A Very Merry Christmas to All

A Very Merry Christmas to All

As a child, I can remember feeling sick with anticipation and excitement on Christmas Eve waiting for the morning to arrive; those were easily the longest nights of my life.  Just the thought of Santa somehow appearing in our South Florida home with a sleigh full of presents was more than my small mind could bear…especially since homes in tropical areas don’t have chimneys.  I never could figure that one out.

As an adult, Christmas has a completely different meaning to me.  After all, it is the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and for that we have countless reasons to give thanks.  I believe that I am a sinner saved by grace and I have no problem sharing that with the world; even if it is no longer “politically correct” to express my appreciation of God in a public place.  Because let’s face it…this is definitely not the world that was described in the Bible thousands of years ago.

Then again, don’t think that I’m bitter because the birth of our Lord has been transformed into a month-long eCommerce bonanza.  As long as non-believers get into the giving spirit and treat their fellow man just a hair better during the winter holidays, then I can’t help but think that the world is a better place for it regardless.  That’s what Christmas is really about anyway…the act of giving cheerfully…and the Biblical implications can’t be lost there no matter how hard you try.

That’s one of your last marketing lessons of the year- do not be afraid to show the world your religious beliefs during this important holiday season.  It is never in poor taste to say, “Merry Christmas” with a smile and a warm handshake, because you’re relaying exactly what the angels cried out from Heaven in Luke chapter two verse 14- “Glory to God in the highest; have peace on Earth and good will towards men.”  And for those of us who attribute our success to our religious beliefs, it’s the very least we can do to express our religious convictions.

So I’ll say once again, Merry Christmas my friends; and I look forward to working with you again in 2016.  In the meantime, I hope that you have some amazing time off with your family and make lots of cherished memories that will inspire future generations.

Update on PackRise & New Clients

Update on PackRise & New Clients

I just realized that it’s been a few months since I’ve updated my blog, so I wanted to first apologize to my clients and all the other folks that enjoy reading about the finer points of content marketing and search optimization.  I’ve been working extra-long hours recently though and I just haven’t had a chance to post anything worth reading…but you know how that goes.

I’ve also been receiving a lot of emails about my social media site PackRise, and I am as frustrated as you are that we haven’t been able to launch a beta by now.  But I wanted to update you on that journey and sort of give you a first-hand look at how big social media websites get made…which is actually been one heck of a learning experience for me as well.

When I first started asking around for help with PackRise, my original goal was to find a local developer that was strong enough to help complete the core algorithm in-house.  The search actually started back in the fall of 2014, and I’ve yet to find anyone with the proper skill-sets locally.  I’ve even talked to every other web developer in Spartanburg and still came up empty…even the big Greenville agencies couldn’t find anyone to recommend.

So that basically left me with three options-

  • Move to Silicon Valley (which isn’t happening)
  • Work with a solid coder remotely (which I tried three times)
  • Hire a specialty agency to build the entire site (which I can’t afford)

That brought me to the world of angel investing and let me tell you, it’s not anything like you’d expect.  I talked to about a dozen investors total, made it to three face to face meetings, and walked away with for funding from all of them.  But even with the best offer, there were far too many contingencies…and it just didn’t seem worth giving away part of my creative control.

And here’s how a typical investor meeting works.  You email them, give a quick two-paragraph pitch and then send over a very basic business summary.  If the investor likes what he sees, then they ask for the full business plan…and if they like that, they’ll schedule a meeting.  Just getting to this point can take months, however, and then you’ll get an email saying, “Can you meet us in Chicago this Friday at noon?”

So you pack your bags, hop on a flight, book a hotel room and then ultimately sit in a lobby waiting for hours…only to be given three minutes to sell your entire concept.  And even though I covered financial projections and revenue streams, all three investors asked the same first question- how soon can the site be launched with a paid subscription plan?

Now remember, PackRise is a social media site about paying it forward and helping your community, so the last thing I’d want to do is to roll out with a business model that didn’t focus on rapidly building communities.  You can’t do that with a paid subscription model though, at least not on day one, so I thanked each investor for their time and I left empty-handed.

