Black Lab Marketing

Lessons from a Successful Career in the IT industry

July 3rd, 2012

On June 27th, I was a guest speaker for CompTIA’s Advancing Women In IT Community webinar. Janet Pinkerton put together a nice blog summarizing the conversation.

What does it take to grow a career in the IT industry — and still have a personal life?

Shirley Turner started at Intel as a payroll clerk with no college degree, a choppy resume, a relatively new marriage and two very young daughters. She stayed 24 years, steadily advancing and moving between divisions, before retiring as director of Intel’s North American Channel Marketing in 2008. In 2009, she founded Black Lab Marketing, a Portland, OR.-area-based consulting firm serving small- and medium-sized businesses and non-profit organizations.

Turner shared the maxims and lessons that guided her professional choices and personal values in the CompTIA webinar “Career Planning/Pathing: How to Move From One Level to the Next” on Wednesday June 27, 2012:

Work ethic foundations

“Be the Best” and “Be independent and self-sufficient.” — from her mother, a fiercely independent woman who became a businesswoman running her own successful restaurant in the 1930s after a disastrous first marriage ended in divorce.

“You never tell anybody how good you are. You just pick up your horn and play.” — from her father, a professional trumpet player from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Early career lessons

“You don’t have the education, so go get the experience.” — from a manager, who encouraged Turner to work beyond her lack of college degree (which she eventually did earn). It’s a practice Turner continues today. “I just dive in, learn what I have to do, and I build experience.”

“People work with you, not for you” and “Just because people don’t think the way you do does not make them stupid.” — from a manager instructing Turner on the finer points of teamwork. These maxims hold true at any career level, Turner says.

“You alone are responsible for your success” and “You can make your job anything you want it to be.” Organizations may develop “career paths” but ultimately, Turner believes each person is responsible for his or her self. In the 1980s, Turner worked as a finance clerk but in her spare time figured out how to use Lotus 1-2-3 (the precursor to Excel) for a specific accounting process, reducing the time required from two weeks to four hours. That side venture made the job more interesting to Turner, and Turner more valuable to Intel. “As long as you perform the tasks that you were hired for and paid to do,” Turner says, “there’s no reason why you can’t add other aspects to your job.”

“People want you for the values you possess more than your skills” — a realization Turner had after a manager recruited her to move from Intel’s finance department into its manufacturing department, and later into its marketing department.

Mid-career, Movin’ on Up Lessons

“Build on what you know.” When Turner moved out of finance into Intel’s manufacturing department, she organized her time to finish the “numbers” part of her job quickly so she could focus on learning about the company’s manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico and its engineering teams in Oregon. This strategy can help increase a person’s success rate in a new role, build their confidence and make them look like they are hitting the ground running.

“Fear is a great motivator.” “The more scared I get, the harder I work,” says Turner. Once, only days into a new marketing job, Turner staffed a tradeshow booth but didn’t know how to answer several engineers who quizzed her about a silicon board’s properties. In response, one engineer snipped, “It’s okay, honey. Don’t tax your brain.” Turner vowed never to allow herself to be that unprepared again.

“Keep your Boss’ Boss off your Boss’ back.” — Not only does this strategy help your boss, it introduces your work to those above your boss, Turner says.

Maxims for Playing in the Big Leagues

“Shift from ‘do more with less’ to ‘optimize resources’ “ — Intel experienced multiple budget cuts and layoffs during Turner’s last eight years at the company. Instead of mounding the same collection of tasks on fewer people, Turner prefers a strategy that decides how to achieve company goals within set budget and staff limits.

“Every move you make… they’re watching you” — Upper-level executives always have to watch their demeanor and show strength to their team, Turner found out.

“You can’t avoid politics” and “Loyalty can be dangerous to your career” — Upper-level managers have to be flexible and adaptive, and can’t tie themselves to one strategy or one individual, Turner believes.

“Advocates are more important than mentors” — Mentors are instructive and supportive, but advocates are on your side; they have your back, Turner believes. The higher up an advocate is, the more valuable to your career they are.

Reality Check for Work Life Balance

“Make sure you make the right choice.” — Turner’s mother worked hard, long hours, but had nothing left to give when she came home to her daughter. Turner did her job well, but made sure she had time and energy to dedicate to her daughters. “Your company will drop you in heartbeat no matter how good you are,” Turner quips. “But your kids are your kids forever.”

The Ever-Evolving Channel

March 20th, 2012

I was recently asked how I’ve seen the channel evolve over the last couple of decades. I think there are lots of ways the channel’s been impacted as technologies have rushed forward. I mean, think back to 1990 and where technology was back then. It was a time long before iPads and Smartphones – laptops didn’t even come of age until the mid-90’s. I remember coming back from a business trip in 1992 to find that the engineer in my group decided it was time for me to move to this new OS called Windows, and start using this thing called a mouse. Arggghh! Any of you old DOS users out there know what a pain that transition was. But I digress.

