC’s Extreme Makeover and CNN, says, “Frankly, some people don’t want to know. Despite the doctor’s advice, many will shop around until they hear what they’re looking for, which is rarely what’s advertised.”

Today, Espinosa has physically recovered from her surgery, but the memory of the trauma remains. She admits that the fear of being asked uncomfortable questions and being judged by health professionals impaired her judgment. To anyone considering offshore plastic surgery she cautions, “In hindsight, there are more viable, smarter options than leaving the country that, if I’d known, would have saved me a lot of pain and money. But if you’re dead set on going, don’t feel that you don’t have the right to speak up or ask certain questions because you’re getting a bargain. Always trust your instincts even over what the doctor is telling you. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.”

As the economy continues its downward spiral, and with more consumers vying for bargains on products and services in an increasingly global economy, a greater number of foreign firms have made offshore plastic surgery their business. Griffin insists, “The U.S. has the highest medical standards in the world in terms of safety, expertise, and protocols. It’s unwise to leave this protection for countries without jurisdictions that oversee doctors. The truth is there is no free lunch and you can’t get a Mercedes for the price of a Saturn.”

This story originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine. Available at

After almost a year of fears of a double dip recession and bleak economic landscape, there have been promising signs that the employment forecast is beginning to brighten. Although the economy is not yet in full recovery mode, the recession has begun to loosen its vice like grip. Economists predict that though job creation will remain gradual, the latter half of 2011 will be characterized by steady, measured gains across various industries, particularly healthcare and IT. A recent Careerbuilder.com survey of hiring managers indicate an upward employment trends of more employers planning to hire permanent, full-time employees. The number of job listings is on the rise, companies are making hiring announcements and more hiring managers say they plan to hire permanent, full-time workers in 2011 than in the past two years. Economists surveyed by CNNMoney are forecasting an average of 2.5 million jobs added to the economy in 2011. Now is the ideal time for job seekers to reevaluate their qualifications and begin polishing and streamlining resumes, portfolios and presentations to maximize their potential of landing a job. To help enhance their application and increase the likelihood of snagging an interview, prospective employees and applicants are seeking new, innovative ways their resumes and written presentations can stand out from the crowd. Recruiters are looking beyond the superficial and for applications with depth and substance, so job seekers must package themselves in the most compelling way possible. With today’s ultra competitive job market, hiring managers are pinpointing ways in which the applicant’s background, skills and education distinguish them as the most qualified. Key among this, says Human Resources experts is the targeted ability to sell oneself and to use  how your experiences and skills directly relate to the job.

Rodney Scaife, Chief Human Resource Officer and a former Director Human Resource at  Freddie Mac says Scaife has noticed that seldom used elements such as testimonials and slogans have been incorporated into resumes and cover letters to make applicants more attractive to Hiring managers. He suggests that “applicants include a brief executive summary along with key core competencies, to begin the Resume. This will provide a snapshot and overview of your experience and what you could offer a company as well as display your fit for the role you’re  seeking.”

Though there has been a hiring low down, the federal government is still hiring. Applying for a position within the federal government the process is more rigorous and can be bewildering than in the private sector. But more than catchy resume call-outs, must  meet the professional and technical qualifications or mandatory technical qualifications. Hiring managers, says  Patrina Clark, Chief Human Capital Officer of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, are impervious to pretty resumes, clever formatting and euphemistic skills and experience, and are focused strictly on qualifications.  Clarke explains applicants for federal jobs must first meet the basic non-negotiable criteria of Qualified Better Qualified or Best Qualified, in order to move to the next phase, which is the call back interview. Mandatory Technical Qualification or Professional Technical Qualification zero in on the relevant areas. “Structure and tailor your resume so that it answers those requirements and it screams your qualifications. Highlight accomplishments in a way that stands out to someone who doesn’t know you.” It’s your job Clarke  says, “To make it easy for recruiters to connect the dots between job performance, what you’ve studied and know and how they directly support your qualifications.”  This includes volunteer activities, professional groups and affiliations. Human Resource specialists evaluate resumes based on the specific skills and requirements of the position. Clarke says “The key is to structure your resume so that it is targets and responds to the specifics  of the announcement.  Human Resources must get a strong sense that you understand the organization and the job to which you are applying.” Scaife  agrees, “I also look for the story being told throughout their experiences, job selections, and company selections.  This tells me if the individual is “Managing” their career or simply seeking their next “Job”. 

