Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Paying the Cost of Free in Virtual Public Schools

Virtual public schools may be tuition free but there is a cost.

And, the more they promote tuition free the more they will recruit families who are not willing to pay the cost.

It's time to re-imagine virtual schools.

Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Homeschool Conferences: 12 Tips to Increase Sales

Download your copy today. Begin increasing your sales, your leads, and your profits at the next homeschool conference you attend.

I have listed out 12 Tips -- easy to understand, and easy to implement -- all vendors should know in order to increase their return on investment.

In addition, I include multiple Extra Tips, and even 3 Bonus Tips to provide you with almost 20 ideas you can use to help you achieve your goals, increase your leads, and earn more sales.

As an added Bonus, here is an additional Tip for all homeschool vendors:

TIP: Determine how you will measure success

Do you have a sales goal identified? How many leads do you want to obtain? Take time to determine your goals for the upcoming homeschool conference so you will be able to decide if it was a successful venture or not.

Measuring results is equally as important as determining activities. Too many times homeschool vendors approach the convention they are exhibiting at with little to no preparation on what they anticipate their return on investment will be.

When setting your goals, be specific and keep it simple. Outline them on paper and go over them several times leading up to the homeschool conference.

If you have team members working with you make sure they understand what the goals are and the ways you intend to reach them.

Success can only be determined properly if you know how you plan to measure it.

Want more Tips for your next homeschool conference? Order my 12 Tips today.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thank you @HeatherParady #YourTurnChallenge

I had multiple ideas running through my head for the Day 4 #YourTurnChallenge post via Seth Godin. Some were funny (at least to me), some were insightful, and some perhaps were even intelligent.

Then, I read the post from @HeatherParady -- Today My Husband Leaves

And, I realized, sometimes the best thing we can do is to share what others have written. So, if you have not read Heather's post, I encourage you to do so.

Perspective can change things for you. It can take what you deem important and minimize it when you see what others are facing today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Challenge of Your Turn: #YourTurnChallenge

I simply moved the word Challenge ahead of Your Turn. Does it take on a whole new meaning for you?

Merriam-Webster tells us that challenge is a verb, a transitive verb, and an intransitive verb. I counted 13 definitions attached to the word challenge -- does that mean we get to choose the definition we want?

Is Your Turn daring you to prove your worthiness of choosing yourself?

Is it inviting you into a competition involving others who have also accepted the challenge?

Is it asking you to prove your identity calling you a stranger in this world of choosing oneself?

Perhaps it is disputing past assumptions and calling them invalid leaving you to change your beliefs?

Or, is it stimulating you, arousing you by presenting you with difficulties. Difficulties, that once overcome, will allow you to experience the joy that comes with choosing Your Turn.

Maybe the word Challenge is a noun. Merriam-Webster tells us that as a noun challenge has three primary definitions: a difficult task or problem; an action, statement, etc., that is against something; an invitation to compete.

Perhaps one of those definitions will suffice for you.

However, before you decide ask yourself, "Who said I have to use the word challenge?"

I simply rearranged the words and put challenge first. It is just as easy for you to replace it with one of your choosing.

After all, it is Your Turn.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The tribe of #YourTurnChallenge

It was a brilliant idea really, perhaps even taken from the playbook of the master of inspiration Zig Ziglar himself.

"You will get what you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want." Zig Ziglar

Over 500,000 people follow Seth Godin and his daily blog. We are, in essence, the Tribe. And, with the #YourTurnChallenge, Seth is able to give the Tribe what they want. In return, hopefully he receives what he wants (and it is much more than sales of his new book).

The beauty of it all is the Tribe has come to life, sharing their stories, and "shipping their art" as Seth likes to call it.

And because of Seth's genius idea, we are all benefiting from being introduced to such talented artists.

Andy Stitt poured his heart into the Day 1 Challenge and through it we learned how to simplify the complexity of generosity.