That’s when I started rethinking everything about PackRise and how it should be launched, and I realized that I either needed a great strategic partner or I had to raise the funding 100% on my own.  And for now, I’m going the solo route because it just makes more sense.

For now, I’m working stupid-long hours with an increased client load, plus I’m knocking out a book, “Thrive as a Freelance Writer.”  I haven’t shopped publishers yet, but I think a niche book explaining my journey and helping folks earn a legitimate income writing online could have pretty big potential- I’m covering everything in it from SEO to copywriting, finding clients and time management.

So cross your fingers for me- I’m hoping to get enough of a book advance to go all-out on a crowdfunding campaign for PackRise.  I do have a solid plan of action anyway…it’s just a much longer, slower route than anyone wanted me to take.

I promise to keep you updated more regularly though, and please be sure to start liking/following me on my business social media sites.  That will be critical for me in the months to come.  And please, keep sending the referrals of your business contacts that need marketing/copywriting help…I can sleep when I’m 80.  =)

And hey, how about them 12-0 Panthers!  Go Cam go!

Think Twice Before Upgrading to Windows 10

Think Twice Before Upgrading to Windows 10

As a life-long Windows user that’s always jumped at the chance to try out their latest operating systems, I have to admit that I’ve been one of those nerds that have pre-ordered a copy or hit my local Walmart at midnight just to become an early adopter.  I can still remember the awesomeness of Windows 98 Second Edition and the utter failure of Windows Millennium, yet none of them have disappointed me as much as Windows 10.  Here is my completely unbiased review of Microsoft’s latest operating system.

When I first installed Windows 10 a little over a week ago, I will admit that I felt a little bit like a kid in a candy store.  It was a sleek new interface with plenty of features to explore, yet it still felt familiar enough that I wasn’t grasping at finding my documents or accessing a program.  Our time-loved widgets are gone, however, but the start button returned with its own Windows 8 like gallery of apps, news feeds and favorites.  It seemed like a fair tradeoff.

While there was somewhat of a learning curve (for example, you have to right-click on Word documents to bring up things you recently worked on), I really appreciated the balance between new features and simplicity.  You’ll fall in love with Cortana just seconds after you ask her your first ridiculous question and she comes right back with some sass in her voice, and having the ability to link just about anything to the taskbar also made a lot of sense.

Just about the time I was going to officially declare Windows 10 the best operating system ever, something peculiar happened- the damn thing stopped working.  Not a crash, mind you or some type of situation where you’d expect that you were infected with malware, but many of the features just flat-out stopped working.  For example, I haven’t been able to talk to Cortana in three days and the start menu now resembles Windows 7…but without the Windows 7 functionality that lets me set it up in a way that makes logical sense.

After doing a little bit of research, I discovered that this was a bug reported in testing over a year ago in the Windows 10 Technical Preview (build 9926).  To fix it, users have to log into Windows Powershell as an administrator and run the following command-

Get-AppXPackage -AllUsers | Foreach {Add-AppxPackage -DisableDevelopmentMode -Register “$($_.InstallLocation)\AppXManifest.xml”}

Once the program runs for 5-10 minutes and give you about 50 error messages that will make absolutely no sense to you (the tutorial I found said to ignore them), Windows 10 should technically work again.  Maybe.  Or maybe the command I just posted is some type of malicious program that screws you over even worse.  I don’t know because Microsoft hasn’t made an announcement either way…which is a massive, massive problem since they’re telling people to download it.

So know this- if you install Windows 10 for free over the next few weeks, it may be completely awesome.  Then again, you may end up like me and have an operating system that only does a fraction of what’s it’s supposed to.  For example, I can no longer use the calculator- I get a message that it’s not supported in this version even though I was using it fine four days ago.  I can’t use my keyboard shortcuts either, nor can I access quick links to files and folders.  Cortana still won’t talk to me either

Overall, I really liked Windows 10 when it worked correctly…which were 4 out of the 9 days I have had it installed so far.  But at this point, anyone who downloads the software is merely a beta tester on an unstable system with tons of glitches and problems.  It is nowhere near ready for public consumption at this point and rushing it out was a foolhardy mistake on Microsoft’s part.

