Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Not Just a Living

The world can be a miraculous place if you pay attention. More and more I believe in a force that works to bring people and things together, a sort of synchronicity. Here’s my most recent example of how the universe acts on intentions.

I got an email from Mark Henricks, a freelance journalist, who writes for various major business publications including the Wall Street Journal. Mark wanted an interview for Entrepreneur magazine. I could have just written back but I had a feeling. Go to his website and learn more. So I did. Guess what, Mark and I have something in common: lifestyle entrepreneurship.

You see, Mark is the author of "Not Just a Living", a guide on a new business model. It tells the tales of hundreds of entrepreneurs who’ve taken up the challenge of creating exactly the life they desire, which includes meaningful work. Mark studies lifestyle entrepreneurs like me. It’s my intention to devote the next five years to designing my dream life. My intention, which I share freely with everyone, is beginning to bring the people and things I need to me. I’m excited about meeting Mark, not only because of the possible interview, but because he can help me get a step closer to my vision.

Two big lessons jump out at me:

Listen to that voice! You know, the one you tend to ignore because, well, it’s not rational or realistic. Make a promise to listen and obey the next few times you hear it. I bet you’ll discover that your inner guide knows all kinds of great stuff.

Share your vision! Start talking about what you see as your work and life, even when you don’t have it all worked out yet. (I’ll tell you more about my BIG plan soon). There’s a power in voicing your dreams, and heck, you never know who can help move you one step nearer to your soul’s desire.

What does all this mean to you? Consider if your ADR practice can be your vehicle to a lifestyle business that supports and inspires you.

Try. Learn. Fail. Grow.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Got Health Insurance?

One of the biggest challenges, at least for me, was finding affordable health care. It's tough but you have to do it to protect yourself and your family.

Here are the comments of Dean Rowe, an independent broker, on how to find insurance. I hope to persuade Dean to share more during a bonus interview that's part ADR Practice Builder (it's launching in the near future!)

Bruce says,

I think I can give you some pretty good overall guidance on this point. I'm an employee benefit consultant and broker. Obviously, the largest component of a benefits plan is health insurance and therefore, that's what I spend a majority of my time with.

First, there is very little difference between the products (plans) available for larger companies and those available for small businesses, even down to a sole proprietor with no employees. It may surprise a lot people to know that the cost for small company health insurance is not much different from the cost at a large company. The difference is that a company bears most of the cost for its employees, while a self-employed sole proprietor must bear the entire cost himself.

Regardless of company size, the major players are Blue Cross, Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts. In certain geographic areas, there are a couple of other smaller players (Health New England in western MA and Fallon in central MA, for example). Big national names like United Healthcare, Aetna and CIGNA are around but not competitive unless a company has hundreds of employees and multiple locations.

What IS different for a small business is access. In other words, how does a small company GET its health insurance? The primary distribution channel for companies with about 10 employees or more is health insurance brokers like me. Sure, a business can get their quotes directly from the health plans and by-pass brokers if they want but they will pay the same price whether a broker is used or not and so, most companies tend to take advantage of the value added service of a broker. The primary distribution channel for small companies, however, is through intermediaries that administer those same plans. Those intermediaries include Small Business Service Bureau, Northeast Business Trust, Massachusetts Business Association as well as most regional chambers of commerce (such as Metro West C O C as you pointed out). The exception to this is Blue Cross. They have their own small business unit and will give quotes directly.

Now, here's the part where I answer your question. Because of the regulated nature of the Massachusetts health insurance market (for groups of 1 to 50 ees), the prices and plans available through those intermediaries are all virtually identical. By that I mean that if you were to price out a given plan, let's say the Harvard Pilgrim Value Plan for example, each of those intermediaries would have virtually the same price. You can get a quote from MBA, NBT, SBSB and some chamber of commerce and they'd be within 1% of each other. What differentiates them are the added services that your membership in that organization may give you.

As a broker, I must use the same channel to obtain quotes for my clients. I happen to use SBSB. Their membership fee of $85 annually for small companies is, I believe, the lowest. Through SBSB you can obtain quotes for Harvard, Tufts, Fallon, Neighborhood Health Plan and Delta Dental. In order to get competitive pricing from Blue Cross, you should contact their small business line.