Priscilla Tallman reminds us we are all in this together and that one voice can changes lives -- though only when it speaks.

Vanessa Thomas took the Challenge to new heights by starting a blog in response to it. She was ready (Junbi) to choose herself, and we are all better for it.

Tosinger is sharing her art, inspiring us all to stretch our dreams.

Catrina Ossman reminds us that sometimes all we need is a little motivation to get started.

Drew Griffin is thinking deeply about the Challenge itself, sharing insights into what it means to ship, opportunity, and acceptance.

But, one of my favorites of Day 1 was Tom Larsen. Tom is in insurance and somewhere along the way I saw a note from him lamenting the fact that he is concerned that blogging about insurance is not exciting enough.

Yet, in perusing his first post it led me to look over his blog overall. I encourage you to read Tom's blog. Insurance may not be sexy but saving money, protecting your belongings, and increasing your wealth is sexy. Sometimes they just disguise themselves under the insurance heading.

The Tribe is much more extensive than this list, and I could truly not do it justice in trying to describe it, or even the ones I listed here. However, I simply encourage you to join us. We are a worldwide Tribe who share the commonality of following Seth Godin and his writings.

However, there's always room for you in our Tribe. We need to hear what you have to say.


Keep moving forward: #YourTurnChallenge

Though the Promised Land has not been reached, that does not mean we should halt our journey. 

We must learn from the past, be inspired by the potential of the future, and do what we can today, now, to take that next step. 

We must fly, run, walk, and crawl. We must keep moving forward.

Friday, January 16, 2015

3 Blogs Worth Following

Below are 3 bloggers you may want to follow on a regular basis. The quality of the content they offer on a consistent basis is what I aspire to offer as well. Whether or not I am accomplishing that is still a question.

However, these bloggers make you think, and see things differently. And, I believe that is what they should do.

1. Michael Michalko

Author of books such as Thinkertoys, Michael's blog posts and thought projects are some of the best I have ever read and used. If you want to dive in deeper, expand your mind, and tap into your inner idea genius, then I would also encourage you to purchase his books.

2. Seth Godin

Seth is one of the most prolific authors, bloggers, and thought gurus in recent history. His insight into marketing, entrepreneurship, self-development, and personal growth is a daily dose of wisdom and action-provoking ideas.

3. Richard Branson

Founder of Virgin, Sir Richard may not be for everyone. However, within each of his blog posts lies great nuggets of information that can help you reach your potential. His posts are filled with inspiration and challenge you to reach beyond what you think possible.

Hope these suggestions help you in some way. I encourage you to read them, follow them, and consider using their suggestions to help you reach your dreams.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The problem with Seth Godin . . .

. . . is that he continues to make such sense in each one of his books that it is frustrating to me I did not think of writing them first.

In his latest book, What To Do When It's Your Turn (and it's always your turn) Seth challenges you on each and every page to rethink what you think you know, to move beyond waiting for others, and to take responsibility for yourself and your life.

It's both simple to read and very difficult to read at the same time.

If you desire for 2015 to be completely different, then take the time to go through Seth's new book.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The problem with success . . .

. . . comes when it stifles us from further innovation and growth.

Keep moving forward was the mantra for Walt Disney, and should be for each of us. Attaining our goals should build within us the confidence to reach higher, set bigger goals, and move forward toward them.

Success can be as much of a hindrance as fear and failure if it keeps us from moving forward. Enjoy success but don't rest in it. Instead, allow success to build within you the desire you need to soar ever higher.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The problem with mediocrity . . .

. . . is that it is easy to accomplish. It takes minimal effort, no imagination, and only an average amount of energy.

However, maintaining mediocrity is more difficult than maintaining excellence.

We tend to think excellence requires much of us, yet in reality, it only takes a little more -- a little more effort, a little imagination, and a little amount of energy.

Monday, January 12, 2015

McDonald's - Carry on, carry on.

