Influencers Who Inspire Series: Ramon Ray of SmallBizTechnology.com

We begin our PerkettPR “Influencers Who Inspire” series with a chat with Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com.

Ramon is a journalist, technology evangelist & editor of Smallbiztechnology.com, author of “Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses” & “Technology Resources for Growing Businesses” and a national, in-demand speaker.

What made you choose journalism as a profession? 

I didn’t choose it,  it chose me and it was quite accidental. I just really loved to write and so I started writing, then one day Black Enterprise and Inc. Magazine said could you write some articles for us – and the rest is history :)

What four  or five things are always “routine” in your day?

Deleting email, sorting email, sending email, toggling tons of tabs in my browser, wishing I could do puppet shows for poor kids in Mexico, Dominican Republic or somewhere.

Why is small business technology news of interest to you in particular? What has it taught you?

Not sure. I’ve always been a tech tinkerer (as in take apart talking teddy bears in the 1970′s/80′s, shutting off the lights in my home, etc). I think this love of tech and the blend of my love of reading/writing became the love of small business technology news. It has taught me that things change, companies go and come but relationships are forever, ideas are a dime a dozen, successful execution is all that matters.

 Over the years you have had the opportunity to interview some truly great public figures and influencers (such as Hillary Clinton). What has been your favorite interview thus far? Why?

A few things stand out… Back in the days when I didn’t know how to be a journalist I tried to slip Bill Gates a hand written note. His team saw it and took the note away. I didn’t know you were supposed to asked his PR person to interview him. This was many years ago.  I opened an event for Michael Dell and he said he read my blog – that was cool.  Scott Trip founder of TripIt – his story of his company’s growth was really nice (listen to customers). In another context I’ve meet President Obama, President Bush (both) and several other heads of state.  I also really love SXSW and other events where I can meet with my media peers from the world of small business.

What tips do you have to help PR professionals better work with you?

True relationships are so important; where I like you and you like me. Not giving me a story that does not fit. Knowing that I love the story and the market at times more than the feeds and speeds of a product. I like talking to people, but I’m also a massive reader so I get much more (at times) out of some video, blog posts, pdfs and other things than a phone call with an executive running a prepared PPT.  NOTE: the PPT talks are GOOD I just mean that there are other ways to get one’s message across.

What advice would you give to a small business to help them continue to compete with larger competitors this year?

Wow….I could write a book on that.

1)  Be honest

2) Over give

3) Be very excited

4) Do not take NO for an answer

5) There is plenty of room at the table for the big guys and the little guys

6) Fit in where you can and show your value

7) Don’t be afraid of big companies – even those who are direct competitors

8) Big companies who are evaluating you and a bigger one of your competitors will give you a big chance if you’re prepared

9) If you screw up, fess up and OVER make it right

10) I could go on…

You traveled a lot as executive producer of the Small Business Technology Tour and for other events you attended in 2011. What travel secrets save you time, money or sanity when you are on the road?

Plan in advance. Be redundant (I often have 2 notebooks, a tablet and 2 phones) failure is NOT an option. Leverage your network of friends. Pay people (even friends/or “child labor”) for work done (even if you ask for a discount). Review, review, review. Get a team member (I have lots of areas where I’m not so great – hence my team shine in those areas), have a virtual team – even if you are solo,  your virtual 1099 team can do wonders.

How do you unwind after a hectic work week? Do you have any interesting hobbies or little known facts about yourself you would like to share?

I play piano, love doing puppet shows, love joking around and laughing loud, love great food at restaurants (I hate those restaurants that give you a big white plate and a tiny piece of food and charge you $78 for it), watching movies (Bourne, Bauer, Ethan (as in MI3) are my heroes and others like that). But really in my downtime – I TOTALLY ENJOY email, RSS feeds, Twitter – related to small biz tech (I know it’s lame but I really, really LOVE IT).

What are you most looking forward to in 2012?

I’d love to speak lots more to audiences on tech, marketing/pr and/or entrepreneurship. I’d love to provide more content on my own site and for others. I’d love to speak lots more to audiences on tech, marketing/pr and/or entrepreneurship (you know I think I wrote that twice..hmmm). Event production is tough, but I really love it and I think I do it well so working with bigger companies to produce events for their audiences would be like mint!

I’m looking forward to being 40 years old in 2012!

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Do you have any follow-up questions for Ramon? Suggestions for other influencers you would like to see interviewed in the PerkettPR Influencers Who Inspire Series? Please add them in the comments below.

