Archive for January, 2011

It’s a sobering fact: U.S. kids are falling behind in math and science education – and badly.

COMPUTER EXPLORERS is on the front lines to help solve the problem. Our Houston Texas-based technology education franchise does it with an innovative and creative business model that gets children excited about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects that can seem intimidating.

The stakes are clearly high, both for individual school children and U.S. competitiveness. U.S. students rank 25th in math and 21st in science skills internationally, according to a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report.  In September, the Obama Administration announced expansion of the “Education to Innovate” campaign that includes a national video game design competition for students in grades 5 through 8. The campaign aims to spur students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as STEM subjects.

Rebecca Parrent

Rebecca Parrent, who owns a COMPUTER EXPLORERS franchise in Denver, CO., is tackling the technology gap one child at a time. She wants elementary and middle school girls to learn technology in innovative and stimulating ways and recently integrated a computer technology curriculum into a summer camp for elementary school-aged girls.  It wasn’t a dry academic experience for the girls; it was outrageously fun and interesting.  In one course the girls built a house with LEGO kits and added sensors that switched on lights, opened doors and operated fans. Some of the younger girls made a robotics-based birthday cake with candles that lit up and played recorded songs on command. More sophisticated robots and video game programming followed.

“When things start lighting up and making noises it literally makes STEM subjects come to life,” Parrent said.  “We’re not lecturing girls or making them memorize the way they do in the traditional classroom, we’re making it fun. They are not  making cupcakes and dollhouses – they are learning basic programming and engineering skills.”

Demand for such training clearly exists. A recent Public Agenda survey found that 84 percent of Americans think the future holds a lot more jobs that require math and science skills. Nine out of 10 say studying advanced math and science is useful even for students who don’t pursue a science or math based career, in part because gives students an edge with respect to college opportunities.

A majority of parents surveyed said they want to see more emphasis on STEM topics at their children’s schools, especially basic engineering principles and computer programming. Yet schools struggle to buy up-to-date equipment and hire staff to use it.

That’s where COMPUTER EXPLORERS makes a difference. Franchisees and teachers reach over 25,000 students a week with technology education classes in schools, after care programs, summer camps and recreation centers. COMPUTER EXPLORERS  provides state-of-the-art technology that schools often can’t afford, which keeps kids engaged with material that is relevant and interesting.

Interested in helping U.S. children meet their potential and launch a new generation of thinkers? Visit our Website or call me direct 800-531-5053!

Thanks to Lorri Wyndham who pointed out to me that Scott Klososky shared this new LinkedIn feature called In Map.

Here is my map:

LinkedIn Map

You can see that my map is represented by eight colors. I am amazed how accurate LinkedIn has my connections. There are areas that my LinkedIn connections overlap and interesting to explore visually via the map.  I discovered the larger the circle the more that individual is connected to me in that color coded group. I love the zoom feature displaying the details of my connections!

The legend is very helpful to me outlining  what areas in the industry my reach extends to and what areas I may want to concentrate to expand my connections.

Here is a link to my map and from there you can map your own network. What does your LinkedIn network look like?

Collette Howell and grandsons

After enjoying retirement for eight years, Collette Howell felt an urge to find a new career. More than three decades in stressful executive positions at AT&T and its spinoffs made Howell certain of one thing — she wanted to be her own boss. When she found COMPUTER EXPLORERS, everything fell into place. Howell now owns COMPUTER EXPLORERS of Greater Sacramento, a franchise that consistently ranks in the Top 10 of COMPUTER EXPLORERS franchises worldwide.

Here is a recent interview conducted with Collette who has been a COMPUTER EXPLORERS (CE)  owner since April of 2004:

CH: I retired after working a full career in a very large corporation for 31 years. My position entailed a great deal of responsibility and ongoing pressure. I was able to leisurely enjoy myself for about 8 years. I needed to recharge.  Eventually, I realized that I was ready to look for something new.  I wanted to augment my retirement funds, run my own business and do something interesting and worthwhile.  I didn’t want to completely start from scratch.

At COMPUTER EXPLORERS I saw a way to use my career experience and add to it with new knowledge. Although I didn’t feel I would be a good teacher, I had 30 years of developing new teams and providing excellent customer service. I had confidence in my ability to attract and manage quality and talent. When I was young there were a couple of teachers that made a big difference in my life.  That’s something you never forget. I am doing so much more than working after retirement. I’m in a position to empower great teachers and help children learn critical skills. It’s very satisfying.

