Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is it Time to Quit Your Job (and Freelance)?

"Most people don't quit; they wait to get fired," says Donna Nowak, a business consultant and interim executive who specializes in helping underperforming companies. Nowak has managed major organizational restructurings, many that included the loss of jobs. But leaving a job can be a win-win situation. The key is to be proactive.

5 Signs it's Time to Quit Your Job
Nowak encourages employees to take control of their careers, which sometimes means recognizing that it's time to quit.

1. The business is in (bad) trouble
If you suspect your employer is involved with any illegal or immoral activities, getting out can save you untold aggravation and potential legal liability. Is your employer out of compliance with OSHA regulations? Not honoring customer contracts?
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and there's always a chance that you could end up being a scapegoat. Leaving allows you to maintain your integrity," Nowak says.
When Nowak takes over as Interim CEO of a company, it's often because the business is on the verge of bankruptcy. In many cases, those companies have used financial challenges as an excuse to cut corners, legally and ethically - or maybe not so much.  When things are handled in a ... let's say less-than-honest manner, "It would have been better for employees to take a stand at the first sign of anything illegal," Nowak says.
2. Your job is a career killer, or is harming you professionally
If you are being mistreated on the job to the extent that it's harming you professionally, damaging your self-esteem, or both, it's time to quit and find an employer who will treat you with dignity and respect.
3. Your job is killing you
You don't have to enjoy every minute of your job, but since most people spend most of their waking hours at work, it greatly affects the quality of life. If your job is causing irreparable or unmanageable physical or mental harm, that's reason enough to quit.
4. You really suck at the job
Let's face it: it's possible there just isn't a good fit.
"Most employees know when they're not well-suited for a job or vice versa," says Nowak. When that's the case, the longer you stay, the more experience you'll have - doing a bad job. Get out before you make a colossal error or create a truly awful situation for your employer and/or coworkers. They may be so relieved that they'll graciously offer to assist you in finding a job that makes better use of your talents.
5. You're about to get fired
Clearly, the best time to quit a job is before you get fired. While some signs are obvious, others are subtle. Just don't overanalyze everything your boss or co-workers do or say; self-doubt makes it easy to misinterpret harmless comments.
That said, some things are meant to get your attention. Receiving multiple reprimands at work, either verbally or in writing, means your job is in jeopardy. Most corporate policy handbooks stipulate that employees will be terminated after a third written reprimand, Nowak says. 
Less obvious, but possibly just as telling: Posting something derogatory about your employer on Facebook (or LinkedIn, or Twitter, or social media tool of choice). Many employees don't recognize this as a symptom of it's-time-to-go-itis. 
"Badmouthing or disrespecting your boss, the company, or your co-workers," online or otherwise, is a clear indication that you should be planning an exit, Nowak says.
One sign that's often underestimated: Doing personal things on company time. Make no mistake, the company knows. Most employee handbooks contain policies prohibiting conducting personal business on the company dime. It also indicates that you're not fully engaged at work. Be honest about it, and find a job that really excites you.

Smart or Over-sensitive?
What if the boss stops saying 'hi' to you in the elevator? Don't freak out, but don't dismiss it. After a decision on termination is made, "quite often a boss will start feeling awkward," Nowak says. Sure, there could be many other reasons for such behavior. "But it would be something that I would look for," she says.
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This article was published way back in 2012, when I was a contributor to the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices channel. Live and learn, eh?  If you're thinking about quitting and hope to freelance fulltime - or just to make ends meet for a time - get your plan in rock-solid shape before you jump ship. I don't have a magic wand, but with more than 20 years of freelancing in the bag, I can tell you it's really sweet to have a job. #Thinkitover

Friday, August 22, 2014

Take a Hike, Cleveland

Want to see Cleveland's tourist attractions by foot, take a walk on Cleveland's wild side, or just get some exercise? Hiking in Cleveland is easy and offers a lot of options in and around the city.

Sightseeing Hikes in Cleveland
Visitors can take in Cleveland's skyline and Lake Erie views from Edgewater Park, which has expanded into Whiskey Island, and several other lakefront parks. 
Many of Cleveland's sights can be seen by strolling from E. 9th and Ontario Streets, the site of the beautiful Cleveland Indians ballpark, north along E. 9th, where there are many popular eateries, to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum. Next door to the cool IM Pei-designed museum is the Great Lakes Science Center with its modern hydro-electric windmills in plain sight. Cleveland Browns stadium is next door. Turning to head south again, visitors should stop at the Justice Center to admire its architecture, and stop in at the Money Museum educational center located inside the Federal Reserve Bank building off Rockwell Avenue. (Admission is free!)
Among Cleveland's best neighborhood walks is Little Italy, where a favorite attraction is Lakeview Cemetery - also known as Cleveland's Outdoor Museum. Hikers are encouraged to explore the ornate grounds, designed to resemble the gorgeous garden cemeteries in Europe, and stop in to Wade Chapel to see the windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Hikers can fortify themselves with a real Italian meal in the hilly ethnic neighborhood that lies just beyond the cemetery's gates.

