FL Entrepreneur Can Fulfill 12 Days of Christmas for 76% Less Than Leading Experts (PRESS RELEASE)

For Immediate Release
November 17, 2017

(ORLANDO)—Entrepreneurs know how to get things done with less money, fewer resources, and in a shorter amount of time. Humor writer and Florida entrepreneur Erik Deckers recently demonstrated that by hypothetically fulfilling all the items mentioned in the 12 Days Of Christmas. Deckers was able to find everything for $8,407, nearly 76 percent less than PNC Bank’s proposed cost of $34,558.65.

For the last 33 years, the PNC Financial Service Group has calculated the cost of every item of the classic Christmas carol. Deckers, a newspaper humor columnist and small business owner, decided he could do better. He did some basic Internet research and contacted a couple of friends, and came up with a figure much lower than PNC, and wrote about it for his latest humor column.

12 Days of Christmas. A real entrepreneur can fulfill this for $8400.“The swans and the dancers were the budget killers,” said Deckers. “PNC was spending nearly $13,000 for seven swans a-swimming, and another $13,000 on nine ladies dancing and 10 lords a-leaping.”

Deckers said he checked a bird-selling website and sourced seven swans for $3,050. He also contacted a friend who works in entertainment at Disney World.

“Based on her recommendations, I think I could get 19 male and female dancers for $50 each for a two-hour gig, plus a couple passes through the craft table,” said Deckers. “That’s $4,000 to PNC’s $26,000.”

Deckers also researched other poultry hatcheries for the geese, partridges, and French hens.

“PNC was spending $180 on French hens,” said Deckers. “I found five of them for $7.75 apiece. That’s $38.75 total, with two hens left over for Easter eggs next year.”

Deckers admits this is all tongue-in-cheek, and he appreciates PNC’s annual efforts. But he also wanted to show that small businesses can achieve nearly the same results as large corporations, especially since they don’t have the same resources.

“There are plenty of entrepreneurs in this country who are doing great things on shoestring budgets,” said Deckers. “We don’t all get millions of dollars from venture capitalists, and we don’t have the huge budgets of the corporations. So we get things done by being resourceful and calling on our professional networks for help. I thought this was a great way to remind people of that fact.”

About Erik Deckers

Erik Deckers has been a newspaper humor columnist since 1995, and has owned his own small business, Pro Blog Service, since 2009. He recently published the 3rd edition of his book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (Que Biz-Tech), with co-author Kyle Lacy. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

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Photo credit: Xavier Romero-Frias (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Twitter Verified Self-Proclaimed White Supremacist

Twitter verified a Nazi yesterday.

You know those little blue checkmarks some people have next to their Twitter handles? That basically “verifies” that yes, this person is at least semi-famous. Or is someone of “public interest.”

A few years ago, when the Verified symbol first showed up, only celebrities had them. Movie stars had them. Rock stars had them. Professional athletes had them. Big-time authors had them.

Basically if you had a little blue checkmark next to your name, it meant you were someone famous.

Then, less famous people started getting them. Journalists of national publications got them. Radio DJs got them. Local TV anchors got them.

And soon after that, not-really-famous-but-you’ve-maybe-kind-of-heard-of-them people started getting them. Scott Monty (@ScottMonty) got one, partly because he’s been a big name in social media for years, partly because he’s a well-known Sherlock Holmes podcaster, but mostly because he was in the public eye as Ford’s social media manager for years. Other local journalists got them, novel authors, and small business owners.

Even people who have over 100,000 followers (that they most likely got through cheating) but haven’t even published 10,000 tweets are Verified. (I know, because one of them followed me yesterday.)

I, however, am not.

I’ve struggled with whether I even want the little blue checkmark. On the one hand, it seems rather needy and high school-ish, like jumping on the latest fashion trends because all the cool kids are wearing them. On the other hand, I never did what the so-called “cool kids” did in high school because I thought they were morons.

My good friend and book co-author Jason Falls (@JasonFalls) is not Verified. He thinks it’s stupid. And I mostly agree. It just seems so needy and insecure to try to fit in with the cool kids, because the cool kids are by and large insufferable asshats.

