Leading Gen X Along with Boomers

Master the Culture that is eBay

Using Ink to Grow Your Business

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These articles were prepared for the June 29,

2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Survival Guide

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Leading Gen X Along with Boomers

What works for one generation of workers, may not work for the next.

Business supervisors are discovering that Generation X struggles out

of bed and comes to work for entirely different reasons than does its

Baby Boomer parents. Additionally, those who graduated and entered

business onward from the late-l980s seem to thrive in a wholly

different work environment than do those who came to the office with

the mud of Woodstock still clinging to their Birkenstocks.

Such generational shifts, along with the advent of global diversity,

are teaching executives that one single “management style” no longer

fits all. To explore this new path of accommodation, Mercer County

Community College offers a five-session course, “Leadership Skills for

Management,” beginning Wednesday, June 29, at 6:30 p.m. Cost: $270.

Call 609-586-9446. Taught by Stephen W. Oliver, founder of the

executive training firm Oliver & Associates in Philadelphia, the

course provides, as he puts it, “innovative theories blended with

heavy doses of hard reality.”

Viewing himself as leaning more toward the Baby Boomer style of

business, Oliver left his Vienna, Virginia, hometown to attend West

Virginia University in l981. Earning a B.A. in English in l984,

followed by a masters in human resource development from Marymount

College, he entered the field of healthcare executive training, where

he has remained. Oliver worked first with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and

later moved to the Allegheny Health System, where he struggled to

instill communication skills in every employee — from orderlies to


“Pediatrics doctors were fairly open,” he says. “The surgeons and

academics were, well, less so.” Ten years ago, Oliver came to

Philadelphia to train employees in that city’s Children’s Hospital. In

2002 he formed the executive training firm of Stephen Oliver &

Associates, taking on individual clients and designing E-learning


“The really good manager,” says Oliver, “works to get into the head of

each employee. He learns what makes that man show up at work, and what

he wants out of a job.” Much of this is, naturally, individual and

executives must be wary of generalizations. However, generational

differences lurk in the background, and the wise supervisor makes

himself and his projects flexible.

The “they” generation. In the generation preceding the Baby Boomers,

management was simple. One supervised by fiat. If you wanted something

done, you told an underling — and off he scurried. Or at least he was

expected to do so. This was the age of the pyramid, where information

ran up and orders came back down.

Jobs were generally tight, and still haunted by depression memories,

and so workers at all levels clung to the job and any shred of rank

with tenacity. The main motivation was to work hard and smart, and

after a lifetime with the company, move up that pyramid to a major

decision-making post.

The “we” generation. In the late l960s American business soared, jobs

became easier to find, and the ex-hippie-turned-worker became more

selective. Unhappy with his or her father’s infrequently rewarded

devotion to a single firm, this generation began zig-zagging its way

up the ladder. Often the pyramids had become too vast to hope for a

top slot, and instead Baby Boomers, fueled by the times, took greater

pleasure in a team approach to projects. Satisfaction came less from

individual remuneration than from group effort and a task well

completed by a team of fellow workers.

“Today such team-oriented motivation is still very evident,” says

Oliver. “This generation is ambitious, wants responsibility, but still

has enough of the old school in its training to desire direction and

guidance from managers.” Now that this age group is stepping into

management positions themselves, they have raised high the banner of

communication and teamwork for their employees.

The “I” generation. If any banner is to be raised by the workforce of

Generation X it indeed must be “Leave me alone.” By the time this

group came onto the business scene, commerce had shifted into a much

higher gear. Competition had become global and desperate. Careers were

fast tracked or sent spiraling. The company to which you hitched your

wagon could one day be a star, the next a tree stump. Quickly these

newcomers learned the maxim of “if it is to be, it is up to me.”

Oliver says that “the generation X worker is not a person seeking

guidance.” Rather he says, this generation’s refrain is “just give me

the responsibility; go away; and let me run with it.” While such

energy, ambition, and accountability are valuable, Oliver points out

that guidance from a distance must be maintained. Inexperience can

make the best of intentions into loosely aimed cannons.

While Generation X loathes micromanagement, its members are only

slightly less fond of communication. Born into the high tech age,

quick E-notes coming from solitary stations are typically preferred

over the face-to-face meetings favored by their elders. The palm-pilot

missive “Wazzup?” may replace the old, more time consuming memorandum

calling for a lengthy progress report.

Solutions. So what’s a manager to do? All these individual generations

and national cultures wander the floor and each seems to require its

own special handling. Oliver’s answer is give it to them.

