Friday, October 10, 2008

Notes from the Recession - 1

Thursday, Oct. 9

I peered through the slats of the kitchen blinds at the last glow of a beautiful fall afternoon. It seemed so strange that that nature should be putting on such a multi-colored show at a time when the news was filled with economic horrors.

I hesitated before turning on NPR. And sure enough, the small kitchen space was soon filled with gloom and doom from the stock and credit markets. I was tempted to turn off the news about possible bank failings, but incapable of wrenching myself from the latest catastrophic economic report.

I reached for the leftover pork in the refrigerator.

“The Dow fell 689 points today . . .”

I dug out left over chicken from the recesses of the lower shelf.

“GM stocks fell precipitously . . .”

The refrigerator was looking barren. I’d have to shop soon, only any expenditure felt excrutiating. Maybe that’s why eating had become so difficult. It was hard to take time from searching from work, searching for meaning in all this, searching for self . . .

But eat I must. Persevere I must.

All these years I’ve touted virtual company land as the pathway to economic and lifestyle freedom, but it’s damned hard to face this alone. Even so, it’s got to be hard facing a possible layoff. At least we have the option to keep on marketing . . .

Thursday, July 3, 2008


If you get a chance, pop onto and read through Alan Rappeport's June 30 article on the state of Vermont promoting the virtual work place.

They get it in Vermont. Work can be accomplished without folks actually sitting in the same building. And think of the energy savings . . .

Happy July 4th!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

CNN.COM Calls it "Co-Working," Another Name for Virtual has a great article on yet another type of virtual company entrepreneur, only they call it "co-working." I call it working out of a cafe virtually, but making sure your friends drop by . . .

For all the details, here's the URL:

ROSWELL, Georgia (CNN) -- More than a decade after the Internet allowed millions of people to work at home, the next phase of telecommuting involves, well, not working at home. art.jelly.ho.randall.jpg

Web developer Toby Ho, left, has joined a coworking group called "Jelly" in Roswell, Georgia.

Organized "coworking" -- the concept of working solo alongside like-minded independents -- has spread to dozens of cities.

The irony of coworking isn't lost on organizers, including Kevin Bachman, who set up a group north of Atlanta as part of an informal Web-based network called Jelly.

"The reason people work alone, is because they're looking for freedom," said Bachman, a 34-year-old Web developer who telecommutes part time. "It may be ironic that you crave isolation, but you also want to be socially interactive with others like you." See how Jelly works together »

Once a month, Bachman's group takes over a room provided by Tony's American Grille & Tap. A handful of home-based Internet workers hunch over laptops writing code, tweaking administration systems or enhancing databases.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I'm always curious about recruiting and placement agencies -- not to mention online job boards -- that would actually help those of us who want client work, not jobs.

So far, I haven't found any until some folks from the Robert Half agency stumbled into Hidden-Tech's 5th birthday party a year ago. Some of this company's associates say they'd rep me as part of their "creative" sector, but I'm not sure what that means. (When I do, I'll fill you in).

My curiosity piqued, I queried my members at Hidden-Tech, the organization for virtual companies, to find out what they knew about this company and others. All 19 responses are posted below, but a quick tally indicated the following:

* 7 members had not heard that Robert Half at all;

* 10 had heard of the agency and said it was reputable;

* 7 knew they did project recruiting for those in the creative, legal or accounting fields;

* 3 had negative things to say about this firm (and most recruiting firms).

Curious to keep this dialog going and get your input.


1) In addition to being a computer tech, I'm also a professional actor (when I
can...). I have known that Robert Half often shows up where the actors are
to get them temporary jobs "between gigs," so I know of their alliance with
the arts. They seem to specialize in that. I didn't know that they could
find project work for small companies. I've always thought that they could
find consulting gigs for individuals. Interesting angle... I'm not sure if
I'd pay to get the work, however. I guess it depends on the fees.

Just my two-cents.


2) Over the years I've certainly rec'd many freelance jobs from agencies
like Robert Half. I don't begrudge them their $$$ as they're bringing
me work and they pay quickly and, if you work through them on a
regular basis, begin to actually pay benefits, something I don't
expect from freelance gigs.


3) I had not heard of them nor used their services, but a quick look at
their site leads me to think that they are credible. That said, if
you poke around their online forums you'll see a lot of griping by
users about Half's performance. This may be as much a result of the
user's overreaching and being less that qualified for the position
they were interested in. Who knows.

