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On Customer Service

Posted by on Aug 24, 2016 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments

open engine

First, a quick background note: I work on cars… a lot. I repair them, modify them, and for some reason seem to like to torture myself with old vehicles. I’m telling you this because I have learned that, when repairing cars, things sometimes go wrong. Sometimes things go disastrously wrong. You break something unrelated to the original repair, you get the wrong parts in the box, or the new part doesn’t work, leading you to question your original diagnosis. This will become important later on.

I’m telling you this story because last week, while away on vacation, I dropped my wife’s car off at a shop to replace a leaking gasket that I really didn’t want to fix myself. The gasket was hard to get to, had a couple of probably seized bolts holding it in place, and I just KNEW it was going to be a pain in the butt to do. I was going to be out of town for a week, the car would be sitting – why not just have it fixed while I’m away?

The quote was for 4 hours of labour. The part was $15. It would easily be done in a single day by a professional mechanic with a vehicle lift, air tools, and years of experience. I dropped the car off on Sunday morning. I was coming back into town on Thursday, and it would be ready for me to pick up. Easy decision.

Wednesday was when I got the first call.

“Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. We’ve discovered that your car also needs part X, and it’s going to cost an additional $199.” Uh-huh.

Then on Thursday morning the phone rings again. “Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. We’ve found that part Y and Z are on their way out, and we recommend replacing them for an additional $100.” Uh-huh.

Thursday evening. “Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. Remember part X? That part is no longer available and we have to replace it with upgraded part AA. But instead of $199, it’s $599, plus another $100 for part AA-1.Oh, and we can’t get it until Monday.” Hold the phone, please. 

I’m sure that most of you can relate to this story. You pay someone with specialized knowledge to perform a task for you – whether it’s a plumber, mechanic, lawyer, or god forbid – marketer – and they keep adding things onto the bill. You have a feeling that you’re being taken for a ride. This is the part where the tidbit of information about me being a car guy comes into play. See, I’m not a professional mechanic – but we’ve had this particular car for 9 years (my other car, the one I bought in high school – I’ve had it for 22 years). The car is considered an enthusiast vehicle, so there are web forums of dedicated fans who post detailed instructions on everything from how to change a headlight to how to remove an engine. And, there are online parts suppliers that can get anything under the sun for a tiny percentage of what you can get them for from the dealer or even the local auto parts store. So part AA and part AA-1? I know all about them. They’re common failure parts… and they are also readily available for much less than $700. At this point, I start to get a little bit mad. If I’d have wanted to spend a ton of money and wait several days, I could have just ordered a whole pile of parts myself. I need to think about this overnight.

Friday morning the phone rings again. “Hello Mr. Holota. We’ve found an alternative to part AA and AA-1 at a much more reasonable price. They’ll still be here on Monday.” Oh, okay. This calms me down a bit.

Monday the phone rings. “Hello Mr. Holota. You won’t believe this. The wrong part came in the box. We have to re-order it, but it will be here tomorrow.” At this point, I’m starting to believe that the garage is full of untrained monkeys and that I should have just paid a random person off the street to take care of the problem for me.

Then came Tuesday. This time, the phone call from the garage said that the car was ready. I headed down to the shop after work to pay the bill and get the keys. The service advisor shakes my hand, tells me how nice it is to meet me, and says they’re going to miss the car, because it’s been there so long it feels like family. A joke to ease the tension. He has trouble finding the keys, and while he’s looking the owner of the shop comes out to talk to me. It’s a very nice car, she says, especially given the age. We talk about cars. They’re both enthusiasts who genuinely LIKE cars (not all mechanics do). The talk drifts from the car that was just repaired to the car I pulled up in. “You’ve had it for 22 years? Wow!”

I leave with a smile on my face.

As I mentioned, I know all about the car that was being repaired. I KNEW the repair would be trouble, which is why I didn’t want to do it myself. I know that things can go wrong, that bolts get stuck, and that other things can get broken while trying to do a repair. I KNOW that you can get the wrong parts in a box. These things really do happen. Cars are actually incredibly complex machines, and Murphy’s Law most certainly applies to their repair – especially as they get old (sometime ask me about the February I took the bus to work because the two hour repair I started ballooned into a 4 week fiasco).

