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San Francisco, exactly as I thought it would be

February 22, 2012

Maybe I’m traveling too much or maybe I’m researching the places I’m going to too much before I get there to have any place really surprise me. My copy of the new California tourism magazine arrived just days before I left on my west coast trip and I read it cover to cover, focusing on the highlight of my trip: San Francisco.

First of all, I absolutely loved visiting this city. The scenery, the crisp, cool sea air, the houses clinging to the side of the hills… all incredible. It is not very walkable (unless you enjoy walking up and down ramps all day long because every street is like a ramp UP). I decided to take a Segway tour which turned out to be a great way to get around a city of endless steep inclines. FYI.. they make Segway’s ride in the street with the cars and it was a little scary. My guide seemed to enjoy snapping pictures of me with what he called my ‘Segway Death Grip’ on my machine. I also suffered “Seg-leg”, a condition caused from standing so awkwardly on the machine for so many hours.  I will not be sharing those pictures!

But I am sharing these pictures of a beautiful San Francisco – exactly as I read it would be. Maybe I didn’t dig deep enough into this city to find something not already written in a travel book or magazine. Or maybe this city just has nothing to hide. It’s perfectly open and honestly beautiful.

Sea Lions at Pier 39

Alcatraz Island emerging from the fog

A VW bus, a surf board, and an old hippie. Of course..

A street car in San Fran...The perfect way to explore the hills.

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Pioneer Park

The Oakland Bridge at sunset

Sunsets from around the world

February 2, 2012

I love sunsets. Some people tease me that it’s because I despise getting up early and rarely see a sunrise. That’s not the reason. Simply put, sunsets are beautiful. And there is a finality to the show. With all my travels I have accumulated several dozen pictures of some of very special sunsets around the globe, so I thought why not share a few? Enjoy!

Istanbul, Turkey

This was taken on my last night in Istanbul, Turkey and the bridge is over the Bosphorus Strait. I remember ordering room service this night because I didn’t want to miss a minute of this sunset and watching the lights come on over the bridge.

Vancouver, British Columbia

This was taken during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics from North Vancouver looking back at the downtown. If you look to the right of the boat in the picture, along the shore you will see the Olympic Torch.

Beijing, China

Yes, I saw the sun in Beijing! It was so clear on this trip, so different than the normal smog or as they call it smoke in the air. This picture is from the Novotel by Wangfujing Street.

Berlin, Germany

I was taking a picture of the sunset in the opposite direction which turned out just so so, then I turned around to realize the sun was now shining straight through the horse shoe opening of the Olympic Stadium. I think the glow of the sun looks like a spotlight reflecting off the stands.

Manhattan Beach, California

I love the Manhattan Beach Pier. What I remember most about this picture is right before I took this I met Charlotte, a 90-something year old lady that looked just like my grandma. She and I sat and talked until the sun went down.

North Muskegon, Michigan

This sunset was taken last summer. It’s so beautiful that it doesn’t even seem real. It’s taken from the pier at Muskegon Channel, one of my favorite places on the planet.

Honest, Honest, Honest

October 2, 2011

In the summer of 2006, I was eating at Ramshorn Country Club in Fremont, Michigan with my grandmother when a group of older men entered the dining room. My grandmother leaned over to me and said, “Those men did business with your grandfather.” I was instantly struck by this group of people. They appeared to be in their late 80’s or maybe even older and I found myself constantly staring at them. When we were ready to leave, my grandmother encouraged me to go over to them and introduce myself. I approached their table and stumbled out something like “Did any of you know my grandfather?” One of the gentlemen asked me my name and then invited me to have a seat.

I was so nervous that I couldn’t think of what to say other than “Can you tell me about him?”

One man replied, “Honest, honest, honest. He was the most honest man I ever did business with.” Others chimed in agreeing with the man. “Your grandfather was a great salesman, a great man.” I started to cry a little.

My grandfather died when I was nine. Until that day, I didn’t know that much about his business career. Back in his day, Chicago Public Schools offered a two-year or four-year high school diploma. He chose the two-year because he wanted to get to work. It was the Great Depression. He started working at a printing and marketing firm in Chicago when he was 16. He swept the floors. Fifty years later he retired as their top and highest paid salesman.