Still, it would be nice to have. There’s still a small part of me that wants that little blue checkmark, because it would be so validating. Like what I did was important. And in the public interest.

But I don’t have it.

Twitter verified this white supremacistOh, it’s not for lack of trying. I applied for it a few weeks ago. I cited the four books I co-authored — including Branding Yourself (which has a whole chapter on Twitter), No Bullshit Social Media (which mentions Twitter constantly, and was a groundbreaking social media book in 2011), The Owned Media Doctrine, and of course, Twitter Marketing for Dummies (which I “ghost co-authored” in 2009).

I also mentioned my newspaper humor column, which I have written every week for the last 21+ years.

And I mentioned that I was the 2016 Jack Kerouac House writer-in-residence.

But it wasn’t good enough. I received a rejection email that didn’t actually explain why I didn’t get it. That’s fine. I can deal with that. Maybe my books aren’t famous enough. Or they were all written more than four years ago (although the third edition of Branding Yourself dropped this month). Or that nearly all the 10 Indiana newspapers that publish my column are weeklies.

Or maybe it’s because I’m not a white supremacist.

Because Twitter verified Jason Kessler, the self-professed white supremacist who organized the Charlottesville white supremacist rally that left one protestor dead.

They verified him, and Twitter went nuts and started tweeting to Twitter’s CEO @Jack Dorsey in protest.

Am I bitter that I wasn’t verified? No. Am I angry? No. Am I annoyed that a Nazi was verified before I was?

Sure, a little bit.

I write books that help people find jobs. I write books that help businesses be more successful. I write newspaper columns that make people laugh. I don’t try to oppress people, denigrate minority groups, organize violent rallies, or joke about the death of a protestor and call her “a fat, disgusting Communist.”

I mean, if you were to ask people who should be verified I would hope “four-time non-fiction book author” would rank somewhere above “white supremacist Nazi dirtbag.”

Doesn’t that make sense? That someone who contributes to the betterment of society would be slightly more worthy of verification than someone who calls for the wholesale genocide of an entire race of people?

I mean, I know I’m old-fashioned, but I figured helping people succeed was more noble than joking about their deaths.

At the very least, Twitter, don’t verify this guy. Remove the verification. I don’t have to have it. In fact, I don’t think I want it anymore. If you’ve granted it to something you find on the bottom of your shoe, I don’t want it.

But for God’s sake, don’t give it to someone who promotes hate and genocide. I thought you were better than that.

Outrunning The Little Man: Dealing With Impostor Syndrome

There’s only one person I’ve ever been afraid of my entire life.

He’s average height, and skinny, very skinny. He’s got a bad combover, wears outdated glasses that are too large for his face, and a tie clipped onto a pistachio green short sleeve shirt. He’s an older Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. He’s very officious, and kind of an asshole. The kind of guy who loves wielding his teeny-tiny bit of power over other people’s lives.

I call him “The Little Man.” He’s not little in size, but in spirit and vision.

I live in fear of the day The Little Man knocks on my door. He’ll look at a form on his clipboard and say, “I’m sorry” — except he’s really not — “but there’s been a mistake. You’re not supposed to be a writer. You’re supposed to be a claims adjuster. Sign here, please.” I’m afraid The Little Man is going to show up one day and take everything away because of a clerical error.

Impostor syndrome makes people worry there's some bureaucrat out there trying to get us and fix some error about our lives.I’ve been looking over my shoulder for The Little Man for the better part of 30 years. Ever since I published my first column in my college newspaper, I’ve been trying to outrun him.

It’s like the movies. The hero runs as fast as he or she can, knocking shit over into the bad guy’s path. But the bad guy just steps over everything like it’s not even there.

So I’m amassing evidence to slow him down and prove him wrong. Evidence to show that his form is wrong, and that I’m where I’m supposed to be.

I’ve thrown four books in his path. Twenty-one years of newspaper columns. Thousands of blog articles. Writing awards. Writing residencies. Speaking opportunities. But he won’t stop. I’m throwing it all in his path, and he won’t even look at it. He’s a mindless bureaucrat, a drone who refuses to see evidence in front of him or use common sense. He only believes what the paperwork says, despite what real life is showing him.