CE: How did you hear about us?
CH: I worked with a franchise consultant who narrowed my choices down to about five franchises. Two of them were education franchises.  I became enamored with COMPUTER EXPLORERS for several reasons. They had a good strategic plan, wonderful business-to-business partnerships and a great training program. Delving into the franchise was engrossing — like drinking out of a fire hose.

CE: What’s your background?
CH: I have a business degree from St. Mary’s College of California. I started working at AT&T and (what eventually became) Pacific Bell when I was 17. When I retired I was a regional vice president in charge of about $700 million.

CE: What do you like best about the COMPUTER EXPLORERS franchise opportunity?
CH: It’s a forward-looking franchise that enables you to help prepare children to be more competitive in the future. COMPUTER EXPLORERS has given me a chance to be around really good people – from the teachers, to the students, to the school administrators to the support team at the corporate office. I can focus on delivering unmatched quality. I love that it’s a home-based business. I have not missed going into an office. I’m proud of what I do. It’s a quiet proud, but it’s a satisfied proud. I think this is work with substance.

COMPUTER EXPLORERS has also given me a great opportunity to upgrade my technology skill set, and it’s allowed me to have a family business. My daughter works with me two to three days a week.

CE: Can you share one of your secrets?
CH: Hire well and treat your people right. I had long and deep experience in hiring and staff development in my corporate job that taught me a lot about how to build an outstanding staff.  I’m happy to say I trust my people implicitly. They don’t have to worry about being second guessed. I empower them. They don’t spend time on trivial matters. They know I’m going to provide the support they need to be the best possible educator in their assigned school.  I know there’s not one way to do something, so I give my teachers the freedom to apply their best judgment and interpersonal skills.

I concentrate on large contracts with private academic schools that offer classes throughout the school year. The sales cycle is longer, but the contracts are enduring … multi-year … and provide significant value for the client and revenue for my business. I am an essential part of the schools’ offerings, not just an ancillary thought.  COMPUTER EXPLORERS has allowed me to customize in this way.

CE: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
CH: I’m unbelievably impressed  at how far ahead these young kids are when it comes to technology. They are not afraid. They lead the way.

CE: What keeps you active in your free time?
CH: My grandsons, Stephen and Luke, who live a just a few blocks away. There is no better job than being a grandma.  I  enjoy golf, so it’s nice that I can manage my schedule to play. I’m a reader and I love gardening. I’m quite interested in politics and follow current events closely.

CE: Why would you recommend COMPUTER EXPLORERS to someone interested in owning a business?
CH: If they have done their research, read about how franchising works and are ready to make a commitment to developing and running a successful business, this franchise will allow them to spread their wings. What they make of it is as much up to them as it is to Houston. It’s a two-way responsibility that is mutually reinforcing and rewarding.

COMPUTER EXPLORERS is almost an irresistible product for forward-thinking schools and principals. School’s cannot replicate what we do; it would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming to develop the expertise, resources and knowledge that our staff provides. We deliver core skills that are essential for future success of today’s student to learn and earn in a global workforce. Students must have the capacity to use a full range of technology tools with integrity and creativity. They have to understand the risks and benefits of technology. Their futures, and ours, depend on it.

Discovery Day is an opportunity for prospective franchisees to meet the franchise corporate office team. It is a day spent with the team to get a feel for the corporate culture. There may be other departments of the franchise organization supporting franchisees that will be part of the Discovery Day sessions.  For example, COMPUTER EXPLORERS has a Call Center. They are trained professionals that make calls and set appointments for the franchisees. Prospective franchisees have the opportunity to meet the representatives and learn about the process of getting new customers via the service offered as part of the franchise agreement.

COMPUTER EXPLORERS Discovery Day is held at the world headquarters of I.C.E.D. (International Center for Entrepreneurial Development) in northwest Houston. Our administrative offices are on the campus of Northwest Forest on a 100 acre conference center.

By the time a prospective franchisee attends Discovery Day he/she has walked through a well defined process. They have spent hours on the telephone with a COMPUTER EXPLORERS franchise sales representative and with me. We have reviewed the FDD (franchise disclosure document), they have validated information with existing franchisees and mostly likely have studied the franchise satisfaction survey posted by Franchise Business Review.

Many prospects arrive for Discovery Day with their own first impression of the brand due to amount of information that can be found on the internet. A good franchise system has what one of my prospects told me a “good Google reputation.” Prospects that can find information about the corporate team via the brand Website, blogs, Twitter, YouTube and/or Facebook page attend Discovery Day with an understanding of the culture and personalities of the team that will provide support.

