Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March in Review and Plans For April

I've been running this blog since March 7th. In that time I've published 10 posts and had a little over 300 website hits. That's about 10 hits a day or 30 hits per post. Both seem respectable for the first month running. First month is more a baseline to build on than a useable metric.

I got the most hits on March 25th . On that particular day I re-tweeted an older post AND I added a new post to my blog. I only got 15 page views total. Moving forward, it's clear I need to continue to increase my online presence and push for higher visibility. Some things I'm implementing:

Based off these Successes in April I will:
  1. Increase participation in twitter. I don't know how useful twitter is. There is a learning curve in how to best use this tool and I;m very much still learning. The limited of 140 word and applications that allow for easy post scheduling make it stupid not to further explore this tool.
  2. Reaching out to some google + communities. I've been reading and responding to some blogging communities, but I haven't been promoting my own blog in community as I should.
  3. Pictures. Online readers are looking for more visuals in the media they are consuming. Adding two or three visuals to my work is like twenty minutes more work, but people say it increases conversion ten fold. I'm going to test it out.
  4. Maintaining a presence in the community. I've only been here a month, and I'm already establishing connections with others through commenting, re-sharing, and participating in conversations happening. Hopefully I'm building something positive that will continue to steadily grow.

The biggest things to note: these articles are not actually my three best written, most informative, or most tagged with keywords. What they have in common: all three were commented on by a blogger more established than me. So thanks Christian Touchet, Luna Darcy, Alisha Trost, and Kellie-AnnRussell for increasing my visibility!

Things that are working for me writing wise:
-List style writing. It seems more popular to write a list and have a title TELLING the reader there's only X level of investment you need to get through this piece.

-Quick Turn around. I have a back log of potential posts for my blog. I have six posts on deck. And countless other ideas to implement and try.

Stuff I Need to Work On:
-Too many words per post.

-Creating more links both outside the blog and within it. References helps to build overall quality of work—even if it takes more time to write.     

Saturday, March 28, 2015

8 Secrets I Wish I knew About Writing While I Was In High School

  1. Keep writing! Writing is more of a compulsion than a passion. Don't bog yourself down by holding it in. The more you write the better you will get.
  1. Your writing is not perfect especially if no one else has had a chance to critique it. In my teens, I'd spend all my time writing ignoring school, friends, and family For the record, this is not a healthy way to live. While you should definitely carve out time for writing in your life, doing it at the exclusion of all else is going to close off experiences and knowledge. In retrospect, it set me up to feel like my writing had to be at a certain level just because of all the other stuff I moved to the side. No one needs that kind of pressure. Trust me, first attempts are going to flop don’t give up a good Algebra grade for it.
Don’t be more interested in arguing how good what you wrote is than listening to constructive feedback. The person reading your work is only providing input because they see something worth refining. Critiques signal that the reviewer found value in your work. Get out of your own way and be open to what people were suggesting.

The first copy you show people, no matter how polished, is STILL A DRAFT. Entering with that mind set is going to be unspeakably helpful to receiving critique and to improving your work.

  1. Remember all writing is collaborative. I was and am really into Emily Dickenson and she was a hermit! She never had to speak to or be reviewed/corrected by a single soul, surely I could expect the same. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Ms. Dickenson wrote solely for herself. She never had any intention of publishing, it was only after her death that her family wanted that for her writing.
  • When her work was first published someone else edited the living heck out of it so it would conform to poetic standards of the time. We read the original today, but for a long time a stranger, with no input from the author, decided what was meant by the work and how best to present it.
  • Ms. Dickenson wasn't around to see her work thrive.
Dive into the community by:
  • Joining a local writers' group. This will give you a group of objective people to critique your work. It will also give you a chance to be the critic. You may be more able to avoid common writing traps now that you've seen it in others' writing.
  • Get a Blog. This creates a potentially worldwide presence that establishes you as a writer with experience in X style. Weekly posts will show others your discipline and commitment to your craft.
  1. Start building a portfolio. Any peer reviewed, relevant final work can go into a portfolio, but it will carry more weight as a high graded paper, a contest winning work, or a published work. This will increase your community engagement, prepare you to apply for work, and help build your confidence.
  • Submit a piece for publication. Check out if you school has publication opportunities. Look into magazine submissions and online posting opportunities. It is never too early to be published or to learn about the submission process. DO NOT let fear hold you back. Life will go on with either a “yes” or a “no” and there is a lot to learn from both answers.
  • Submit your work to writing contests. Do a little research and make a splash in the writer's community by becoming a contest winning author!
  1. Get some references/testimonials. Talk to your English teacher, writing coach, or even a peer and have them write a review for your work. Even if you are not a contest winner , a reference from a creditable person about your talent can go a long way in helping you get what you want.
It's great practice telling people what your goals are and asking them for help in getting what you want.

  1. Don't let “no” scare you off. I expected everyone to just acknowledge my literary genius. Really? It was conceited. I expected all the doors to be open. Hearing “no” was particularly crushing in this context.

There are going to be a million “No's” to your writing BUT it's not a rejection of you or your talent. “No” is a business decision for that group at that time. It could mean their budget was cut, it could mean your work is right for five or six future things but not this one thing right now, or it could just mean competition was fierce and there's more work for you to do. Nobody automatically thinks an actor, dancer, or singer is bad when the hiring team says “no” to them, writing is very much the same way.