Here’s the important part: I completely understood the repair and even empathized with them about the repair, the difficulties they were having, and the problems getting parts. But even so, the situation was not made okay until I talked with them face to face, got to know them a little bit better, and had a good understanding of who they were and what their intentions were. This was a GREAT independent repair shop, and I would go back there again in a heartbeat. There’s a lesson here for anyone in business.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about medical malpractice. He notes that some doctors make tons of mistakes, and yet never get sued, while other doctors rarely make mistakes but seem to get sued often.

“…the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care – and something else happens to them.”

In fact, Gladwell concluded that the ‘something else’ was just bad customer service.

“What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly.”

Imagine if the garage had taken my payment and then rushed me out the door. I would have felt badly about the experience. I would have felt taken advantage of, and I would have started to question other things. Sure, I know that part AA was a common failure item, but in this case, was it really? I would have felt ripped off. But because the garage took the time to chat with me and get to know me, I understood that the problems they were having were the very same problems that I would have run into had I tried to do the job myself. Furthermore, I likely would have broken even more stuff myself in my impatience and growing anger (see the February story, above).

Here’s the marketing lesson: If you spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to convince people to walk into your building and then treat them like dirt when they arrive, you’ve wasted all of your money. If, on the other hand, you treat them like they are the most important people in the world, they will reward you with patience, understanding, and kindness, even when something goes wrong. Customer service is a natural extension of marketing. Treat your customers right, and they will sing your praises to anyone who will listen. Treat them wrong, and they’ll tell everyone about that too.


Dunbar’s Number And Social Media

Posted by on Aug 11, 2016 in Ryan's Thoughts | 2 comments

If you’ve been on Twitter for a long time, and you have friends who have also been on Twitter for a long time, then you’ve probably had this conversation:

Person 1: “Twitter sucks now.”

Person 2: “Yup.”

Well, the conversation may not have gone exactly like that. It may have revolved around the lack of interaction with your Tweets, compared to ‘the good old days’. Or perhaps the conversation laments the amount of crappy self-promotion so prevalent on the service today. You may also be frustrated by the fact that so many of the OG’s no longer post as often as they used to.

It’s true. Twitter has changed. A lot. It’s grown exponentially, for one thing. It’s been monetized in a big way, and it’s been democratized too. Where Twitter was once a secret hideaway for the ‘social elite’, it’s become a tool for everybody to complain about their local hockey team and to share pictures of their cats (oh wait, it’s always been used for that….)

I’m rarely on my personal Twitter account anymore – though I spend a significant amount of time running a corporate Twitter account – but I do spend a lot more time on Facebook than I ever did. In fact, I used to hate Facebook, but over the past 3 years or so, it has become a key relationship management tool for me. What gives?

And that’s when it hit me – it’s a classic case of Dunbar’s Number.

A refresher for those of you who have forgotten: Dunbar’s Number is a number that reflects the number of social relationships that a person is capable of maintaining. It was proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, and the number was suggested to be about 150, but some current estimates place it as high as 250.

Dunbar’s Number repeatedly shows itself everywhere from successful workplaces to military units, and even to closed communities such as Hutterite colonies. Once a group spreads past 150 people, it begins to break apart. Splinter cells form, infighting begins, and before long, the village must divide into two, either literally or figuratively, if it wants to survive.

I follow about 2,700 people on Twitter. I followed interesting people who followed me, sought out folks from the marketing and business worlds, and looked for other folks from the same geographic region to interact with. Real-world relationships were built, business was done, and everybody was happy.

Everybody was so happy that they wanted even more! We invited the people that we liked most to connect with us on Facebook – a much more private ‘walled garden’ in the social sphere, a place where we connect with our aunts and uncles, share pictures of our kids, and talk about our work days. If I get a new follower on Twitter I check their profile and a few of their last Tweets – not a bot, not too political, not talking about insurance or endlessly sharing pictures of great real estate buys – and I follow them back. I see someone mentioned in a tweet, and I follow them out of curiosity.

What a change from the days in which I used tools like SocialBro to track down people with similar interests and cultivated a list of people to follow(I’m strictly talking about personal accounts here, not business accounts).

