HR Lessons From Colonial Williamsburg

Public Records Are Newly Accessible

Getting E-Smart: Setting Goals

Job Hunting Directories

Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring and Bart Jackson was prepared for the April 9, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Self-Styled Sabbatical Boosts Career

With the economy souring, Hollie Gilroy "fired

herself" and spent a year learning all about sailing and thoroughbred

horse racing. Back at a desk now at the Healthcare Institute of New

Jersey, she looks on her self-styled sabbatical as a smart career

move — and so much more.

Gilroy speaks as part of a panel, "Sabbaticals: They’re not Just

for Educators," on Thursday, April 10, at 8:30 a.m. at Princeton

Softech’s offices at 111 Campus Drive. The event is sponsored by the

New Jersey Technology Council. Other speakers are Louise Levy

of New Hope-based Levy Associates, and Jill E. Jachera of Morgan

Lewis. Cost: $40. Call 856-787-9700.

As Gilroy speaks about her sabbatical, and about the career progression

that led up to the year off, it quickly becomes clear that she is

a person with a finely-calibrated life plan.

She got it from her mother.

"I was a first generation college graduate," she says. "My

mom was a young widow." Working all of her life in office support

jobs to raise her children, Gilroy’s mother drilled them on the value

of an education, especially for women. She told her daughter that

"`you can be a person who lets fate manage your life, or you can

take charge.’"

Choosing the latter course, Gilroy, who grew up in South Plainfield,

spent two years at Middlesex County Community College, and won a scholarship

to Douglass, graduating in 1985 with a degree in journalism and mass

media. She then earned a master’s degree in public and corporate communication

from Seton Hall.

An internship in the public affairs department at Merck whetted her

appetite for community/public affairs work. She did do a brief stint

at a newspaper, but soon left "to go to the other side," working

in communications. "The working conditions are better, the pay

is better, and there is more opportunity for career mobility,"

she says.

She first went to work as a lobbyist for the Marcus Group in northern

New Jersey. "I got the lay of the land, learned about lobbying,"

she says. "It was a learning-the-ropes job." After three years,

she moved on to Nancy Becker Associates in Trenton, where she spent

18 months before going to work for one of the company’s clients, the

New Jersey Council of County Colleges. She describes that job as "a

wonderful outlet for my personal convictions."

"Community colleges are what America’s all about," she says.

"It takes the snobbery out of education, letting people learn

when they are ready. It’s a thing you find nowhere else but in America."

In addition to involving an issue of deep significance to her, the

job was "one of the best professional growth opportunities."

She spent eight years at the Council of County Colleges, culminating

in what she terms an important moral victory. "We hit a high note,"

she recounts, "when we corrected the state funding formula. Governor

Whitman gave us $48 million. It showed that the white hats do win."

After helping to secure an important victory for community colleges,

Gilroy decided to move on despite the fact that she still loved the

job. "I wanted to go out on a high note," she says. "I

was starting to think of my next career move."

Just then the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers

"came knocking." She decided to accept a job there as director

of community and public affairs, thinking the work would be similar

to that she had done. But it didn’t turn out to be a good fit. Her

entrepreneurial personality chaffed at the bureaucracy at the huge

institution of which the Ag Station is a part. She says she did give

the job a real chance, but after year, she knew it wasn’t for her.

Still, she did not want to start "pounding the pavement" to

look for another job.

"I was at a place in my career where I thought it was better to

take a break," she says. "It was time to take a big step back,

and decide what I wanted to do next. A break was a great way to objectively

look at my career path without the stress of a job. I could make a

better decision, and not be emotional about the situation."

In her opinion, the pressure of leaving a job that is not a good fit

and jumping right into another job can be a recipe for going from

the frying pan straight into the fire. She decided to take another

route to her next career move, and, along the way, to spend time trying

things she had always wanted to do. Here is how she did it, a method

she recommends to others.

Talk to people who have taken a sabbatical. Through a

network of women professionals with whom she maintained contact, Gilroy

learned of a woman who had done what she wanted to do. "She was

a year or two younger," she recounts. "She was on the fast

track in a high-powered Manhattan job, engaged, and living a wonderful

lifestyle. But she wasn’t enjoying her life." The woman told Gilroy

she had met with a career coach to uncover her true abilities and

interests. She then took time off to travel in Europe before finding

work at a non-profit.

