Friday, February 22, 2013

February 2013: Ninth Anniversary Letter

Obligatory Historical Reflection:  My February Letter is my anniversary letter.  I began sending out these letters in 2004.  I have done so every month for nine years.  That means I have sent out 108 of these letters.   This February 2013 is my 109th letter.   This letter is also the first letter in the tenth year of doing this.  I am amazed that I have done this for so long.
As many of you know, this all began a few years before I emailed my first letter to friends and family in February of 2004.  I started writing one page a day on June 25, 2002.  That was the day I turned 49.  I thought I would chronicle my 50th year.  That plan was that it would brilliant, insightful, and wickedly funny and engaging.  I would get fifteen, maybe sixteen, minutes of fame.   It was a great plan.  I did, in fact, write every day that year.
The funny thing is that the end result was nowhere near what I envisioned it would be.  The writing was too introspective.  It had a fine whiney tone that did not deserve to see the light of day.  As for the wickedly engaging and funny;  it was neither.  Yet, I did not give up.  I have kept writing a page a day, every day for ten and a half years.  Honestly, it is the single best personal habit I have developed.  
Simply it opened my mind.  My writing has improved simply from having done it so long and so consistently.  It took nineteen months to go public with my writing.  After a few years, I even had enough confidence that I did not fear others reading what I wrote.   It has been rewarding move because it got me to get away from journaling (just a pretentious way of saying keeping a diary) and forced me to prepare a finished product once a month. 
These letters were always typed.  But the daily writing was all handwritten.  That practice continued until 2009.  In that year, I began typing more and more of daily writing pieces.  By 2011, I was typing everything on either my PC or iPad.  It was also in 2009 when I put everything on a blogger site.  For the past two years I had posted more four times a month.  Three of the posts are shorter, about 500 words, or what I would write in a day.  The monthly letter which I post and email is longer.  It is about 2400 words or about four days of writing.  Besides this I also post twice a month on my business blog.
This year, having finally joined Facebook, I began to post links to my blog there as well resulting in over 1500 hits a month.  This is hardly viral but good enough for me. 
I am still considering writing that great American novel.  I still want to call it An Attempted Midlife Crisis.  I just like that working title.  The monthly letter and blog?  It will remain This Side of Fifty which is the witty and perfect name that my friend Marilyn Zavidow came up with. 
Also, every year I reflect on Aram J. Kevorkian.  He was born in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve in 1928.  He died on December 20, 2003.  He went to the University of Pennsylvania and then Harvard Law School.  After working in New York for a period, he and his French born wife settled in Paris representing Americans and American companies there.    Aram Kevorkian began writing a newsletter, The Kevorkian Newsletter, in 1978.  By the time of his passing, he was sending the letter out about once a month to over 3,000 people in 72 countries.  The letter started out as a legal letter to inform his clients and potential clients on the legal differences between doing business in the US and France. 
Overtime, The Kevorkian Newsletter became something much more.  They became essays on life, politics, and philosophy.   Readers of his letters were avid and dedicated.  I was unaware of The Kevorkian Newsletter until he had passed.  I received a few of them via email.  I was immediately a fan.  I also knew what to do with my daily writing.  I would send out a monthly letter to friends and family.  I started doing so in February of 2004 and have not stopped since.  The idea came from The Kevorkian Newsletter but I knew mine would be different.   I had no expectation of writing letters like Aram Kevorkian.  Instead, I have found my own voice.  And yet, because the idea came from his letter, I feel like I am, in my own way, continuing on his legacy.  Minimally, I am indebted to him and wish that I had met and got to know him. 
Slice of Life:  It is February 7th.  We have a classic snow storm today. 
 In this day and age of The Weather Channel, the storm itself was not really surprise.  The day began with a freezing rain that was to turn to snow which it did around noon.  The forecast was not clear about the accumulation because they could not quite predict where the snow rain would exactly be.  As it turns out, Lake Forest was definitely on the snow side of the line. 
It was a steady snow.   It was a big flake wet snow, perfect for sticking to trees.   It made everything look clean and beautiful.  It was good to have this storm after a seriously snowless winter last year and very little snow this winter. 
As beautiful as it was, the storm made the roads treacherous.  The snow was falling faster than the plows could do their job.  I witnessed an accident.  It was nothing major.  A lady in a ginormous SUV was making a right turn while talking on her cell phone.  She was oblivious to the conditions and she skidded right into an incredibly expensive SUV.  It reminded me of two important facts about driving.  First, you can still skid and slide with four wheel drive.  Secondly, if you are going to use a cell phone while driving and don’t have Bluetooth in your car, invest in a hands free device. 
I was on facebook and saw a post from another Armenian from Detroit who now lives in Chicago:  Pat Keyorian.  He posted, “Was hit by a snowball while driving today.  Brings back memories of those days back in Dearborn Heights and Telegraph Rd.”  His posting certainly brought back a memory for me. 
I remember back in the city of Detroit on a day just like this. It must have been 1965 or so.  The snow was what we called great packing in that snow balls were easily formed.  Just grabbing a handful of snow made a crude snowball.  Packing simply made it more it more accurate and more of a weapon.  You could make big fluffy softball or compact it down to a hardball.  I had gone to the alley behind our house.  I walked down the gravelly alley and came out on Lyndon between Strathmoor and Hubbell.  For the first time ever, I was about to hurl a snow ball at car.  I had packed a big softball.  I was going for the big splat.  I placed myself behind a telephone pole and waited for the right target.  Lo and behold a bus was coming west bound on Lyndon right toward me.  What a great target.  At just the right time, I wound up and let it rip.  I aimed for the window next to the driver and hit it.  There was a beautiful splat.  I stood there admiring my handiwork.  Then, I noticed the driver shaking a finger at me, not in anger, but more playful.  Just then, I recognized the driver.  It was Mr. Sirounian from our church:  St. Sarkis.  He was a friend of my parents.  I played baseball with his son.   As he never ever mentioned it, I assume that he simply did not recognize me or quickly forgot all about it.  I never forgot it.
Business Writing Services:  Until 2012, I never got paid for anything that I wrote.  I have written articles for Armenian newspapers and a few for trade magazines.  Certainly, I wrote my monthly letters and now my personal blog and my business blog.   I always wondered how I might monetize this hobby that I am quite dedicated to.  I never attempted to make that happen though.  I just kept writing.
As is usual in my life, my old friend serendipity played a role.
In March of 2012, I landed an engagement with a contract company in Chicago.  A small public warehouse provider had received a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) from their largest customer.  This customer accounted for 26% of the company’s revenues and they could not afford to lose that business.  They also had never had to respond to an RFP.  Most of the time they simply quoted the job and that was it.  An RFP requires a much more intensive response.  There is a quotation for sure but an RFP also asks for explanations of business processes for managing every aspect of the operation.  RFPs also require more detailed financials as well as biographies of the company management team.   I was asked to help them given my supply chain background and experience in both preparing RFP and reviewing responses to the RFP.
I had more fun with this engagement as any assignment I have had as a consulting.  I was also really able to help this company.  They had many of the various pieces of their response in various stages of drafts.  I edited and re-wrote sections to give the same business tone throughout their response.  I cleaned up the financial displays and formatted the document to give it a crisp professional look.  The end result was positive.  The company retained the business and they were pleased with my assistance.
I learned three things from this engagement.
1. People either understand business or are good writers.  It is hard to find people who do both.   Larger companies have writers and PR people on staff.  Smaller companies have to hire out for such.