I’ve been running for 30 years, and he won’t stop coming.

I thought I escaped him once last year, when I was a writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando. It’s a prestigious residency where only four writers are chosen out of over 300 applicants from all over the world. To me, this confirmed that there had been no error, there was no form on a clipboard.

“This will stop him,” I thought. “There’s no way he can find me here. I’m supposed to be here. They said so.”

But when I stepped inside and closed the door on my first day, he was right there on the sidewalk in front of the house, staring up at it. In fact, it was the closest he’d ever gotten.

He chases my other artist friends too. They’ve seen him, following them wherever they go, whatever they do. To a man and woman, they’ve all seen him, no matter how successful they get, no matter how much stuff they throw in his way.

In fact, the more successful they are, the closer he gets. So we all run faster and work harder, and throw more stuff in his way. But he steps over it and continues on.

It’s a rare artist who isn’t afraid of him. Every capable creative professional I know keeps one eye on their work, and the other looking over their shoulder.

The ones who aren’t afraid often don’t know enough to be afraid. They’re not committed to their craft and they don’t take it seriously. The Little Man leaves alone those artists who wait for inspiration or think they’re masters of their craft. (Because even the real masters don’t think they’re masters; they’re looking for The Little Man too.)

So we work, because that’s the only thing that lets us outrun him. It doesn’t stop him. He never stops. Because he’s waiting for the day that I stop, when I give up and quit running. That’s when he’ll get me. That’s when I’ll have to take his pen and sign his form, and finally give up on my dreams.

But that’s not today. Today, I still have things to do and dreams to win. I still have the energy and the drive to work, and to outrun him one more day.

Photo credit: Max Pixels (FreeGreatPicture.com, Creative Commons 0)

How to Learn and Understand Anything

Jon Barney is an up-and-coming writer in the Orlando, Florida area (originally from Lafayette, LA, and has a lot of big ideas about a lot of things. Jon says he has an amazing wife and two kids, and he “loves the hotel restaurant industry and corny jokes,” which makes him a man after my own heart. Jon has an interesting process about he does a deep dive into any idea, process, or event that interests him.

We live in the information age. You can access the entire world from anywhere. Add in 24-hour news feeds, posts, tweets, snapchats, marketing and you are flooded with information.

The problem we face is overload. There is no way possible to download all the information thrown at us. Our brains are like sponges, absorbing information, but it reaches a saturation point. How much water can a full sponge soak up? None. Our brains operate in the same way — if we can’t fit new information into our brains, it gets swept away, and we move on to the next piece. Or we stop taking information in altogether.

Want to learn how an internal combustion engine works? Break down the process and redefine complex terms.

Want to learn how an internal combustion engine works? Break down the process and redefine complex terms.

To understand anything, turn on your childlike curiosity. When I was a kid, I was super annoying (some would say I still am) because I always asked “Why?” Every answer I received led to more and more questions.

After my mom said “Because I said so, that’s why” a thousand times, I realized my parents didn’t have the patience or knowledge to satisfy my curiosity. Instead, they sent me to school to let someone else deal with me for a while. I kept going off on tangents because the “broad overview” we were getting wasn’t enough. I wanted to dive into each subject, but knowing everything about American history doesn’t help you pass math. To satisfy my curiosity and keep my grades up, I had to learn to understand ideas at lightning speed.

I learned from that experience how important questions are. You have to ask the right questions to find the right answers. We all know that, but do we actually do it?

Think about these two questions “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is the meaning of my life?” Which one is easier to answer? The right question leads you to the key concept in the shortest amount of words. To find the right question start with the 5 basic ones: who, what, where, when and why. Answering those will help you create a more specific question and help you find your meaning.

Break Things Down to Their Smallest Digestible Parts

Let’s say I want to know how an engine works. I go through the 5 basic questions to form the right question. Who designs engines? What is an engine? Where do they make them? When was the first engine built? Why did someone invent the engine? The answers are difficult to understand because they are written by engineers for engineers.