I was sitting in the country club that he helped build with the men that worked with him in business on a daily basis. These men knew my grandfather well. They did advertising, marketing, and sales for Gerber Baby Foods. I knew he had big clients – Gerber being his biggest. He landed this client when the company was just Mr. Gerber and his wife cooking the baby food. He was there when they began marketing their now iconic label.

They asked me what I did for a living and when I said that I owned my own business, that I was in sales, one man said, “Of course you are! It’s in your genes”.

I learned that my grandfather valued all of his clients and he would do absolutely anything for them. I heard stories of him driving all night with labels to a factory because a shipment was lost. I learned that he sweated it out many times in the office worrying about getting a deal. And that he lost some big deals, too. I learned he could be a pretty nervous guy (something that sounded all too similar to me). He believed in doing business face to face, never over the phone. And he was honest.

I’ve mentored and employed over a dozen college-aged people in the past 11 years of business. There have been all sorts, but most of them would never think of starting at a company sweeping floors with the goal to one day be a top paid executive. I’ve had employees quit their job to go work at Hooters, even an employee that quit his job to spend his days laying on the beaches of Lake Michigan. How many are back living off mom and dad? Plenty.

That moment visiting with my grandfathers business friends changed my life. What a role model I have been blessed with knowing. I’m sitting here 11 years into business and if I am fortunate to go another 39 more years, I still may never eclipse his accomplishment. I became even more driven to be as successful as possible. I realized that my grandfather was willing to go through all the steps and build not only a career, but also a life. Before this moment I was so focused on the goal, the success, that I had never thought about the build. He did the build, did it honestly, and was extremely successful. It proved to me that the best success is the success done honestly.

The 3 most important people you need in business

September 15, 2011

The following is an excerpt of a lecture I gave recently at DePaul University for a class in their Entrepreneurship Program. I’ve given this lecture 5 times to two different universities over the past few years. This lecture covers what I think are the most important things you need to start your own business – besides a great idea and hard work…

There are 3 people that you need in your life before you start a business:

1. Lawyer
2. Accountant
3. Bookkeeper


Why? Because there are two things that can take you out of business quicker than anything else:  a lawsuit and the IRS.

I have gained invaluable experience in both of these areas. Call me unlucky or very seasoned in business or what my mother tells me is having an ever present dark cloud hanging over my head – whatever it is, I have been through just about everything you can imagine in only 11 years of owning my own business.

Let’s go through these one by one and let me explain why I think that if you can’t afford to hire these three people, then you aren’t ready to be starting your own business.

First let me say this, all three of these people need to understand your business. You need to sit down with each of them first for an interview and find out if they are the right fit. Do they understand what you are doing? Have you shared your business plan with them? Do they already have clients in your industry?

The Lawyer

Every business is different and everyone has a different specialty of expertise. For instance, some lawyers, like mine, specialize in Internet law, a perfect fit for my business because the majority of my business is done on the Internet. Look, we live in a very litigious society. If you are doing business with vendors, you need a contract with those vendors. If you are selling online, or selling anything really, you need Terms and Conditions or Terms of Sale for your customers to agree to for their purchase. If you are going to have employees, you need to have an Employee Handbook because if you have to fire anyone, you don’t want them suing you over it. Your lawyer needs to be involved in the beginning of your business to set up your contracts and terms so that he or she doesn’t have to become more expensively involved later. And you need to fully understand what your lawyer draws up for you. You will have customer and employee issues when you are in business. Someone may try to sue you. Welcome to America!

The Accountant

I am now on my third accountant since I started my company. I have found that this person has been the most difficult to find a good fit for my business. My first accountant was not familiar with my industry at all. I can remember me calling to tell him that I was going to start an Internet based business and asking what I needed to be doing to set up paying taxes. Should I be filing as an LLC or an Inc.? Should I be paying quarterly?  He kind of chuckled and said, “Call me when you make your first $100,000.” I was humiliated and I decided that I refuse to pay anyone that makes me feel like a fool.