The other options that can work for small businesses are Mega Life, Mid-West National and John Alden. These are national companies that specialize in small business. They offer plans with more flexibility and can be substantially lower in price. However, as always, you get what you pay for.
My concern with these plans is that they often leave the employee paying considerable out of pocket expenses. If you are young and healthy and never use the plan, they can be great. They can also be good if you are able to accept the risk of high out of pocket cost when you get sick.

Here are the steps a small business/self-employed person should follow to get the best and most competitive pricing:

1) Forward the required information (usually the name of your
business, location, nature of your business and age/family status/home zip code for yourself and any employees) to one of the aforementioned intermediaries and request quotes for ALL vendors and ALL plans. If you don't request this, they will pick a couple of the most popular plans to send you. Just pick ONE intermediary. you gain very little by shopping them against each other.

2) Send the same information to the Blue Cross small business unit and
request the same thing.

3) If interested in a plan with lower cost but higher out of pocket
expenses, look for a local Mid-West National rep (I know of one if you're interested).

Give consideration to some of the high deductible programs offered by the HMOs because I think they are a good value.

Want more help? Either wait for ADR Practice Builder to launch or email Dean directly.

Try. Fail. Grow. Learn.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tips to Get into Business Publications

I've said that part of the trouble with growing the ADR profession is that we have a very low media profile. It's almost non-existent beyond the traditional vehicles of mediation and arbitration.

Here are some tips from Leigh Buchanon, Joshua Hyatt, and Karen Dillion, editors of, respectively, Inc. magazine, Fortune Small Business, and Harvard Business Review.

It's a Marathon not a Sprint

All the editors commented that one email, letter, or call is not likely to result in coverage. Consistent interaction, in a respectful way, wins the marathon. I say pick three publications that will really benefit your business and focus exclusively on them.

Read the Publication

Really. Read many, many issues and learn to distinguish the purposes of each section of the publication. I received a mention in Inc. because I responded to a trend I noticed, as I've been a reader since, eh, forever. Fern Reiss read 18 months worth of Fortune Small Business before selecting Joshua Hyatt and contacting him.

Recognize the Difference

Each publication has a personality and self-image that you want to understand before pitching a story. I'm told (by the editors who should know!) that Fortune Small Business considers itself a "baby Fortune" and approaches similar types of business information and challenges as its big brother. Inc. is for small business and is really interested in stories that share experiences and practices that other readers can benefit from. Harvard Business Review is more interested in management issues from a theoretical or empirical perspective. They like stats.

Tell the Story behind the Story

Editors look for interesting stories, and sometimes that means what drives you to create your business instead of the business itself. Don't hesitate to include in your pitch what the business means to you or whether it has some special meaning or purpose. I remember reading about a pharmacist who created flavorings for children's medicine because his daughter was seriously ill and often refused her meds. That was years ago and the Inc. editor mentioned it during her talk.

One way to research publications is to ask for their advertising packages. I find they have a wealth of information about who reads the publications and for what purpose. And don't forget to get the editorial calendar that lays out a years worth of coverage, month by month. You'll be able to pitch a story months ahead.

Last word, it's much easier to practice this with local magazines first before moving up to the big guys. If you want to study up, visit the Publicity Hound for more helpful hints.

Try. Fail. Learn. Grow.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Be Big!

An old friend of mine, Kevin McCrea, is fond of saying "Go BIG". In fact, it's his life mantra. He even avoids saying the opposite of BIG by saying "less BIG". He's done some amazing things in his life because of this philosophy including establishing his own motorcycle racing team; completing his dream home after winning numerous legal battles; and running as a complete unknown in the Boston city counselor race (Boston politics ain't for wimps!). He's simply inspirational.

I took a page from his book recently when I attended a program entitled, "How to Get Your Business in a Business Magazine", sponsored in part by the Harvard Startup group, which consists of entrepreneurs (Harvard alum and others) who discuss the challenges of running a business via a list serv.