In November of last year, McDonald's sales were down 4%, the largest decrease in over a decade. On a global scale, same-store sales for the month were down 2.2% with the third quarter same-store sales decrease clocking in at 3.3%. Clearly a brand-refresh was needed.

The question is, will their "Signs" campaign turn sales around? Will an emotional appeal drive more people to their restaurants? Is it designed to attract new customers, or to bring existing customers back?

As for the video itself, it is a good story, and continues the "I'm Lovin' It" narrative by showing that McDonald's "loves" their communities, and is connected to them.

The mere fact that this effort is beyond what one would expect is interesting. Meaning, you would think McDonald's would lead with ads offering discounts, pushing the low-priced products, or offering some new product. Instead, they offer up a feel-good advertisement in an effort to re-establish their position in the market. I expect this is the first ad of an integrated campaign that will have a mix of feel-good and product-based offerings so it will be interesting to see if it proves effective.

The question remains though, are they focused on the core issues in order to turn around sales? Or, are they hoping marketing can save the day?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Questions from readers on K12, Agora, TNVA, Connections, virtual learning, and more.

Since my Monday blog about K12 I have been inundated with emails, many of them posing some good questions. As I did previously, I thought I would answer them here. I do appreciate each and every person who takes time out of their day to read what I have to say -- whether they agree with my viewpoint or not is irrelevant. So, if you are reading this, thank you for taking time to do so. Questions (and comments) are always welcome.

Let's dive in shall we.

Q1: In your post about the problems K12 is having you referenced the core issue(s) they are not addressing but did not identify them. What do you think those core issues are?

I purposely did not mention them on Monday but have alluded to them in other posts about virtual schools overall. Would like to point you in the direction of my post Virtual Schools Manifesto: Nine Essential Ingredients for a more detailed answer.

Q2: Do you think the K12 stock price will continue to drop?

While I invest in stocks regularly I am not one to follow for advice on this. My belief though is it will mirror the overall stock market to some degree and continue to be a wild roller coaster ride. News out of North Carolina should help boost it temporarily, along with my belief that the Tennessee Virtual Academy will be renewed due primarily to the departure of TN Ed Commissioner Kevin Huffman late last year.

I checked this morning and it was in the $10 range which is lower than I anticipated it would fall. Investors have a much different measuring rod in terms of the success for K12, and it has little to do with academics (unless they impact growth and margins).

Q3: K12 and Connections Academy were approved recently in North Carolina to open up two pilot programs for the state. If they are as bad as you say they are, why are the leaders in North Carolina approving them to open? Perhaps you are missing something after all.

It is a fair question, and appreciated. I would say though that the legislature in North Carolina mandated the approval of two pilot schools to start in the fall of 2015 thereby restricting what the educational leaders could do. Only two respondents replied to the RFP that was sent out (K12 and Connections), so in effect, they only had two to select from in order to meet the legislature requirements.

Encourage you to read this article to see the dilemma this has created in North Carolina. Demand for virtual is great in this state, and I expect it to mirror Georgia to some degree. It's unfortunate more providers did not respond to the RFP.

Q4: In the Bloomberg article you said that your experience in Tennessee Virtual Academy was not good, and you pulled your kids out after the first year. Yet, TNVA continues to enroll thousands of students each year so clearly it is having some kind of positive impact in the state. Why were you so down on it?

What I shared in the article was only a portion of what I could have shared about our personal experience with TNVA. And, as I mentioned to the author of the article, it was not to say TNVA was not working for everyone, it was to share our experience with it.

We as a family embrace the virtual school concept and believe it has a vital place in the world of education. However, I do stand by my assertion that the current model is broken, and tweaks to the model will not produce adequate results. If they did, we would have seen it by now.

It is what I call the lost potential. Virtual schools are struggling to fulfill their original mission and purpose because they have tried to mirror the public school system. In doing so, they are losing out on the potential of what they could accomplish. One need only look at the landscape across the country and quickly understand it is hard to find a virtual school that is thriving. It's not too late though to re-imagine what virtual could be.