I've found going in and expecting “no” helpful. It makes me look for reasons people would say no and build arguments against it. It also makes hearing “yes” amazing while making “no” just so much background noise.
  1. Be open to a lot of directions with your writing career. Career day showcases a lot of traditional career paths. How to be a police officer or a small business owner is a pretty clear to most people. Even how to be an actor, musician, singer, or novelist, while a hard path, is pretty well understood by the general populace. The options as a writer are a little more obscure.
Freelance work is really a broad and varied world. Do you want to run a blog, do you want to be a technical writer, do you want to pitch creative ads and marketing techniques, do you want to professionally write reviews, do you want to run e-courses and coaching sessions for other writers, or do you want to do something else? There are a lot of options for creative innovative aspiring writers and the formula to get there is pretty fluid.
  1. Consider community college. I'm not going to say college is a waste to the aspiring writer, because it's not. I made my greatest improvements to my writing style in college. If I'd had a greater sense of purpose, I would have made some amazing networking connection in college. I'm pretty sure I have my day job because I hold a degree. College DOES earn you some things. However, what I got out of the experience does not validate the price tag for my four year degree. If I could do it all over again, I would have gone to community college and worked. I would have had less debt and would have taken advantage of more opportunities while I was there. I would have had more time and experience to learn what I needed to do to get the most from a four year degree program.
There is a lot of pressure to go to college and get a traditional 4 year away from home experience. I know the college “experience” has been elevated to an almost mythical status through our cultural narrative. Although the opportunity for education and growth may still be unparalleled by a traditional 4 year college, you have to know and take full advantage of almost every opportunity presented to you to make up for the cost.

Does your opinion differ from mine? Did I leave something out or put something horrible in the list? Leave your own advice and feedback to would be writers below!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Dumbest Question You Could Ask Your Barista

If you've ever asked a barista, waiter, bartender, or cashier if they “like their job”, you may be stressing your server out for no real reason. Exactly how do you want your service person to answer the question and what do you really want to know

“Yes” is probably a lie. I've never met someone who's fulfilled by working the bottom tier service industry. In a roundabout way the job might make them happy. It might provide the schedule to do something creative/educational in the background. Maybe, it’s an opportunity to make connections that they are hoping to leverage into a better career or a better living space.

“No” is a whole other dangerous can of worms. What if your boss overhears you? It sounds dumb. The boss shouldn't care if you're happy so long as you do your job, but they care. Every guest complaint is your fault because you're giving out the vibe you're not happy here. And you need to be more grateful you have a job and are getting paid.

If you're a manager, it's even more deadly to tell a guest you don't like your job. All your employees will hear you and think to themselves “Well my boss doesn't even like this job, so this place is just terrible and I should leave” or “My boss doesn't even care so I don't have to do a good job.” Yeah, being happy and caring about a job are not the same thing, but you'd be surprised how often the two are confused.

Saying “no, I don't like this job” could be seen as a backhanded expression of “no I don't like serving you”. A guest might be offended, ascend offending a guest is about the worse thing you can do.

Why do you care if we like our jobs? Are you going to leave your career and join the minimum wage service industry?

Honestly, do people come to where you work and randomly ask you if you like your job? How would you feel if a random stranger entered your work space, had you do a bunch of tasks which you did as cheerfully and effectively as you could and mid way through asked “do you like working here?” Does it sound mildly like a threat to your security no matter the inflection?

Next time, ask what you really want to know like “is it fun to work the espresso machine” or “it must be nice to know so much about wine pairing” or whatever the heck it is that you thought made this job fun/cool. It's kind of nice to be reminded of the sweet parts of the gig and it's always makes my day to hear that someone else has an appreciation for the way I handle part of my job.

If you're looking for work for your teen, then just open with that. Most people will let you know the minimum hiring age for their store and are often TOO open about whether or not it's realistic for a teen to work their job. There is a lot to consider when hiring teens, but I do find that often my employees will chase away possible candidates based off what THEY do on the job that a teen legally couldn't do. As a manager, I'd make space for a teen to work a shift. The right teenager brings a bubbly enthusiasm, speed and friendliness to guest service that can rejuvenate the rest of the staff and can be hard to find in a more seasoned worker.

For the record, I hesitate to hire teens whose parents or family are job hunting for them. It signals to me that the teen doesn't really want the job or the teen isn't competent enough to handle the job.

If you're using “do you like your job” as a segway to offer us a job, just present the opportunity. Don't play games with us about whether or not this is all we see ourselves doing with our lives. Remember, everyone in the service industry is underemployed. We all have skills and talents that go way beyond filling your order, taking your money, making wine suggestions, or scanning items. Give us the credit that you would a chimp and acknowledge we're at minimum bored and frustrated. Just like you wouldn't bang on the glass in the monkey house, don't waste our time with a stupid invasive question.

Opening Up the Conversation:
-Have you asked people in the service industry if they like their jobs and if so why?
-Have you ever seen a skill in a service person that made you think, this person could do more than this?
-Have you ever offered a job to or hired someone who was serving you?
-If you work in the service industry, have you ever been asked if you like your job and how did you handle it?
-If you don't work in the service industry, has anyone asked you if you like your job and what was the context?