The job search process and capabilities have changed dramatically because of the tremendous impact of technology and powered by the emergence of social media. Although resumes remains of extreme importance, and a key evolution has been the movement of  most search firms and recruiters toward online sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter to find candidates. Scaife also sees more request for candidates to submit resumes, cover letters and writing samples online via the company website. Scaife suggests, “As you draft your resume, focus on “Key Words” and “Search” terms to insure that your resume will surface when recruiters are establishing search queries for key skills and qualifications for a particular position.”  He stresses that candidates’ failure to focus on  the digital aspect of the process is major reason that most resumes are not surfaced for a position.  

Kevin Carrington, President, DC Chapter of NAAAHR and Vice President, and Federal Practice Leader The Segal Company, a Human Resource and Benefits Consulting firm  says, the ability to illustrate your knowledge and expertise beyond the topical buzzwords. Carrington states, ” In today’s job market, many applicants may have to forfeit a prestigious title to get hired. But, “It’s essential that you indicate in written communications how your skills and experience are transferrable in the environment even if the title is lower.”

Carrington says Testimonials, resumes, portfolios and other written materials should reflect extensive on the job training and experience rather than a novice trying to break into the profession He adds “What jumps out are applicants whose materials show value-added skills and ways they can apply them in the new spot and how you can hit the ground running.”

 The experts also caution, however, that if you’re applying for a position out of desperation or for topical reasons such as perks and befits that will shine through. Each agency is unique with a different culture so Clarke urges job seekers to read the posting thoroughly and carry out due diligence before applying. She concludes, “Resume and presentation should say, ‘I believe you would be hard pressed to find someone better qualified than I.'”


 

 

For decades, the Brooks Brothers brand has been synonymous with high-end, custom designed suits and clothing that transport wearers from the board room to the gold course and beyond.  Meet one of the men that ushers everyone from moguls to captains of industry through the plush halls of expertly designed, tailored clothing that suits every lifestyle need.  

Responsibilities: Brand, market and specialize Brooks Brothers Made to Measure service, an option for exclusive, high-net worth clientele.  The service allows clients to purchase fashion and fabric for their wardrobe that are tailored around their lifestyle needs and that take them from boardroom and the gold course to dinner with clients.  This custom service allows for a fit more tailored to the client using Brooks Brothers’ exclusive silhouettes: Fitzgerald; Madison; Milano and Regent.

Last Position: Previously, Cooke worked in Merchandising and Sales division at Cherry Hills, New Jersey based HS Management for 5 years. Following, he operated his own freestanding boutique, Paris Europa, which specialized in luxury, high-end lifestyle clothing and sportswear.

As one of few Master Specialist under the Made to Measure service, an average session with Cooke has a premium of $2,000-5,000 of retail experience. This comprises his expertise and the purchase of suits, shirts, ties, sport coats and footwear. He also has the unique opportunity to schedule appointments with executives in their homes as well as present proposals for his unique services. With entre into this rarefied world, he also has a coveted opportunity to introduce who may benefit from facilitate networking and business opportunity between movers and shakers from diverse industries. Cooke cultivates contacts to enhance Brooks Brothers’ brand and to create and promulgate a more exclusive, personalized shopping experience that is private and extensive.  

Remarkably, Cooke’s began his career at Brooks Brothers one year ago as a specialized Sales Associate. In that time, he has been promoted twice up to his current position. Due to the change in consumer buying habits in the aftermath of the economic downturn, Cooke took off a season to analyses his career options and to move closer to family in Philadelphia. Fortuitously, this break coincided with the company’s hiring needs.    

Training: Cooke brought to Brooks Brothers 25 years of experience in haberdashery and luxury clothing. “My initial training came from working in my own store. As Cooke has exceled in his new role, he has become a blue print of sorts for aspiring specialists and a model for the ideal way the brand wishes to conduct consumer relations. He serves not only a brand ambassador, Cooke exemplifies the company’s signature customer service through his communications style, preemptive services and his execution of the all-important follow-up service which transforms patrons into lifelong clients.