Even for free; it is nowhere near worth the asking price.  Windows 10 is one gigantic headache that users simply do not need to deal with.  Once it’s stable, however, then it will likely become the most popular Windows ever…if Microsoft doesn’t chase everyone into Apple’s lap before then.

The Independence Day Lesson in Communications

The Independence Day Lesson in Communications

Happy Independence Day everyone!  Hopefully you’re in the process of lighting up those barbeque grills, telling your kids that they can’t play with the sparklers until its dark outside, and packing up your coolers to go see some awesome fireworks.  That’s what Independence Day is all about; being with your loved ones and celebrating the birth of our nation.

So once again, I say happy 4th of July everyone.  Just be sure to be responsible on the way home since there will be police checkpoints everywhere tonight.

While I still have your attention though, I couldn’t help but bring up some current events that has really bothered me lately.  The Charleston shooter Dylan Roof trying to start a race war, and the amazing message of love from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The landmark passing of gay marriage and the arguments that it’s created.  The demands for South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag.  Or Donald Trump’s demand to secure the Mexican borders from rapists, drug dealers and murderers.
Lately, it’s been one rant after another…and they are all focused on stripping away our individual Independence.

I am proud to say that I’m a happily married white male heterosexual Christian that was born and raised in the United States, and I respect the heck out of our forefathers for the liberties we were given.  By law, we can say and do almost anything in our pursuit to find happiness in this country, and I am a firm believer in pro-choice for virtually every political hot topic you can name.  That’s what the United States has always been about- the right to choose and live free.
Then again, we are expected to be “politically correct,” even when it goes against everything we’ve been raised to believe.  Take gay marriage, for example…I am thrilled that homosexuals can now form a lasting union in the eyes of the law.  I believe that the spirit of the constitution was meant to grant these rights to all Americans, and it’s about time that the government got this one right.  And it’s even more important for our nation because it’s establishing a right for a minority voice.

At the same time, however, my Christian upbringing tells me that it’s a sinful lifestyle.  I am against homosexuality because my God commands me to be, but I am certainly not against homosexuals.  Every single one of us is a sinner and the Bible never once says to hate those living in sin…it actually says the exact opposite.  We’re supposed to love everyone and try to help them, even if we disagree with their lifestyles.

You know who else thought that equality wasn’t the way to go?  Hitler.  Napoleon.  Stalin.  Genghis Khan.  Kim Jong-um.  Very, very bad people.

When we look at the other side of the coin though, people like Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Confucius and Thomas Jefferson taught the exact opposite- they wanted real equality.  That’s the kind that can only exist when everyone has an even playing field and NOBODY is told that their views do not matter.  Yet that’s what we do every single day on TV, through the media and every outlet we can think of…we tell others why what we believe is more important than everyone else around us.  Folks, that’s just hate and racism…no matter how nicely you sugar-coat it.

Until our leaders begin to accept that simple truth, organizations like the NAACP and the LGBT will continue to be just as racist as the KKK.  But who’s right and who’s wrong?  It really doesn’t matter if we’re only going to focus on our personal goals and say the heck with everyone else.

NYC Independence DayAs a country, we are more divided than ever before because of our freedoms, and we often use it as an excuse to not even consider opposing viewpoints.  By definition, that makes those types of people a racist, a communist and about a dozen other words I will not use here- but it’s 100% true nonetheless.  We all tend to forget that there can be a middle-ground where everyone’s beliefs are respected…even if they’re not accepted as a popular viewpoint.

Just remember, as Americans we are all granted equal rights to define our own little slice of happiness.  But if you don’t stop and consider all viewpoints before passing judgement, then you’re making our Constitution just a little bit less powerful every time.  And while it’s your right to do so, I would hope that we are better than that as a nation.