PerkettPR’s Interview Series “Persuasive Women” – Shelli Johnson

PerkettPR is pleased to continue our series of “Persuasive Women” interviews with Shelli Johnson, a life/leadership coach, consultant and entrepreneur who lives on the Frontier of Wyoming. Shelli shares her thoughts on living life to the fullest and how she pushes herself and others to take on new challenges and pursue new goals. We think you will truly enjoy and benefit from her motivational answers to our questions. Shelli spent 15 years building her first business, Yellowstone Journal Corporation/NationalParkTrips.com, before selling it in September 2008 to Active Interest Media (owner of Backpacker, Yoga Journal, & other magazines).

In addition to consulting and writing, Shelli is a life/leadership coach with the mission to help others create a life of meaning. Her coaching business, Epic Life, is unique in that it offers on-demand coaching throughout the year with an option to include an epic, outdoor adventure in an awe-inspiring place.

Shelli’s own blog is HaveMediaWillTravel.com. Topics include adventure, travel, family, leadership, etc.

Our Q&A:

You are a wife, mother, life coach, writer, consultant… and still find the time to embark on life-changing adventures (such as your backpacking adventure in Alaska). How do you fit it all in?

I make it all fit in. There’s a difference between a full life and a busy life. Mine is a full life.

To fit it all in, one has to know what’s important in her/his life and what isn’t. It sounds cliché, but every morning, I consider that today could be my last. None of us knows how much time we have left. (I have a 52-year-old girlfriend who died, suddenly, of an aneurysm a week ago Wednesday.)

If today will be my last, how will I live it? Ask this question, seriously, and you get to the heart of what’s important real fast. This type of thinking is a motivator that helps me fit all that is important into my day, and to not waste time on that which isn’t.

Speaking of important, my husband of 19 years, Jerry, and our three sons, are wonderful blessings and a huge support in my life. Without them, my life would not be full. They deserve a lot of credit for my life.

There are more practical reasons I am able to fit it all in. For one, I wake up and work out at 4 a.m. three times a week. After we had our first son, it was 6 a.m. After our second son, it was 5 a. m. After our third son, who is 4, it became 4 a.m. Waking this early works well for me. It “creates” time for me, energizes me, which causes me to be more productive during the day, and it provides a tremendous health benefit.

Second, I live by my calendar. I put a lot of emphasis on planning each month, and then I stick to the plan. If I set “rules,” I tend to honor them. Good planning means I can tackle one day at a time, focusing on the present – rather than worrying about the future. (This is no small thing for me, a predisposed worrier.)

Third, I live on the Frontier of Wyoming, which means my commute, if I choose to have one, is an 8-minute walk or a 2-minute drive. (My office is a 1973 RV parked by the river.) When you live in a small town, where everything is nearby, there’s not much time spent running errands or to appointments. So, I no doubt have more available time in my life because I live in a small town.

Fourth, inspired people tend to be more vital. Wyoming provides me not only with more time, but also more space. I love the expansiveness of my backyard, Wyoming’s Wind River Range. All of the things my family and I enjoy doing, and that most inspire me, are right here. Most days, I wake up inspired.

Finally, I say “no” a lot. When you get to be 43, and you’re a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, business owner and adventure-seeker, you have to say “no” more often, or suffer the consequences. Like I said, life is short.

As for fitting in epic adventures, I include a number of them in my life each year. These are not vacations. There’s nothing leisurely about them. They grow and inspire me. I become more as a result of them. And, interestingly, except for my recent NOLS Alaska Brooks Range backpacking adventure, these adventures are not costing me much in the way of time. For example, it cost me only one day (23 hours) to hike 44 miles, crossing the Grand Canyon and back, and another long day (20 hours) to hike 48 miles across Zion National Park. Yet what I gain from a single-day, epic adventure, is lasting.

I should mention that I don’t fit it all in, 365 days a year. Some days I fail miserably at doing so. The wheels come off; things happen that weren’t planned, or I am just tired, and I waste a day or three. But, hopefully, this is the exception, not the rule.

On your blog, you talk a lot about “route finding.” Can you explain this concept a bit further?

By “route finding,” I mean being at choice in life. We go through each day, week, month, year and decade with endless opportunities to choose how we want to live our life. Routes represent choices. In life, you arrive at forks in the road. You can take a common route or get off the trail and chart your own course. Route finding is a metaphor I can relate to because in the outdoors, I route find a lot. I often follow a trail, but I also like to go off-trail for purposes of exploring and to experience a different vantage. Sometimes one choice is harder, but the rewards are greater. Or, it could be that the hard way is just the right way. Or, sometimes it just makes practical sense to take the safe and easy way.