I take all the research I’m doing and find any words or processes I don’t know and redefine them. (Good thing I have that Google Dictionary in my pocket.) Next, I remove technical jargon and insider slang from anything I’m reading and replace them with synonyms I already know. Using words you already know frees up your brainpower to search for meaning in the idea instead of being a dictionary.

You have all of this easy to understand information but not enough memory hold every detail in. Use the KISS formula — no, not painting your face — Keep It Simple Stupid.

How do you do that? Think of a deck of cards as your information, and break it down into groups. You know there are 52 cards, 26 of each color, 13 of each suit and 4 of each value. You have to do the same thing with information and go for the lowest common denominator.

It’s actually a complex process to understand and find meaning in things. You draw on all your life’s experiences, memories, emotions, opinions, life situations, and influences just to come up with something you can understand. That’s a lot of mental computing just to see if the story about increasing oil prices will affect you.

Making It Simple Makes It Stick

I mentioned breaking everything down in common language terms earlier for a reason: There is no point in having all the knowledge in the world if you can’t share it.

I had a sales job for a while, but not very long because I was terrible at it. I couldn’t sell water in the desert. One day my sales manager explained why I wasn’t selling anything.

“Jon, no one understands what the hell you are talking about. If you can’t explain it to a 5th grader don’t say it to your prospects!”

I quit eventually because I was tired of not eating, but I also learned two important lessons. Test your pitch on someone first. And big, fancy words are nice for term papers or to impress your snobby friends at the coffee shop, but they don’t help people understand complex ideas. Teaching someone else locks the information in your brain by building mental short cuts.

Understanding anything is simple if you can remember: to be annoying, ask smart questions, play cards and that no one cares if you know what sesquipedalian means.

Photo credit: Mj-bird (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Plagiarism is the Writer’s Cardinal Sin

This whole Melania Trump plagiarism flap shouldn’t be a big deal. I think if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the Republican National Convention, we wouldn’t have even heard about it.

It’s never a big deal any other time a public figure has been caught plagiarizing. Sure, it makes the news, but most people could not care any less. But to creative professionals, especially writers, this is yyy-uge.

News analysts reported that Trump’s speech was 7% similar to Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech. That may not seem like much, but by college academic standards, that 7% can get you an F in your class, and even get you thrown out of school.

A PhD friend of mine commented on my Facebook status yesterday that she normally checks her students’ papers with Grammarly’s plagiarism checker. She ran a quick check on the two speeches, and found that roughly 7 – 8% of Melania’s speech triggered the plagiarism alert, which would have resulted in an F for the paper. Other friends in academia said they have failed students, including those in Masters programs, for 7%.

Some people are dismissing Melania’s plagiarism as “just common words.” That anyone could have used these words, and that we’re making a big deal out of nothing about these “common supportive phrases.” They think it’s a complete coincidence that the same common words and phrases discussing the same ideas were assembled in that same order.

Let’s take politics out of it for a moment. Forget that this is the wife of the Republican presidential candidate.

As a professional writer and adjunct professor, I can tell you that, common words or not, this is still plagiarism. When you take a series of words and string them together in a particular order, no one else may string them together in that order, unless they cite you as a source.

Even failure to cite your sources is enough to fail your paper.

Ernest Hemingway: Common Words Used Uncommonly

Ernest HemingwayOne of my favorite Hemingway short stories, Big Two-Hearted River, is filled with common words. It’s 8,015 words long, and written at a 4th grade reading level. There are no unusual words, and there’s only one character, Nick, who’s going camping and fishing. Two pretty common activities with common jargon. Here’s my favorite excerpt from the story:

Nick was hungry.

He did not believe he had ever been hungrier He opened and emptied a can at pork and beans and a can of spaghetti into the frying pan

“I’ve got a right to eat this kind of stuff, if I’m willing to carry it, Nick said.

His voice sounded strange in the darkening woods. He did not speak again.