A firm believer in management by walking around, Oliver advises

supervisors to be constantly available, but to give the appearance of

moving somewhat on the fly. This allows each individual to sip as

deeply from the counseling cup as he desires, without feeling drenched

in micromanagement.

Also a great believer in power shedding, Oliver instructs executives

to lift burdens off their own shoulders and onto their employees as a

motivating technique.

Oliver tells of the president of a 50-person materials handling

company in Plainsboro who has had two vice presidents over the past

eight years. The first, “Jim,” age 55, would do any job asked of him.

He was known for receiving a project, swiftly gathering workers behind

him, and doggedly pursuing it. At day’s end, he scheduled sessions

with the president to discuss progress and receive instruction.

“Keith,” age 32, now holds the post, and the president scarcely ever

hears from him. He is constantly inventing new jobs, of which his

superior only learns when they are near completion. He asks no advice

and the president must keep after him to put the rest of the company

in the loop. This president’s method of management? Enjoy the ride

with both. Play to their strengths and be happy you’ve got them.

— Bart Jackson

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Master the Culture that is eBay

eBay is possibly the closest thing we have to an open and efficient

market, easily accessible to buyers and sellers, with information

available to all. It is an electronic marketplace that serves both

people looking for bargains and those willing to pay anything for a

one-of-a-kind item. Sellers range from people emptying their attics to

art dealers selling 17th-century paintings. By the end of 2004, eBay

had 135 million users, 56 million of whom had been active during the

previous 12 months.

As a seller who has sold about 1,500 items on eBay for himself and

others, Scott Marshall has accumulated tips for successful buying and

selling that he shares in “eBay Auctioneering” at Mercer County

Community College, for six sessions, beginning on Thursday, July 7, at

7 p.m. The course is really a hands-on workshop, with each person

sitting at a computer and actually making or observing sales. Cost:

$165. Call: 609-586-9446.

People sell for a variety of reasons using different strategies, some

of which are very idiosyncratic. One category is collectibles, in

which buyers are adding to their collections, getting rid of

duplicates, or upgrading to better items. Others are items inherited

from relatives, homemade arts and crafts, and jewelry old and new. One

example of a “strange” way of selling, says Marshall, is someone in

China who sells jewelry for a penny an item and charges $30 for

shipping. “Somehow it works for them,” he says.

Marshall explains some of the basics of eBay selling:

Find out if your item is worth selling. Check on eBay to see if

someone else is selling the same object. Look at a potential sale from

the perspective of a buyer to find out what kind of money is to be


Imitate successful sellers. “Find people who are doing what you want

to do successfully and imitate them,” advises Marshall. “It is an open

market, and you can see what everyone is doing and how.” Describe your

item carefully, in a way that promotes it, but doesn’t oversell,

making it look so attractive that “when buyers get the item, they are


Make sure the photo accurately represents the item. Photos must show

all aspects of the item that the buyer needs to see to make a purchase

decision. Select film and set lighting combinations so that picture

colors are true. “If people don’t like the color, they may not buy,”

says Marshall, “and even if they like it and it’s false, they may be

upset when they receive the item.” Something as tiny as a reflection

from the flash on some part of an item might be interpreted by buyers

as an attempt to cover a flaw.

Set starting and “buy it now” prices for objects of known value.

Starting low makes people think they are getting a good value, says

Marshall, “but you don’t want to sell a $100 item for $1.” Sellers

must also be aware of what eBay takes per item sold; for example, the

service charges more for items starting at $10.00, hence many items

start at $9.99.

Working in tandem with the starting price is the “buy it now” price.

This is the price at which the seller is willing to stop the auction —

as long as there are no other bids. Marshall advises using this “only

if know what item you’re selling is worth.” These two prices serve the

two different groups in the eBay audience: those who have a ceiling on

what they will spend and those who will pay anything for what they


Setting prices when value is unknown. Especially for old items, says

Marshall, the seller often has no idea what an item is worth. “The

wonderful thing,” he says, “is that in many cases the buyers are

experts.” He gives the example of a set of smoking pipes he was

selling for a friend’s grandfather. Most sold for $10-20, but one went

for $500, and he thinks the reason is related to an E-mail he received

asking whether the internal metal tube was intact. He was also given

instructions on how to open the pipe. Once he had unscrewed it and

pulled it out, he took picture of the tube and added it to the auction


Set fair shipping price. Shipping should not be a money maker, says

Marshall, although he acknowledges that sometimes it is. In such

cases, it is a “form of fee avoidance, because eBay doesn’t get a cut

of the shipping costs.” It is also a way to deceive potential bidders

as to what they will actually pay. As a result, many buyers will shy

away from items where shipping is not specified.