-Do you love your job or industry and if so what do you do?   

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Does Your Kid or Teen Have the Caffeine Bug?

Caffeine is not good for your child. Side effects include trouble sleeping, stomach aches, too much energy, and loss focus. While caffeine does not stunt growth, a prime reason I wasn't allowed to have caffeine as a child, it can bring with it some very empty calories and an empty pocket as well.

Your child on caffeine is bad for you! I see kids running around like a little Tasmanian devils, touching everything in reach and knocking it down , firing a million questions a minute in a voice that definitely doesn't belong inside all while pushing strangers and pulling hair. THIS is the kid you want to give coffee to?!

Saying “No” to any coffee shop drink for a child would be best. There are so many healthier still delicious things they could be doing with those calories and sugars. The CDC reported in 2011 that what we drink can effect our diets to an alarming degree. Your kid might not need to watch their weight now but please think beyond the present. You could be building bad food habits which will bite them in the future. Limiting empty sugar calories now can teach a child better habits for life.

If you do want to treat the kid: the variety of caffeine free drinks is nearly endless. Almost anything hot or cold can be made without any coffee. When you choose flavors remember decaf coffee and chocolate still have lower levels of caffeine in them. For a complete table of foods and drinks that may have caffeine please look here. For a list of shocking places you'd find caffeine check out this Sara Collins article. I had no idea oatmeal and beef jerky could have caffeine!

Your kid can have a steamed milk with thousands of different flavor combinations in it and a dollop of whipped cream on top. Lots of stores have apple juice that can be steamed to create a fun cinnamon or caramel themed apple drink.

Be wary, caffeine free drinks don't mean good for them. A coke the same size has less sugar andcalories than steamed milk with syrup. There is good news though! The milk in this drink still has all its nutrients including an excellent dose of calcium.

Older children present a whole different conundrum in the coffee shop. Teens want to be cool and drinking coffee is in vogue. I get that teens roam the stores without an adult often. You can discourage them from ordering coffee.

When you're out with your teen, don't offer to buy them a coffee. Or offer a coffee but limit how much sugar can go in. No one needs a latte with extra syrup and extra drizzle. Don't let a beginning coffee drinker make this a standard order! Encourage them to drink coffee with fewer additives. Suggest things that complement coffee's natural flavors like chocolate, cinnamon, or one of the nut flavors. Avoid making the coffee a candy bar with berry flavors, caramel, peppermint, coconut, or more than one syrup flavor.

Finally, you might point out the calories in the “treat”. Health Assist allows you to enter a weight and how many calories you want to work off and will literally tell you how long it will be to “run them off.” A lot of young ladies who think drinking a coffee will help them lose weight may be rudely awakened.

A coffee might seem like a weird place to take a stand, but it's not. Consider that your kid could be buying this regularly for the rest of his or her life. How often do you buy a coffee or drink while out? Once a month, once a week, more? Do you know how much money that is over the course of a natural human life span? Once a week at $2 each for 52 weeks is $104 in just one year. Lattes and frozen beverages, kids preferred coffee drinks run $4-$7 each, this more than doubles projected costs!

Does your teen realize how much money they are spending on coffee? A potentially eye opening exercise is to have your teen keep each coffee order receipt for a month. At the end of the month, add up all the money spent in the coffee shop. Ask your teen what else they could have bought with the money. Was being the cool kid who drinks coffee the best option?

If you must introduce kids to coffee, why not do it at home where you can control what goes in the coffee along with how much they have? Most kids aren't going to like straight coffee with a little milk and sugar. It might squelch any interest in getting a coffee from the shop when they know they don't like the home brew.

Thats' My Two Cents, I Want To Hear From You:

-Am I making too big a deal out of children drinking a coffee?
-What other suggestions would you offer to keep a kid from wanting coffee?
-Would you ever allow your child to drink a latte of some kind? Why or Why not?
-Is there a way for a barista to offer a coffee free alternative to a parent ordering a mocha for a kid without seeming rude or obnoxious?
-If you were in the coffee line and heard a parent buying a kid a coffee, would you speak up? Why or why not?
-Do you interpret the same order differently based on whether it's for a child, tween, teen, or adult?

-When are we old enough for caffeine?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

6 Steps to Slim Down White Mocha Without Ruining the Experience

 A medium white mocha made to recipe is 470 calories hot, 450 calories iced, and 440 calories blended. For reference, there are 36 items on McDonald's menu you can enjoy for under 400 calories. These include a hamburger for 240 calories, cheeseburger for 290 calories, 6 piece chicken nuggets for 280 calories, or a medium fry for 340 calories.

Obviously, anyone is entitled to have a treat once in a while. If you're enjoying a white mocha less than once a week or if you are very physically active, then these calorie counts probably don't matter one whit.

If you're indulging in a white mocha a little too often, don't despair! I have 6 barista secrets that can help slim down your white mocha and still leave you feeling satisfied.