"It was a story I could relate to," says Gilroy. "It’s

nice to have a nice resume with awards, but you need to honor other

parts of yourself." The early years of a career are all about

acquisition, she says. Promotions, titles, an increasingly upscale

wardrobe, the corner office, a bigger salary, these things become

all-consuming. Stepping away allows space for introspection and re-evaluation.

Build up a nest egg. Academics often can take sabbaticals

with pay. Some corporations and non-profits — but not many —

grant sabbaticals at full or partial pay, and some continue health

insurance during the time off. None of this applied to Gilroy. She

knew she had to finance her own sabbatical. To do so, she saved every

other paycheck for a year. It was tough staying on at a job she did

not particularly enjoy for 12 more months, but that was the only way

she could do it.

The lifestyle adjustment was not particularly difficult. "I’m

not a person who needs a new car, who needs to live in the biggest

house," she says. "I don’t need a million cable channels.

I don’t need to eat out every night." Her husband, Michael Skowronski,

is a self-employed inventor, so one thing she would need was health

insurance. She would have to pay for that too, which she did through

COBRA.

Make a plan. In a Seinfeld episode, George receives a

generous severance payment from the Yankees after being fired. He

happily declares that the next months will be "the summer of George."

But beyond deciding to learn to play rolf, a combination of frisbee

and golf, he makes no concrete plans, and ends up sinking deeper and

deeper into a routine of doing nothing more than watching television

with a substantial supply of snacks nearby.

Some version of this scenario is a real possibility without a plan,

says Gilroy, who avoided the trap. She chose two main activities.

First, she would become a sailor, learning not only how to sail a

ship, but also how to repair it, and how to navigate. Growing up near

the Jersey shore, this was something she had dreamed of doing, and

she thoroughly enjoyed becoming a competent skipper.

She says her stay at the Ag Station, while not perfect, was a learning

experience. One thing she came away with was a deep appreciation of

thoroughbred horses. For the second part of her sabbatical, she spent

her days at a stable, learning all about horses and about horse racing.

Make sure the plan is flexible. While a "summer of

George" is something a person on sabbatical needs to avoid at

all costs, too much planning is not a good thing either. Scheduling

every minute forecloses the possibility of losing a precious opportunity.

So it was that Gilroy, about to wrap up her sabbatical after about

seven months, was approached by Raritan Valley Community College,

and asked to teach communications for a semester. She accepted on

the spot, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Don’t worry about finding another job. When Gilroy first

decided to take a self-financed sabbatical, the economy was rocketing

to new heights, and gobbling up every worker it could get. By the

time she had saved up enough to take the leave, the economy was softening

perceptibly. But she did not let the situation dissuade her. "You

can always get a job," she says. Finding a year to explore new

interests, in her opinion, is not so easy. She was not going to let

a budding recession get in her way.

In any economy, she advises, the beginning of a sabbatical is definitely

not the time to worry about — or plot — a reentry into the

world of work. "You need to make a clean break," she says.

Play up the sabbatical on resumes. With her sabbatical

nearing an end, Gilroy did begin to think about her next career move.

She first decided that she did not want a career change, and then

made a list of all the things she had liked — and disliked —

about previous jobs. In the end, she decided that a job in a relatively

small non-profit, perhaps in the healthcare industry, would be a good

fit.

She told employers, right up front, that she was returning from a

sabbatical, refreshed and ready to go. She also detailed what she

had done with her time off. Intrigued, a good number of employers

called her in for interviews, and wanted to hear all about the sabbatical.

Rather than being a liability, the break had turned into a substantial

asset, inspiring wistful admiration in the desk-bound.

Gilroy received a number of job offers, and just about one year ago

signed on as director of communications for the Healthcare Institute

of New Jersey, which has just moved from New Brunswick to Hillside.

Led by Bob Franks, former head of the state Republican committee,

this organization represents 20 companies aiming to raise the visibility

of the research-based pharmaceutical and medical device industry (www.hinj.org).

Back at work, Gilroy says she is immeasurably changed. She attends

to her workload conscientiously, but also sets boundaries, insisting

on leaving her work at work, and keeping up with outside interests

on her time off. "I don’t compete anymore," she says. "I’m

not obsessed with adding the title of vice president to my name."