He started a fire with some chunks of pine he got with the ax from a stump. Over the fire he stuck a wire grill, pushing the four legs down into the ground with his boot. Nick put the frying pan and a can of spaghetti on the grill over the flames. He was hungrier. The beans and spaghetti warmed. Nick stirred them and mixed them together. They began to bubble, making little bubbles that rose with difficulty to the surface- There was a good smell. Nick got out a bottle of tomato catchup and cut four slices of bread. The little bubbles were coming faster now. Nick sat down beside the fire and lifted the frying pan off. He poured about half the contents out into the tin plate. It spread slowly on the plate. Nick knew it was too hot. He poured on some tomato catchup. He knew the beans and spaghetti were still too hot. He looked at the fire, then at the tent, he was not going to spoil it all by burning his tongue.

No big words, very few 3-syllable words. In fact, he used just 124 different words. But Hemingway could take those 124 words and make cooking a camp dinner one of the most interesting stories you’ll read all day.

Hemingway’s use of common words is not the issue; we’re all able to use them. I could even write a story that only uses these 124 words. The problem is, I can’t put them in that order.

I can’t use the phrase “‘I’ve got a right to eat this kind of stuff, if I’m willing to carry it,’ Nick said.” without either giving him full credit or suffering the wrath of academics and literary types. I can’t even change a couple of words and present it as mine.

That’s plagiarism.

To most of us who actually care about this — the academics, the literati, the word nerds — it doesn’t matter who plagiarized. The fact is, it was done, and it’s being dismissed as unimportant by people who don’t realize the importance of intellectual property.

Probably because they’ve never had their creations stolen for someone else’s benefit.

This is What Theft Looks Like

No Burglars signThis is an important issue to me, because I’ve been plagiarized on three separate occasions, all by newspaper professionals. Two editors, one publisher. Two Canadians, one American. Three people who financially benefited from something I do for very little money.

Three people who worked in a profession where there are only a few important rules:

  1. Don’t steal shit.
  2. Don’t make shit up.

That’s it. Those are two of the most important rules in journalism, and violating them is a career ender.

Of the three thieves — and they are thieves — the American editor and the Canadian publisher lost their jobs. The publisher lost his membership in the Alberta Press Council, and may have even stepped down as the president of the Strathmore and District Chamber of Commerce. The American newspaper editor will never have a job in newspapers again.

You can Google both their names, and their sins still follow them, five years later.

In the world of creativity, especially its written form, plagiarism is the cardinal sin. Of all the Thou Shalt Nots in the world, it is the Thou-Shalt-Nottiest.

Bottom line, it doesn’t matter who did it. I think it was an error of process, not malicious theft. If I had to guess, it was a speechwriter who watched a lot of different convention speeches by candidates’ wives, took notes, and used the phrasing without remembering where it came from.

(UPDATE: It turns out, Melania read some phrases from people she liked, including Michelle Obama. The speechwriter, Meredith McIver took notes, and used them in the speech. Then, she said she never checked Michelle Obama’s speeches to see if the phrasing had been used before. So, not malicious, just careless.)

Because despite what she said, Melania didn’t write this herself. Everyone who gets on that stage gets vetted, ghosted, and edited. There are so many people with so many fingers in every pie, nothing is written by a single individual with no oversight.

But worse, much worse, is the attitude that this isn’t a big deal. That the media is making too big of a fuss. Or that the Obamas did it eight years ago, so that makes this one less bad, or even acceptable.

Politics aside, this is never acceptable. Whether you’re an apologist or a grubby-fingered troll digging up dirt on the other side, plagiarism and theft of ideas is never acceptable.

If you have never created something and had it stolen, you can’t understand why this is a hot button issue for so many of us. As a writer whose books are regularly pirated, as a journalist whose columns are pilfered, I believe this is the one line that writers of integrity should not cross.

Do not justify the sin, regardless of who committed it. There are no excuses, you can’t buy indulgences, and it should never, ever be waved off as a staggering coincidence of “common words.”

Erik Deckers Interviewed on The Business of Story Podcast

I think I could just build a media career by appearing on every Jay Baer podcast he and his company produces.

Earlier this week, my interview on The Business Of Story was released — my third interview on Jay Baer’s third podcast. (You can hear my interview, “Top Tips from a Humor Columnist on How to Tell Better Brand Stories” here.)