I asked one of our Chicago franchisees to share his opinion of the Discovery Day process:

Even CEOs Need Coaching

My blog post for Franchise Business Review:

When a franchisee steps outside of training they are usually the chief executive officer of everything! In theory, a new franchisee could perform each and every task impeccably themselves without any outside resource. As chief executive officer of everything they will fill the roles of: payroll officer, marketer, sales representative, trainer, purchase agent, accountant, administrator, human resources and many more.

Where does the chief executive officer of everything call in reinforcements? As the business grows the franchisee will realize what functions need to be delegated to someone else. Even the most talented franchisees/business owners need help: developing an action plan, growing their business, accountability, thinking creatively in business, implementing new projects, team building, and making decisions when the stakes are very high, etc.

I believe that every franchise/business owner needs a professional business coach in order to improve performance, leadership and profitability. It’s vital to find a coach with experience in the field or specific discipline in order to provide the right guidance. The coach needs to be an expert in professional development and someone you can feel you can trust and work with comfortably.

David HandlerDavid Handler, Founder, SuccessHandler Executive Coaching says, “Leaders typically understand how to set goals and execute strategy. Challenges arise from failing to recognize how others see you. Thus, your biggest opportunity for improvement is to have an executive coach hold up a mirror that provides insight into your attitude and approach.”

As my coach, David inspires me to succeed and helps me understand what changes must be made. He doesn’t provide all the answers but asks all the right questions. He encourages my creativity and as a trusted advisor will guide me through my strategic thinking and set me on the right path. I am comfortable to share issues with my coach that I cannot share with others knowing that he is non-judgmental. The most valuable asset of a good business coach is the ability to not only share successes but also failures. As a good listener and someone who is genuinely interested in my success my coach helps me understand what went wrong and how to move in a positive direction.

Vistage International says coaching “is about improving your performance so your company can perform better. It’s about continuous, accelerated, practical learning-more lasting than any onetime workshop of any flavor-of-the-day business book-and about turning your good intentions into great results.”

I enjoy my role as CEO of COMPUTER EXPLORERS. I have an excellent team and a business coach so I don’t have to fill the role of chief executive office of everything.

This week Lorri Wyndham and I will host the International Franchise Association (IFA) – Houston Franchise Business Network (HFBN) meeting on Thursday January 20th.

Social Media for Business – What’s Next?

As many companies find themselves Tweeting and Facebook-ing to some marketing success, the arrival of new technologies and strategies in 2011 brings a slew of fresh business opportunities on the social Web.

Katie Laird

Join Katie Laird from Schipul – The Web Marketing Company ( as she walks us through the basics of location based marketing and social media advertising.

To register and learn more about the event follow this link

The next big IFA event will be February 13-16th in Las Vegas. IFA’s 51st Annual Convention will most likely be attended by over 3k individuals in the franchise industry!  IFA is the world’s largest organization representing worldwide franchising. Keynote Speakers this year are Mitt Romney and Steve Forbes and will be held in the MGM Grand, Las Vegas. A list of some of the franchise companies that attend the convention can be found here There are countless franchise industry experts that share their knowledge and best practices in panel presentations, interactive round-table sessions and one-on-one discussions. Whatever your franchise size, the IFA convention offers educational sessions that will meet your particular needs.

The electronic brochure is available linked here providing you the opportunity to decide what round-table sessions and education seminars to attend. Hopefully, I will see you during the technology summit or executive business solution round-table sessions that I will be moderating. If you are interested in what is “Beyond Facebook: Reaching Your Unique Audience Where They Live Online” then attend my session with Jon Carlston, Ken Colburn and BJ Emerson!

With any big event today there is always a TweetUp in the works. Thanks to the help of  one of the top influencers on Twitter, Scott Stratten, author UnMarketing I am working on a epic #IFA event with Jack Monson, Engage 121! Watch and mark your calendar to meet franchise industry Twitter leaders.

IFA 2011

I was fortunate to visit Walt Disney World in 1971 the year they opened. I have visited several times over the years and have always enjoyed myself. This week I spent a few days in Disney while my husband attended a conference. This time I visited as an entrepreneur and franchise leader without the company of children.

Per the suggestion of my business coach, David Handler I spent my time observing and learning from the Disney cast members. A few things about the Disney cast members:

  • they have a real commitment to customer satisfaction
  • consistently treat customers as individuals and not just another visitor to the park
  • they take pride in their work (while wearing really silly uniforms)
  • are enthusiastic and passionate despite the weather or crowds  which is very contagious

Disney provides legendary  customer service and it is no surprise that they have repeat customers. Do you provide the same? If not, spend a few days at Walt Disney World and you are guaranteed to have fun and will return with a renewed passion to provide customer service Disney style.