During her sabbatical, Gilroy had a chance to spend a lot of time

with her mother, who, coincidentally, retired just as her daughter’s

leave was beginning. "We were two girls on the run," Gilroy

laughs. It was her mother’s lesson about the importance of taking

control of your destiny that led Gilroy up the career ladder. Now

that she is back at work, it is the same lesson guides her altered

view of work.

"It’s up to the individual to set limits," she says. "You

need to take breaks so that you don’t become overwhelmed." When

a one-year sabbatical is not possible, make it a week-long break,

or even a week-end away. If you find yourself dreaming about time

off, probably you should take some. Says Gilroy, "that’s a red

flag."

Employers’ View

Louise Levy, whose consulting business, Levy and Associates,

works with start-ups and small businesses on "change cycle"

issues, also speaks on sabbaticals at the NJTC event. She recalls

that sabbaticals were hot back in the boom of the late-1990s, when

employers, particularly in the high-tech sector, used the lure of

paid time off to attract and keep employees in an ultra-tight labor

market.

Now, she reports, some companies are using sabbaticals as a tool to

avoid severing ties with their workers. Instead of laying off employees

when things get slow, these employers are offering time off, sometimes

with partial pay, and sometimes with benefits only.

Levy points out that there are dangers with this scheme — for

both sides. Employees can not be sure where they will stand when a

sabbatical ends, and the employer, already signaling weakness, has

no guarantee that his worker will return.

Top Of Page
HR Lessons From Colonial Williamsburg

What do Taco Bell, Marriott, and Colonial Williamsburg

have in common with one another — and with the Seaside Heights

boardwalk and the Nassau Inn? All need to hire, motivate, and retain

legions of non-exempt workers. A key to success in the tourism industry,

the subject is on the agenda at the 2003 Governor’s Conference on

Tourism, taking place on Thursday and Friday, April 10 and 11, at

the Trump Marina Hotel Casino in Atlantic City. Call 609-777-0885.

Laura J. Loda, vice president for human resources of the Colonial

Williamsburg Foundation, addresses the always tricky question of "Employee

Retention and Motivation." Other sessions concern crisis management,

enticing corporations to sponsor events, advertising on a tight budget,

packaging a vacation destination, and legislative issues for the tourism

industry. Governor McGreevey speaks at an awards luncheon on

the first day, and Senator Jon Corzine speaks at the closing

luncheon.

Loda is uniquely suited to speak on employee relations at organizations

with a large number of non-exempt workers (generally those who are

paid an hourly wage, qualify for overtime, and often are at the lower

end of the corporate ladder). "It’s my passion," she says.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, where she studied English and

French Literature, she first became interested in labor relations

during her first post-college job, when she worked in the U.S. House

of Representatives for a congressman from N.E. Iowa who was on the

House Labor and Education Committee.

"It was a great experience, a wonderful first job," she says.

In doing research on training issues, she saw the possibilities in

a career in human resources, and left her legislative job to work

for Marriott. A native of Bethesda, Maryland, she says Marriott was

"the hometown company in D.C." As a teen-agers, she had worked

part time at one of the chain’s Hot Shoppes.

Her next job took her to San Francisco, and the Gap. "It was so

much fun," she says. "We got to wear the product. I went to

work in blue jeans and T-shirts." While she enjoyed both jobs,

she saw that retail was different from the hospitality industry. "In

hospitality," she says, "so much of the culture comes from

the customer interface. It’s a very intimate business. You’re sleeping

and feeding them. Retail is more about the product."

From the Gap, Loda moved down the California coast to work for Taco

Bell, then a Pepsico company. Shortly after she arrived, Pepsico spun

off its restaurants, and she went with the newly-formed corporation.

"I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time,"

she says. "It was a $22 billion start-up." Communicating with

managers of myriad divisions in the new company was "a very large

endeavor, very exciting."

Staying in Southern California for one more job, Loda headed up human

resources at ARV Assisted Living, a 3,000-person company, before accepting

the job at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Incredibly positive

and upbeat about all of her work experiences, Loda is especially thrilled

to be heading up human resources at the living history museum.

"If I ever had a dream job, this is it," she says. "I’m

going to be here for 20 years. I’m going to retire from this job.