Talents: To excel in this new position, Cooke has cultivated exemplary listening and communicating skills that have been instrumental to the way he services customers. “Self-confidence is very important in knowing how and when to engage clients.”  

Because the role entails knowing and retaining personal and even intimate details of the client’s life and needs, refined communication is key component of success.  “The role comes with the lifestyle consultation that reveals when and where the clothing will be worn as well as the image and impression they wish to present and represent.”

Skills: Cook’s success comes in large part from a combination of his seasoned style and fabric acumen, humility and confidence delivered in a cultured setting. He explains, “It is a delicate balance of knowing when to showcase the product, when to listen to the client’s needs and when to cede to his/her desires.” Furthermore, he says, “The customer is right initially, but after fifteen minutes they defer to my expertise.” Knowing how to maneuver around what they think is best and the image they have of themselves against what works best is requires a delicate dance of diplomacy and knowledge.  Trust and relationship building has also been very important to Cook’s success and ability to increase and service his clientele. Cook’s longstanding customer trusts not only his knowledge and expertise in style and fabric but also depend on his discretion with intimate financial knowledge. “For some clients, I order select merchandise preemptively, up to 90% of which is retained.” For captain of industry who travel frequently or may clock long hours in board rooms, this is an invaluable service on which they depend.  Although not a necessary aspect of his position, Cook is also proficient in taking measurement, a skill usually left to the tailor but which has served him well in assessing and ensuring an ideal cut. ”I have a natural affinity for numbers. If a client has a wider girth (and has a Fitzgerald silhouette suit), my experience tells me where to add more room while retaining a slimming fit. Or I know that the over-arm measurement is detrimental to a garment’s fitting well and comfortably, so I take care with both. These are specifics that clients appreciate.”   

Learning Curve: Navigating the world of affluence and influence can be fraught with tension and ego. Cooke says, “Know when to digress and even be able to concede that you cannot satisfy the customers’ desires in a manner that is inoffensive and even helpful.  This may even entail recommending a competitor. In so doing, Cooke must safeguard both his professional reputation and that of the company.  

Advice for aspiring Specialists:  Study the product thoroughly, Cooke advises. “This encompasses knowing the history of the brand, origin of the signature patterns and silhouettes, fabric, style, color palettes, and measurements.  

What are the opportunities? Cooke aspires to train associates who have illustrated an aptitude in this area to become Master Specialists in Brook Brothers’ flagship stores.

Best lesson learned: Cooke’s motto is “Promise less and deliver more.”

 

 Originally published in and for Black Enterprise magazine

at http://www.blackenterprise.com/2012/04/01/the-perfect-fit/

In less than five years, social media has revolutionized not only our communication culture but how we conduct business. The dizzying effect of unlimited—and sometimes unfettered—24-hour access to people and information has transformed the various tools into a game changer.
There is a broad and increasing list of sites, including BlinkList, YouTube , Delicious, Flickr, Tumblr, BlogMarks.net, and the triumvirate of major sites: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These social destinations have become to business professionals and entrepreneurs what golf is to C-suite powerbrokers—an opportunity to strategically network and close deals based on shared interests and personal engagement. But these sites do more, by offering users valuable real estate to advertise products or services, create and expand brand recognition, solicit feedback, build relationships, and create community forums. Users also have unprecedented access to consumers, hiring managers, prospective clients, industry experts, and opportunities.

Moreover, social media levels the playing field by allowing anyone access without restrictions on time, location, or social status.
The most diligent and creative players are reaping huge benefits. According to a report from Forrester Research, 55.6 million U.S. adults—just shy of one-third of the population—visited social networks at least monthly in 2009, an increase from 18% in 2008. Recent Nielsen research says Americans spend nearly 25% of their time online on social networks and blogs, up from nearly 16% a year ago. The initial foray into social media can be daunting and bewildering. Newcomers to the space might wonder: Who’s reading? Will I be heard or noticed? Isn’t it all just fun and games? Isn’t it invasive? Making the effort worthwhile requires time, patience, and a work-smart-not-hard strategy. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a corporate professional, the success of marketing your products, businesses, or your personal brand will be determined by how well you engage interest on the varying platforms. In part one of a series on social media strategies, Black Enterprise offers some tips to get you connected.

