Archives For November 2011

Do you know how to ask for a raise  As the economy starts to pick back up, many people will start looking elsewhere for more money. As I explained in “How to be a Consultant“, the work world has changed, but many of us will continue to work longer term for the same company.

What steps should you take to ask for a raise? I interviewed my Mother-in-Law, Martha, who just happens to be a HR professional with 30 years of experience! She has been through her fair share of these conversations and offers us some great advice on how to ask for a raise.

To be successful asking for a raise, you need to be prepared. Follow these four steps to ask for a raise:

1. Let the boss know you want to talk about compensation

You shouldn’t surprise your boss with a serious conversation such as asking for a raise without warning. There are a few reasons for this. First, Martha said if your boss is a good boss, they’ll want to do some work on their end to see if a raise is available before you meet.

Next, if you surprise your boss by asking for a raise, they may avoid the answer and say you can meet again later. This lets them get out of it and Martha said it’s an easy for them to continue to ignore your request for a raise.

2. Know why you should get a raise

Most of the time, your boss and company already know about your ongoing contributions and successes. In fact, your hard work and success is expected, that’s why they hired you! Today’s companies need more than just that, they need you to help find the money to pay you more.

You’ll need to prepare for this question before you ask for the raise. What have you done recently that increased revenue or cut expenses? It’s ok to bring in a paper or presentation with you to show your boss.

If you can’t find any hard numbers, maybe you’re not ready for a raise! However, there are definitely some other ways you can convey your value. Have you implemented process improvements, gone above and beyond on a consistent basis, or helped others get better?

One thing they always told us at Accenture was that we needed to be performing at the next level before we’d even be considered for it. Don’t expect a raise just because you’ve put in your time.

3. During the conversation, keep the topic on your pay

When you meet with your boss to ask for raise, don’t discuss other people’s pay as the reason you need a raise. This can come across as complaining, and it’s a game you won’t win.

4. After the conversation, set a follow up date

Most bosses have to get a one up approval if you ask for a raise out of sequence, so don’t force a commitment from your boss in the meeting. If you try to force it, they will not be happy. However, you should ask your boss for a follow up date to discuss the outcome.

Even if you get a “No” or “we’ll see”, immediately set a time for your next conversation in 60-90 days. If you don’t already have objectives set for yourself, work with your boss to create these, and then make sure you exceed them if you want a raise.

If all of these fail, you don’t get a raise, and you know you’re worth the extra money, it might be time to look elsewhere. It’s very easy to become stagnant at a job, and to settle even if you’re not happy. Remember, you are now a consultant, and if you want to continue to succeed at work you’ll need to learn the new way.

Have you asked for a raise lately? Do you have any other tips on asking for a raise?

Black Friday

November 28, 2011

Initially, I was going to do a review of Black Friday sales results. However, in the back of my mind I always wondered how they knew 200+ million people shopped that weekend. Did they count them all or what?!

As I started collecting numbers, I found my answers. Black Friday sales results are all estimated until retail stores eventually release the real data. How is it estimated?

– Analysts make store visits and watch details like the size of customers’ shopping bags and the length of lines outside stores to estimate how consumer spending is rising or falling. They can compare store traffic to the rates of shoppers who are making purchases to get a reading on conversion rates. (1)

– The survey, conducted Nov. 24-26 by BIGresearch for NRF, polled 3,826 consumers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6%. (2)

– Brisk Black Friday sales may illustrate a gap between what consumers tell pollsters and how they actually behave — a trend that has prevailed for much of this year, according to Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, a Swampscott, Massachusetts-based research firm. (3)

Really, they came up with all of these numbers based on a survey of 3,826 people and estimates of how big shopper’s bags are?! As pointed out in the third point, they have know clue if these numbers are accurate.

Ok, so back to the original point at hand. I’m not a Black Friday shopper… and I don’t necessarily advocate it. What do the numbers from 2011 Black Friday look like?