Pam, Lisa and PatTo get customers, especially new customers, you have to make cold calls. Lots of them. This means you have to explain what you do over and over. This means you have to trudge through hours of tedious and repetitive calling and you have to handle some amount of rejection when potential customers either don’t want to listen to what you have to say.

At COMPUTER EXPLORERS (CE), we understand that franchises that get up to speed and generate revenue faster are ones that make more cold calls. It is simple math: more calls equals more potential business!

Since few people are born with cold calling skills and hardly any franchise owner really wants to make calls, we realized early in our three decades of experience that using professionally trained marketers in a formal call center dramatically increases the performance of new franchisees.

Trained professionals in our Call Center make calls and appointments for new owners, who often leave their CE training in Houston armed with a list of meetings already set up. The initial franchisee fee includes a full year of calls, and owners can have the center confirm contact information of decision-makers at schools and rec centers, make appointments outright and promote new programs that CE is offering.

Pat Surrec, Director

“It is such an asset to owners,” says Pat Surrec. “Its like hiring a good salesperson right from the beginning who doesn’t need much training and hits the ground running.”

Surrec should know, Pam from her team scheduled 2,000 appointments in less than 2 years for COMPUTER EXPLORERS franchisees!

She runs the Call Center and says the customer service reps really help new franchisees get a solid start. “I assign each territory to a marketer, who then becomes an extension of their business,” she says. “We correspond with our franchisees daily and get involved in helping them earn new customers. Its a very valuable service for new franchisees.”

For new franchisees, the call center makes several rounds of calls to all schools in the new territory and sets as many one-on-one appointments for the franchisee. This way, the franchisee jumps into personal meetings where they can get started building relationships and working new sales.

The Call Center staffers know the best time to reach key players at schools and day cares. “It is usually easy to get in to talk to a program director,” Surrec says. “We are definitely there to help owners in every way possible, but we don’t want them to have us become a crutch.”

After the first year is up, franchisees retain the Call Center’s services for a modest fee, often far less than adding a sales support staffer in their franchise. Best of all, Franchisees incur charges only when an appointment is made. This way, the call center is motivated to produce results.

In addition to calling new schools, call center staff makes calls to announce new programs, do follow up for trade shows and help franchisees with rounds of follow up and prospecting calls to existing customers.

COMPUTER EXPLORERS is very fortunate to have Pat, Pam and Lisa who play a big role in getting customers for our franchisees!

Interview with Les McKeown

Les McKeown is the President & CEO of Predictable Success. He has has started over 40 companies in his own right, and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company that advised on the creation and growth of hundreds more organizations worldwide. 

Since relocating from his native Ireland to the US in 1998, Les advises CEOs and senior leaders of organizations on how to achieve scalable, sustainable growth. His clients range from large family-owned businesses to Fortune 100 companies, and include Harvard University, American Express, T-Mobile, United Technologies, Pella Corporation, The US Army, Microsoft and the NSA.

Based in Marblehead MA, Les now spends his time consulting, writing, teaching, and speaking. Les has appeared on CNN, ABC, BBC, Inc, Entrepreneur magazine, USA Today and The New York Times.

Les took time from his very busy schedule to conduct a telephone interview with me. He discusses the seven stages of Predictable Success and the importance of understanding each stage of business growth.
The 32 minute interview was a lot of fun for me and so informative that I thought it best to share with you.

I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions. What I do is change bad habits and add new (good) ones.

Last year I read a blog post by Julien Smith, co-author of Trust Agents. His 2010 resolution was to read a book a week and he outlined why and how. Great idea but not something I thought I could dedicate the time or the energy to do.

This year, Julien posted that he actually accomplished his goal and decided to continue reading a book a week in 2011.

You can find the link to his post here. He outlines a very simple plan to follow. There are  114 responses with additional helpful tips should you decide to take the challenge. Personally, I will never make it but I decided that it is at least worth trying. To my surprise I finished my first book in a week!

Content Rules

Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman was a great book to pick for my first week of reading. One of the hardest things to do is to continually produce good content that will engage your audience. Ann and C.C. outline easy to implement strategies on how to “speak human and break some rules.” According to Ann and C.C.  you are allowed to start sentences with and, but, so and because! They also say that “every piece of content you create doesn’t have to be perfectly crafted, nicely argued, or well said.” I love these folks! The book is loaded with great deal of useful information and don’t forget to connect to them on Twitter @thecontentrules and on Facebook.

Some  say that I set a new resolution to read a book a week. I say, I started a good habit that might be hard to break. Either way I highly encourage anyone wanting to create killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, or webinars to read Content Rules.