Holiday Hints–6 Great Gifts

With less than three weeks before the biggest gift-giving day in the United States, most of us are scrambling to fulfill all the desires of our loved ones, and perhaps not so loved but necessary, on both our “Naughty” and “Nice” lists.

But when you’re in business, you have another list to consider as well—the “Thank You for Doing Business with Me and Please Continue to Do So” list.

I’ve put together a list of a half-dozen ideas that I hope help you start to make some heavy-duty black lines on that what might be your most challenging-of-all list:

  • 1280px-US_Navy_090818-N-6326B-001_Staff_and_patients_participate_in_a_healthy_cooking_class_at_Naval_Medical_Center_San_Diegohelikopter-cockpit-widok-3082969 An experience: This could be anything that is designed to make long-lasting memories. It’s not a box of chocolates or a fruit basket. Instead, it might be a cooking class conducted on-site in your client’s office for their entire staff. Or it could be a night out for them at the local bowling alley. Individually, it could be a helicopter ride over the city or a 24-hour rental of a luxury car. Maybe it’s a few laps in a race car or reserved box seats at the local live theater venue. Whatever it is, it lasts longer than a few hours or days because it creates memories that will not soon be forgotten.


  • A one-of-a-kind: The first thing that comes to mind for me when thinking of this is a bobble head. A personalized, uniquely crafted bobble head. Depicting your glass paperweightclient’s caricature form. All I can say is this is just too fun for them to forget about in the years ahead. Another long-lasting idea that would work for me—a glass paperweight with a personal touch given to it by a talented artist.


  • beer of the month clubA subscription: For music lovers, it’s Beats Music, Google Play, iTunes, Pandora or perhaps Spotify. For your book junkies, it might be a one-year with Or maybe it’s a membership in the Beer of the Month Club or the featured monthly fragrances at Herbaria Soap. The point here is that it is a monthly reminder to them that you thought of them and continue to do so every month. You will be “top-of-mind” again each month as the new item arrives, each time they download another favorite tune or with each page they click.


  • fitbitA “cool” technology tool: One of the hottest techie gadgets this season is a fitness tracker. FitBit, MisFit, whichever you choose, this is something that will really show that you care about them, about their well-being. You might also consider a 3Doodler pen for your artsy tech-heads or for touch screen glovesthose on your list who always have to have the new tech toys first. Or you might take a look at ways for your clients to use their smart phones and tablets without incurring any frostbite with a gift of touch screen gloves in a neutral or festive color. A digital photo frame is a definite win as well, and it’s a one-size-fits-all!


  • cooler gift basketA themed, but personally designed, gift basket: I’m not talking Harry & David here. One personal example I can give for this is a cooler to hold their favorite beverage that is also the color of their favorite sports team. Inside are tickets to the game, sunscreen, beverages, snacks and a ball cap or other accessories with their favorite sports team’s logo clearly displayed. This is an awesome gift…trust me. I’ve been on the receiving end of this before and I still remember it and who gave it to me.


  • coupon-1018733_960_720A gift of professional services: Not the services you provide necessarily—or if so, perhaps bundled with others. The gift of a basic tax preparation service from a trusted source. A gift certificate from your local tailor or dry cleaner. Dog walking, house sitting, personal shopper, handyman. The choices are endless. You might even consider purchasing a gift certificate for professional services from your favorite profile manager (that would be me, naturally).

I reviewed a lot of other lists to pull this one together. Ideas for the holidays are all over the web—,,, and of course just to name a few. The ideas I have featured here are what I believe are the best of the best. And of course, I’d be foolish not to throw my own services in on that kind of a list.

If you need help yourself or know someone who could use help with developing a professional profile or bio, if your company needs someone to create and maintain a consistent profile, or if you’d like someone to come in and work with your HR and Marketing staff to put the best image forward for all your staff and your company, I’m the one you need.