We make choices and we are, largely, the result of them. Our life is a story. The key is to have an active role in that story, and to actively choose and determine how your story plays out. Route finding refers to the choices we make along the way that impact our life. (Choices, by the way, also include choosing how to react when things don’t go as planned.)

In your adventures, you have pushed yourself to take the “high route” and push yourself more physically. What motivates you to continuously challenge yourself in this manner?

Family hikes, ski trips, trail runs and bike rides are physical pursuits that inspire me and keep me fit and healthy. These activities are fun and they fill me up, while creating wonderful family memories.

On the other hand, an adventure that pushes me physically, mentally and emotionally, and makes me uncomfortable much of the time, is what I call “epic.” Why do I do these epic adventures is a question I get asked a lot. There are moments during an epic adventure that take my breath away and fill me with overwhelming joy. This is why I’m drawn to natural, awe-inspiring settings in the first place. It’s a given that the views will take my breath away, and yes, that’s a big selling point for me when it comes to an epic adventure. But that is only the beginning.

There are also mentally challenging moments during an epic adventure when I want to quit, and in fact it would be easier to quit, and I may exclaim to myself, “Whose idea was this?” These are the times my saboteur shows up. And let me tell you, I can negotiate and argue with myself pretty effectively to continue – or to quit. I can make compelling arguments on both sides of the issue, but I only want the story to end in one way, and that is as a success. The whole experience causes you to discover and know yourself; there’s no hiding. The kind of pushing myself that is required of these epic adventures means I will have this opportunity to choose the hard thing, to beat down my saboteur(s), so to speak.

In my experience, the harder I work at something, the greater the reward. The view is always grander after hiking up a hill. And, chances are I’ve learned a great deal more in the process than had I stayed on the (safer, more predictable) trail, or on “lower ground.” So, the more physically challenging an adventure is, the bigger the pay off. No doubt, the accomplishment is part of the lure. The accomplishments mean something to me, and help me, in all areas of life when I lack courage or confidence.

There are also moments during these epic hikes when I’m emotionally tender. I am often moved to tears during the later stages of these adventures. The end, which typically amounts to more of a solitary march than a hike, sometimes during the dark of night, is very personal for me. About 95% of the personal growth I experience on an epic adventure happens during this last 5% of it. During this stage, I am humbled, and have the most clarity about what’s most important in my life. It makes for a great ending. This emotional part of the adventure, despite its difficulty, is one of the reasons I keep going back for more. It is what makes me more, and better than I was before.

Although building a business isn’t physical, it has similarities to an epic adventure. Building our first business, Yellowstone Journal Corporation/NationalParkTrips, over the course of 15 years was like climbing a mountain, complete with hard work, loose terrain, “false summits,” exposure, risks, uncertainty, disappointment, pain, re-routing, falls, storms and other difficult factors. But, ultimately, there were many rewards, which made it all worth it.

Whether it’s in my personal life or a business pursuit, it’s this combination of going further than I have gone before, and expanding all of my capabilities, that grows me, and makes me better. Why wouldn’t I make time for things that make me better? When at your best, you participate in your life more. It’s a lot of work, but as far as I can tell, the result is all upside.

As a goal-oriented person, how do you personally prioritize your goals?

It goes back to the first question. I really try to live like I’m dying. I spend a lot of time getting clear, and reminding myself of who and what are most important in my life. And then my first priority is honoring these people and things. They are at the top of my life. When I’m not honoring one of these, a sort of “service engine soon” alert goes off in me, causing concern (and insomnia).

My family comes first. My cell phone is shut down from Friday evening until early Monday morning. Weekends, especially, are for family, although we have ‘lots of family time and traditions built in during the week, as well. Other important relationships are also a priority, and I schedule time for them. For example, I have a standing date on Wednesday afternoon to have tea with my parents.

I just read a book where the authors interviewed 104 hospice patients. At the end of their lives, when asked what brought them the most joy and meaning, every single one of the patients answered: relationships. It wasn’t work or things they did. It was the people in their lives that mattered most. I think this is a good lesson for the rest of us, especially when it comes to prioritizing.

I still have work to do to create more time with family and friends. Then come all the other priorities, which include coaching calls, writing, marketing, consulting, meetings, reading/researching/learning, and the list goes on. Google calendar keeps it all organized for me.

Another tool I use for prioritizing is routine. I try to create good habits and then develop them into routine. Routine means not having to spend energy or self-control on making decisions throughout the day and week.