  1. Hold the whip cream. I know, the little kid in some of us is crying at losing the whipped topping. Who didn't eat so much of this stuff they got sick at some point in childhood? Seriously though, super simple and saves 70 calories.
  2. Use Nonfat aka Skim Milk instead of the standard 2%. I honestly can't taste the difference in most hot beverages between the skim milk and the 2%. For most people, this is the most palatable of changes, though it only cuts 50 calories.
  3. Get a smaller size drink. The difference in which size you order can be as great as 120 calories or as little as 80 calories. Going from a medium to small on average saves 90 calories.
  4. Put less pumps of the syrup in the drink. Finding out how much each pump of syrup costs you is a little tricky. Sure the most logical thought is to see what the calorie difference between each drink size. There is one additional pump per each cup size in the recipe, so the difference in calories between sizes should tell us how much calories are in one pump of syrup.
The problem is the proportion of coffee to milk is not uniform, which plays some havoc with learning how many calories are in a pump. Best guess is that each pump of white mocha averages 97 calories.

It's probably best to reduce the syrup levels of the drink just one less pump at a time. Since there is both milk and sugar in the white mocha syrup, reducing the amount of syrup too quickly is going to make a huge difference in the taste of your drink. If you reduce the syrup pumps over time, it gives you time to adjust and feel satisfied with less sugar.

Sugar is a tricky ingredient because it effects taste and also the brain. There are studies that show our bodies react to sugar in alarming ways. For example: our brains release dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel happy, in response to sugar which can lead to us craving it. Also, our bodies develop a tolerance for sugar, so we need more to get the same effects. While science seems very clear that sugar and fatty foods are not drugs, it can still trigger some alarming tendencies that make it best to reduce our consumption slowly.

  1. Stir your drink. None of the drinks are stirred unless you ask for them stirred (and even then no guarantee anyone is actually stirring like you asked). This means a lot of the sweet taste in the drink is just collecting at the bottom of the cup. This is VERY true for thick syrups that include white mocha, regular mocha, pumpkin spice, and caramel brulee. You might be surprised how more balanced your drink tastes stirred. Stirring your drink does not reduce calories but a lot of people find that the drink is sweet enough when stirred they can more easily reduce the amount of syrup in the drink.
  2. Don't make all these changes at once. The number one mistake people make on the way to a healthier life is to try to change too many things about their lifestyle too quickly. If you want to health up your white mocha pick one of the above suggestions (the one you hate the least) and follow it. Get used to the ordering your white mocha that way, and after as week or two pick a second suggestion and add it to the one you're doing. It could take you a few months to be comfortable with your drink optimized for both taste and health. This step doesn't reduce calories, but it might help you keeping your drink slim and satisfying in the long run.

Do you have a coffee monkey on your back but it's not a white mocha? Don't fret! All fancy coffee drink calories can be reduced following these 6 steps! If you drink vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, cinnamon dolce, peppermint, or mocha you may be able to reduce calories further by asking for sugar free syrup. Just be aware that the sugar free syrups have sucralose in them currently has a 'caution' rating on it due to some studies where rats developed leukemia while consuming it. Also, the artificial sweetener taste is different and tends to leave a terrible after taste. I don't personally recommend sugar free syrup, but if you like diet soda then you may also like sugar free coffee drinks.

Above all else: enjoy your coffee! If it wasn't fancy and fun, you could just be drinking coffee at home.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

5 Ways Better Than the Coffee Line to Pay it Forward

Locally there is a growing movement to “pay it forward”. For those not familiar, “Paying it Forward” is performing a random/spontaneous act of kindness for someone else with the goal to make this at minimum a weekly practice. While I like the slogan, there is a growing practice I see in the coffee shops related to “paying it forward” that concerns me.

People are giving between $5-$20 to a barista and telling her they want her to use the money to “pay for the next few guests' coffee.” I know there's good intentions.

My primary concern is that no one buying a $5 coffee really needs more money. I know everyone has his or her own struggles. Most people in this world could use more kindness. Money is not the best way to create community or provide kindness.

My second concern is more practical. The donor is giving money to a minimum wage employee to pay for another person's luxury goods. It seems cruel to hand someone who is most likely financially struggling money and tell them “this is not for you, this is for other people like me with disposable income”. I am certain no person offering to pay for someone's coffee means it like this. Still, the act of “paying forward” goes from being an act of reaching out and creating bridges to one that reinforces wealth barriers.

So what's a kind  generous person to do? Someone might have the money but not the time or the time but not the money. Fear not! I present you 5 simple ways to pay it forward on a budget.

1.Strike up a meaningful conversation with a stranger. People feel isolated. Next time you're shopping or milling about with other people get off the phone and talk to one of them! It can be as simple as opening a discussion on the weather. You might have observed some piece of clothing or product that you have in common with them or are curious about. Perhaps the person looks distressed and you can show concern for them from the start just by asking “Is everything ok, you look upset”.

You will be surprised how quickly the conversation may turn personal. This person may just need an objective perspective and who knows, you might have some applicable meaningful advice. Ask yourself this how many times could you have used no strings attached listener or even a friendly compliment? I know there are plenty of days I could use a kind word.

What's great about this idea is that it takes ZERO research and NO money. All you need is to have a few minutes to spare.

2. Spend a half hour to an hour a week organizing part of your home and donate the clothes, food, or other items to charity. This is the ultimate win win situation. I have so much stuff that I'm not using and probably never going to use.