What Business Owners Should Know
Finding out who your customers are and how they like to be served is essential for the success of any business. Questions and surveys offered on social media platforms can help business owners quickly access that information. Jason Burton, social media strategist and marketing director of Lab 5702, a boutique marketing solutions firm in Kansas City, Missouri, says such data can help you position your product to broader groups outside your initial base of contacts. “Put your product in front of the trendsetters or the next level of users,” he suggests. “Targeted searches let you drill down beneath the surface to find followers and potential influencers that can use or promote your product or service.”

Location-based social mapping services such as Foursquare , Google Latitude , Loopt, Facebook Places, and MyTown allow consumers to benefit from their influence. For example, if you visit your favorite flower shop in Tucson and tweet it to your followers, you get $2 off your purchase. The greater the network and influence, the bigger the discount. These services also enable users to find friends and events; share locations, updates, tips, photos, and comments; and share across online social networks and blogs. Loopt has more than 4 million registered users and partnerships with every major U.S. mobile phone carrier and is available on more than 100 smartphones, including the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android. Google Latitude and Foursquare boast more than 3 million users each. Greater social media interactivity has been facilitated by mobile apps such as ÜberTwitter, MobileLinked IM, and Nimbuzz . According to a Juniper Research report, the number of downloads from mobile application stores is expected to rise from fewer than 2.6 billion per year in 2009 to more than 25 billion in 2015.

What Corporate Professionals Should Know
Carmen Hudson, CEO of Tweetajob in Seattle, oversaw employer branding campaigns when she was senior manager of talent acquisition for Yahoo and has witnessed the shift in recruitment practices. “Companies are cultivating and marketing a brand that attracts and is attractive to certain types of candidates,” she explains. For companies such as Yahoo, Starbucks, Apple, and Microsoft, social media is increasingly at the forefront of that strategy. Recruiters will, for instance, use LinkedIn to create a search stream of attributes to find precisely the type of candidates hiring managers are looking for with minimal time and fuss. Moreover, Hudson adds, “They’re also looking at how many followers you have. Do you have a strong network? If you’re an expert, friends and/or follower numbers are strong indicators of that.”

A Jump Start Social Media survey of hiring managers indicates that 66% go to LinkedIn to find candidates for openings, 23% go to Facebook, and 16% to Twitter. “Job seekers who frequently post and update profiles are nimble and often get to job opportunities first,” Hudson says.
“Recruitment officers can execute a well-rounded and more diverse search, through a search stream of attributes because they now can meet candidates where they play,” says Hudson. At the same time, companies can promote the brand and the company message, which gives the job seeker a more informed perspective on the companies as potential employers.

How to Maximize Social Media Marketing to Promote Your Brand or Business
• A blogging platform such as WordPress or Blogspot, is essential, advises Warren Laidler, webmaster and creative director of DeLite Multimedia] in New York City. Blogs have greater potential for organic leads because their content-rich nature makes them more search engine friendly. Search engines love content-driven platforms and rank them higher than static websites. “Think of your blog as a launch pad or hub for your enterprise. Your social media efforts should lead back to your blog or website, which should be dynamic and informative, providing content and information that encourages visitors not only to return, but to distribute your content to their network.”

• Blogs or websites should contain SEO, or search engine optimized, keywords and phrases that help visitors find the business when they search via Google, Yahoo, Bing], and others. Laidler also suggests pulling in RSS feeds and useful links into your blog. “RSS feeds allow you to import content from outside sources and are a great way to share information that visitors find interesting.”

• Work on engagement and consistency. For example, your Twitter timeline should be a combination of original updates, retweets, or shares from other sources, replies from connections, inspirational quotes, and trending topics. A standard formula is two to four tweets per day. Positive activity can also blossom quickly and create buzz that reaches well beyond a business’ core audience. In the virtual world, consumers and job seekers can become influencers and trendsetters by persuading their network to take action or buy a product or service. Laidler suggests using tools like Klout or Twittergrader.com to measure your social media influence and find out the reach of your Twitter posts.