Oh, and after a quick Google, I found no hint that they served
creative types, tho their range of offerings is vast.

Am I correct in reading between the lines that they are staffing a
branch office in Spfld? If so, you might want to suggest to somebody
there that they offer W. Mass as a location to search. Boston is not
all of the Commonwealth, after all. There's also a lot of activity in
the Albany area adjacent to the Berkshires. Tons of tech oriented
programs at the region's colleges and SUNY, plus hoards of now
unemployed former GE workers and the Knoll's nuke research center
that GE runs.

Tho I haven't been very active with HT outside this list, the thought
that stitching together a region that includes west of Worcester up
to the foothills of the Adirondacks could give HT enough heft to
better compete for opportunities with Beantown. Our population not
nearly as dense, but we do have the numbers and educational
infrastructure to rival them.

One last thought. Have you taken a look at Mass Mutual? They
represent a different kind of Hidden Tech. The modern insurance
company is as much a IT shop as a financial institution. MM not only
has a value that, if I remember correctly, is ten times that of
Microsoft, but they are in constant tension with recruiters and
college placement folks to keep IT grads in the region. The company
may have an interest in supporting HT. You might also want to stop by
their Spfld headquarters and see if there's an article from such a
visit. Folks at the EDC can get you entree.

Be Well,


4) Never heard of them. But I have used businesses like them in the past. In
the electronics industry, most 'recruiters' are lone operations (like us).
Typically they get $10/hr, or 10% of the gross, which I consider very cheap.

This is probably the reason so many of them go out of business. Don't
charge enough.

Then I have run into the dishonest types. One a number of years back that
had an "in" at Lucent Labs in Andover. He wanted to place me 'on-site' for
$35/hr, while he collected over $100/hr. And another just last year who had
a 'confidentiality' agreement that would have bound every bit of
electronics knowledge that I had ever acquired to them...forever!

Be interested in a follow-up with the folks that you found.


5) Robert Half is one of the largest and longest-standing of headhunter agencies, although I didn't know of their work in the IT Projects arena, either. One question is: whether the large serves-all-markets agency is better equipped than a smaller, boutique/specialist. I don't have that answer, but it could add another perspective to the article.


6) I've heard of Robert Half in conjunction with legal and accounting placement. They've been around for a long time. The tech division is probably new, but I'd bet they're pretty good.


7) At Avacoda we've considered partnering with someone who would help find clients. We have not heard of Robert Half.

8) I worked for them in Denver for a short time (6 months) as a software development contractor. They were very big at the time (2000). Then the tech bubble burst. I'm not sure how they fared after that. But, at one time they were heavy hitters in the IT recruiting business.


9) Amy, I own a recruiting company, FIT Solutions, based in Springfield Mass.
and I work solely in the Information Technology sector. I have worked with
Robert Half and they are a reputable firm. In general, most recruiters work
for employers since they pay their fee. So, they find people for jobs, not
jobs for people. But, they must always keep a broad range of candidates
within their pool of resources to fill those jobs. Those requirements can
be for short-term projects, permanent positions or something in between -
right-to-hires. Typically, if I have a contract or short term project, I
will reach out to candidates that only like to do contract work. For that,
I will make a couple $ per hour and all the A/R and contractual relationship
is between the company and FIT Solutions. I then hire the candidates on a
W2 or 1099 basis, depending on their preference and insurance requirements.
I am assuming Robert Half works the same way.

There are companies out there that do the opposite. They work for the
candidate and charge them a fee. They then proactively market them to
clients within their field of expertise. Most companies will do this for
"executive searches" but there may be some that do it for other types of


10) Robert Half is very well known as a recruiter in the executive field. Anyone who has picked up a NY Times or WS Journal in the past 50 years may have run across their ads if they were job or career hunting. they are also a public company, trading on the NYSE, so it's easy to find out a lot about them (symbol, RHI). My experience with them has been minimal I knew folds who used them to find upper level executive jobs. However, finding people for projects is a newer wrinkle though not unrelated to their client work across the board. They blend into consulting as well as head hunting so finding project for techies or upper echelon execs would be a natural outgrowth of what they do. Frankly i have always thought if a person is a good networker plus organized and creative about their efforts they don't need a service like RHI. But 50 plus years of existence and a steady advtg budget tells me they have done well at what they do.