Colonial Williamsburg is just such a special place. It’s a very mission-driven

organization." Her parents have just moved to Williamsburg, and her

husband, a physicist and trailing spouse, is at home in the area too.

While everyone is familiar with Colonial Williamsburg, the living

history museum, Loda explains that the foundation encompasses much

more. "We run five hotels, three golf courses, two clubhouses,

a catalog operation, retail outlets, a distribution center, and two

other museums," she says.

An article in the Wall Street Journal last week reported that Colonial

Williamsburg is substantially expanding its shopping area on the back

of the success of its retail operation, which pulls in nearly twice

the gross of the average shopping mall.

So Loda is responsible for retail clerks, golf pros, hotel housekeepers,

and waiters in addition to all of the costumed interpretive staff

visitors encounter going about daily life as it was lived during the

18th century. Also on her staff are silversmiths, blacksmiths, paddle

makers, and a host of other artisans practicing largely-lost crafts.

And then there are architects, curators, historians, librarians, and

conservators working away behind the scenes.

To add to the challenge, all of Loda’s employees, whether living in

the 18th century or the 21st, are doing so post 9/11, in a state of

orange alert, at a major tourist attraction in close proximity to

Washington, D.C. Here is a look at how she creates an environment

that soothes fears, and which is unfailingly welcoming to visitors,

and at the same time attractive enough to employees to ensure the

kind of job satisfaction that shines through on the hottest summer

day southern Virginia serves up.

It’s not about the money. "No one ever left a job

for a nickel, or a dime, or a quarter," Loda says. "Wages

are not an issue. Period." As long as the wage is competitive,

it is not something that will send an employee out of the door. If

somebody is motivated enough to apply for a job, sit for an interview,

go through orientation, and then endure "new job hell," she

says, he is not going to jump ship because another employer is offering

a little better deal on wages.

Finding a job and making it through the period when all the people

and routines are unfamiliar takes "a huge emotional investment,"

Loda points out. Having made it that far, employees want to stay around.

Job satisfaction revolves around three basics. There is

a famous research study, Loda recounts. It took place some 25 years

ago, and nothing in the intervening years has contradicted it. In

the study, a large group of employees and a large group of managers

were asked to rank 10 items relative to job satisfaction. The items

the employees ranked one, two, and three, the managers ranked eight,

nine, and ten.

What the employees wanted was simple, says Loda. They wanted to know

exactly what they were to do; they wanted the tools to do the job;

and they wanted to be appreciated for doing it well. "The truth

doesn’t change over the years," the veteran HR professional has

found. Those three things are still what it takes to motivate and

retain good workers.

Take on just a few problems at a time. For most of her

time with Marriott, Loda worked in the company’s corporate headquarters,

but toward the end of her stint, she was sent to turn around a hotel

experiencing rapid staff turnover. She and her team spent time talking

with the employees, and asking them what problems they were experiencing,

and what could make the problems better. They turned up things like

carts that wouldn’t go down the halls because their wheels were bent.

After listening to the employees, the staff promised to work on specific

problems, generally two at a time, and to get back to their staff

with solutions within three months.

Employee satisfaction soared, and turnover plunged. This approach,

in Loda’s opinion, is far better than the sweeping opinion surveys

many companies use. "They go through the hoo ha," she says,

"and then it goes into a drawer." Far better to talk to employees

one-on-one, or in small groups, ferret out a few problems, and then

promptly fix them.

Keep core messages simple — and stable. At Colonial

Williamsburg, the key messages, says Loda, are "basic, but not

simplistic." Throughout the foundation, and all of its operations,

the core values are hospitality and courtesy — to guests and to

fellow employees — collaboration, and accountability or stewardship.

"We weave them into everything we do," says Loda, "and

they don’t change." Some organizations shift around, emphasizing

one set of values this year, and another next year. In Loda’s opinion,

it is far better to craft core values, and then to stick with them.

"It’s not `this year’s focus,’" says Loda.

Insist that everyone get with the program. So what happens

when an employee chooses to ignore a core value? Loda doesn’t hesitate

even a second before saying, "We aggressively manage performance."

Translation: Transgress in a serious way, and you are out. Fast.

But, she continues, "there should be no surprises." There

are formal yearly evaluations, but supervisors are expected to provide

frequent feedback on performance. "It has to be ongoing,"

says Loda. "Every day."