On a related note, offer to help someone you know sort through stuff. Its more fun when there is someone to talk to while cleaning. Plus, I find I give away more things because a second person will say things like “I've never seen this before” or “when will you use this?” These questions when asked neutrally help me realize that no, I'm not using something and I'm not going to use said thing. So far, I've never regretting donating a single item, and I've always enjoyed the extra space.

This suggestion takes some research, donating items means there has to be a local charity that will take them. I've had great results googling for good places. There are also a ton of facebook yard sale and give away groups. Just take pictures, say it's free stuff, and set times for people to pick it up. You'll have a clean house and your items will have a second life with someone who needed them.

3. Follow a more hands on route and go to a local nursing home or a soup kitchen Sign up to work with underprivileged kids, sign up to help at the local unemployment office, offer to help at the local Veteran Administration, or offer to help at an animal shelter. This suggestion is by far the most labor intensive. First you would have to look up local programs, second you'd have to make contact to see what kind of help the group needed , and then you would have to show up. This kind of volunteering is not for everyone. Still, if you have a target group you want to help or a target skill you want to offer a little research will show you the best way to give back.

4. Give that money to charity. My favorites include Kiva, Doctors Without Borders, and Teach forAmerica.

I like Kiva because it only takes $25 to help someone create a business that should sustain themselves. The best part about Kiva is that the $25 is a loan/ When I get it back, I can invest it again. It feels amazing helping people become independent. I know by helping that one person, I'm helping a family and community too.

I like Doctors Without Borders because they provide relief to those in immediate need. They are often first responders to world disasters. They risk their physical safety, their quality of life, and go to some of the most desperate places in the world to help elevate the quality of life for the local people.

Teachfor America is dedicated to giving our most vulnerable students a lasting and meaningful education. This is an institution that changes lives. It gives kids both the skills to find their own opportunities and a path to a better quality of living. Children are some of our most exposed members of society. The best thing we can do to help them is provide the tools they need to learn and make informed decisions in the future.

Of course there are thousands of amazing charities and worthy causes your money could go to. This is a very easy way to make a difference and it can be as global or local as the charity you choose.

5. Put half the money you are offering in free coffees in the tip jar. I admit, this is my least inspired idea, but if you're really attached to buying someone's coffee as a random act of kindness then helping the minimum wage person by making an equally large tip is probably the best compromise. It doesn't solve the division between minimum wage and disposable income but it's a reasonable start.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What On Earth is That Barista Doing Instead Of Talking To ME?!

I've recently had feedback from my manager through my boss that some guests are unhappy with my service because I always seem preoccupied and I always seem to be doing more than one thing at once. First I was outraged: of course I was preoccupied, there is a never ending laundry list of cleaning, food preparation, restocking, and learning company updates. Now, I realize how clouded my own vision is. I have six years in food service, and eight years under the retail/hospitality banner. My main volunteer platform as a kid was planning and preparing events—I have a wealth of experience in what else someone might have to do to to be prepared for a guest that a lot of the world doesn't have.

If you have ever wondered why your barista is so busy when there are no guests or why she seems distracted, stressed, or overwhelmed when you just wanted to know what is in the samples, then this is your article!

First let's talk physical numbers. The Corporate owned otherwise known as Freestanding stores require that at least two baristas work together (which means there are always three so that someone can cover breaks). Corporate does this so someone can be ready to talk you a guest through an order, make small talk, or answer questions.

However, in contract stores like mine, there is often only one barista. When I work, I am both the barista and the acting manager.

Whether there are a million people or ten people coming through the shop there is a base level of work that needs to be completed so the station is clean, stocked, and ready to receive guests. One person is barely able to do that base level of work on his or her own. That one person is even less able to do this work when guests come in and not only want something but also want to chat.

Of course the barista is graded and reviewed based of his or her ability to “amaze and connect with” guests. This means that he or she is going to try to give you that personal experience even if it is wildly difficult. Attempting to give you the same experience you'd get in a store with three to five people catering to you is actually the first stress I want to bring up. Most baristas know whether or not he or she is failing to give you the service you want and even if he or she doesn't know how to fix it he or she feels pressured to try.

He or she may truly want to talk to you. A random conversation is a great way to relieve the monotony of work, but with the sink water running, the oven humming, and possibly an espresso machine steaming, it might be legitimately hard to hear you. Two of my baristas have a hearing difficulty. They often have to ask the guest to speak up or repeat something and I've seen guests get frustrated.

Of note as opening lines go “How are you or how is your day” are bad conversation starters for most food service people. I can promise you that working in food service is dirty sticky work. Your barista is minimally physically uncomfortable. There are at least three and upwards of seven timers running ready to constantly beep and scatter the barista's attention. If you've placed more than one drink order or if you have more than two adjustments to a regular drink, your barista is mentally preoccupied trying to remember it all and order it for maximum efficiency.

Also your barista is required to be perky and cheerful with you, which is probably the opposite of how things are really going, asking “how are you” and having to lie about it to maintain the illusion of perky joy the company wants can be exhausting and taxing.

While it's not your fault, he or she may have interrupted a delicate cleaning procedure where proper timing makes the difference between a clean shiny area or a dull chemical mess that needs to be cleaned and redone. Cleaning steaming pitchers, sinks, and floor drains for example often takes a noxious chemical compound at a very high temperature and a lot of scrubbing. As soon as the chemical goes from near boiling to unpleasantly hot, it significantly decreases in effectiveness, which means more scrubbing and more time.