Recently i had a call from a management consulting firm looking for a writer -- immediately -- to go to the Middle East on a short but intensive assignment. I know they got paid for the search by their client. Half no doubt has many contacts at large firms and a lot of execs that they have placed who form a bank of contacts to mine for project work.

I haven't used them as a free agent but i can see how they might be interested in the Hidden Tech Group as a well of IT, intellectual and high end corporate resources for hire. Again i know them as recruiters of mid to upper and senior management/executive talent. That would include IT for sure since there is probably more turnover there.

I have neutral feelings about what they do. However, they could not have survived 50 yrs without being resourceful and benefiting enough people to produce long term business continuity for themselves and some clients. So IM opinion worth exploring to find out more about how they can benefit Hidden Tech and other free agents. If they had a board i'd be interested in participating so long as they were transparent about the fees etc. getting them to be open about that might take some real negotiating. However, they are pros and i can see advantages to working with them rather than the amatuers using the Web boards to commoditize so many professional services.

be happy to discuss further with you on or off line.


11) Greetings from Berlin, Germany and a former IT headhunter and outplacement consultant!

I began headhunting and career counseling in February of 1980. Robert Half was well established back them and competitor of our Hartford and Springfield offices. They were the largest or of the two or three largest then. Most of their work was done in streamlined fashion… mass mailing. At the same time, they had one of the most extensive networks. They developed some very innovative products and were one of the first large firms to do temporary placement and advertise over the radio. The latter might be why so many folks may have heard of their accounting and legal placement. They are usually quite active and can be an excellent resource.

In the past, I found their approach impersonal, but for a large firm, they were and most likely, still are, the most personal of them all with a vast array of resources that they were open to share, e.g. surveys.

12) They are a big name in the HR industry. I've never dealt with them.

13) I used Robert Half when I was job hunting about 7 years ago. Contrary to
what has been said here, they are experienced in IT staffing at all levels.
I worked with both the Waltham, MA and Hartford, CT staff. I would use them
again if I needed to.


14) As an owner of a business that has hired quite a few permanent
candidates from recruiters, I can say that I'm very much unimpressed
with Robert Half, and very much impressed with FIT Solutions.


15) In my opinion, large recruiting firms are a joke. The only good recruiting firms I have ever dealt with that I liked are small, independent shops. Something about how large recruiting firms work is just dysfunctional, I'm not sure why.



16) I met a couple of managers from Robert Half in the last few months and interviewed them to see if they were appropriate for any of my clients' needs. Occasionally a business coaching client is in a position to change jobs.
I did send a client to them and they are trying various avenues and keeping in touch, but my client has not secured a permanent position through them yet.
They do offer a lot of screening services that also might be helpful for the occasional hire.

18) When the employer/consultant/contractor pays, you're talking about a placement firm, not a recruiting firm. Sounds like RHI does it both ways. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose...


19) Robert Half has been around the recruiting business for donkey's years--way long before there was a web in anyone's eye. But they're interested in keeping up with the Joneses, so's to speak. Witness their being willing actually to send a warm body to the H-T b'day party, probably in pursuit of networking via H-T (Rbt Half likely is somewhat formal) with H-T's interesting, networked members. It's likely a clear opportunity if H-T wishes to structure a relationship.

As nicely discussed below by Steven Solomon, clearly H-T’s members have marketing ideas that could help Rbt Half segment the Mass market including the Conn River Valley, Berkshires, & Hudson River Valley regional markets with more regional granularity than "Boston metro." The disaggregated nature of H-T may discombobulate folks as structured as Rbt Half, but then again, maybe not. It may not have escaped their notice that Craigslist runs to the city level around the country, which granularity has served seekers and employers equally well.

BTW, as Steven Solomon noted below, Mass Mutual is very much a technical company, and very large. You may want to touch base with Allan Campbell, MM's Sr Enterprise Architect

Monday, May 12, 2008


Like everything in life, horrible events can provide opportunities and climate change (aka global warming) is no different.

For those within an hour to ride from Amherst, Mass. try to get to the CLIMATE CHANGE TRANSPORT THINK TANK on May 29-30. (all details posted on under events).