Together we’ll turn heads…for all the right reasons…




Check Mate! Positioning Yourself for the Win

chesspositionpic-300x225When we were little, we all had dreams of becoming the next powerful and beautiful kings and queens of the universe…or at least most of us did. As we continue to evolve as players in the reality game of adulthood, many of us still have our eyes on securing that position on life’s chess board and being the one that gets to exclaim “CHECK MATE!” in the faces of all the other game pieces, a.k.a. our competition.

As a business or as an organization, it is imperative that you place yourself top-of-mind with all your market’s customers—past, present, and future. It’s all about strategy…delivering yourself and your message at the right time to the right place…the same kind of strategy you would use to make the right moves on the chess board and ensure a win.

Many businesses and organizations miss this most important element—they are simply too busy to do what it takes to establish their expert status in the world. When that happens, it’s important to team up with an experienced game player (like me!) that can help you command the board.

Here’s a 5-point strategy map that can help you make all the right moves:

  1. Declare your victory. You might not feel as though you are an expert, but if you are consistently delivering the results that your “fans” are demanding, then you have proven yourself to be a worthy opponent within your market. It is time for you to share your knowledge and experience with the rest of the world.
  2. Say what you mean. Defining yourself as an expert in the field requires that you clearly and purposely share exactly what it is you know and why it matters. Don’t say simply that you provide “customer service.” Everybody does that already. Instead, say something more specific and definitive, such as “I can help you resolve technical issues with your XYZ and connect you with the ABC that you need.”
  3. Look like a professional. The buzzword here is “branding.” Other than the actual acumen, there is nothing more important. Having an entire “identity” that is consistent and connected is vital. A professional headshot, bio, portfolio, website, social media presence and method for sharing your customer successes is absolutely paramount to being the go-to person. Sloppiness is not acceptable…it will attract attention, but not the kind you want to be known for.
  4. Crowd-clan-blogDon’t be the pawn. In chess, the pawn is the easiest piece to capture. An expert shouldn’t be available whenever a customer wants them to be. A seasoned pro will demand more respect, making themselves available on their own terms while also balancing the timeliness of his or her responses. After all, we all have schedules to keep, and there’s nothing wrong with optimizing your availability to times that work for you and for your market. Appearing desperate is never perceived as a positive.
  5. Share in the spotlight. As Jason Gracia said so eloquently in his piece on positioning, “Authority is like glitter—those who come in contact with it can’t help but leave with a little on their sleeve.” In other words, be guilty by association. Link yourself in with the other leaders in the field. Talk with them, invite them to speak at your events, swap guest blogs, review each other’s products and services—be “seen” rubbing elbows and swapping all that glitter.

Implement these strategic ops and soon you could see your name added to the list of champions at the World Chess Hall of Fame over on Maryland Avenue in St. Louis…or more desirably perhaps on the top 10 list put out by Forbes magazine each year.



Capturing the Good Word: The Case for Customer Case Studies

customers 2If you’re a business or an organization and you’re not yet capturing the accolades of those you serve, you are missing out on what has always been the best way to grow your market and your audience: word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth, top-of-mind…it’s what a customer case study is all about.

And if you don’t even know what a customer case study (a/k/a customer success story) is…well then we really need to talk.

Realistically, you have probably seen many customers, businesses, and/or organizations tell the story of their positive experiences but didn’t know that form of promotion had a name. What you witnessed was, in fact, a customer case study.

This form of storytelling can be significantly improve, grow and maintain your bottom line—but only if it is done effectively, timely, professionally, and efficiently.

Companies and organizations in the past have focused more on telling their own stories, what they as a group have done in the community and for their customers. But times…they are a’changin…it’s time to turn those stories into ones where your customers, patrons and benefactors are the heroes.

isCapturing the good word that your customer has to say about you by sharing their own personal story is what works…it adds the human element that people want to feel, see and hear. Capturing the good word most effectively is best done through facilitation of a professional writer.

A freelance professional writer is the best likely person to capture the good word from your customers and patrons because they are not too closely tied to the subject…or to the customer. Filtered listening does not get in the way. Customers and patrons are more relaxed, and therefore more open and genuine as they tell the story of their experience with you.