• Choose a picture for your social media avatar, rather than a logo, advises Joel Comm, social media expert and New York Times best-selling author of Twitter Power. “People like faces associated with companies. Customize your Twitter background. Use photos, links, contact information, RSS feeds, etc. to individualize and promote your brand.”

• Choose a third-party application or service, such as TweetDeck or Hoote Suite, SocialOomph and Twaitter, which allows quick, easy distribution of posts and other content among multiple social media sites. “You can incorporate plug-ins or apps on the sidebar of your blog page that allows visitors to easily access all your social media,” says Laidler. “All social media sites have plug-ins or widgets that allow fast, easy updates with one click.”

• Don’t follow everyone who follows you on Twitter. Conduct targeted keyword searches for individuals, companies, and other industry players who are important to you or who you want to have as a client.

• Show off your expertise. If you’re in business, you’re already an expert with valuable information people want to know, Comm says. Use your talents, passion, ability, and personality to your advantage.

This article was originally published at:
http://www.blackenterprise.com/2010/10/15/whats-your-social-media-strategy/

Freelance Nation

by: Kate Lister | August 23, 2010

Call them what you like–contractors, temps, outsourced workers, freelancers, day laborers or, as one recent doomsday article suggested, disposable workers. Whatever the term, businesses are calling them more these days.

An overwhelming 90 % of U.S. companies outsource at least some of their work, according to a survey by the Human Capital Institute, a global association of talent management groups. Some outsource almost all of it, and more are heading in that direction: The average portion of work outsourced has grown from 6 percent to more than 27 % since 1990. A third of employers report using more contract employees in the past few years–not typical in a recession–and expect to use even more in the future.
“Outsourcing is no longer considered a temporary fix to a short-term need,” says Katie Ratkiewicz, a practice leader for the institute. “Instead, it’s being redefined as a permanent fixture in organizational makeup.”

Danny Wong used that model when he co-founded his startup, Blank-Label.com, a Wellesley, Mass., maker of custom men’s dress shirts. Wong keeps the core team small–eight staffers in total–and outsources about 60 hours a week of e-mails, live chat, programming and content creation. “Once we’d answered the same customer question for the hundredth time, we knew it was time to outsource customer service, too,” he says. “It increased our quality of life and the quality of our service.”

Indeed, outsourcing at its best can expand your talent pool as well as save you money, allow you to quickly adjust to changes in demand, attract workers who prefer flexible schedules and keep you technologically current. All of these reasons and more are why outsourcing is being touted from most corners of the business world, and why there are so many new converts. Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance, one of the largest freelance job boards with more than 30,000 new projects posted every month, calls outsourcing “a new, leaner way to start and grow a company with a lot less overhead.” “Suddenly,” he says, “small businesses are operating like mini multinationals.” What’s discussed less often, though, is how different it is to hire and manage a team of freelance workers versus an in-house staff. Just think about it: Outsourcing exposes your intellectual property, trade secrets and customer information. It places your corporate memory and business functions in the hands of outsiders. And–if it’s managed incorrectly–it can trigger a nightmare of investigations and costly penalties from the IRS, Department of Labor and other government agencies, all of which are increasing their oversight.

So is outsourcing for you? And if so, how can you get the most out of it? We consulted human resource experts, outsourcing specialists, lawyers and some of the largest HR associations in the country. Here is their best advice.

Choose the RIght Jobs
Back in 1989, management guru Charles Handy predicted a “shamrock organization,” with one leaf representing the “core” staff, another the “process” areas such as IT, customer service or financial management, and the third leaf representing “projects” groups, such as graphic design, article writing or search engine optimization.

The role of those core people–the cultural center of your organization–is to drive and direct the process and projects groups. Core workers should not be outsourced.