Lots of public and private sector funding is flowing to resolving climate change, and the transport piece is huge. If you're a techie, environmental consultant or even in PR/marketing like me, there could be big opportunities down the line in this field.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Virtual Economy’s Gift to Mothers

Mother’s Day isn’t usually my thing. . .

But this year I got thinking about all the ways the virtual work place has meant that I could be a mother (don’t use that tired phrase “mom” with me, please) and keep up my professional credentials.

Hey, more than that . . .Make a decent living and be there for Julia, now 14.

It was way back in the early 1980s that I started to realize juggling motherhood and journalism was going to be a really tough route. I watched female colleagues struggling into work with bags under their eyes and frantically trying to arrange childcare for sick children while they rushed on deadline to meet the demands of the job. I couldn’t figure out how they managed.

And, basically, I decided in my early 30s -- as my proverbial biological time-clock started to tick -- that I couldn’t bear living that way. Nor could I imagine being a stay-at-home mother who didn’t work in some way. No offense to those who love that role – and it’s a tough one when you add on more than one child – but domesticity isn’t my thing. I’m better at exposing global corruption, trends in e-commerce, the virtual economy and fuel consumption . . .stuff like that . . . When I do housework, it’s usually around 11 p.m. as a relief from the stress of the work day.

By the mid-1980s with the arrival of cheap PCs and fax machines I started to get an inkling that, with enough hustle, I could quit my daily news job and run my own show. The freedom from daily deadlines, if not all deadlines, would mean I could live that old cliché: have my cake and eat it too as a working mother from home.

And, with fits and starts, ups and downs, and all the usual struggles of parenting and building a business, it’s worked. Julia was conceived in the spring of 1993 and arrived only hours after I finished the last chapter of my first business book – ISO 9000 Made Easy. Ten books later and countless school plays, dance recitals, choral concerts and too many tantrums to ponder, Julia and A – Z International keep growing together.

In fact, I had this wondrous experience in New York City just a few weeks ago that I wrote about in the last entry. I was able, finally, to introduce my “little” girl to my children’s book editor.

“Here’s my muse,” I told Steve, as a beautiful, dignified (at that moment) Julia reached out her hand in greeting.

Yes, tears did well up in my eyes. Because having Julia may have meant there were projects I turned down and major entities who turned me down because I couldn’t hop on a plane at a moment’s notice. But never once have I regretted having her. As I often say, you can’t cuddle up to your book jacket and reviews, tuck them in and sing a good night song (horribly off-key, by the by . . .)

Without Julia there would have been no beloved Perwinkle, our now deceased parakeet who I intend to immortalize on YouTube come summer. There would be no debates over skirt lengths or avid discussions over why the producers of “Sex and the City” made Carrie Bradshaw look so tacky. Who would have played the sitcom game in the car and made up horrible plot lines, or helped me write my children’s books?

And for all that I feared Julia would slow me down – and she did for many years – she also made me smarter, more aware, and even recently taught me how to text message. She makes me feel old some days, yet keeps me young at heart.

I’m proud to say on this mother’s day that because I learned to brand and market myself so I could earn our keep, I could be home to nurse Julia on the days she was with me (as, alas, her father and I divorced long ago). I’ve never missed a rehearsal or a major event because I had to stay late at the office. The office is right here and accessible at all hours.

So, ladies whose biological clock is ticking, know that today’s technology will let you have work and motherhood. Will it be easy? The answer is an unequivocal NO. You have to be able to create a product or service that people want and will spend good money to have. You have to be tech savvy and be good at marketing and keep going some days beyond endurance. Besides, which, if you breast feed get used to talking to clients as your baby suckles.

But you’ll never have a boss telling you that you can’t make that dance recital, baseball game or soccer match. Hey, you’re the boss, right?

Happy Mother"s Day

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

CNN's Jack Cafferty Calls for 4-Day Work Week to Save Gas

Jack is pretty close, but is missing the point somewhat.

If he read the on Dec. 17 he'd know that we are witnessing the rise of the virtual economy where many people already work from home or nearby in small offices. They no longer commute. The numbers are predicted to climb as boomers retire over the next 20 years, which could mean a drop in gas consumption.

I just wrote about the impact of the virtual economy on fuel consumption and traffic (read global warming) for last week. You can find the piece in the entry below.

It's hard to know why so few people in the media get what is happening. Perhaps it's because they still work 9-to-5?

Thoughts are welcome!