Honor employees’ desire for information. An organization

has no duty to tell its workers how it is doing, and how world affairs

may affect it. A smart organization, however, will keep its workers

in the loop. "We’ve been talking non-stop about what is going

on in the world," says Loda. From the CEO down through the ranks

of supervision, there are frequent updates on how the war and fears

of terrorism affect the business and the security of Colonial Williamsburg.

"We don’t have an obligation," says Loda. "They don’t

need to know, but they want to know. We’re 90 miles south of Washington,

D.C. We hear the president recommending closing national monuments.

Our employees are concerned." Keeping employees informed in most

organizations is a bit easier than it is at Colonial Williamsburg,

where interpretive staff, living in a pre-dirty bomb world, are busy

tending sheep and making barrels on 300 acres. Their world, authentic

in every detail, is not furnished with computers, cell phones, or

even beepers.

Many of Loda’s employees are still living in the 18th century

— sans air conditioning and Instant Messaging — but the HR

strategy that encourages them to adopt their employer’s values should

work in the hotels along Route 1 and at the amusement parks at the

shore. As Loda enunciates the strategy, it sounds like plain old common

sense. She cheerfully admits as much, and adds: "Organizations

that have figured it out, "are organizations where people stay."

Top Of Page
Public Records Are Newly Accessible

From the worst to among the nation’s best. With the

stroke of Governor DiFrancesco’s pen in 2001, the Garden State bootstrapped

itself from being one of the two most closed state governments (rivaling

Pennsylvania) to the most open. Taking effect only last July, the

Open Public Records Act states that all state, county, and municipal

documents are open to the public unless some previous statue specifically

forbids it. As the curtain of darkness and secrecy descends from the

federal level, New Jersey stands as one bright point of light. But

keeping this lamp lighted has taken incredible vigilance.

A panel discussion on Thursday, April 10, at 8:30 a.m. at the Somerset

Holiday Inn addresses the subject head-on: "Everything You Need

to Know about the Open Public Records Act." Cost: $309. Register

at 715-833-3959 or online at www.lorman.com Sponsored by Lorman Educational

Services, this seminar provides continuing legal education credits.

The discussion’s scope, however, will extend far beyond legal technicalities,

and should prove of value to government officials, sunshine watchdog

groups, anti-censorship librarians, and privacy activists.

The speakers list reads like a roster of individual rights advocates.

Princeton-based Grayson Barber is a First Amendment litigator

who sits on the ACLU’s national board and the New Jersey Privacy Study

Commission. Thomas Cafferty of Somerset’s McGimpsey & Cafferty

serves as attorney for the New Jersey Press Association. Reporter

Joseph Tyrrell covers Middlesex County government for the Newark

Star Ledger. John Connell of the Haddonfield law firm of Archer

& Greiner represents Gannett Publishing, and attorney Frank Corrado

was one of the initiators of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

Many of the panelists are also members of the New Jersey Foundation

for Open Government (NJFOG), an umbrella organization including the

League of Women Voters, the Society for Professional Journalists,

Common Cause, the ACLU, the New Jersey Public Research Organization,

and other organizations. The latest news and calendar of events involving

OPRA and similar issues can be found online at www.NJFOG.org. Barber

has listed her speaking engagements on www.graysonbarber.com

"The whole burden of proof has shifted," notes journalist

Tyrrell, who has worked for the Newark Star Ledger for 20 years. "Previously,

the individual had to prove to his government that he had the need

to know what it were doing and to see its documents. Now, state, county,

and local governments must turn over every paper requested unless

they can legally prove it is against public interest." He views

this as a giant step.

OPRA unfoldings. You are not particularly happy with your

local school board’s proposal to cut art and physical education from

the curriculum. Your wife has always been suspicious of how the county

funds itself by just slipping its bill in with your property taxes.

Your young, long-haired son, who drives a red sports car, seriously

doubts that the state’s anti-profiling bill has the necessary teeth.

As concerned citizens, each of you has the right to access any transcripts,

budget documents, bills, voting records, even the records of reprimand

for that cop who keeps pulling you over.