Self-guided downtown hikes and tours are safe, free, and fun - many neighborhood associations and local historical societies offer maps with points of interest.
Good Hikes for Kids in Cleveland
Cleveland Metroparks, also known as the 'Emerald Necklace,' offer plenty of kid-friendly hiking opportunities. Little hikers who like a ghost story with their outdoor activity love exploring Squires Castle, built for the wife of a Standard Oil executive. Reportedly, the missus had insomnia and often roamed the castle late at night. While stories vary about just how it happened, one night she met her end in the basement. It's said she still roams the castle, wailing.
Cleveland visitors can combine sight-seeing and exercise when they hoof it around the zoo. When you eschew the trams (which are free) and walk the perimeter of the zoo grounds, you'll get an approximately 3-mile hike - more if you also visit the Rainforest, which covers two acres. (The zoo is about a 10-15 mile drive from downtown Cleveland, and RTA buses run to the zoo, too.)
Get Away From It Cleveland!
Did you know Cleveland has a National Park? The old Erie Canal bisects the park, and 60 miles of the Towpath Trail have been restored and widened to accommodate visitors - which are said to number more than a million every year. The Towpath Trail extends from downtown Cleveland all the way to downtown Akron (and into New Philadelphia). And on either side of the Cuyahoga River, hiking trails abound - the park covers more than 30,000 acres. A favorite for many locals is the approximately 5-mile hike along the Carriage Trail to Brandywine Falls. The stunning 70-foot falls offer great scenery in every season. Trail maps for Cuyahoga Valley National Park can be found at the National Parks website.
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This article originally published on the travel pages of a now-defunct Yahoo! channel eons ago (in internet time). I visited most of the places mentioned here and updated links in 2014. Looking for still more Cleveland-area hikes? Have I got a book for you!! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Seven Things You Should Know Before High School

    You're way past primary colors and fat pencils, but admit it: the start of a new school year is something of a curve ball. That goes double for starting a new school - HIGH SCHOOL, yet. Don't freak - here are seven survival tips you'll be glad to know.

  • 1. Don't buy clothes until after school starts.
It never fails; somebody decides THURSDAY IS EVERYTHING PURPLE DAY or YOU HAVE TO HAVE YELLOW HIGH TOPS (or gray flats, or cut the sleeves off your shirt, or whatever) and unless you do the deciding at your school, you won't get the memo until after the first week of class. Plus, you'll probably just wear shorts the first week anyway, and everything goes on sale after Labor Day. Shopping can wait.
  • 2. Take gym in summer school if you can.
Here's one of those completely-unfair-totally-true things that nobody tells you (until now): gym is the only summer school class that's really a blast. Gym during the school year means, first of all, it's in a gym - which is where dodge ball and lame free-throw shooting drills happen. (Borrrrring!) The summer version of gym, however, might mean tennis, bowling, golfing, kayaking, and other things that are infinitely more fun than calisthenics or anything you can do in a gym. Plus, if you don't have to take gym during the school year, you'll never have to figure out what to do if somebody takes your underwear and flushes it in the toilet while you're in the shower. Just sayin.'
  • 3. The bigger the backpack, the better.
More room is more room. Period.
  • 4. Your phone will fall into enemy hands.
So ask your cell phone service provider to make a back-up of your contacts if possible, and get in the habit of erasing texts you've sent if you don't want everyone to read them. Obviously, the same goes for pictures.
  • 5. College applications are important now. Seriously. Yes, NOW.
It's not fair, but it's true. Everything about your academic performance matters in high school. College apps don't just make students crazy, they put parents in a panic too. Breathe deeply and do your best. In every class, in every subject, every day. Sorry. This is why they call it your high school CAREER - because it matters. If you can't be serious about your high school performance, start practicing how to say, "do you want fries with that?" in a sincere and helpful tone of voice. Because the competition for fast-food jobs is almost as crazy as the race to get into the "best" school.
  • 6. Coaches don't really hate you. Much.
But their jobs depend on having players who are absolutely, positively, prepared for anything. Whether your sport is soccer or skydiving, basketball or basket-weaving, you will be expected to work hard in the weight room, run a mile (or a marathon) and drop and give 'em twenty anytime you get caught smirking during practice. Get used to it; it's part of the fun. Or at least, it will seem that way by your 10-year reunion.
  • 7. Get over-involved.
Here's the worst advice you'll ever get about high school: "If you're too busy, you won't have time to goof off and enjoy yourself." Fact: there's no such thing as too busy. Write for the school paper, get a job, try out for the play, if you don't make it join stage crew, volunteer at the food bank, get another job, run for class officer, get (or be) a peer tutor, and attend every game, dance, walk-a-thon, and sort-of-lame-sounding event that's going on. See, most of those things are just a more interesting way of goofing off and enjoying yourself. Bonus: when you're involved in almost everything, not only will you know almost everything about your high school, almost everyone will know you - in a good way! So get over-involved; it will almost guarantee that you'll have fun.
And now that you know some of really important things about high school survival, relax. A little bit. Or - perhaps this is the best advice of all -  learn to enjoy the stress. After all, high school will be over before you know it. Have fun with it!
 ~-~ - ~ - ~ - ~ -  ~-~
Diane Stresing is a freelance writer focused on the business and people of northeast Ohio, who brings 20+ years in marketing, communications, and operational management experience to each assignment. She is the author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cleveland, and her byline appears in a variety of regional and national publications. Diane also provides photos with assignments for clients who request them.
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This article was originally published in Yahoo! Voices, a now-defunct channel of the family of websites and other experiments. Surprisingly, my byline hasn't changed a lot since it first appeared. (I'm sure I haven't either.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wrapping Your Head Around Headlines