2. In smaller companies, people that have to prepare RFPs, respond to RFPs, or write business or strategic plans, are often paralyzed facing the mountain of writing that these documents require.

3. Consultants are often accused of borrowing their client’s watches to tell them the time.  That may or may not be true.   When it comes to preparing the kinds of business documents mentioned in #2, it is absolutely true. 
After the engagement with the warehousing company, I told everyone what a cool engagement it was and how much fun I had working on the project.  Most of the time, I was in my home office in a warm up suit working on this document communicating with the client by phone, email, and conference call.  Because of my enthusiasm, I was fortunate to be asked to work on a strategic plan for a financial services company.  This was a much more intense project but equally engaging and enjoyable. 
Design by my friend
Rose Kostan-Schwartz
Because of both of these engagements, I decided to add Business Writing Services to the services that my Supply Chain consulting company offers.   I thought about creating a separate company and website for this business.  I decided against that for the time being.  The reason was simple, the revenues from both parts of the business did not in any way justify creating a second business and website.  Hopefully, the revenues will grow and justify two distinct entities.  I did, however, create a separate business card.  My tag line is “Write with you… All the way!”  Check out the Business Writing Services page on my website.  The logo was designed by my friend Rose Kostan-Schwartz. 

Political Postings:  It has been great nine years.  I really appreciate all the encouragement and warm comments.  This is generally true except for when admitted to voting for Obama.   I got some pretty serious feedback on that one.  I should have expected such given my demographic.  Because of all the flack I received about that, I wrote two of my favorite pieces:

I bring up this issue of having voted for Obama in 2008 because the post in which I revealed this, November 2010: Mid-Term Elections, is for some reason the most read post on my blog this month.  Why?  I have no clue. 
Closing:  I enjoy writing these letters in general.  But I truly enjoy the February anniversary letter.  It is good for the soul to reflect on where this all started and how far it has come. 
Special thanks to Mark Axelrod, Tim Miller, my wife Judy, my mother, and my cousin David for all the great feedback this past year.   I love to hear from any and all of you. 
Of course, I simply have to mention Ara Topouzian… it is just easier this way trust me.
Random Interesting Quote:  The future is just a whole bunch of what you do right now strung together.

1 comment:

  1. Mike, Thanks for sharing this. It is great stuff. I like your quote:
    3. Consultants are often accused of borrowing their client’s watches to tell them the time. That may or may not be true. When it comes to preparing the kinds of business documents mentioned in #2, it is absolutely true.

    Nice quote, but the clients who let the consultant borrow their watch are those who cannot tell the time themselves of don't have the time to do it (pun intended), otherwise they would not hire a consultant and would save themselves a lot of money by just looking at their watches themselves...
    So thank God not everyone knows what they are doing, or at least all of what they are doing, otherwise consultants, freelancers and service providers would be out of business.
    BTW I knew Aram Kevorkian very well and miss him dearly. I remember many an afternoon spent in his 'oval office' (literally) in Paris, with him typing away on his computer and me thinking I was doing a monologue to deaf ears, then being totally surprised by such a pertinent question from him, that I would know that not only he had been listening attentively to what I had been blabbing on about, but he had mentally analysed it and was asking the right question to bringe a gap in my story.
    What a remarkable person! A mentor who I dearly miss.

    Keep on writing. It is the only way you can chisel it into something once it is on the page...I am telling this to myself as I type it now...More soon...