So as you celebrate your Independence tonight, I want you to do one very important thing for me.  Take a look around you and see how diverse we are as a nation.  As those colorful fireworks explode over your head, remember that it was a long, hard road to arrive at where we are today.  And the path forward will likely be even harder still, but it’s not too late for you to be a champion for America.

It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, black, brown or white, Republican or Democrat, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim…you can do a little better to respect the viewpoints of others around you.  That’s the principle that this amazing nation was formed on, and that’s what makes it the most incredible country on the planet.

So the next time you disagree about politics, do what those brave men and women at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church chose to do- let love conquer hate and put a stop to this senseless racism among us.  Have a great Fourth of July everyone.

The Complete Shores of Panama Review Panama City Beach, Florida

The Complete Shores of Panama Review Panama City Beach, Florida

Many of my loyal readers may be wondering, “Seriously Keith, are you really going to post a review of a Panama City resort on a marketing blog?”

The answer is yes- and I am doing it for two very specific reasons.  I keep telling you how important monitoring your online reputation is for your business, and I was basically hustled by the assistant manager at the Shores of Panama resort in Panama City Beach earlier this week.  So this will be a great lesson for you to follow as I hold this company accountable for their actions.  Hopefully you’ll learn a thing or two.

So let’s get right down to it; here’s my Shores of Panama review from our stay on 6/12/15 to 6/16/15-

Shores of Panama Resort- Overview

Over the past five or six years, my family has made our way down to the Gulf Coast for its beautiful beaches and the laid-back atmosphere.  We chose the Shores of Panama in Panama City Beach because it was a newer property with the most amazing lagoon pool we’ve ever seen, spectacular ocean views from the room and simply a great place to stay.

Each mini-suite is basically set up like a condo with a full kitchen, a washer/dryer combo, bunk beds for the kids and a private master bedroom for my wife and I.  We’ve stayed in the one, two and three bedroom models over the years and they are always clean, well-furnished and comfortable; I really feel like I’m on vacation when we go there and the spectacular views make it one of the most relaxing places on Earth.

Shores of Panama Review- The Arrival

Well, making our way to Panama City Beach last Friday was a true nightmare.  We had made it maybe 30 miles total before hitting a huge accident on I-85 with an overturned semi, and that delayed us at least an hour.  Then downtown Atlanta was just as crazy, so we lost close to another hour in that stretch of the highway.  By that time we were half-starved, so we tried a Hardees right off the interstate in Alabama for a quick meal…and somehow that was almost 50 minutes all by itself.  The normal 8 hour drive took us right at 11:15 from start to finish.
So when we pulled up to our favorite Florida resort at 7:45 in the evening, the last thing I expected was to see a packed lobby with a ridiculous wait.  While there were four employees behind the counter, only one of them was actually helping guests…the other three were just hanging out and watching us wait.  It took us an additional 40 minutes just to speak to the lethargic receptionist who was clearly in no rush, and she placed us on the 19th floor…despite us requesting a lower level since we have a daughter that struggles with heights.

  • Forty minute average wait-time in lobby
  • Employees not in uniform
  • Most employees just standing around
  • Average 10 minute elevator wait time
  • Employees could not answer even basic questions

Now when I say “requested”, I mean that I called a full month in advance at the time of our booking to ensure that we’d have a room below the 10th floor.  They ensured me that it would not be a problem, but I typed it in the special instructions of the booking anyway and I called before 8 AM on the morning of our arrival.  So getting stuck on the 19th floor was something of a shock, but we decided to just deal with it since it was late and it took forever just to get there.  After all, it is the best resort in Florida right?  The room would surely make up for it.

Shores of Panama Review- The Room

When we walked into Shores of Panama room 1914, the first thing that stood out was that the light switches didn’t seem to work.  No front porch light, no living room lights, no bedroom lights…only the kitchen light and 2 of the bathroom lights worked.  Hey, no problem though, we will call maintenance and get some light bulbs changed.  The cable TV didn’t work either though, and that was a priority in my book.
Only the phone in our room didn’t work either, the Internet was down and there was no directory anywhere to be found.  In fact, there wasn’t even a little note card on the phone or anything at ll.  Crap, so back to the front desk I went…which was another 35 minute wait as the one blonde helped each customer and the two male employees flirted with very, very young teenage girls.  Seriously, all of us in line were just starting- are there not laws against this in Panama City Beach?  It seriously gave me the creeps since one of them had that predator look in his eyes…my daughters never got within 50 feet of him at any time during our stay.