Sometimes it felt like it was all we could do just to keep up. Matter of fact, when I was at Intel, the number one complaint I heard from resellers was that our product line changes came way too fast. But the good ones figured it out, (you don’t have to take the new products every time they came out, just like you typically don’t buy the latest model car every year… well, at least I don’t).

Yes, there has been a tremendous amount of technological change over the last couple of decades. But to me the biggest evolution to the channel has been the channel themselves. Adaptability is critical if you’re going to be successful in the high-tech world and the good ones have ebbed and flowed and morphed into what they needed to be successful; sometimes just to stay in business. I know of one reseller that started out in the early 90’s as a networking VAR, reselling Bay, Intel and 3Com products. His model was one of customized solutions and living by “there’s margin in mystery.” As the Internet grew, so did his competition. He became less differentiated in that space, so he made the switch to customized gaming systems, another high margin, “mysterious” product line. Today he’s gone from that, to focusing on government agencies – school districts, fire and police departments, etc. – again, providing customized solutions by utilizing OEM systems’ online customization tools, and special pricing for education and government. But now his differentiation comes from customized software applications and his taking advantage of the infamous “cloud.” Through it all, he has remained profitable and relevant. And I know hundreds of others that have done the same thing. Their “title” may have changed, (reseller, white-box builder, solution provider, etc.) but their core being has not.

The ideal IT reseller/solution provider is technical, adaptable and visionary. The good ones stay around for years.

2011. Here already?!?

January 3rd, 2011

It’s hard to believe that 2011 is already upon us.  Has it really been a year gone already? 

With the new year comes a time of reflection and change.   I’m not the kind of person that makes changes for changes’ sake but I firmly believe that taking the time to refresh and renew – to keep things from getting boring and to take advantage of latest trends and new information – is critical for long term success.  It’s a time to evaluate where you are and maybe try something new. 

Sometimes that means re-trying something that didn’t work in the past.  Things that didn’t work before might have failed simply because they were ahead of their time – everything else needed to catch up.  Maybe all the pieces are finally in place.  Certainly you don’t want to demonstrate what Benjamin Franklin warned us of: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  But what seemed like a great idea that failed in the past might be worth another look.  Evaluate the roadblocks from the prior failure and you might find that they no longer exist.  Great ideas are great ideas!  They’re always worth a second chance.

Regardless of what path you take, take the time to develop some semblance of a strategic plan.  It doesn’t have to be overly complicated.   When time is your most precious commodity, you can’t afford it to be anything but simple.  Remember the old saying we (well, at least I) learned early on in school?Stop, look and listen before you cross the street.”  Before you head out into the streets of 2011, stop and think about where you’ve been and where you want to go; look at the current market and economic trends and analyze how your business or organizational objectives can take advantage of present conditions; and finally listen to your customers and top advisors. They’ll help guide you to a very targeted and focused plan for the coming year.  Stop, look and listen. Come out ready to take on new challanges and opportunities.  Game on. 

Here’s to a prosperous and profitable new year.  Cheers!

How Your Dog Can Help Your Career

December 3rd, 2010

Check out this latest article from  So very true….

OMG!!! 2010 is here!

February 11th, 2010

And all I have to say is, “thank goodness!”  2009 was a baaadddd year for almost everyone I’ve talked to for a variety of reasons – and not always because of the economy.  Unfortunately, I was no different. Certainly there were a few highlights, but for the most part – “blecchh!”

However, out of adversity comes opportunity.  It gives us the motivation to look forward and focus with a renewed perspective.   After 12 months of soul searching and fine-tuning our message, I’ve come up with the essence of what Black Lab Marketing is all about.    BLM’s mission in life is a simple one - to get organizations to stop and think.  Whether you’re in a business or non-profit group – in start-up mode or at it for quite some time - if you don’t take the time to stop and think, you won’t have a roadmap of where you need to go, or at least know if you’re still on the right highway.  I get it that when your role is CEO/receptionist/janitor in any given day, it is difficult to slow down for the slightest moment and stop and think.  But if you don’t, you’ll always focus on what’s immediate instead of what’s important.  And that will never get your organization to higher levels of success. 

So in the spirit of starting anew, I challenge all of you to take the time to stop and think - and not just about your business or organization but your personal and professional lives as well.  Assess where you’ve been and plan for where you need to be going.  Make sure you’re doing the right things for the right reasons and that you’re heading down the right path.   Without some semblance of a plan, you’ll end up feeling like you’re barely hanging on and playing catch up all the time.  And that sounds eerily how 2009 was for most of us.  Let’s not to go there again, shall we?