Also remember, the whole time the barista is working with this cleaner there is the potential for splashing that may burn since the water is hot, or slowly be destroying his or her skin because the chemical is caustic. He or she is wearing gloves for protection, but each guest is another time to take the gloves on and off that risks fluid in the gloves or fluid from the gloves splashing onto exposed skin.

There are a lot of products with 24 or 48hr shelf lives. The barista has to go through make sure he or she has enough for the day, all of which has to be done are the right time. Too late and her or she will run out, too soon and he or she will throw the work away. So a guest coming in or deciding on a drink five minutes earlier or later will play a big role in the barista's life.

I can't speak for all stores, but mine has a storage at the right place problem. For example, I have a walk in fridge that has milks for drinks. I need to restock those milks from the back, which happens a least once a day. The goal is to restock just once a day after closing because there is only one team member working and it takes 10mins to get the milks and put them in the fridge. If a barista has to make a run while open, they have the added stress of knowing with certainty there will be at least one upset guest.

There is a lot going on before a single guest steps on the scene. Your barista appreciates that you want an A+ experience and they really want to provide that. Assuming the person behind the counter is doing something else when you step up to place an order and assuming she never actually insults you, maybe you could find it in your heart to be more understanding if she's flustered or clearly stressed.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Area to Focus in and Becoming a Niche Writer—Come Again?

I'm impetuous and often fling myself head first with passionate abandon. I rarely let the full framework of idea fall into place. I dove into blogging like a salmon does the steam of it's birth to spawn. Three days in to my plan and now I worry that like a spawning salmon, I'm only heading enthusiastically to my own demise.

Writing is so natural for me. It feels like returning home. In a world where there are countless books and web posts about how to find your voice, how to keep the ideas flowing, and how to stay passionate in writing. All these posts are alien to my experience as a writer. I've never been 'out of ideas' or lacked a clear strong personality in my work. I don't lack the ability to spin imagery or metaphor. 'Surely', I thought, 'if these are the main struggles to keeping a blog, then it should be simple for me.'

From there I build a basic plan on what to call the blog, what to write, and how to market me. It felt good, like popping a pimple. All the bitter puss runs through the page, leaving oily ink stains. My problem is: destroying the pimple doesn't get rid of the underlying skin condition and creating a blog doesn't mean that I have contacts, clients, readers, or focus for my writing.

My blog right now is like the Jersey Shore Reality TV show. We're following me around my daily life and hoping that I create some TV gold. It's strange that I hate this premise of almost all reality TV, but still enjoy reading/writing blogs of the same premise. Is this proof positive that everything has more depth in writing vs video?

To me, I have a focus: my career status. I'm sharing what I currently do and some secrets of the food service industry I've picked up. I have a lot to share about guests I've served over the years, bosses and hierarchy structures, co-workers with their messy lives, and what my training tells me regarding how other establishments are functioning. Hospitality and retail industries are multi-billion dollar markets. I have seen the cogs as they turn smoothly, but I've also been present as they break down. I have very strong opinions on how is best to run a business, how to treat the staff, and how ideally client customer interactions should go.

My second focus, the less bitter one, follows me looking into the prospects of becoming a freelance writer. This side of writing is more open ended. It provides me an opportunity to discuss what I'm trying and how my experiences go. I can talk about my own skills and what I've learned.

While I'm new to freelancing, I'm not a new writer and I'm familiar with many varied styles. Specifically in my networking focuses I want to find other aspiring writers whom I can give tips to make amazing ideas read cleanly and compellingly. I love digging into others writing, after all, who doesn't like being a critic? Unlike a lot of critics not only can I tell someone the very moment my interest was piqued or lost, I can say why and I can offer feedback to build on that bit. Editting and critiquing is one of the few areas where a skill like that can be helpful instead of exhausting or annoying.

Writing about my freelance writing adventures also gives me a platform to discuss what suggestions other writers have made. This whole conversation for example, is inspired by this post on how to land clients with a blog  by Elna. She suggests that the best way to get clients through blogging is to “focus on your niche”.

I was concerned that perhaps my blog and writing doesn't meet the niche requirements. Perhaps in my enthusiasm, I had made my blog's reach too broad or too narrow. Does my writing fit into a category, and if so what? I panicked. It won't be the first or the last time. I'm impetuous after all and will back slide into my fearful, insecure self as naturally as I draw breathe. If only I could push it out of my brain on the next exhale.    

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Networking: Would doing it Any Other Way Seem Less Desperate?

I spent the first half hour of my morning writing session looking to network. I know zero people (I am literally a social hermit) so “social networking” involves desperately searching for people who may have common interests online. Worse thing about networking is that finding people is supposed to be the easy part. After all, there are hundreds of freelance writing groups, blogging groups, and writer support groups. I just click the join button and allow the influx of media to wash over me. This has not previously been a successful strategy for me. Maybe I pick too many groups.  Maybe they aren't the right groups. Whatever the reason, any serious attempts at networking usually result in me completely unplugging from net for months at a time.