  • Broken bunk bed frame
  • Broken telephone
  • Broken Internet router
  • Broken cable TV
  • Broken toaster
  • Broken blender
  • A/C frequently cut off
  • Only 3 of 14 lights worked
  • Vomit on balcony
  • Sand all over pull out couch
  • Very dirty floor in living room, bathroom
  • Stains on both comforters
  • Completely stripped walls (no art, etc. like most rooms)
  • No housekeeping
  • No maintenance

Anyway, back to the gal behind the desk.  After 35 minutes of waiting, she asks me if I tried to flip the light switches.  When I nodded yes, she suggested that I should try changing the light bulbs.  I just gave her a dirty look and walked off, all the while the two 20+ year old men told a trio of 13 year olds how beautiful they were.

And then the real problems started.  As I arrived back in the room, my daughter shows me how the bunk bed collapsed when she put her suitcase down on it.  So as I mentioned to them that they could sleep on the pull-out couch for the first night, I realized that it was absolutely jam-packed with sand.  There was literally a 1 inch layer everywhere…so that was out too.

Shores of Panama Review- The Management

Even though I had been at Shores of Panama for less than two hours and spent 100% of that time either waiting in line or trying to fix things that were broken in the room, I was headed off to the front desk for a third time.  At least the potential pedophiles were gone at that point though, and the front desk supervisor Donna Dybis personally asked if she could help me.  So I was thinking, finally…all of this ridiculousness is about to end.

When I told Donna that our room was essentially broken from floor to ceiling, she apologized and checked the computer to see if she could move us anywhere.  I guess there were no other 1 bedroom rooms with bunk beds available though, and she made it very clear that Shores of Panama does not even consider upgrades under any circumstances (she kept saying, “There is not any of your room type available” or “If I could place you in the same room type”).  She compromised though and said that we would be placed in room 213 on the second floor as soon as the guests checked out in the morning- Donna even said she would personally ensure it was the first room cleaned, and we could expect a call from her before noon.

  • Supervisor Donna Dybis lied to us 17 times total
  • Site manager was never available
  • Dybis had no control over any staff members
  • Very poorly trained staff

So the next morning, my wife and I re-pack everything so we can move and get on with our vacation.  Only Donna didn’t call us before noon, or at 1 or 2 PM either.  I called her at 2:30 and she said the room should be ready any moment, so I sent my family off to the pool and sat on the sand-covered couch waiting.  The time kept ticking by though- 3PM, 5PM, 7PM…somehow the room still wasn’t ready.

At 7:45, my wife called the front desk from her cell phone and completely went off on Donna for wasting our entire day, then announced that we were going out to dinner and we would stay in the broken room another night.  She also mentioned that housekeeping or maintenance never showed up either, and someone could at least change the light bulbs so we could see in our $300 a night suite.  Donna promised to get right on it…but no light bulbs were changed.  The bed was never fixed, nor was the room phone, the cable TV, or anything else.

So we spent a total of $1289.55 (with taxes, resort fees) for four nights of kids sleeping on a dirty pull-out couch and not having TV, internet or phone.  It was the worst room my wife and I have ever stayed in together…and we stayed in our fair share of dumps after we first got married.

Shores of Panama Review- The Resort

In case you haven’t caught on by now, my family and I must really love the Shores of Panama to book our 5th trip there in 5 years.  The pool area is awesome.  The beach is pristine.  It has great amenities and plenty of things for the kids to do- or at least it used to.  On this particular trip, the indoor pool was “Closed for Maintenance”, but the stench coming from that area said that it hadn’t been opened for months.