Conversely, if I get a Facebook friend request, it’s serious business. Who are they? Where are they from? Do I know anyone else who knows them? And then I decide to ignore their request. I share photos of my kids on Facebook, I’m not letting just anyone in. Total number of FB friends? 313. Certainly more than 150, but it’s arguably easier to manage a Facebook friendship than work to harvest a crop with someone. And truth be told, there’s probably a few folks that I could knock off my list pretty easily.

So, if I follow a good number of people on Twitter, but somehow find it less relevant, and few people on FB, but find it fascinating, what’s the deal? The answer is curation. Like me, most of you are probably a lot more careful about who you let into your FB circle. You have fewer relationships there, the relationships mean more to you, and it’s far more relevant to you at any given time.

Targeted and relevant. Sounds like a perfect storm. Where else do you probably follow fewer people than you do on Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram?

Which social networks have the highest engagement and the fastest growth? The very same.

What do you think?



Posted by on Dec 9, 2015 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments



I acutely remember the first time I heard of Squarespace. I was driving home from work listening to a podcast, and the host did a live read extolling the virtues of the service. I immediately dismissed it as a modern version of Geocities. As the weeks passed, I kept hearing more and more about it. I saw testimonials from people that I thought were pretty smart. More podcasts joined in. The service must be doing well, I thought, if they can keep advertising this much. This was probably… two years ago? And the ads didn’t go away, I kept hearing about them more and more often.

Earlier this summer I had a meeting to begin planning a new website, with a very smart professional, and they recommended building a new site on… Squarespace. I was flabbergasted. I finally signed up just to poke around, to see what was possible, and I was impressed. I wasn’t sold, but I was impressed. After playing around for a little bit however, I abandoned the demo site I had been building, and kept looking at other possibilities. ModX, WordPress, etc.

I have a soft spot for WordPress. I have 5 or 6 sites running it right now (including this one, but don’t hold that against me) and I’ve always loved the ease with which it works and how easy it was to expand. I was pretty sure that my next site would be based on WordPress.

And then – I needed a new site immediately. Like overnight immediately. Despite years of experience working with WordPress – I went back to the Squarespace account I had abandoned. I logged in, grabbed a piece of paper and began drawing traffic flow diagrams, and within 48 hours (and about 30 hours of work) I had a good-looking, workable site that was live. It’s not completely done yet, and I haven’t explored everything (the blogging service will be my next adventure), but it was a century ahead of what I had before.


Here’s what I love:

  • The interface is dead simple. It’s easy to know where to go to make the changes that you want to make.
  • It’s beautiful. Even the supplied templates look great, which is not always the case with this type of service. Everything is easy to modify if you want more.
  • Laying out a page is simple. By mixing images, text blocks, and spacer blocks, you can create pretty much any page you like.
  • Inserting custom code is easy – just place a code block and paste.
  • Optimized for mobile. Including all of Google’s latest mobile compatibility rules.
  • 301 Redirects – I use these as a marketing tool all the time, (with custom URLs) and they are simple to use and maintain.
  • No need to think about it – they do all the updates, provide 24/7 tech support, and manage backups. I sleep well at night.


Here’s what I don’t love:

  • The built-in options are a little limiting. No tables, the link structure is limiting, and file storage is vague (you can upload any type of file, but you can’t – at least as far as I can see thus far – create specific directories for files to keep things organized)
  • There is no file tree to speak of. You can go two pages deep, and that’s it (again, as far as I can tell). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does force you to think about your site structure. And you will be rewarded for keeping simple.
  • No access to the HTACCESS file. Of course, the only thing I ever really did with this was redirects, so…


Recently, I’ve begun experimenting with a new niche review site, and I went back to WordPress to build it on. It’s not that I necessarily prefer WordPress to Squarespace – it’s mostly that I already pay for a server that I can host multiple WordPress sites on, so there’s no additional cost to me. In fact, I think I prefer Squarespace. They take care of everything. With WordPress, I’m always having to apply updates, disable plug-ins to figure out where the errors are, and then fix the problems. It’s very tiring, and I’m not a coder. I’d much rather sort through Google Analytics data than scan lines of code, and Squarespace is perfect for that.

So well done, Squarespace. You are not the Geocities of the 21st century, you are in fact, a full-featured, strong, and easy to use web development platform. Keep up the good work.