The Moz Blog nailed it (again) - this time, about those "mind-blowing" headlines I refer to as hype-lines. 

Clickability & SEO vs. Real Readers

Yes, I know putting an outside link in the opening line of my blog virtually guarantees readers will click away, but on the other hand, I like my writing to be more helpful to readers than it is to me. Hello, usefulness. Or as The Moz calls it, credibility. The point is, if your content matters to real readers, you have to write for them, not for click-metrics and the continually changing rules of SEO engagement.

Old School Optimization

Someday the dust may settle on the Google ranking algorithms and we'll all wake up and realize that business hasn't changed that much. Products and services still need good word of mouth and good reviews to sell. A product with an especially strong USP is a little easier to sell and easier to charge a premium for than a runner-up. And if you don't know your audience, you can't write to them, or sell to them. 

But there I go dreaming again. Until common-sense copywriting is what every client wants, do the next best thing - read The Moz blog. The latest post about headlines asks the right questions, and has quite a few smart answers. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Board Games and Web Content Games

If you've been following this blog recently, you've noticed that I've archived several articles from the now-defunct Yahoo! voices channel. I've written about web content "gaming" before, and - heaven help me - I probably will again. So, in addition to archiving this 2009 article, I think this slice of history provides a good example of evergreen content that can be used to build traffic to a site or several sites. And, if you like family board games, I think you'll also find it's still pretty darned useful. 