Overall Results

– Black Friday usually accounts for about 10% of retailers’ holiday sales (1)

– 86.3 million shoppers braved the crowds on Black Friday. (8)

– On Black Friday alone, retailers raked in an estimated $11.4 billion, up 6.6% from last year, according to ShopperTrak. (6)

– 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 212 million last year. (8)

– The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 this weekend, up from $365.34 last year and $343.31 from 2009. (8)

– Total spending reached an estimated $52.4 billion, up from $5 billion in 2010. (8)


Early Shoppers

Based on the results below, retailers will continue to open stores earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving. If it pays off for them, they’ll definitely do it!

– Nearly one-quarter (24.4%) of Black Friday shoppers were at the stores by midnight on Black Friday; compared to 9.5 percent in 2010 and 3.3 percent in 2009. (8)

– Stores that opened early saw a 24% increase in conversion, or the rate of shoppers that made purchases, according to the NPD Group. (1)

– Stores that opened on the evening before Black Friday like Wal-Mart and Target had sold out the bulk of their inventory by Black Friday itself. (1)


Web Results

As expected, shoppers continue to increase online shopping, but it doesn’t seem to be cutting into the numbers visiting the stores. Points 2 and 3 don’t really match, but that’s what happen when you have different companies giving different estimates!

– 28.7 million people shopped online and at stores on Thanksgiving Day – up from 22.2 million last year. (8)

– Consumers spent an average of $150.53 on the web – 37.8 percent of their total weekend spending. (8)

– Online shoppers spent an average of $190.10 per order, on par with last year, mostly opening their wallets to higher-ticket items compared with 2010, according to a survey by Coremetrics, an IBM Corp company. (6)

– Web sales on Black Friday surged 26 percent to $816 million and 18 percent to $479 million on Thanksgiving Day, said ComScore, a Reston, Virginia-based research firm. (5)


Other Notes

– Self-gifting was also on the rise as 46% of Black Friday shoppers bought something for themselves, up from 35% last year, research firm NPD Group said. (6)

– More than half (51.4%) bought clothing and clothing accessories, and gift buyers were also drawn to promotions on electronics and computer-related accessories over the weekend. Nearly four in 10 (39.4%) bought electronic items, up from 36.7 percent last year. Additionally, shoppers stocked up on home décor (21.3%), gift cards (23.1%), toys (32.6%), and jewelry (13.8%). (8)

– Scouring deals from discount stores to grocery stores, shoppers visited a variety of retailers over the weekend. The most popular shopping destinations once again were at department stores (48.7%) and discounters (37.5%). Additionally, consumers also shopped at clothing stores (24.6%), drug stores (14.0%) and grocery stores (23.8%), electronics stores (30.8%) and craft or fabric stores (7. 9%.) (8)




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A Smile on a Flight

November 24, 2011 — Leave a comment

November 24, 2011

Consider this my Thanksgiving inspired article… the story happened Thursday a week ago, but I thought it was perfectly suited to talk about today. With this, I honor all breast cancer survivors… you gals rock!!

It’s the little moments in life that add up and make it all worth living. One of the best seconds can be when you realize you might have a chance with the girl of your dreams; one of the worst can be when one of the most important people in your life moves on. Your life is a compilation of these moments that vacillate between the unintended and the intentional. What you do with these moments and how you react to the unintended is what makes you.

On a late night flight from San Francisco to New Orleans, a seat mate recognized a smile of our flight attendant that was more than a courtesy. To me, it was just a normal smile. However, to my seat mate it was the truth.

As the script of these moments progressed, the actors went from normal life to something almost inconceivable. Something motivated my seat mate to pull out at $20 bill to give the flight attendant; this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone tip a flight attendant. Well, besides the numerous times people give them “tips” on where they can go, and where they can shove things!

She reluctantly accepted the tip, and I thought the uniqueness of that moment was done. It would live on as an interesting occurrence that might someday flash across my mind and inspire me to do something as crazy and unique.