Equally important, journalists have the right to receive, and report

on, government documents. If the lifestyle of a township administrator

seems suspiciously extravagant, an inquiring reporter can find out

his salary, or at least that position’s salary range. Additionally,

earnings of his spouse and household are available. Further, if the

local government has done comparative studies of pay scales for similar

positions around the state, these must be disclosed. If the township

has not done this research, chances are the local library can put

its fingers on the numbers.

Legal bite. Any government official willfully refusing

to disclose a document faces a personal fine of $1,000 for the first

offense, $2,500 for the second, and $5,000 for the third. And recently

OPRA has gained additional teeth. Penalties for willful violation

may now include all of the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees. This allows

the individual to legally pursue his information cost free.

New Jersey Press Association attorney Cafferty notes that OPRA makes

some definite judicial changes. Previously, individuals denied access

to government information had to go to the courts, where the judicial

system agreed to weigh each case, balancing private confidentially

against reasonable disclosure, and basing decisions on previous case

law. OPRA has changed precedent law to codified law. Everything, unless

specifically proved otherwise, must be open to the public. Additionally,

federal law can not supersede OPRA, and can not limit the state’s

ability to disclose the contents of its own documents.

Privacy problems. It may be all well and good to open

up public meeting transcripts, but what about an individual’s DMV

files, tax information, and all the other personal information the

state has collected? The myth that you can phone up the Department

of Motor Vehicles and get all your neighbor’s personal records, is

exactly that. Back in l994, the federal government ended that personal

security breach with the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act. "Interestingly,"

says ACLU attorney Barber, "Virginia was the only state to contest

the bill because they were making so much money selling the lists

to telemarketers."

Sitting on the state’s newly formed Privacy Study Commission, Barber

seeks to limit both excessive governmental fact gathering and all

unnecessary personal disclosure. She is the first to champion OPRA

and the ability of libraries to provide uncensored information, but

she says this need not involve the sharing of personal data. "It

would be so simple to keep all that personal information unobtainable

in this computer age," she states. "On all those tax, and

license, and other information gathering forms, simply move all the

personal data into that gray area labeled `for administrative use

only,’ then program the computer to respect that."

Such a program exists in most New Jersey libraries. For years the

libraries have frustrated random searches by police and FBI agents

looking for a list of all the books a given patron has read. "In

the old days, we would have to personally fend off such unconstitutional

intrusions," says South Brunswick Library Director Lorraine Jackson

[also the wife of reporter Bart Jackson]. "Now we simply set our

computers to delete the loaning history of any book once it is returned.

It is now impossible for the self-styled censors to ferret out all

the readers of Fanny Hill."

Barber insists that similar, low-cost programs would protect all state

residents. "The ones who are really gong to hate our Privacy Study

Committee and lobby against it," she says, "are the data-mining

boys — the techies who deliberately go through the government’s

files and sell your data to the highest bidder."

OPRA’s Catch 22. Governor James McGreevy attempted to

put into effect over 400 proposed exceptions to public disclosure

shortly after OPRA became law. But the New Jersey Foundation for Open

Government prevented these restrictions. Nonetheless, says Tyrrell,

the attempt exposes a basic weakness in the law. "Legally, executive

order can disenfranchise this bill," he says. In effect, any official

could run to the governor, who might deny any disclosure to anyone.

A ray of sunshine. Back in the mid-l970s the Open Public

Meeting Act was enacted. Known as the Sunshine Law, it stated that

every government board and commission meeting be open to the public.

Eighteen months ago, an addendum was issued. Now every public meeting

must set aside a minimum of 15 minutes for pubic comment. "This

gives the people a further voice in their own governings," states

Cafferty.

It is cliche, but very true, that the free flow of information is

the life blood of democracy. OPRA works to keep the tap fully in the

"on" position.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Getting E-Smart: Setting Goals

We are a lot E-smarter now. Few — and far behind

— are those business owners who merely dump the chore of website

building into the laps of young tech wizards and wait for sales to

billow.

Mastery of all that the Internet can do for a company, including some

lesser known tricks, is the subject of "How to Make an E-business

Plan," a seminar by Sarah Miller on Thursday, April 10,

at 9 a.m. at the Mercer County Community College Conference Center

on the West Windsor campus. This seminar is part of a full-day conference

on Starting and Expanding a Small Business in the Age of the Internet

Cost. Cost: $189. Call 609-586-9446.