Note: The Bloomberg article referenced is from last year, and authored by John Hechinger concerning K12, and virtual learning.

Q5: I recently left Agora Cyber and things there are not good. The new people who have come in to run the school are, in reality, driving it over a cliff. Do you think they made the right decision to leave K12 and manage the school on their own?

Time is the true answer to this question. Time will tell us if the decision was the right one. Sometimes though we make the best decision we can with all of the facts we have, then we must work hard to make it the right decision afterwards.

Q6: Do you think blended will overtake virtual?

Emphatic YES. Blended learning (or flipped as it is sometimes referenced) is the new golden child in education, and will be for years to come. It is becoming the go-to solution for all educational ills.

At the end of the day though I hope it is more of an AND than an OR. Within districts we don't have to do blended or virtual? Why not blended and virtual? Why not blended, virtual, classroom, flipped, disruptive, and mobile?

Education has multiple issues going on which requires multiple solutions. Let's embrace public schools, charter schools, private schools, homeschool, and alternative schools with the understanding that the ultimate goal is learning.

And with that I will leave it for today. Thanks again for reading, thanks for writing, and thanks for caring.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The most inspirational quote of all time . . .

. . . is the one we tell ourselves each morning.

You see, quotes from others can move us but they cannot overcome the story we tell ourselves.

Do you ever think about what you think about? Yes, fill your mind with quotes, stories, and material that inspires you. Pay closer attention though to what you tell yourself. It's not about the power of positive thinking but it has everything to do with thinking positively about yourself.

You will become what you think about -- thinking mediocre thoughts will lead to mediocrity no matter how many books we read on excellence.

Think for yourself. Think about your thoughts. And change your thoughts if you want to change your life. Excellence begins from within, it begins with your story you tell yourself each day.

The beauty of it all is that you have the power to write a new chapter.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The snowball effect.

It's easy to predict the upcoming success of Avengers II: The Age of Ultron but many tend to forget the first Iron Man movie was a risk by Marvel.

In early 2014 there were multiple stories about why Frozen was resonating with families and continuing to draw audiences in to watch, sing and enjoy. Yet, there is not one story in October of 2013, right before the release of the Disney movie, that predicted the overwhelming success it would have. This Christmas was inundated with Frozen-themed products but not so much in 2013 because it even caught Disney by surprise, along with the timing of the release.

And, go back in time in the early 90s when animators at Disney were clamoring to be part of the next installment they thought would be huge, Pocahontas. This meant that many junior animators were left to work on the secondary movie in production at the time, Lion King.

Companies, organizations, and even individuals spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out, even predict what will be the next "blockbuster" in their field. Yet, predicting the future is difficult, at best, to do -- impossible is more like it.

What Disney does so well is they plan for what I call the snowball effect. In essence, Disney rolls multiple snowballs down the hill and stand ready for the ones that begin to grow, waiting to take advantage of the opportunities (albeit sometimes slowly).

In 2014 Disney released Maleficient, Big Hero 6, and Into the Woods - each performed well at the box office. Also that year, they released Million Dollar Arm, Planes: Fire & Rescue, Muppets Most Wanted, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day -- each one opened and closed quickly at the box office. However, each served as a small snowball for Disney to roll down the hill and watch for momentum to kick in.

In 2015 Disney will release Avengers II and the next installment in the Star Wars franchise -- each, in my opinion, a snowball effect in that the success tied to these movies is based in large part on the small snowballs that were released at the top of the hill years ago.

However, can anyone right now predict the success of Disney's Tomorrowland movie releasing later this
year? Will it become the next Frozen? Disney is not sure either yet they have packed it up into a small snowball, and they will roll it down the hill and see if momentum grows it -- if it does, then they will kick into gear all of the other facets to take advantage of its success.