I've done the blogging thing before. First I wrote a personal journal on livejournal.com and in the wake of the livejournal vs fanfiction / mass deleting of accounts, I left that platform and moved over to insanejournal. Doing this was awesome for my personal blog because it forced me to act and talk with the larger livejournal community and the eventual insanejournal community. For the better part of a year I had fifteen or so internet friends. The insanejournal gig couldn't last. People swapped over to dreamwidth(?) or lost interest in writing/blogging. I suppose that's around the time facebook, youtube and other new forms of social media started becoming more mainstream. I think a lot of them left or refocused their energy on these newer models. After all why write with friends when you could face to face talk? My own account slowly went dark as all the people I used to speak to winked out and I could write in a vacuum on my own pc without ever publishing.

I very briefly tried a photography business and a blog with zero success. I have some natural talent in composing shots, and my ability to edit is respectable. I have very little in the way of technical terminology or logistic advice. While my pictures are lovely and I have quite a few amazing shots, writing wise I have nothing to offer this community.

I ran a Mary Kay blog when I was trying to sell it. I wrote (and never published) more posts about how the promotion techniques were troubling, the product was limited, or how terribly these women treated other women. My puff pieces that made it on to the blog were acceptable but lacking in real heart. Also, they were way too long, instead of trying to appeal to one group, I worked on appealing to all groups in one long post—not a smart strategy. What's most surprising to me is that my three page posts somehow garnered 69 page views.

My most successful blog was a personal religious one I wrote. This one has/had a lot of potential. My networking roots were good. I was knowledgeable and passionate about the material. I wanted to reach out and participate in the community and I had some people reaching back and participating with me.

The first problem here is that I am too verbose. I wrote 5-10 page posts, and these final posts were edited down from 20-30pages all single spaced mostly a wall of text. It takes a lot commitment to write that kind of work and even more to read and respond to it. I was posting, but by the time I was getting my thoughts out, they were no longer timely.

I started to get the impression that a lot of the people I was working with were there to increase subscription and page ratings and not to discuss or actually dig into our faith. Once that thought blossomed, I could see how the language in a lot of the posts was intentionally inflammatory to force response. Even people in the scene who were bridge builders and unity champions, had posts which seemed to be there just to generate greater page hits. I might have struggled on writing my mini-novel posts, but I was too disheartened by the nature of the conversation along with the length of time it took me to respond to push on.

So present day what have I learned from previous blogging forays?

  1. Keep it short 500-1000 words. This is a HUGE challenge for me.
  2. Keep it current and regularly updated. I have updated daily in some of my past blog projects and they were hands down the most successful at reaching out. While I am one person and I don't want to over produce as that can be annoying on someone's feed, I also don't want to be bumped off the page views either.
  3. Controversy will happen naturally. I don't need to troll internet rage to be seen, and if I do, I probably don't have anything worthwhile to say.
  4. Be authentic, people have always seemed to respond well to me, and I need to trust in that.
  5. Network, Network, Network! What I need is a support group of people, reading, commenting, and possibly connecting me to work. I have skills that make me a great friend to have. I'm a good editor. I'm very passionate about projects I take on, and I have diverse interests/ knowledge base to work from.
  6. My base is very limited but it might be time to reach out to friends and family.

What about you? Are there any tips on how is best to network? Are there any thoughts on the best way to make friends/contacts? How do you like to reach out? What was your most successful networking experience?  

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Guests I Wouldn't Invite Back: This Fellow is Nominated for Either Most Oblivious or Most Self Centered Guest

Scene: Busy Saturday filled with bustling people coming and going. There is one Barista working the coffee shop where there is a constant line of people waiting to place orders and receive drinks.

“Hello Ma'am I'd like a small Green Tea Frappicinno,”

“Sure, will that be all?”

“Yes that's all,”

“You're total is $4.85”

Barista turns around to make the drink. With the sink running and the blender whirring she hears muffled noises. She looks to see the male Guest's mouth moving. She moves towards the counter.

“What was that sir?”

“I just saw the Oprah brewed tea. Is that new, I've never seen it. You know what, I want that. Yeah, get me an Oprah brewed tea.”

“Do you want the tea and the Frappiccinno?”

“Yes, I'll have a small Oprah tea.”

“Ok the total will be $6.43”

“Ok well I gave you $5 so I just need to give you another $2”

Barista looks on the register top. She looks to the side of the register. She looks on the cup holders, and sees no money. Man is currently fumbling with cash. He looks up and sees the barista's confused face. He hands her 4 crumpled $1 that are hiding UNDERNEATH the credit card self swipe. Barista turns and fixes tea while man continues to search for the money.

“You know I don't have enough, I'm going to run to my car to get the rest of the change.”

Man turns and leaves without waiting for response. Sighs can be heard from the long line of waiting guests. Barista forces a smile. She knows the only thing harder than closing and opening a transaction so she can serve other guests while waiting for this one to come back will be having to work his cash transaction and beverage hand off in after she's started moving the line.  