  • World-class lagoon pool outdoor area
  • Comfortable beach chairs
  • Amazing views throughout resort
  • Dirty stairwells/hallways
  • Apparently no maintenance on site
  • Very poor housekeeping
  • Indoor pool looked/smelled like a swamp

This really didn’t matter though since the weather is always awesome
in Panama City and people go there to be outdoors.  And when you’re sitting poolside, it feels like a luxury tropical resort.  Of course, I wasn’t poolside because once we hit day 3 without a room change, maintenance or housekeeping, I realized that I would have to call the hotel’s tech-support and try to get the Internet up.  Of course, this is an off-site company that the staff refused to call on their own, so I was given the phone number and told good luck.

Since it quickly got old waiting 10+ minutes on the elevators to stop by the 19th floor, I got tech support on the phone and spent over two hours troubleshooting the system.  We finally discovered that the firmware and the drivers were two years outdated and the current network couldn’t even access my modem, and this was the same for 74 other rooms in my section of the resort.  This means that guests haven’t been able to get online for over a full year now…how ridiculous is that?

One other quick note- I also noticed that the pool water was not crystal clear like it usually is and most of the fountains were not turned on.  The pool area was still gorgeous but this really took away from the overall experience we’ve grown to love.  Also, they never did the outdoor movies, games or kids activities like they had in years past.  My children were really looking forward to making another tie-dyed tee shirt by the pool but it wasn’t offered.

Shores of Panama Review- The Checkout

Throughout the four days that we stayed in Shores of Panama room 1917, Donna repeatedly told us that the main manager would be in contact with us to make things right.  We were expecting a full refund at the very least and possibly some extras thrown in for the level of incompetence that we faced, yet the main manager was never available to talk to us.  So when I went to check out at the desk (which was really just a formality since we pre-paid and had no room charges), I demanded to speak to the site manager to get things straightened out.  At this point, however, Donna informed me that the manager was having pregnancy complications and she hadn’t been to work all week long.

  • No in-room checkout (phone didn’t work)
  • Supervisor promised to “make things right” at least a dozen times
  • Was billed full price, despite deplorable conditions
  • Site manager never contacted us

Now, I don’t want to sound insensitive here, but I could care less what excuse the manager may have had for making us stay in a room with no phone, internet, TV, bunk beds, lights, or the dozens of other issues we faced…there is simply no excuse for dragging us along for five straight days.  Of the three full days we were there, I spent two of them either doing Donna’s job or waiting on her to follow through on her promises, and that should never happen in the hospitality industry…even at a $29 a night flea-bag hotel.

Donna did promise me that the manager would be in at 4PM that afternoon and she would call me immediately, but by that time I stopped listening to anything that this person said.  Honestly, I would have trusted the guy that appeared to be a possible pedophile over her at that point.  Needless to say, it’s been five additional days and we still haven’t heard a word from Donna or anyone else.  We were flat-out scammed.

Shores of Panama Review- The Conclusion

Unfortunately, the Shores of Panama resort in Panama City Beach that I know and love has ceased to exist, and a decaying, poorly staffed hotel is all that remains.  I didn’t even tell you about dried vomit on the balcony, the broken toaster, the stains on the comforters, the overcrowded parking garage or dozens of other issues that seemed petty in the grand scheme of things, yet they all added up to an absolutely miserable experience.

Unless this property switches management companies and makes some serious investments in quality control, I cannot see ever returning.  The worst part is that I had planned on talking to a local real estate agent about purchasing a condo there during our visit, so this may have been the most disappointing vacation that I’ve ever taken with my family.  And honestly, I don’t know which was worse; the deplorable conditions of the resort or being continually lied to by the staff.

There was one silver lining though- my kids still had an amazing time at the pool and in the ocean.  Likewise, my wife and I fell in love with the views on the 19th floor, and that really came in handy since I spent so much time in the room waiting on the supervisor to do what she promised.  So in a sad way, it’s still paradise…as long as you’re not the one paying for it.

If you found this Shores of Panama Review helpful, then please leave a comment below or share it on your favorite social channels so others can find it too.