Miller, founder of Ewing-based Set Now Solutions, discusses the various

cyber elements that can be blended with other existing business media

and methods.

"In the old days, businesses would walk into our shop and throw

money at us to get them up and webbing," recalls Miller. "The

web was a `me too — gotta have it’ thing." These days, however,

caution has set in. Clients come to Set Now Solutions seeking an investment.

They enter with definite goals and want to walk away knowing exactly

how much each procedure will net. Miller fully appreciates this approach.

A New Jersey native, Miller attended the College of New Jersey, earning

a B.A. in English. Hoping to set the world afire as a writer, she

started, as many writers do, creating technical copy for several firms.

While working to compose Bristol-Myers Squibb’s website, she learned

HTML, and first noticed how, as she puts it, "the web would level

the playing field for all size businesses." Marrying graphic production

artist Michael Miller, she pooled talents with him, and in l997 launched

Set Now Solutions, which helps firms, some with limited budgets, take

advantage of cyber opportunities.

Numerous elements can coalesce into any company’s E-business plan:

intra-office sites, newsletters, client-vendor matching links, target

advertising with follow up market surveys, and more. All of these

can give a company’s bottom line a boost — eventually. A big question

for many businesses is what do I need now versus what do I want to

have established three or five years down the road? Here is a guide

to choosing what Internet strategy to implement when.

Goal setting. Of prime importance, says Miller, is the

initial step of pondering and prioritizing exactly what functions

you want performed. Do you seek foremost to expand a client roster,

or to retain old clients? How urgently, and in what order, do you

need market surveys, new product positioning, support systems, and

internal cost savings? The idea is to focus on needs, not tools. "Businesspeople

are always hot to build," Miller says. "We merely want them

to begin by fixing a blueprint, before running to the store and drooling

over table saws."

Search engine placement. It is vital to ensure that potential

clients can easily find your site. If your site doesn’t show up in

the top three items under a search engine’s heading, fewer than 10

percent of those entering a search query will go to your site. If

you’re not on the top dozen, you’re hiding your expensive light in

a linen closet. Maximizing access entails a two-prong approach. Today,

28 percent of surveyed site seekers find firms by guess. They bypass

the search engine browser, and merely type in, for example, "Sarah

Miller" or "Set Now" and hope to click on that company’s

site.

When choosing a web name, instead of being cute, go for the logical.

Remember, the person with whom you shook hands will probably only

remember your name or your firm’s name. Also, check to see if another

organization is using the web name you would like to trade under,

or mix-ups can occur. For example, if you type in "mercerchamber,"

you will be swiftly transported to a site in Wisconsin.

Secondly, you want to get your name in that top three on all search

engine listings. "This takes a thorough analysis of the search

engine," explains Miller, "and unlike the Yellow Pages, the

alphabet has nothing to do with it." A domain often gets placed

high on the list due to the frequency of the search word listed on

its home page. Zenith Plumbing may appear before Acme Plumbing because

the term "drain unclogging" appears 18 times on its opening

page. Solving this problem requires that Acme go back and survey potential

customers to find exactly what key words they use to reach its site.

Other placement factors include seniority. Five years is an eternity

in Internet time, and those who get online first usually appear high

up. Also, money talks. Some search engines accept payment for positioning.

Netting new clients. Increasingly, the sites that score

the most first-time and repeat hits are those offering a wealth of

updated information. "Here’s reams of information, and, oh by

the way, we have a product which might help," has proved itself

the most attractive approach to site browsers. "An effective domain

can be set up for well under $15,000," insists Miller. "Figure

out how much profit a new client averages you, then figure your investment

and payback."

In addition to proffering information on the website, links can be

established to online newsletters. This allows easier updating within

the confines of the newsletter, and a more simple method by which

clients can delve more deeply into specific subjects.

At the same time, the main website must be kept fresh, alive, and

changing. Certain things should stay fixed, such as the color schemes,

which should be the same as those of your product logo and print brochures.

But pictures, sidebars, and an array of short new items should keep

changing. Ideally you want to hear, "Yes, but have you seen their

website today?"