Day 1 Month 1 Wake Up and Write! Other Progress Report Stuff

So far the whole “writing is my passion so I'm going to make time for it” idea is going. Yesterday, I revamped my email, twitter, and blog to reflect this new project. The email I pulled was a less cluttered rarely used one originally set up for Mary Kay. I should have known when I was so desperate Mary Kay seemed plausible for escape that it was time to change venue. I'm so used to just surrendering. Regarding career, I say to myself: “This is it. This is all there is. You will never be happy at work, you will never be able to combine the esoteric frivolous things you love with any concept of something that makes money.” I've tried to be stern with myself saying being sad about something like that is what teenagers do. I'm too old to not face the truth and I've known that I don't fit with the more prolific culture for over a decade—it's too long to still be in mourning. I don't know why it's taken me this long to try something new and unconventional. Maybe if instead of being sad and frustrated, I'd been brave and stubborn—but being stubborn has never yielded positive results. There is no reason to think being stubborn will be successful in this venture either. I feel so crappy and miserable about my job prospects and what I'll be doing for the next fifty years of my life there's nothing left to lose in trying something else. If being stubborn is another failure, there will literal be no harm done.

I wrote one and a half blog posts yesterday. Neither is up yet. I am already struggling with my first pledge to keep my writing 500-1000 words. My first “completed post” stands at 1134 words, and that's after significant editing. It's been a long time since I wrote for anyone, and brevity was never my forte. Needless to say, I spend more time editing than writing. Words might fall out, but it's hard to cull them once they've been born.

Both my works are bitter and angry. One of them is on a heavy and highly controversial subject. I am going to post, I just didn't want to start with material that is possibly off putting. Let the readers get to know me a little and see me as human with a range, and then “bam” depth has been added.

There is definitely a huge market of hospitality staff that share in my secret knowledge. I've decided need to build a more diverse base than a bunch of very sensitive misanthropes who put on the fake pep rally face for work and come home to find some kind of cathartic release. Working in the service industry is bleak. Not just because the public treats you badly, but because everyone around you is at least as hopeless sometimes more so than you are. All these good people who have skills and so much inherent worth have been discarded. It hurts me to see people so young already defeated.

The fiancee came home and 6:30pm to find me writing. That's about six solid hours. He very reasonably wanted me to cook. He offered to make instant pizza and let me work, but I refused. We have meat in the fridge that is going to go out of date if not used and I need the discipline. It's hard when I'm in a groove to leave the work, and I know that if I try to come back at 7:30, 8pm the parts of my brain that pump out the magic will be fried for the day. Cooking in some ways is a death sentence to my creative career.

However, not pulling my weight in house work and in my partnership with my fiancee is a death sentence to our life together. It can be hard when I'm so unhappy with one part of my life to remember how good another part it. I feel disjointed laughing and teasing him. Poking fun about this person or that person, playing with our dog, discussing which movies if any we'd like to see and carefully avoiding work and fiancees.

He loves his job and makes so much money. I live a magically blessed life I've done very little to deserve. I have tried so many and failed at so many different career things just since we've been together. He's always been so tolerant and loving about it. I can't keep abusing him like this. Failure after failure, new attempt, and another—hoping he'll still understand.

He did the whole career success thing on the first try. He has a skill in technology that will start a bidding war to have him. I admit my fiancee doesn't have a creative bone in his body, he can't tell where a plot is going to save his life, he doesn't care a second glance at art or good landscaping, and he lacks even the smallest drop of empathy. But he's an amazing worker: dedicated, smart, thoughtful, and full of effort. He's very ambitious and demands high standards in himself and those around him. He loves me very much somehow and I really don't know how since all of my most endearing qualities are ones that he presumably doesn't care about and rarely recognizes.

After dinner I worked on compiling my already written poems. I think I have enough of high enough caliber that I can put them together for an e-book. I do not expect this to be an huge money maker, but I love my work and other people love it too. I honestly just want a platform to put that work out into the world. Also, rereading my old poems helps to remind me of what I've done, where my writing was, and what I can do.

I also have been able to go back through my life via the poetic works and look at past relationships. I have all this beautiful body of work about an abusive relationship I had and about a man I thought would be the love of my life. Reading those works reminds me of why I had such a hard time moving on, because I can remember how true they are.

It occurred to me while reading and making the occasional edit, that part of me felt unfaithful to my current fiancee reading the work. Like admitting I had these thoughts and feelings for someone else and knowing I don't feel that way for him was some kind of betrayal. I was struck by this desperate need to write poetry about our relationship and our life and was hit with a block. I haven't written a single poem in three years. There is very little in my life I would consider fodder for my poetic process. I always thought the kind of relationships I had with men would be inherently poetic. I don't think my relationship with the fiancee has an ounce of poetry to it. We point out where the other lacks and help them, but we never are intentionally cruel. We never go back and forth in rounds that could be stanzas.

The bottom line is that I write poems to release emotion either anger, joy, or hurt. When he hurts me I tell him. When I'm happy I want to share it with him. When I'm mad at him I confront him, even when it's stupid or little. We hash it out. When I'm not satisfied, which is rare, I go for a walk. It burns calories, anger, and lets him KNOW we still need to talk to work things out but only after I have space to think and maybe he has space to think. Maybe because I'm not in college and I work 40hrs a week, I don't have the excess time or energy to produce emotion like I did. Maybe I leak it all out on him and none left to write on. 

That's all my progress for today.  I'm still reading advice on how to best freelance write from home, with some mixed advice.  I'm browsing some social media options and search engine stuff.  I feel a bit overwhelmed, but I feel the most important thing through it all is write and focus on my ideas.  I can build portfolios and how to make offers and all the details from there, so long as I have the writing.