I know that you are thinking, “I haven’t made any money at this business yet, so why do I need to hire an accountant?” One word: AUDIT. Yes, I am one of the many small business owners that has been audited. It happened in one of the first years that I was in business. I was working with my second accountant and looking back, there were some red flags that I did not address. Ultimately he filed my taxes incorrectly, thus causing me to be audited.

The good news was that my audit forced me to take action and make changes in the way that I approach my accounting. I fired that accountant and found a fantastic replacement that understands my business and works with several other businesses in my industry. I survived the audit and actually received a nice refund check from the good people at the IRS because I had overpaid them. However, going through all of this taught me that a good accountant is key to keeping yourself from being audited and is also key to defending yourself if you happen to get audited anyway. Your accountant has to understand your sales cycle, the sources and schedules of how all the money comes in, and how it’s being spent.

Trust me on this, if you are thinking that you can go into an audit with the excuse that your TurboTax told you to do it, think again. Tax laws are complicated and can change multiple times a year. Invest in a good accountant and limit your do-it-yourself tasks to assembling your IKEA office furniture.

The Bookkeeper

Now comes the one person that I think you can be flexible on: your bookkeeper. I can suggest a more reasonable replacement for this person, especially for those just starting out. Since you will probably have a very low sales volume and hardly any receipts in the beginning, I highly recommend hiring a Certified Quickbooks Expert and getting trained on how to use the Quickbooks Pro program. Not only is this program the #1 program used by accountants (make sure your accountant is Quickbooks certified, too) but the program can grow with your business.

In the beginning of my business, I took private lessons with a Quickbooks Expert and learned how to set up and use the program in my daily business life. It took me about 3 months of bi-weekly training before I was able to go it alone. I then had my expert come in every quarter to look through my work before I sent my ‘Accountants Copy’ to my accountant. This investment was priceless because when I was in my audit, I realized I knew the answers to every question the auditor had for me. I knew where all my money was going and was able to locate transactions easily.

Now, my business has grown and I have my own bookkeeper that comes into our office on a part-time basis. Because I understand Quickbooks, I am able to review her work closely so I am still in the loop on how my business is doing. I find it’s very comforting to go to sleep each night knowing how my business is doing financially. I know some of you would like to wash your hands with all the numbers, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. Whether you like this fact or not – the most important part of your business is the numbers.

So, how do you pick these people?

Don’t be afraid to interview several different people and call every reference they give you. This is your business and your money. It should be spent with the people that respect what you are trying to accomplish and will be there for you. I have my lawyers cell and home numbers. I know that anytime I call my accountant or my bookkeeper that they will pick up the phone and help me. I like knowing that they are available if I ever do get myself into a lot of trouble. And these people should NOT be your Uncle Al or your Cousin Randy or your husband/wife unless they are world-renowned in law, accounting, or bookkeeping and specialize in your industry. Just say NO to any relatives in your books!

I hope this advice can help you start and grow your business into the most rewarding and successful part of your life. You are going to have to spend some money to get started. Don’t be afraid to spend the money to set your business up right. These 3 people are going to be the foundation of your business. Without them being solid, the entire thing could crumble in a second.

A Facebook Like or an Email Address? What would you pay for?

September 1, 2011

I was recently sent an email from a company that I am a subscriber to their newsletter that read something like this: We are no longer going to be sending our emails as frequently as we used to, so please Like Us on Facebook or Follow Us on Twitter to keep up with what we are doing. Hmm, interesting marketing strategy. This company has decided that sending an email to people that have requested to follow them via email is no longer what they want to do. After all, why give the customer something that they want, right? Instead, tell the customer to ‘follow us’ on a social media site. Hey, it’s less typing for us and we think you will enjoy this better! I wasn’t asked if I wanted to follow this company via social media, I was told to or I wouldn’t hear from them much anymore.

Another interesting case study was recently blogged about by Jay Baer citing a restaurant chain that sent an email to everyone on their existing subscription list offering $10 if they ‘Liked’ them on Facebook. A company in my industry recently did a similar campaign offering existing clients $75 if they Liked them on Facebook.