Here’s to great success in 2010 and beyond.

A Tribute to Maggie

May 5th, 2009

We’ve had a sad week at Black Lab Marketing and at home.  Our beloved black lab/retriever mix, Maggie, has fallen asleep for the last time.  Maggie lived a long and extraordinarily active life and was 14 1/2 years old when she passed.    From her perma-smile to her over-the-top obsession with tennis balls to her habit of being a canine trash compactor (when she tired of chasing tennis balls, she would eat them), Maggie was a great dog.  She was not that big (60-ish lbs most of her adult life) but she was definitely an “alpha” dog and could take down her bigger brother and, later on in life, our other lab mix, Doc, my 100-lb puppy.  No one messed with her and her property and her owners, but she had the sweetest of dispositions with those she loved.   Her constantly wagging and strong tail knocked many a trinket off the end tables – but how can you fault someone for being so happy all the time?? 

Maggie was the epitome of being trustworthy, dependable and a little bit goofy and, along with Doc, was the inspiration for the name of this company.  She was a lovable, intelligent, and devoted part of our family.  She will be dearly missed. 

May we all be the kind of person our dog thinks we are.

Here’s to you, Mags.

Happy New Year!

December 30th, 2008

What a year, eh?  Between the ups and downs of the economy coupled with the normal cycles of our lives, I’m sure, like myself, it has been one heck of a ride for you.  So – what’s in store for 2009?

You can look at last year as one of despair – but I prefer to look at it as one of opportunity.   The world keeps on spinning, and nothing that cataclysmic has occurred to make it stop.  Sure, we’re all in some sort of survival mode but we should use this as a chance to become smarter – to look for new ways of doing things and communicating out.  New ways to network and enter markets.  It may just be a matter of, as cliche as it sounds, reinventing yourself. 

Whatever you do, do something. This is not a time for complacency – regardless of your situation.   Don’t just sit there and wonder when the other shoe is going to drop.  Go buy a new pair of shoes!  Create your destiny, don’t wait for it to drop in your lap. 

You and you alone are responsible for your successes in life.  We have come out of a decade of crazy prosperity (the 90′s) to one of relatively stable security.  Now things have gotten a little or a lot tougher than what we’ve been used to the last couple of decades.  What next?

Andy Grove was once quoted as saying, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis.  Good companies survive them.  Great companies are improved by them.”  We always have a choice in how we react to adverse situations and circumstances – to be destroyed; to merely survive; or to grab hold of the opportunity to become better and stronger than ever.

As you head into 2009, which path are you choosing to go down?

No matter what you choose to do, here’s to a happy and prosperous new year for all of us!


December 11th, 2008

Welcome to our new website and blog!

As someone who has come out of corporate America and is now one of the “little guys” in small business, it is interesting to note the differences and the similarities. It is also interesting to discover what I truly love to do versus what I’ve tolerated doing for the sake of a paycheck.

The beauty of entrepreneurship is that you’re allowed to obsess over the things you love. You still have to do the dirty work – unless you’re making enough to outsource it, like accounting – but at the end of the day, you get to work in activities and events that you have passion about, that you truly have a vested interested in, personally and professionally. There is no better feeling.

So for now, the foray into self-employment is filled with anticipation and excitement. In other words, I’m in the honeymoon phase. But that will wear off at some point, and I know I need to move quickly toward looking for ways to keep things fresh and exciting. Otherwise, it can fall into a rut, become stale and lifeless and, if not tended to, will not be worth doing anymore and simply fade away.

All of you, whether you’re in business or running a non-profit organization, are in one of these phases right now. Which one are you in?

  • Are you looking for help to get off the ground or have started and have that feeling of “now what”?
  • Are you looking for ways to keep things fresh and exciting to keep growing?
  • Are you feeling like you’re in a rut and need a change for fear of fading interest on the part of you and your clients?

All of these are legitimate questions. And all have actionable answers. In today’s economy, you have to stay on top of your game. In an environment of keeping your head above choppy waters, sometimes it’s hard to stop and assess the situation, for fear that lack of activity means you’ll go under. The last thing you can even think about, let alone do, is to stay calm. But it doesn’t work that way. If you don’t give yourself the time and space to stop thinking about and reacting to your current situation, you’ll never be able to figure out how to get out of it and move on. Sometimes you need a little help. And sometimes, you just need to talk it out.

So seek out those “trusted advisors” in your life – a friend, a colleague, a mentor, maybe even a friendly consultant – and talk to them. This economy is a scary place right now. The reality is that you could make it on your own, but it’s a lot easier when someone’s in your corner – helping you along, talking you through.

As one of the “little guys” we all need to stick together and help each other along.

Who are the trusted advisors in your life?