Retaining clients. Miller says she uses Macro Media’s

tech support services because it is available around the clock. If

your rate of customer attrition has topped 10 percent, perhaps it

might pay to hire a technical service representative who could, via

instant messaging from anywhere, provide 24-hour service. Better than

the office phone service, which closes at 5 p.m., a laptop-toting

techie can be hired contractually, and can sit at home in his pajamas

keeping your customers satisfied. Yet again, it takes legwork from

your sales force to nose out exactly what customers need, so that

you can offer these solutions online.

Cost saving. The Mercer County Chamber of Commerce recently

initiated a "Save A Tree Campaign" whereby members receive

its newsletter online. This saves not only the cost of regularly mailing

the packets to members, but also allows for instant program registration.

The New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners has installed

a system that stores large packages of information online. Members

are informed of additions via E-mail or through a postcard. These

brief and intriguing heads-up notifications often create curiosity,

and entice association members or customers to log on to find out

more, and meanwhile, the organization has saved a bundle on printing

and mailing.

Targeting ads. All of us have been spammed by outfits

selling enhancement of body parts we never even owned. The rationale

for these indiscriminate E-mailings has been that — unlike broadcast

and print media — cyberspace is not amenable to targeted advertising.

To this Miller says "Bunk." Permission advertising on the

Internet has proved not only very cost effective, but also a positive

method of reaching untapped markets. One effective plan is to issue

invitations for clients and potential clients to sign up for your

online — or print — newsletter. If you aren’t ready for your

own newsletter, Miller recommends sponsoring the distribution of newsletters

belonging to organizations to which your customers belong.

Regional targeting can also save enormous amounts of response time.

If your firm only operates within the tri-state area, get your search

engine to block all responses from outside areas.

Not all of your E-business must go online at once. You can take a

giant plunge or cautiously wade in one step at a time. Whichever way,

profits exist for those who design, predict, and measure the return

on each stage of E-investment.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Job Hunting Directories

Here’s how one person who works at the Carnegie Center

found her last two jobs — one at Environ, one at Simstar. She

took the U.S. 1 Business Directory, circled the companies with 70

companies or more, and made cold calls. "A lot of companies don’t

want to advertise their positions," she says, "but when they

saw my resume, they were interested."

The 2003-’04 edition of the U.S. 1 Business Directory is scheduled

to be distributed to each office location that receives this newspaper

on Wednesday, April 16. It will be available at bookstores for $14.95.

It includes more than 5,500 company listings, including contact names,

fax numbers, number of employees, E-mail and URL addresses, and revenues

where available.

The U.S. 1 listings are excellent for companies and nonprofits, but

if you are looking for a government position, you may want a more

specialized book. Here are some that we have perused:

New Jersey Public Sector , PBM 890, 1308 Centennial Avenue,

Piscataway 08854-4327, 800-663-1563; fax, 800-665-4995, www.public-sectors.com.

It costs $295 plus $17 shipping and is available on CD-ROM. The 2002

edition has 702 pages and includes state government (legislative and

judicial), county and municipal government, local school districts

and colleges, and the various authorities. It also has biographies

of Congressional delegates and some limited information on federal

departments and agencies.

An appendix has historical data plus articles on how to do business

with the state and federal government, a list of chambers of commerce,

hospitals, and population statistics. The strength of this directory

are the long lists of names and phone numbers, though some of the

mayors’ names we checked were outdated.

Another government reference for jobseekers is the Municipal

Reference Guide: New Jersey by Eatontown-based Towndata.com Network

Inc. It presents names of key officials, real estate values, income

profiles, school system budgets, demographic break-outs, housing data,

library data, summaries of leading occupations and industries, average

work commute times, municipal population and expenditure trends and

breakdowns, and tons of other stuff for every municipality in the

state. The strength of this directory is that each municipality gets

its own page.

The 2003 edition of this guide is due in March. Call 800-242-5511

or 732-643-1212, or visit www.towndata.com

Fitzgerald’s is the official manual of the New Jersey

Legislature. It’s the short squat red book that has been used by officialdom

since 1872. Published by Skinder-Strauss it has everything from election

returns to the composition of every state board, plus all the phone

numbers you need. The compact book is almost 11,000 pages and will

be published in May. The late-in-the-year publication date means that

it has the current staff changes. Cost: $50 plus $5.50 for shipping

and $140 as a CD-ROM. Call 609-396-2669, extension 2, Box 2150 Trenton

0860


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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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