Fern Reiss, a good friend, author of The Publishing Game, was the moderator. (Fern has gotten over 100 mentions in major press in the past 6 months. If you want the same, check out her site, Expertizing). While chatting, I asked if there was anything I could do to help out. Well, she asked me to pitch a story idea if the audience grew shy.

Now, I agreed but with a bit of trepidation. The editors from Inc., Harvard Business Review and Fortune Small Business were all on the panel. What did I have to say that would interest sophisticated business journalists like them? I worried what I'd gotten myself into.

Then I remembered Kevin. I could be BIG. Even if I made a fool of myself (which wasn't likely) I could start a conversation with these editors and others in the audience. I pitched!

Now, I'd love to say that the editors raved and fought over who would get the first interview, but that didn't happen. What did happen was this: two editors asked that I stay in touch with them; several audience members said they could use my services; and one CEO completely disagreed with the concept of Ombuds. That was actually the best part because he represents a segment of my market that I need to understand better.

What does all this mean to you? There's something to this "Go BIG" concept. Or as my Dad used to say, "shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll still be among the stars". What can you go big on as you build your practice?

I'll share the secrets of getting a story in a major business publication soon!

Try. Fail. Learn. Grow.


PS Hey, drop me a note about your best "Go BIG" story, will ya?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Take this Idea- Please! Wedding Season

I'll admit it. I'm a wedding junkie. I love weddings and everything to do with them. And so should you!


Because as wedding season approaches, it brings many, many media opportunities. A media savvy mediator would be wise to start looking
at editorial calendars now and planning press releases to coincide with
the big event.

Divorce mediators, how about writing an article on how engaged couples can
be better communicators and avoid a breakup. Or, how about a top ten
list of the types of issues couples bring to divorce mediation and how to
address them now!

Marital mediators, what about teaching those headed down the aisle how
to negotiate common marital woes in a short adult education class? Or
contacting wedding planners to offer your mediation services to couples and
their families as they navigate through emotionally charged tasks of
wedding planning?

Be an exhibitor at a bridal fair. You're sure to garner a lot of attention
(not to mention sample some yummy catering!).

Try. Fail. Learn. Grow.


(PS If you try this idea, let me know how you make out.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Got Insurance?

Are you covered if something dire happens?

If not, consider insurance. Every small business owner, in my humble opinion, should have disability insurance (in case you can't work), business insurance (in case something disasterous happens like your computer gets stolen), and long term care insurance (because self-employed folks gotta take care of themselves). (Health insurance is important,too, but that's a different issue.)

There are two ways of investigating what types of insurance are best for you and your business. One, find a business insurance broker through recommendations of colleagues and friends; and, two, join a professional organization for business owners like the Small Business Association of New England (SBANE) that offers such services to its members.

ACR members can seek out insurance through Complete Equity Markets.

Sure, insurance is boring. But, it's the kind of boring stuff that helps you sleep better at night.

Try. Fail. Learn. Grow.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Big Pond, Bigger Problems

While reading Larry Chase's Web Digest, I was pointed towards David Garfinkel's blog on copy writing tips. Copy writing is a skill that anyone with a bit of patience and persistence can and should learn, especially if you want people respond to your offerings.

Anyway, David wrote a really terrific post that for my money captures the essential question for us mediators, Ombuds and other ADR types:
why aren't we building bigger, growth-oriented businesses?

The answer: we're afraid of the unknown. We have a sense that in that bigger pond will be bigger problems to solve than the ones we have now. Right now, that resonates with me because I'm about to jump ponds and the anxiety and anticipation of what's in the bigger pond is absolutely keeping me up at night.

On a conscious level I do know that I'm ready and can handle whatever comes up, but somewhere deep down I'm afraid. That fear is slowing down my progress so I gotta deal with it now. How am I doing that? I'm using the same techniques I use to help visitors explore the unknown and what consequences might follow their actions. And, surprising, it works on me, too!

Read David's post. It's filled with more insights and resources. Then ask yourself: what prevents me from moving to a bigger pond?

And, if you need a bit of inspiration (and frequently I do), here's a quote that's been attributed to Nelson Mandela and Marianne Williamson:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

Try. Fail. Learn. Grow.