Active Games for Multi-Age Players 
Over the years we've collected a great bunch of games for a wide age group - games that can be played inside, outside, and some, inside and outside. I'll list of some of our family favorites below, but first let me tell you how I pick games.
I only buy games that: 
  • can be played quickly 
  • can be played by multiple ages 
  • are sturdy, durable, and 
  • are not dangerous 
If you've ever refereed a fight between a 5 year old boy and a 13 year old girl, you know why I have to pick toys that are not dangerous!
One other thing about these games - they tend to encourage kids to get active and get moving. I love books, card games, and lots of board games (our family favorites are Apples to Apples Jr. and good old fashioned Yahtzee ) but when playing games, we most enjoy engaging our bodies as well as our minds. Without further ado, here are my/my family's favorite games:
Indoor Games
While we can happily play Balderdash (with the older kids) and Apples to Apples for hours, these indoor games are a little more active and well suited for a broader age range.
Cosmic Catch, under $20, may not be cosmic, but it sure is a great twist on catch. Players wear elastic colored bands on their hands and then try to toss the ball around the group according to what the ball says. Yes, it's a talking ball. It's also a great game for almost all ages (3 and up, I'd say) and a "codebreaker" mode adds a little more thinking challenge to the game, good for older kids. (And adults, who should remember, this is not a drinking game!)
Carpet Bocce, under $20, is a great indoor game as long as you have a carpeted area big enough to play on. (Oh - and no shag carpet!) The small plastic disks slide easily along the carpet, and rules are just like outdoor bocce ball.
Scrabble Slam!, under $10, is not really active, however, it is a little more so than the average card game and a good bit more exciting than traditional Scrabble. The object? Players race against each other to build and change four-letter words - first one out of cards wins. Yes, it is pretty darned educational for early elementary school age children, and fun for all.
Outdoor Games
Besides Badminton, bocce, and good-old-fashioned games of catch, here are a couple of newer games in our backyard:
Blongo Ball is also known as ladder golf. Blongo Ball consists of two three-rung ladder-like structures and six ball/rope throwing thingees, which sort of remind me of nunchucks. The object is to get your balls to hang over one of the rungs, the lower the better (the top rung counts as one point, the second as two points, the third three). My Kentucky cousins introduced me to the game, and I was hooked. Their homemade game set was different from my store-bought game in one important way - my cousins used tennis balls; some of the store-bought versions use golf balls. Golf balls are hard! So, we only play this game when I can supervise my five year old. 'Nuff said.
Cornhole, $100 and up, is a craze, at least in most parts of the Midwest, but I dare say it's a craze that's here to stay. Often likened to Horseshoes, it's actually much easier. My five-year-old loves it; we just modify the game for him (and other short kids that turn up in our backyard) by letting him stand close to the board. We also modify the scoring, which can be a bit complicated for those new to addition/subtraction. We simply score one point for each bean bag that lands (and stays) on the board, and three for any that fall in the hole. If you're crafty you can make your own game ( has a nice set of plans) but I bought a waterproof, plastic game instead. A final word about ladder golf and cornhole games: they can be rather addicting, as you'll see in thisforum for tossing games.
OK, speaking of addicting games, here are some of my favorite spots to find good family games - these sites generally offer lots of active, creative, and fun games for all ages, and for the most part, they're also reasonably priced.
Now let the games begin! And remember, as we say at our house, it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, what matters is that you don't kill your siblings - and that you have fun playing the game!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cleveland Hiking Trails for All Interests, Abilities

Ask and most people will say they like hiking, and they want to do more of it. But when? And where? By the time you find hiking trails in your area, you might find you're out of time to hike! Time constraints affect us all and hiking is like everything else: if you're going to do it, you need to find the time. To help you plan a hike near you, select from the best local hiking trails to suit your interests. Get started with this list of trail treasures in Greater Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.
East of the river 
(The Cuyahoga River, that is - which has long been the unofficial dividing line between East- and West-siders.)
Hiking with kids?
During the summer months, hit the beach! Fairport Harbor Lakefront Beach Park, a Lake County Metroparks property, has family-friendly appeal thanks to its sandy beach, seasonal canoe/kayak rentals, and food concessions. Hikers can traverse an approximately 1.5 mile loop on a variety of surfaces - some sidewalk, some sand, some dirt trails - almost all of which offers lakefront views. Bonus: visit the Fairport Harbor lighthouse museum, and if your kids like ghost stories, be sure to ask about the cat.
For beautiful scenery:
Tucked inside Bedford Reservation, not far from the I-271/Forbes exit, hikers can gasp (and take great photos) at Ohio's "grandest canyon." Trail terrain varies, from paved all-purpose trails to mulch-covered bridle paths and quite a few stairs. Gorge Parkway Trail is more than 6 miles long, and hikers are rewarded with views of gorgeous Bridal Veil Falls, but there's good news for less-ambitious hikers: you can park right by Gorge Overlook and enjoy the view just a few steps from your car.
Wheelchair/stroller accessibility:
The Gorge Overlook at Bedford Reservation can be accessed by most sturdy strollers and some wheelchairs.
West of the river
Hiking with kids?
Every Cleveland family should be required to visit Rocky River Reservation, if only to get a look at the life-size fossil replica of the Terrible Fish, Dunkleosteous, displayed inside the Nature Center. Bonus: a short loop hike around the nature center offers great views of Rocky River, and decent aerobic exercise thanks to a 100-foot climb to the top of the stairs.
For beautiful scenery:
Rocky River is hard to beat, but for totally different terrain, visit Findley Lake State Park, which boasts 16 miles of rustic trails, including a fair portion of the Buckeye Trail. Like to walk and roll? Mountain bikes are permitted on some trails at the park.
Wheelchair/stroller accessibility:
Try an urban jaunt, rolling on sidewalks along Oberlin's historic streets, and find out why some call it 'the town that started the Civil War.'
Southern edge of Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Hiking with kids?
Visit Park Place on State Route 303 in Peninsula. Yes, it's a gift shop, but it's more. As the park's newest visitor center, it's full of fun, educational activities. From there you can stroll along the Towpath (up to 40 miles, if your clan has the stamina) or just enjoy walking on the sidewalks through Peninsula's thriving restaurant/shopping district. Both the sidewalks and Towpath are accessible by most wheelchairs and strollers.
For beautiful scenery: 
It's hard to beat Bath Nature Preserve, located off North Cleveland-Massilion Road. The paved North Fork Trail zips north and south through the property, with half-a-dozen rustic footpaths leading hikers east and west through several environmental habitats. Beautiful seasonal wildflowers make great backdrops for family photos. (Please, remember: 'Take only pictures, leave only footprints.')
The bottom line:
Just go! Hiking is a fun, free, healthful activity that benefits almost everybody. Cleveland's trails offer points of interest for nature lovers, photographers, history buffs, architecture aficionados, just about everyone. Sure, you can buy expensive hiking boots and other gear, but you don't have to. In Cleveland, you can hike for many enjoyable miles in a pair of sturdy, comfortable shoes. So, go! Take a hike, right here in Cleveland!
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This  article was originally published in 2011 in Yahoo! Voices, a now-defunct channel of the family of websites and other experiments. Surprisingly, my byline hasn't changed a lot since then. (I'm sure I haven't either.)  - - - - -  Diane Stresing is a commercial freelance writer and the author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cleveland. She admits it's hard to find time for hiking and biking on Cleveland-area trails during her kids' soccer seasons. For the latest trail news and more pictures of Ohio's gorgeous scenery, visit the book's Facebook fan page