Nope, the moment wasn’t ready to retire. He inquired about a glove she was wearing that turned out to be a compression glove that helps prevent her hand from swelling. The swelling is caused by a glandular issue that resulted from the mastectomy she recently experienced while battling breast cancer.

They discussed the wigs she wore and how they provided her with the closest thing to normalcy during her most un-normal time. She wore long and short wigs of various styles and colors that couldn’t mask her most unexpected smile during her troubled times.

The smile persisted past the cancer that could have triumphed. She’s three years past the procedure and credits her strengths and optimism to helping her triumph. She maintains her smile, and I can believe it’s even bigger now than it was before the cancer.

“Death, as we say, is the king of terrors; and the man who has conquered the fear of death, is not likely to lose his presence of mind at the approach of any other natural evil. In war, men become familiar with death, and are thereby necessarily cured of that superstitious horror with which it is viewed by the weak and unexperienced. They consider it merely as the loss of life, and as no further the object of aversion than as life may happen to be that of desire. They learn from experience, too, that many seemingly great dangers are not so great as they appear; and that, with courage, activity, and presence of mind, there is often a good probability of extricating themselves with honor from situation where at first they could see no hope.” – Adam Smith

She extricated herself with honor and a smile.

What are you doing with your moments? Would you recognize a smile on a flight as something more?

How much does a car truly cost?

We love our cars. They do more than get us from point A to point B; they give us the freedom to drive the open road. They allow us to break loose of the everyday mundane and experience the extraordinary. What price do we pay for this perceived freedom and how much does a car truly cost?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we spend on average $4,500 a year to pay for and maintain a car. That means you need $6,000 in income if you’re in the 25% tax bracket just to have a car. That equates to around $3/hr of your normal wages. If you’re making minimum wage, that’s almost half of your income!

It looks like many people are driving around in paid for cars because when you add up the finance and lease charges, the total is between only $550 – $800 for a complete year. When I purchased my new car, my payments were $500/month so I was paying $6,000 per year. However, now I have my car paid off so I’m back to $0 a year on car payments.  This is why I think new cars suck (if you can’t afford it).

The purchase price and lease amount on a car are fairly elastic – meaning we can mostly control how much we pay monthly. If you made the same mistake as I did and bought a car you couldn’t afford, your payments are very high. However, if you’ve paid your car off, then your monthly payments could also be $0.

The majority of the costs for automobiles are inelastic – we can’t do much to control them. At best we have a small amount of control because we can drive less to save on gas and drive better so our insurance doesn’t increase. However, on the whole we’re still paying a whole lot of money on these two expenditures. The total gasoline charges alone average between $2100 per year and the average insurance premiums are around $1,000 per year.

The alternatives?

1. Use public transportation

Many of my friends already do this in bigger cities; especially in the Northeast where mass transit is quite common. However, in the Midwest where I’m from, driving is a part of life. It’s sad how little public transportation there is in cities such as Dallas, TX or Tulsa, OK.

2. Drive down the normal costs of owning a car

– Shop around on car insurance to ensure you’re getting the best deal

– Maintain the maintenance on your car to maximize gas mileage (correct tire pressure, etc)

– Bundle trips as much as possible by visiting all of the stores in a give area at once

– Car pool with co-workers

– Drive smart (don’t over accelerate, speed, tear up your vehicle, etc)

Check out this website that gives more money saving gas tips.

3. Live close to your work

This could potentially solve some problems, but I realize it’s not a feasible option for some because of affordability, or preference on school systems. However, living close to work can allow you to save money and save a lot of time. My parents were very lucky as they lived about 1 mile from the school they both worked at!

Ideally, the US will need to cut down on the required driving by working on an infrastructure of self-contained villages. I think it would be easier now than it ever has been before because of the ability to work virtually. Travel would still be required, but it would cut down on traffic in huge cities such as Los Angeles or Houston where two hour commutes aren’t out of the ordinary.