Finally, this may seem like an answer to a different question, but because it’s a priority it comes up for me. We each have one body. Why wouldn’t we want it to operate optimally. Eat right and exercise and you have more energy. Everything is better. If you value your life, taking care of your health has to be a top priority. For me, it’s non-negotiable.

Have you ever encountered someone or something that has gotten in the way of attaining a goal? How did you handle it?

Sure. Often. Usually it’s myself, or my own limiting beliefs, that get in the way. I am impatient. While at times this serves me, it also costs me. I often will not achieve a goal because I try to force the timing of it. Out of my impatience, I will fight the current instead of going with the flow. I’m sure I have worn people out with my impatience. Being more patient is a forever goal for me.

I have abandoned goals when success seems unlikely. I don’t like failure, but I sure value it. I also remind myself that I’m not saving lives. Because I’m so goal-oriented it’s easy for me to get consumed by a goal and lose perspective. I’m getting better at detecting this earlier and more often during the process of trying to achieve a goal, but it’s an ongoing effort.

You have traveled quite extensively, but what is your favorite spot to visit?

Oh, I can’t answer this. The question is unreasonable! Seriously, I am very lucky to be living in my favorite place, Wyoming’s Wind River Range. My favorite travel spot is probably a national park – probably Yellowstone. But asking someone to name their favorite national park is like asking them to say whom their favorite brother or sister is. I love each national park for its own reasons. My favorite national parks are Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon and Yosemite. For cities (and culture shock), I love San Francisco and New York City. For leisure? Hawaii. Oh Hawaii, how I love thee.

What is your favorite movie or book?

I love movies, but I don’t have a favorite. Reading, on the other hand, is one of my passions. I’m a voracious reader. It’s hard for me to choose a single favorite. But, some favorites that represent a cross section, are: The Solace of Open Spaces, by Gretel Ehrlich; Endurance, by Alfred Lansing; The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig; A Pearl in the Storm, by Tori Murden McClure; Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom; Good to Great, by Jim Collins; and Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

What is your next goal (what do you have planned next)? Could you tell us a little bit about your leadership coaching business?

My focus right now is developing my life/leadership coaching business,  Epic Life. The work I want to do is inspire people to live as if they’re dying, as if every day matters. I will be asking my clients to invest six months to a year with me to do the work and make the changes that are necessary to create a life of meaning.

As my client’s life coach I am their champion, but I am more than that. I remind, and hold my client accountable, to what their life purpose is and to what they say they want their life to be.

In 2005, I hired a life coach, and it had a tremendous impact on my life. Today, even with a full life, I continue to work with a life coach. Having a champion in my corner, cheering me, but also holding me accountable, is of great value.

As a life/leadership coach, I want the hard cases. I want clients who are willing to work hard, to make hard, positive change. I think life should take your breath away. We should strive for an epic life.  Epic Life’s core offering is unique in that it combines year-round coaching (scheduled monthly, or used “on demand”), with an epic adventure. The adventure will be a sunrise-to-sunset, unforgettable experience in an awe-inspiring location.

The epic adventure serves as a platform from which clients will grow and be able to practice for life’s hardships and challenges. Part of the unique proposition of Epic Life is “leveling up” my clients. I want to choose an adventure that my client isn’t certain he/she can do, but that I know he/she can do.

Finding an adventure that will inspire my client is the easy part. To be effective, the adventure needs to also test them physically, emotionally and mentally. For example, if I have a client from San Francisco who has not hiked more than six miles in a day in the Marin Headlands, I might select 10-mile and/or all-day hike at altitude for his/her epic adventure.

My clients will gain an unforgettable experience, a significant accomplishment (inc. “bragging rights”), inspiration, expanded leadership, more confidence, increased emotional range, a health benefit, and a greater mental toughness and resilience that will serve, and better prepare, them for life’s challenges and hardships.

If I do my job well, my client will return more, and better, than he/she was before the experience. (The website and fan page for the business is under development; for information, email Shelli.)

I’m also starting work on a dream project that involves producing and publishing and what I hope will be a work that facilitates a legacy of inspirational wisdom. It is still very much in development.

Shelli Johnson’s blog is HaveMediaWillTravel.com, which includes posts about travel, adventures, life and leadership, personal development, fitness, nutrition and more.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 03/21/11

Pepsi RefreshPepsi Refresh: Social Media’s Pearl Harbor or Waterloo?
This post by Chris Yeh on the Agency Collaboration blog responds to Bob Hoffman’s “scorching” Ad Contrarian post with a fresh and insightful view on the highly publicized Pepsi Refresh campaign.