Dealing with competition. “You can use other people’s experiences to

optimize your chances of getting the most money for your item,” says

Marshall. Find out if other people are selling an identical item.

Unless your item is in better condition, don’t put it up at same time.

The best strategy is to schedule your auction to start a minute after

theirs ends. The sale price of the identical item can be the

“buy-it-now” price for your product.

Keeping track of auctions. Marshall uses a paper method, with one form

for each auction. He places the form in a tabbed notebook, moving it

as its status changes — from running the auction to waiting for

payment, to waiting for the check to clear.

eBay’s annual report describes its purpose “to pioneer new communities

around the world built on commerce, sustained by trust, and inspired

by opportunity.” Like any community it has roles and rules — written

and unwritten. One day Marshall got an E-mail informing him that he

was a “power seller.”

This is a title based on a sellers’ statistics — monthly sales, items

sold per month, and a high enough feedback rating — and indicates a

combination of being dependable and prolific as a seller. Feedback

maintains quality control. It is a mechanism through which buyers and

sellers rate each other after each deal. Everyone on eBay has a

number, and “the higher the number, the better you are in the

perspective of people you buy from and sell to,” says Marshall. “If

you cheat them, they’ll write and say so.”

Another way to make money on eBay, rather than selling off your own

stuff, is to become a “registered selling assistant.” This means that

you have registered on eBay to sell for other people. eBay maintains a

list of registered selling assistants by zip code. When Marshall sells

for other people, he negotiates a percentage of the sale based on the

expected sale price. When figuring his charges, he might ask for 50

percent if the item is worth only $10, because it can take an hour to

put the item up. For an item worth a significant amount of money, he

might ask for 10 percent.

As in real life, people on eBay break rules, and buyers and sellers

have to watch out. “My basic strategy on eBay is to be a good guy but

to protect myself from bad guys,” he says.

What are some of the unethical practices a buyer may encounter? A

seller may take your money, but not send the item. A seller may also

claim that an item is “like new,” but then send something “junky.”

Sellers also face risks. One is that a buyer’s check can bounce, hence

it is advisable to wait for a check to clear before sending an item.

Sometimes buyers will claim that an item is broken when the seller is

certain that it’s not. Marshall says that if the seller refuses to

make good on a sale, the buyer may say, “I’ll give you bad feedback

and keep the item unless you give me my money back.” The seller’s only

recourse may be to respond with his own bad feedback on the buyer.

Although eBay has a policy of not retracting any feedback, Marshall

says he has succeeded in having bad feedback about himself removed.

A 1969 graduate of Princeton High School, Marshall’s background is in

computers, and he has been a software and game developer for 20 years

(U.S. 1, December 1, 1999). He was dating a woman who was selling on

eBay, and she suggested that he try it. His photography background has

been helpful in the endeavor; he was the school photographer in

seventh grade, has been an audiovisual technician for the Princeton

school system, and has taught kids photography and darkroom


eBay is a culture, and Marshall’s experience with it makes him

something of an anthropologist. Sometimes in class, he says, it is all

questions and answers, with him sharing anecdotes. From selling 1,500

items, he has accumulated a thousand stories on how to avoid trouble

and maximize success — experiences there is no other way to get.

— Michele Alperin

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Using Ink to Grow Your Business

What publications does a small business need to grow? Many business

owners, particularly those with young businesses, think of

“publications” as something that only large businesses need. But in

reality, says Karen Hodges Miller of Lawrenceville-based Creative

Publications (www.creativepublications.biz), all companies,

particularly young and growing businesses, need some publications. A

brochure, a sales flyer, a newsletter, all should be part of the

business person’s sales tools.

Miller, who is also a freelance contributor to U.S. 1, speaks on “Five

Essentials for Publicizing Your Business,” on Thursday, July 7, at

9:30 a.m. at Panera Bread’s Nassau Street restaurant. The seminar is

hosted by Team Nimbus, a Hopewell-based business (609-466-6592). To

make reservations for the seminar, contact Megan Oltman at


Oltman holds the New Jersey franchise for Team Nimbus, a company that,

she explains, “works with business owners and independent

professionals to grow their revenues and achieve outstanding business

results in a ridiculously short period of time.”

The main business of Team Nimbus is a 90-day program designed to help

groups of business people double their income or other significant

factor in their business through seminars, group coaching,

accountability, and support. In addition, Oltman offers a series of

workshops featuring “essential tools” for business owners and

professionals. The publications seminar is the first in the series.