Hour By Hour
On a strict dollar-per-hour basis, outsourcing may not appear to save you money, but not having a fixed commitment to an employee will almost certainly represent a huge savings in the long run. As an example, government numbers show the following average cost for a salaried graphic artist. –K.L.StafferHourly rate based on salary: $20.38Benefits and taxes (32.85%): $6.70Office space (230 square feet at $34 per square foot): $3.91Technology (amortized over life): $1.47Total hourly cost: $32.46ContractorAccording to PayScale.com, the average self-employed graphic artist charges $16.44 to $46.32 per hour. Rates on the freelance job boards range between $10 and $30 per hour.
It may make sense to outsource in one of the other areas if the job requires skills or expertise you don’t often need; tools and technologies you don’t need to own; or special cultural, geographic or industry expertise. FreelancersUnion.org, a nonprofit organization that represents 140,000 independent workers, shows that graphic designers, writers, information technology professionals, artists, editors, photographers, web developers, and media production and marketing professionals are the top outsourced talent. But whatever you’re considering, don’t expect outsourced workers to function completely on their own.

“Employers often outsource because they think it will be cheaper, but there’s a lot involved in establishing processes outside your own organization,” says Sajeel Qureshi, vice president of operations for Computan, a web applications developer in Canada with more than 1,000 customers worldwide. “If you don’t spend the time to teach an outsider your business, don’t expect them to perform as an employee–who has the benefit of cultural immersion–would.”

For example, a public relations agency may have the contacts, relationships and expertise to deliver your message better than anyone on staff, but the PR agency knows nothing about your business and if you don’t teach it, you’ll be wasting your money. The need is even greater, Qureshi points out, if you’re an international operation working across multiple cultures.

Find the Right People

Ron Holifield, CEO of Strategic Government Resources, a Keller, Texas, firm that specializes in training for local government agencies, has almost 200 client cities in 11 states. The company trains more than 1,000 city workers each month, conducts a dozen executive searches per year, operates the largest public sector job board in the nation and does consulting for local governments–all with only eight staff employees.

As a former city manager with 2,500 employees, Holifield knew he didn’t want the headache and cash flow strain of a large staff. So his employees provide the central management, and the outsourced talent is mostly baby boomers who offer years of expertise.

Knowing the kind of person you want is as key in an outsourced job as it is in a staff slot. Start your search with people you know–a trusted advisor, employee, peer or former employee who left on good terms. To expand your search, consider:

Business referrals: See a website, logo or widget you like? Ask the owner if he’d recommend the company that produced it.
· Freelance job boards: Elance, vWorker and oDesk are top among the websites where you can list your project for open bidding, or choose who you want to bid based on their portfolios or other criteria.
· Web searches: If you’re looking for a writer, approach a blogger, freelance writer or author you like.
· Want ads: Check Craigslist, Monster or CareerBuilder.
· Social networks: See LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networks.
· Cloudsourcing: Websites such as crowdSPRING, 99designs, BootB, MEDIAmobz, IdeaScale, Squadhelp and InnoCentive offer forums where you can post your projects and generate dozens of solutions.
· Staffing agencies: They may be more expensive, but they assume all of the recruiting, hiring, training, management and legal responsibilities.
“Finding the right people is difficult whether you outsource or hire, but with freelance talent, we’re able to test them out,” says Wong, the custom shirt maker, who uses oDesk.
Instead of relying on writers’ sample articles–not always a good indication of ability–Wong asks new contract writers to set their first deadline and judges them by what he gets. (He also coaches them along the way and doesn’t expect them to understand all the nuances of his business.)

“It’s an easy and inexpensive way to find people who can handle the work,” Wong says. If he finds someone who’s reliable and doesn’t need micromanaging, he’ll pay a higher rate.
But even with careful vetting, Wong has been stung. “There have been many times that we’ve been stuck with truly awful contractors,” he says.

Many freelancers, he warns, see you as just another project, another paycheck. “You need to find people who really care, who see the potential for a long-term relationship with you, and then nurture them.”

Manage the Right Way
Managing outside talent requires different techniques. You’re not their only client. You may not even be their most important one. They’re not trying to climb your organizational ladder. They may not even be someone you’d want to work with over the long term. They have a job to do and, if you’ve hired right, they want to do it well. But you’re not their boss in the traditional sense.

“If you’re micromanaging, you’ve hired the wrong person,” Wong says. “You need specific measurable goals that define success. The result is what matters, not the process.”