Companies and organizations that enlist a professional writer also benefit from the writer’s journalistic viewpoint. What the professional writer ends up with as your story is considered to have more of a basis in news content, rather than being seen as nothing more than another piece of advertising intended solely to capture the market’s wallets instead of their hearts.

A professional writer will write the customer’s story with a foundation built on the human element. It will be the customer’s own story, told in his own words, with subtle refinement from the writer. It will not be merely a testimonial…but rather so much more.

With a customer case study, the customer is the hero.

He or she tells how the problem was identified from his or her viewpoint, determines what the goal was for further interaction with you, talks about the process of coming up with the resolution, how he or she reaped the rewards, and finally how he or she was able to “save the day.” This is why a customer case study is much more powerful than a mere testimonial.

If your company or organization is not in a position to use specific customer case studies…such as for confidential reasons because you are a finance firm or because you are a community support service…then consider implementing “use studies” to tell your stories.

Use studies are stories that are told anonymously. They are still true stories, told with the human element at the core. But instead of one person telling his or her story individually, multiple stories are pieced together to tell your story as a whole. This can also work especially well if you are rolling out a new product, service, or mission and have limited case studies available due to your newness.

patrons 2The material gathered from these customer case studies, or use studies, can be used in many different aspects of your overall marketing strategy.

You can use the material for several blog posts, trade journal and news articles, press releases, website content, direct mail marketing, appeal letters, grant proposals, and so much more…you are not limited to using these stories as video success story scripts alone.

A professional writer can maximize the benefits you receive from capturing all the good words your customers and patrons are saying about your company or organization. Using a professional writer as a partner in your company or organization’s overall marketing plan is vital…and a professional writer’s services will provide a sound return on investment every time.

Now let’s see how, together, we can harness the power of words for your greater good…

A Virtual Reality Check…Living Life Untraditionally

JCJ_Column_Published_Jul_08_2015-croppedPublished in the Jersey County Journal
Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The future is upon us, whether we like it or not. Yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s technology has catapulted us into changing the way we live our daily lives—despite many deeply heartfelt attempts at stopping it. The “traditional” way of doing things is no longer carried out with methods set forth by the baby boomers or the generations that came before them.

The reality is that every day is now set on a virtual stage. The Millennials, with help from the Gen Y generation, are taking the lead and taking over. The rest of us will have to change our perceptions of (and our practices in) the real world today if we want to continue to have meaning in our very existence.

We are not our parents; we are not living in our parents’ time. Just as we refused to become our parents, so now are our children. And while there is much value to cherish from the generations before, we also know there is much value in change (indoor plumbing and electricity come to mind for starters).

Why do I bring this all up now? Well, it’s got to do with what I like to call a reality check of a virtual nature I encountered in both my professional world and in my role as a parent—almost simultaneously.

From a few “professionals” in my field, it was recently suggested to me to consider leaving my Master’s degree off my professional profile. They recommended this because of its non-traditional nature, as well as because of the university from which it came and its current negative image. When I first read the words of the messages from these “professionals,” I was just shocked. The more I read about their words about how a more “traditional” pursuit would have more prestige, the more frustrated I became.

The hard work, perseverance, and mastery of the knowledge contained in my non-traditional program were just as rigorous, viable and valuable as any obtained through “traditional” methods. My education is a highly significant part of who I am; my graduate degree will remain a visible part of it.

My oldest son recently completed his Master’s degree “traditionally” at a “prestigious” school. His reality now is, in the highly competitive and very limited field of fine arts these day, those things weren’t quite enough. The prestige, the reputation, the beautiful campus, the network and the knowledge acquired: they all have value. And soon he will be paying for it, but while likely working in another field.

As a student, a parent, and an educator, I know firsthand that the “tradition” of a physical classroom where a student reports to from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. doesn’t work for all learners. Realistically, isn’t it more important for a student to learn what they need to know to become contributing members of society than it is for them to simply follow “tradition”?

I think it’s time we start looking at life more closely through our children’s and grandchildren’s eyes. They are our current and future leaders. Life lived online is the new reality, for them and for us. It is just as vital, educational, profitable, inspiring, and brutal as living the way our grandparents did.