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Qualities of an Effective Manager

What Makes a Good Manager Good?

It may be easier to conjure up an image - or a caricature - of a bad manager than it is to identify what makes a manager good. For the sake of this article, let's define good as "effective and admirable." When I think of the best managers I've had, they were people I wanted to work for, people who inspired me to do my best work, and in some cases, I aspired to be just like them.

What raw ingredients make the ideal manager? If any single business school had the answer, well, there wouldn't be quite so many business schools. In fact, many great leaders and just plain-old good managers didn't go to business school.

Marc Cica, an award-winning manager and former director of sales for a Fortune 50 company, has spent much of his career developing future leaders. Two of the top traits he looks for in an effective manager are "industriousness and alertness." In other words, they're hard workers who can anticipate - and prepare for - change.

"There are no short-cuts to success, it is earned by those who work very hard and persevere," Cica says.

But if "hard work" was the only thing necessary to become an effective manager, we wouldn't need business schools at all. Truly effective managers not only work hard, they work hard at the right things. Deciding which things are the right things requires strategic thinking; convincing a team to work with you on those 'right things' requires a little bit of talent and a lot of good habits.

Habits of Good Managers

Here are some of the other raw ingredients, good habits, and skills that many effective managers share.

1. Enthusiasm
"A leader's energy and enjoyment, drive, and dedication will stimulate and greatly inspire others," says Cica. While too much emotion in the workplace is distracting (see number 2, below) a little bit of excitement about the task at hand is necessary and helps motivate a team.
2. Poise
"Control of your organization begins with control of oneself. Set the example of personal discipline and expect everyone in the organization to react to unexpected events or adversity in like manner," Cica tells new managers.
3. Genuine kindness
When I think about the worst, and least effective, managers I've know over the years, the first thing that I remember about them is how they treated others. When a manager is respectful of customers, co-workers, and subordinates, chances are the whole organization will do the same - and the entire company will benefit.
4. Team Spirit
Cica builds team spirit on the basketball court (he coaches, too) as well as in the office. Why? Because it's vital to any group of people that work together. Everyone on a team must understand that "the 'star' of the organization is the organization itself, and not any one individual," Cica says.
5. Love of learning, and a willingness to change and grow
Abraham Lincoln said, "I do not think much of a man who does not know more today than he did yesterday." Lincoln didn't go to business school, but his instincts were pretty good. Effective managers must learn constantly and prepare their teams to meet new challenges. Cica believes the best leaders are "life-long learners who create organizations that foster and inspire learning and continuous self-improvement."
If you have some of these basic traits, are willing to put them in action every day, and can convince others to work with you rather than focus only on their individual goals, you'll earn the right to be called a good manager.
 ~-~ - ~ - ~ - ~ -  ~-~
This article was originally published in 2011 in Yahoo! Voices, a now-defunct channel of the family of websites and other experiments. Surprisingly, my byline hasn't changed a lot since then. (I'm sure I haven't either.)
Diane Stresing is a freelance writer focused on the business and people of northeast Ohio, who brings 20+ years in marketing, communications, and operational management experience to each assignment. She is the author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cleveland, and her byline appears in a variety of regional and national publications. Diane also provides photos with assignments for clients who request them.