What are the five “publication essentials?” A brochure, a flyer, a

press release, a newsletter, and case studies or testimonials. “Every

business needs some or all of these things,” says Miller. “In fact, a

press release announcing your new business is one of the first things

you should do.” Flyers are “short-term publications” that most

businesses, particularly retail businesses, will use to announce sales

or specials or talk about a new product or service.” Case studies and

testimonials are often used by both service businesses and retail. “It

is always good to have a testimonial from a satisfied customer. It

should be short and can be used in a brochure or on a website.

Anywhere a new customer is likely to see it,” she says.

Case studies, on the other hand, are usually reserved for “big ticket

items.” If what you are selling only costs a small amount of money,

people are going to be willing to take a chance on it, says Miller.

But if they are spending a lot of money, they want to be sure about

what they are getting. “Case studies can give them concrete examples

of how other people, in similar circumstances, have benefited from

your service.”

Brochures are one of the first marketing tools a new business should

invest in, says Miller. A brochure is “a long-term publication,

something you will be printing a lot of and using over a period of

months or a few years. Because of this, your brochure needs to project

the image you want your clients and customers to have of you and your

business. If your budget is limited, this is the one piece of

literature you want to spend the extra money on.”

There are several things to think about when designing a brochure,

says Miller.

Content: text and graphics. The first step in choosing the content of

your brochure is to ask yourself, “Why do I need it? What is its


“The quick answer,” says Millers, “is to tell people about my

business, but actually, it is more complex than that. Do you want to

educate people about your business and what you do? Do you want to

show off a particular product? Do you want to give your customers a

list of your services? Maybe you need to accomplish several of these


Size and shape. The size of your brochure depends on the amount of

information you have. “Remember, in today’s ADD society, people don’t

want to spend a lot of time on any one thing,” says Miller. “If you

can get your graphics or photos, your logo, and all the information

you need on a 5 x 7, you don’t need an 8 1/2 x 11 three-fold.”

And while people often think that size and shape is “the standard” for

brochures, it doesn’t have to be, says Miller. A brochure can be the

size of a postcard so that it can be easily mailed, or it can be one

page, two pages, or more. And it doesn’t have to be a rectangle; it

can be whatever shape you want. “Just remember,” she adds,

“non-standard sizes and fancy shapes cost extra. Make sure it is worth

the money before you decide on something different.”

Layout and design. The layout and design of your brochure will follow

naturally after you have decided on the content and the size of your

brochure, says Miller. “Arranging your copy will come logically as you

work around your photos or graphics or your logo.”

Color and paper stock. “One of the basics of printing is the more

color you use, the more it costs,” says Miller. Full, four-color

printing is the most expensive choice that can be made. “Sometimes it

is necessary and worth it,” says Miller, “but most businesses don’t

need it.”

Who does need four-color printing? “If you are selling something where

the color is important, clothing for example, or art, you should

definitely go for four-color printing,” she says. If not, you can

probably do a beautiful job with black and one or two colors. “I am

also a fan of plain, old, black and white. Black and white, when it is

well done, can be truly gorgeous.”

One quick and inexpensive way to add color to your brochure is to

choose a colored paper stock. “But be careful what you choose,” says

Miller. “Dark colored stock can look beautiful, but it can be

difficult to read the printing on it. And don’t use a colored stock if

you are using photos. Nothing is less attractive than photos of people

who all look green.”

Newsletters. Newsletters, says Miller, are one of the best choices for

boosting business. “A newsletter is just a miniature newspaper devoted

to your business.”

The ease of sending a newsletter by E-mail has caused them to become a

favorite internet business tool, she says, but however you publish

your newsletter, certain things always hold true. When so many people

are using newsletters your clients may receive three or four

newsletters a week.

“To make sure your newsletter is read, not deleted, give them

something that they can use: information that can be quickly located,

quickly read, and has meaning to your particular clientele.” For an

interior decorator that could be the latest color trends. For a

marketing consultant it might be an article on how to conduct a better

customer survey.

Miller has a long and varied background in publishing and writing.

After getting a bachelor’s degree in journalism and speech

communication from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, she worked as a

reporter, editor and publisher for several daily and weekly

newspapers. “I’ve always worked for smaller publications. The good

thing about small newspapers is that you learn to do everything. You

do the interview, write the story, help with the layout. If the

photographer has another assignment, you take the photos, and if the

advertising salesman is out, you get the ad. I’ve even put the

newspapers in the back of my car and delivered them when I had to.”

Her final advice on business publications: “Don’t bore your customer!

It doesn’t cost anything extra to make your publications visually and

verbally interesting.”

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