Why I’m Glad I Went to SXSW (Despite My Reluctance): One Virgin’s Experience
Fresh off the heals of our own @missusP’s post about her first-time SXSW experience comes this entertaining recap from MarketingProf‘s Ann Handley. And yes, this is the second week in a row that Ms. Handley has appeared in our picks…let the rumors begin!  ;)

Three social media marketing techniques that brands should probably ditch
Econsultancy tech reporter Patricio Robles provides a short list of social marketing techniques that brands should consider avoiding when deploying new campaigns.

Why Social Media is Perfect for Small Businesses
TMCnet.com contributing editor Gary Kim shares the results of a recent American Express survey that revealed that word of mouth is still one of the primary ways small businesses gain new customers – which is also one of the benefits of a properly executed online social strategy.

Facebook Questions Goes Where Quora Can’t
Quora certainly rocked the “buzz meter” in the beginning of 2011. ReadWriteWeb‘s Mike Melanson shares highlights from Facebook‘s announcement of its newly enhanced Questions feature that will make it more valuable to users.

Interview with Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss

We took a few minutes to sit down with one of our favorite journalists, Steve Strauss from USAToday.

Steve, who is often called “the country’s leading small business expert,” is a lawyer, author, and USATODAY.com columnist. His latest book is the Small Business Bible. Steve is also a speaker in high demand who has spoken around the world about entrepreneurship, including at the United Nations. He has been seen on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, The O’Reilly Factor, and many other shows.

What is the role of a media relations person for today’s journalist?

It is two-fold. Your job is to get your client’s name out there – and if you can help a journalist get their job done easier, then it’s a home run.

What kind of things are you looking for/writing about in the next few months?

I’m always looking for new angles around small business, something that is of general interest to a lot of small business people—something they don’t already know. A unique take or an innovative angle is always much appreciated.

How is the outlook for small business in this economy?

Everyone is past the survival mode they were in for the last two years and now they are figuring out how to grow.

What are your readers challenged by these days?

One issue that keeps coming up is how to manage social media. How much, how to make it pay off, how to make money doing it, etc.

How do you want to receive information?

I hate press releases. In fact, I occasionally give a speech that encourages people not to use a traditional press release. I like email – short, quick and snappy—from someone who knows who I am and what I am about. I’m frustrated by someone who just puts my name on a list. But, if someone knows my beat, that will really pique my interest and then I’m more likely to listen to their pitch. A short, snappy directed email works best for me.

Do you have an example of a good PR pitch?

A former journalist-turned-PR person sent me an inquiry that was just about getting to know what I wanted. No pitch, no client information. Just a basic “what can I do for you” note. That really resonated with me.

An example gone wrong?

Someone asked me to write a story, and I said yes. They provided me with the information and it sat there for a while. I just got busy. I let her know I’d write the story, I just didn’t know when. She wouldn’t stop. I understand follow up, we all have to do it. But there is a line you can’t cross. I wrote the story but I asked her not to contact me anymore.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 02/21/11

nofacebook2 Four Reasons Your Brand Should Avoid Facebook
Here we find some great considerations from Small Business Trends for small businesses on the marketing value of Facebook. Make sure you do your homework first and have a purpose for being there. Lisa Barone shares insight on the top questions to ask yourself before leaping into building a presence on Facebook (or any social media marketing channel for that matter).

The Less-Tangible ROI of Social Media
We all want to ensure our social marketing efforts are matching up to the boss’s expectations for the investment, so it can help to set goals and be tracking the less obvious benefits to your brand. Danny Wong shares his thoughts with the Huffington Post about the hidden ways we are making an impact that will demonstrate campaign value to the C-Suite and build a better understanding of its potential.

Brands That Have Mastered Content Marketing
Are you infusing your marketing strategy with content? What kind of content are you producing, and how does this tie into your marketing strategy? In one of this week’s iMediaConnection posts, Rob Rose shares his insight and explores best practices from content marketers including Kodak and Hubspot. He stresses the importance of thinking of content not as a tactic, but as a new way of shaping your entire strategy.

Does Social Media Transparency Matter in the Real World?
Before you decide on your social media transparency strategy, take a look at the questions Debra Ellis proposes on Social Media Today the real value of transparency. Are you guilty of over-sharing? Will sharing too much information take away from your competitive advantage? Does it help to leave some things to the imagination?

Seven Common PR Sins to Avoid At All Costs
Seems like simple PR 101, but some PR reps still break the rules of engagement with the journalists they try to pitch. For those starting out in their careers, Ragan.com offers a good checklist from Amanda Marsh to keep by your desk — and a good refresher for the rest of us.