Says Qureshi: “Remember that when you outsource, you become the customer. It’s the contractor’s job to make sure you’re happy. When outsourcing to a large organization, be sure there’s a good account manager between you and the work being done–someone you can call when things aren’t going right.”

Outsourcing can affect staff morale: Employees can become fearful or resentful of the outside workers. But you can avoid the biggest problems by keeping desirable work for your employees. Farm out the undesirable work, and make sure employees understand the reason behind the rate difference between contractors and employees (such as lack of benefits, job security and the employer’s share of taxes).

Consider, too, the risk of information loss or intellectual property issues. Qureshi advises documenting any work as a work-for-hire to give you, not the contractor, ownership of the work.

Also consider including a non-disclosure and/or noncompete agreement. Holifield has found it useful to require contractors to sign a non-compete agreement. Keep in mind, though, that many U.S. contracts are invalid or unenforceable in other countries.

Cheap communications and support services such as Google Docs, Skype, Facebook and others make it easy and inexpensive to find and manage a cadre of remote talent, says Thomas Malone, a professor of management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of The Future of Work.

“I still see a huge, untapped potential in outsourcing,” Malone says. “Technology is what makes it easy, but the fact that outsourcing offers freedom and flexibility for both employers and employees is what will really drive it forward.”

The IRS is Watching
Government agencies are ramping up their oversight of employers who use freelance workers
It is one of the ironies of outsourcing: You want to find freelancers who function as smoothly and effectively as staffers. But if you treat freelancers too much like employees, you are liable to be penalized by the IRS and other government agencies for “worker misclassification.”
And employers have never been more vulnerable. In February, the IRS began a three-year initiative to crack down on worker misclassification. Six thousand businesses have already been targeted for audit.
At the same time, President Obama’s budget proposal for 2011 includes $25 million in new Department of Labor spending, including 100 new employees to ramp up enforcement of employee misclassification.
Worker misclassification occurs when a government entity decides that a contractor, freelancer, temp, or 1099 worker is really an employee and entitled to the benefits and protections dictated by employment law. On the financial side, they want the income from the employer’s share of taxes (Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, workers’ compensation).
What can misclassification cost you? According to James Coleman, partner with Constangy, Brooks & Smith, a national labor and employment law firm, the IRS may go after all sums that should have been withheld retroactively, including the employer’s share of Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, interest and penalties.
Misclassification actions brought by the Department of Labor can result in retroactive minimum wage, overtime, liquidated damages equal to the back wages and an award of costs and attorneys’ fees.
Obama’s budget proposal also calls for better collaboration between state and federal efforts to identify misclassified workers. So, once a business has been tagged, it will likely be subject to additional investigations by other agencies.
Certain industries with a history of misclassification are being targeted: trucking, construction, restaurants, grocery stores, janitorial, business services, child care, poultry and meat processing, landscaping and home healthcare. But any company that issues a large number of 1099s or has a relatively large percentage of independent contractors versus zero employees has higher potential for an audit.
Also, many audits are triggered by a claim for workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits from a contractor. Others are brought about when one or more contingent workers decides to sue. In addition, the IRS Whistleblower Program allows a disgruntled worker or competitor to pocket 15 percent to 30 percent of the amount collected if the company is found to be in violation.
Although some federal and state agencies mirror the IRS rules, many do not, so it’s crucial that you seek the advice of an attorney if you have any doubt about worker classification.
The IRS website, irs.gov, explains the criteria for determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. They fall into three categories:
· Behavioral: No-nos include telling contractors where, when or how and in what sequence they’re to perform their job; providing training; requiring them to use or purchase certain tools or supplies; evaluating how work is performed rather than the result.

· Financial: Contractors should have an investment in their own businesses, have an opportunity for profit or loss, not be reimbursed for all expenses, make their services available to the public, and, in most cases, be paid by the project rather than hourly.
· Type of relationship: There should be a contract and, preferably, work should be off-site. Contractors should not receive benefits, be guaranteed a continuing relationship, do work that’s similar to work done by employees (now or in the past) or perform work that’s a key business function.

Originally published on http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217195

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