My question to all of these marketers is simply WHY? Why try to force an existing email subscriber into your social media forum? And why, why, why would you EVER pay an existing customer to Like you when they obviously liked you already? They spent money with your company already (psst.. that means they really, really like you!)

The answer is pretty simply: Ego.

We are all guilty of this even with our own social media habits. ‘See how many Friends I have on Facebook? I’m more popular than you!’ I was nearly guilty of this myself when I first started my personal Facebook page. I can remember sending friend requests like a mad woman in those early days trying to get to 50 friends, 100 friends, 200 friends. Then I started a Facebook page and a Twitter feed for my company Sports Traveler and suddenly got sucked into trying to strategize and create campaigns to build Likes and Follows. I was really rolling along until I attended one of the best social media seminars I’ve been to this year. The topic was about our new obsession with “the Like” in business. The speaker said something that rocked my world: Let your customers choose how to follow you, then let them. If they give you an email address, then let them follow you that way. If they give you a Like on Facebook, then let them follow you that way. If Twitter isn’t their thing, it’s ok! You see where I am going here? The customer is always right. And this has never been more true than with social media. Give your customers what they want. It’s so simple isn’t it? Whether they like you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter or give you an email address, it’s is all the same. You have a way to connect with them, great! But whether that same contact does one or the other or both is irrelevant. They are still just one (1) contact. Sure you can go ahead and spend a lot of money and effort luring your existing customers and contacts over to Like/Follow you to build an appearance to the public of a huge following… What would you do for $75? Sure I’ll hit a button, too. But in the end what did you accomplish? You created a very expensive, repetitive contact list.

The goal in today’s internet marketing has gotten a little off track with the influence of social media. The goal should be to build new and better contacts, not sprinkle around the same old contacts into your various social media forums. And your goal should never be shutting down one source of marketing and trying to shovel your clients into another. Whether you think that Facebook and Twitter are the way to follow you or not is again, irrelevant. It’s what your customer wants, not you. Communicate with them the way they want to hear from you.

So, stop worrying over the Like and Follow count for your company’s social forums. Start looking at the quality of your contacts and ways to seek out new and better ones. Build your relationships with your existing contacts by communicating with them in the way they asked to be communicated with. And let your ego go. Ahhh, doesn’t that feel better?

The Derby is the Dream

May 5, 2011
Kentucky Derby Tickets and Tours

Traveling through the Lexington, Kentucky area, my tour guide Kim turns to me and says “Welcome to Horse Country. We are famous for our Blue Grass, our Champion Thoroughbred Horses, and our Bourbon.”

The Horses and the Blue Grass I was looking forward to, the bourbon not so much.

This is my first trip to “Horse Country” and coming from a lifetime of living in the big city of Chicago, I must say that this area is truly refreshing and beautiful. The people are hospitable and friendly. And there are a lot of fences!

The fences are everywhere when you travel just outside of downtown Lexington. They are white or black depending on the farm. My guide tells me that if you are extremely wealthy, your horse farm will have a white fence – the most expensive to upkeep. Most of the farms have switched over to black fences that are much easier to keep clean and cheaper to replace. The fences stretch as far as the eye can see down the roads and across the pastures. Some fences are high to hold in a Stallion. Others are lower to hold in the Filly’s.

Funny thing about these horses… The Stallions have to be fenced in alone in their own pasture. If they see another horse in their pen they will try to kill it. But the Filly’s are all penned together. We passed by a huge group of Filly’s along a road and I took some pictures. They were gathered together, seemingly conversing with each other in the middle of their pasture. Turns out they like to stick together, just like true girlfriends.

The Fillys stay together - just like true girlfriends

When we arrived at the estate and began our tour, I got to meet Indian Charlie, a Stallion that is no longer racing and is now a stud. Charlie is a huge horse. He seemed to smile at me as he trotted by on the way to his daily bath. I learned much more about the breeding process of horses than I really ever wanted to know. It was interesting, but I must say it was definitely presented with a bit more detail than I really cared to know about this topic.