Often I hear people saying that kids today don’t know how to communicate. Maybe the reality is that we’re the ones that don’t. The world is changing every second…perhaps it’s time for all of us to silence ourselves, open our minds, and listen more closely to what the future is saying…

It’s not all about the money…but it is a bit

JCJ Column Published May 13 2015

Published in the Jersey County Journal Wednesday, May 13, 2015

This is the time of the year for Moms and for graduations. And for me this time around, I am lucky enough to celebrate both. While my youngest still has a way to go on his degree, my oldest will receive his Master of Fine Arts degree from Washington University St. Louis in just a few days. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate all the rewards that come with being a mom!

A young professional artist now, he got his start in the arts right here in Jersey County. Unfortunately there’s not much of the evidence of the fine arts left in public education anymore where he can serve as kindling for the fires of the next M.C. Escher, Patrick O’Rourke…or Jeremy Shipley. Therefore, the challenge ahead of him now is to secure gainful employment in his now limited and highly competitive field that keeps his fire ignited while also keeping Sallie Mae happy. Not an easy task…regardless of your chosen path.

Erica Galos Alioto, a senior vice president at Yelp, recently posted an article on LinkedIn entitled, “Don’t Take a Job For the Money or Prestige.” I thought it would be particularly applicable to highlight some of what she shared as we enter the graduation season. It is the same sage advice I have given my sons and to anyone else who’ll listen.

In the article Alioto talked about how she knew for most of her life that she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. She shared that she had dressed as a lawyer for her fourth grade career day. In high school she campaigned for, and won, the spot of top prosecutor on the mock trial team. And at 22, she entered her first year of law school.

Soon though, she found that the classes and her writing exercises were not very exciting. She also found that she didn’t enjoy the environment of being surrounded by overeager law students who saw success as a zero sum game. She found her work as a summer associate at a top firm to be mind-numbing.

But in the end, the money and prestige of going to a big firm won her over. She took an offer with a great firm where she was paid well and had the prestige of belonging to a top firm. She stayed there for four years, until her need for fulfillment could no longer be quieted.

When she finally left, she ended up at a start-up. She took a huge pay cut, but she went to work excited every day. There was very little money or prestige, as the company was virtually unheard of at the time (I think the company she is a VP for is a little more well-known these days).

I have always been much like Alioto. I pursued the spark, the fire, the passion…even after my Master’s degree, money was a secondary thought. As an entrepreneur for well over a dozen years now, I wouldn’t change a thing. But it has also made for some difficult times along the way. Doing a bit of what I don’t enjoy nearly as much had to become a part of my reality.

So, here’s my keynote address to all the graduates out there—a condensed version:

As you begin down the path of the real grown-up world where there are no extensions, GPAs, or a syllabus to inform you of others’ expectations, keep running down that path of your passion with your torch brightly lit. Just be sure you can make those student loan payments too…

Melissa Crockett Meske has served as a guest columnist for the Jersey County Journal since 2006. She is a professional writer and an organization catalyst. Follow her at

Food for Thought…A Love Story

self-esteem-is-awesomeSelf-esteem…the ratio of success to self-expectations…

Our esteem is what we appraise ourselves to be worth, what we see our value to be to others. It is what we believe we have to offer authentically and uniquely to the world in which we live and all its inhabitants. It is only inside ourselves that we can define our personal level of esteem. Individually, we each have skill sets, memories, knowledge, and interpretations that are ours alone to share…or not.

Perhaps, if you are experiencing what you believe to be a low level of self-esteem, you should consider giving yourself a break. Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Rather than counting your failures, start counting your successes. A healthy level of self-esteem is sure to break through like the sun does at the end of the storm on a rainy day if you see the glass half-full instead of half-empty…even better if you discover the glass is spilling out everywhere instead of cracking from the dryness inside.

You alone decide what words to voraciously consume and which ones to catapult back into the vortex of that final frontier…so write your story the way you want it read.

After all, the history we learn from one generation to the next is founded on the words and the stories of its victors…make sure the commentary on your life is full of good stuff!!!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone…there’s enough love around for all of us…just look inside…