All this being said, I don’t see our love affair with cars ending anytime soon. According to the BLS, in 2010, on an average day, 67.6 percent of the civilian population aged 15 and over drove; those who drove spent on average 1 hour and 18 minutes driving.

I like driving. In fact, I’m still trying to convince my wife to take a year off and tour the great United States in an automobile of some sort! It wouldn’t be cheap, but the sites we’d be able to see would make it all worth it.

However, until that point, I’m going to continue to attempt to drive down the costs of owning/operating an automobile. What methods do you use?  Do you think this is accurate as to how much a car can truly cost?

It had to be the low point of my high school life. The high school janitor called in sick and there wasn’t anyone left to fill in. So there I was, cleaning the same bathroom that my friends and I used earlier in the day. It couldn’t get any worse.

Oh wait, it could. It turns out the high school cheerleaders were staying late that particular evening and saw me cleaning the bathrooms. There was no way I’d go on a date with them any time soon!

Janitor was in my job description because I worked for my dad who was the maintenance supervisor at my school. Typically, I worked light maintenance jobs and mostly did the yard work. I learned more from this job than I ever could have imagined.

What did I learn?

1. No job is beneath you

2. You can learn from anyone

3. Your work is your reputation


1. No job is beneath you

Pride is a dangerous thing. It can convince us that work is beneath us, and that we shouldn’t be subjected to it.

Our nation was built on the back of immigrants and other workers that never saw work as beneath them. They saw work as the opportunity to succeed in their American dream and soon many of them got there.

Many Americans have lost their fire because we’ve had things too easy, and it’s not just Generation Y as many pundits prefer to point out.

However, many of us do expect to come out of college with a plush corner office and executive level job. These expectations have changed somewhat with the Great Recession, but they’re still around.

Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” If you’re not afraid to do the dirty work now, people will notice and you will gain much respect. A bad attitude is one of the most dangerous things to bring into a work environment.

2. You can learn from anyone

You can learn from anyone in life and in work. Sometimes you learn what to do and other times you learn what not to do.

My dad always drilled this lesson into me. He would always listen to his crew’s suggestions and implement their ideas when the suggestion made sense. It didn’t matter that some of them didn’t even have a high school education; he listened to and respected them all the same.

This is advantageous for multiple reasons.

First, they’re the ones doing the job everyday, so they know the recurring problems. Next, when they felt listened to and respected, they reciprocate many times over through their hard work and respect.

I learned many lessons from my co-workers in the maintenance and janitorial departments. My favorite was how to mow straight, diagonal lines on the football field.

Just in case you don’t know, mowing the football field is a big honor in Oklahoma. High school football in Oklahoma is similar to Texas. It’s a very big deal.

When you mow the field; your work is in the spotlight on Friday nights in front of 4,000 people! How do you mow a straight line diagonally on a football field? Remember, this is about 120 yards when cutting diagonally.

To mow straight, you must stare a point on the far end where you’re heading and never take your eyes off of it. If you take your eyes off of your target and even try to follow the line you previously cut, your straight line will be no more. This is a very relevant lesson in life! Keep your eye on the target!

3. Your work is your reputation

Finally, through my position, I learned that your work is your reputation. I worked hard at the school and was proud of my work.

Many years later, my dad’s workers still talk about the work that my co-worker Joe and I did. It might have only been weed-eating or mopping a long hall, but we wanted the work done fast and right.

This set the tone for the rest of my work life and others have noticed. The key is to find what you love and then working hard will come naturally – I’m still working on this part.

In China Shakes the World, James Kynge wrote, “When people have money, they lose enthusiasm for work. Their lives are just too comfortable.”

Don’t be embarrassed of the job you have now or one you’ve had in the past. Use it as an opportunity to learn and better yourself. As Abraham Lincoln said, “whatever you are, be a good one.”

What was your worst job and what did you learn from it?