Indian Charlie roams alone in his pasture

Being inside of the stables was really neat. These horses live a 5-star life for an animal. The stables don’t even look like stables. They look like luxury homes from the exterior and inside have padded flooring with each horse having it’s own personalized suite, complete with their name on the door in bronze.

Inside the stable at the horse farm

As we drove away, my guide said, “You know, the Derby is the dream. Every part of a horses life is planned from the time when it’s bred to fit into the schedule of competing in the Derby”. How’s that for family planning? The perfect timing will be for that horse to be exactly 2 years old when it peaks in it’s training and be able to compete to become The Kentucky Derby Champion.

Historic Keenland Race Track

Traveling again down the road after a stop at the historic Keeneland Race Track, I think about how much our clients will love this type of trip. I know that a lot of people don’t even know that there tours you can take to see the horses that compete or have competed in the Kentucky Derby. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but to describe it best would be fun, interesting, and beautiful. There is something peaceful about being out in the countryside seeing the green grass and these majestic animals.

My guide told me, “You know the horse knows.”

“Knows what?” I replied.

“Knows that it’s racing. Knows that it’s winning. Knows that it’s at Churchill Downs and that it’s the big race and knows when it’s a champion”, she contended.

I’m not so sure that a horse could know it’s a successful horse, but I will say that Indian Charlie seemed to have a definite swagger and confidence about himself.

So the Derby is the Dream… it’s the dream of the horse owner, the jockey, the trainer, and maybe even of the horse. But the Derby is also the dream of the sports fan that one day dreams of witnessing the greatest horse race of all time – The Kentucky Derby.

For more information about the Horse Farm Tours including those that are combined with Tickets to the Kentucky Derby be sure to check out the Sports Traveler Kentucky Derby Web Page.

Live from The Masters…

April 9, 2011

This is my first trip back to The Masters since 2008. I’m glad I’m back. Augusta National has never looked better. The weather is amazing. And the food at The 1018 Club hospitality has never tasted so good.

I am slightly sunburned, very overfed, and have a big smile on my face.

I haven’t been at The Masters since the course has moved the main gate. I have to say I don’t like this new location on Berckman Rd. Both Gates 6 and 9 are located in very close proximity to each other and this really doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Berckman Rd. is also only a 2-lane street, with no stop lights or sidewalks for people to walk on. Folks are forced to walk partially in the street and partially on loose gravel along side the road that isn’t even graded to be level. In the past, there was an entrance on Washington Rd., a four lane street with stop lights. The Washington Rd. entrance was also close to most of the Masters Hospitality buildings. The Hospitality Houses and Private Clubs are providing shuttle service, which is very convenient, but I really do wish that the organizers would reopen that Washington Rd. entrance to, at the very least, divide the crowd movement into two different areas.

I have heard from many of the local residents that the traffic has never been worse than it has been this year, so whatever the transportation plan was it surely isn’t working well.

So enough with the complaining… Once you make it through the security and onto Augusta National, all that hassle of getting there seems to melt away. It’s funny how I really don’t care much about who I’m watching play while at this course, so much as I just love being on this course.

I entered through Gate 9 and I have one more tiny complaint.. that was one looong walk until I saw the golf course and I had to climb down a huge set of stairs that were much tougher to climb up after a day on the course. But once inside the course, I saw the sign for Amen Corner and off I went. This is my absolute favorite part of Augusta National. I saw Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, to name a few and of course, the now infamous Tiger Woods… and I found out that while most men are cheering for Tiger, there are a few women or maybe more than a few that are clearly no longer fans. Some jumped up and down when his tee shot off of 11 went in the bunker – ouch!

I’ve had a fantastic Masters experience and I have enjoyed meeting some of our many clients here. I’ve also spent a lot of time working on making our 2012 Masters Golf Travel Packages even better for the 2012 Masters. Next year is going to be awesome and I can hardly wait to write about our new Masters Travel Programs!

Below is a little video that I shot today with my friend Steve Parry at the 1018 Club – my favorite Masters Hospitality Club in Augusta


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