What can we learn from this? Yes, it is vital to spend time to determine which snowballs are worth releasing at the top of the hill but do you, as a company, have a plan to take advantage of the growth momentum of that snowball should it begin to gain speed and size?

Have you spent time on What if scenarios to extend the brand? To expand the distribution channel? To increase the awareness and revenue once the little snowball begins to grow?

It is difficult to predict which video will go viral, but it is not difficult to be ready for it should it gain momentum.

UPDATE: Since publishing this blog post this morning, a friend sent along this story from the Disney CFO that provides further evidence of what this post is all about: Disney CFO Outlines Movie Financing Strategy

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Houston, K12, Inc. has a problem.

A few months ago I suggested that if K12's management agreement with Agora Cyber (PA) was severed their stock would drop into the $12-13 range (if not more). I checked prior to writing this and their stock was $11.34 per share.

K12 has a problem.

I'm not talking about their well-documented academic struggles. Nor am I talking about the fact they struggled last year to increase student enrollments. And, no I am not talking about their ongoing retention issues. Those problems are all symptoms of the core issue.

Sometimes doctors understand if you treat the symptoms the patient will "feel" better even though the core illness remains. Unfortunately companies tend to do the same thing -- let's work on correcting the symptoms. The problem - they tend to ignore the true illness and they wonder why the symptoms continue to occur.

K12's problem is their attention is on the symptoms -- academic struggles, enrollment stagnation, high attrition rates, teacher instability, board relationship issues, revenue generation, etc. -- and they are ignoring the core illness.

Until they turn their attention to the core, these symptoms will continue. Small victories will mask the main issue yet they will convince themselves their efforts are working - if only given more time. As more time passes though, the symptoms will remain, even grow.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sometimes the obvious is obviously difficult to see.

With a first name of Houston, and thanks to NASA, I have had to endure introducing myself to people and then hearing the phrase, "Houston, we have a problem. Bet you have never heard that before have you?"

I have always tried to reply with a polite and oftentimes witty answer to make light of it, and make them feel at ease. Truth be told, it grew old early on in life. I always related to the actors who had delivered a memorable line, or found themselves trying to avoid being typecast because of a particular role. In interviews, they would often be asked about people approaching them on the street and asking them to say that line. Or, the comedians who would be at a gathering and people always expecting them to be funny. For me, it was similar -- new person, first introduction, okay, here we go again. "Houston huh, I bet you have never heard . . ."

And then, an epiphany of sorts (though after this length of time, not sure it can be called an epiphany) in that I realized that perhaps I was looking at this all wrong. After all, Prince was a great name for a musician, thought he did change his name to a symbol (maybe I should consider that). No, the real answer, the real solution here is to realize the potential of this and even send NASA a thank-you letter.

I have spent my life, in essence, solving problems. I work with companies and schools to solve their customer loyalty problems, and relationship problems. I work with individuals to solve their self-esteem, minimal vision, and internal belief problems. And, I work with organizations to solve their branding, messaging, and communication problems.

In fact, if it weren't for problems, I am not sure what I would be doing each day. It's hard to solve for success, but problems present opportunities.

As Jimmy Fallon would say, "Thank you NASA for placing your space center in Houston, and for having problems."

Let me encourage you to consider what may be right in front of you. Are you overlooking something so obvious that it is difficult to see? Are you avoiding something that when embraced might actually be an asset?

For me, it has taken over 28 years of a professional life to embrace the obvious. When people call me and say, "Houston, we have a problem" it is actually the best call I can receive.

Now, what is the phone number to the Copyright Office?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Power of AND

And is such a small word yet packed with powerful potential. Yet, we tend to turn to Or much more often.

"I can either do this or that." "I can be this or that."

With Or we limit ourselves. With And we open up the possibilities. And expands the mind, Or compresses. And increases, Or decreases.

Be a teacher and a learner.

Be a leader and a follower.

Be inspired and inspire.

Fail and succeed.

Do this and that, be this and that.

Think And before Or then see what happens within you.