Erik Deckers Teaser for The Business of Story podcastPark Howell, a content marketing and storytelling professional, interviews different writers and storytellers, talking about to use proper storytelling in the business world. He’s interviewed screenwriters, film makers, editors, directors, makeup artists, and voice over actors (including Dick Orkin, the creator of Chicken Man, which I used to love!)

We had a chance to talk about humor writing, and how it can be used in the business world. Some of the topics we discussed include:

  • Why infusing your writing with humor will improve it dramatically
  • How to break down comedic theory to make it accessible and useable
  • Why you can absolutely can learn to be funny
  • How stories are more approachable and more memorable with comedy
  • Why some are hesitant to use humor in the workplace, but it is a misplaced fear
  • How to absorb lessons from great fiction writers

Anyway, give the show a listen and let me know what you think. And be sure to check out Jay’s other podcasts for more great marketing information.

(Update: Park and his Business of Story podcast were featured as a case study in the latest edition of Branding Yourself, which you can get on Amazon.com.)

Beware Mark Schaefer’s Blueberry Shock

Mark Schaefer alarmed content marketers two years ago when he warned of the impending content shock. The idea that the amount of information on the Internet was going to grow 600 percent between 2014 and 2020.

In other words, if we designate the amount of information online in 2014 as “one Internet,” we will have six more Internets of information by 2020. We doubled in “Internets” from 2014 to 2015, and again in 2017.

Except, we as humans only watch, read, or hear 10 hours worth of content each day. That’s reading articles for work, listening to the radio during our commute, and watching TV or reading at home.

But the amount of information available will continue to grow, most of it bad to mediocre, and all the good stuff will be buried.

Hence the shock.

What does this have to do with blueberries?

Mark Schaefer's blueberry harvest. This is when the blueberry shock began!

Photo by Mark Schaefer

Everything!

Mark Schaefer posted the following on Facebook today:

This is the entire 2016 harvest from my three blueberry bushes. This might seem sad until you learn this is a 100% productivity gain over last year.‪ #‎Winning‬

Winning, indeed.

While Mark laments that he only has two blueberries, he also realizes that he has, in fact, doubled his harvest from last year. If he can continue this trend, he’ll double it again next year, and have four blueberries. And eight the following year.

He’ll be able to celebrate 2020 — the year the Internet will have grown by 600% — with 32 blueberries. That’s nearly 2/3 of a pound of blueberries.

That’s when things will start to go terribly wrong.

There’s an old saying that if you double a dollar 20 times, you’ll have $1 million.

If Mark’s blueberry trend continues, in 20 years, he’ll have 1 million blueberries — 1,048,576, to be exact.

Satirical chart of blueberry growth representing blueberry shock; I adapted it from Mark's original content shock chart.

If we assume an average of 50 blueberries in a cup, and 4 cups of blueberries equals 1.5 pounds, Mark will have 31,457 pounds of blueberries by the year 2035. That’s 15.72 tons of blueberries.

And while that number is only .0055% of the total US production of blueberries in 2015 (563.2 million pounds), it’s still a staggering number.

Will this have a significant impact on overall blueberry prices? What sorts of steps must we as a blueberry-consuming public take? Will his friends and neighbors be flooded with buckets and shopping bags filled with blueberries mysteriously left on their porches in the night?

We need to be prepared for the coming blueberry shock. While this won’t reach Mark’s staggering growth of information, this is an issue we must face nevertheless.

As a leading consumer of blueberry muffins and pancakes, I urge food professionals everywhere to begin to examine how you can deal with the pending blueberry shock, and take steps to incorporate their use in everyday cooking — from bread to soup to desserts.

Additional markets should be explored as well: blueberry-based skincare products. Alternative fuels. Even blueberry milk. (If almond milk is a thing, then blueberry milk can be!)

Thankfully, we have time. We won’t have any major problems for another 15 years, in 2031, when Mark’s blueberry bushes produce 65,536 blueberries, or .983 tons. Hopefully by then, our blueberry infrastructure will be in place, ready to receive the increased blueberry shock.

(Note: This is all satire. I’m also a humor writer. Please don’t think I actually took this seriously. Although I probably put more time into it than I should have.)