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Business Articles

It’s Your Move: Life Lessons From the Game of Chess

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

My cousins taught me how to play chess when I was in third grade. My parents, doubting I could grasp the complexities of the game, urged caution and tried to lower my expectations. Yet I forged ahead.

My oldest cousin patiently taught me the names of the pieces and how they moved. He gently quizzed me to gauge my understanding. Soon we played a real game. Despite novice errors, it was great fun. We played until he grew weary. Then I begged his siblings for a few games. But they had less tolerance for my sloppy play; by midafternoon we moved on to other things.

The next morning I challenged my instructor to play again. Before the day was done, I won my first game. He rallied, winning the next two, but I sensed I was beginning to challenge him. Seeking to avoid another loss, he feigned boredom and retreated to a safer activity. I then asked his brother to play. Discerning I’d advanced enough for it to not be too demeaning, he condescended to pick up where his brother left off. By the time their visit was over, I was hooked.

Practice Makes Perfect

Although my desire to play chess was strong, opportunities were limited. I asked family members, but each had a reason not to learn the game. My neighbor wasn’t much help either, having only passing interest. So I played against myself. Sometimes I would play the white pieces (which moves first and takes the offensive); other times I would take the black side (which responds and defends). Sometimes, I’d switch sides midway through the game, giving up a superior position to assume a lesser one.

These exercises may not have been the best way to improve, but I did get better. When it came time for a real game, my practicing paid off.

Study

Although enjoyable, playing against myself became wearisome. So I turned to books. First, I learned some esoteric rules, like en passant, which is seldom used in a real game. Then I studied opening moves and their recommended defenses. I also learned techniques, like the pin, the knight fork (a personal favorite), discovered check (a great way to confound your opponent), and gambits, as well as endgame tactics.

Having consumed several books, I zeroed in on one titled, “How to Beat Bobby Fischer.” The premise was that it was statistically more probable to beat Fischer than to force a draw—of course, he was nine times more likely to win than lose. I actually read, studied, and reenacted many of the sixty-one games he lost in Grandmaster tournaments. I reasoned that to improve, I needed to study the master.

Don’t Give Up

The unspoken credo among my chess-playing buddies was that you never conceded. No matter how dire the situation, we would never quit, playing to the end. Resigning a chess game was for those of lesser character. This perspective taught me two things.

First, I learned how to be a good winner, to be gracious to the other player as a person, all the while dismantling his army and backing his king into the corner for an acrimonious checkmate. I wanted to win but desired to not belittle my opponent in the process—after all, I would want to play him again.

Playing to the end also taught me to remain dignified in defeat. That’s much harder—especially when the vanquishing conqueror is relishing his impending victory too much. Yet, these moments perfect character.

Play it Again

Losing is never fun, especially when you deem yourself the superior player, but it does happen. I learned to accept defeat as part of the game and to grow in the process. It’s true that you can learn more in defeat than in victory.

It’s also important to not wallow in self-pity when setbacks occur but to shake off the disappointment and forge into the future. Regardless of how close I came to winning or how big the loss, my first response was invariably, “Wanna play again?”

Change the Rules

I sometimes played during study hall, where I could count on a worthy opponent being present. Once we organized a chess competition, complete with round-robin play and capped off by a single-elimination tournament.

My track buddy, Spencer, was in study hall, too, but he didn’t play chess. Still he was attracted to it like a magnet. The variations of pieces and moves intrigued him. I tried in vain to teach him, but his attention span was too short. Tired of watching, he one day blurted out, “Let’s play checkers—all-kings-jump-your-own-man.” I’m not sure if he made this up or not, but I was willing to try. Lacking checkers, we used my chess set, arranging the chessmen like checkers. Since every piece was automatically a king, they could move forward and backward. Also, you could jump your own piece (though you left it on the board) to catapult yourself into enemy territory to capture your opponent’s pieces. It was a wild game and Spence played it with great abandon.

Playing all-kings-jump-your-own-man checkers with a chess set would elicit snide comments from casual observers, but we didn’t care. Spence changed the rules so he could participate and I was happy to oblige.

React Quickly

Aside from Spenser, the rest of us would sometimes play “rapid chess,” where you had to move within five seconds. With no timer, it was self-policing. It taught us to think astutely and react quickly. I had a knack for it, able to assess a situation and make a snap decision, sometimes on intuition or pure reaction. Games only lasted about five minutes and were so intense that it only took a couple to give me a headache.

I sometimes adopted a “rapid chess” strategy in a regular game. Although my hurried moves were not always ideal, their unending swiftness would unnerve my opponent, causing him to get flustered and make blunders. From his perspective, it was always his turn and he was always intently concentrating. I, on the other hand, was relaxed and having fun. I learned it was often better to make a quick decision that was good than to take time to make an ideal move.

Application

To imply that life is like a game of chess is a shallow metaphor. However, just as a good game of chess requires a thoughtful approach and sound strategy, so does running a successful business or living a worthy life.

It’s your move; what’s it going to be?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher of Article Weekly. In addition to being a publisher and editor, he is an author and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Tips on Finding an Agent to Represent You

Tips on finding and agent

Finding an agent is easy. Just do an online search for “literary agents.” However, getting an agent to agree to represent you is hard, very hard.

Unlike hiring an accountant or attorney to represent us where we can vet them and pick the best one to meet our needs, agents vet their clients so they can pick the best ones.

Remember that agents only earn money if they sell one of their clients’ books. So unless a client is a polished writer, there’s a good chance the agent will spend a lot of time working for the client and have nothing to show for it. Therefore, they have a strong incentive to only take on clients whose work they think they can sell.

How to Impress Agents

This means we need to sell ourselves to agents. Here’s what’s required:

  • Hone your skill as a writer.
  • Set up a professional online presence. They will check for one and will expect to find it.
  • If you’re on social media, make sure it’s professional and conveys you in a positive manner. Do everything you can to remove negative comments and unflattering photos. But remember that once something’s online, it never really goes away.
  • Learn how to pitch your book, write a one-page summary, submit a query, and produce a proposal.
  • Learn about agents you’d like to have represent you. Follow their blogs and make respectful, thoughtful comments.
  • Ask other writers, who you trust, to give you an honest answer if your work is ready for agents.

Know that writing ability is only part of the equation.

What Agents Look For

Agents will also want you to have a platform so that you can help sell books. When I was looking for an agent, one agent declined to represent me, not because of my writing, but because they thought my platform was too small.

Be Patient When Finding an Agent

A final item is to be patient. Finding an agent to represent you takes time, usually several months and often years. As you wait, keep working to improve as a writer and building your platform.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

How to Handle Pricing on Your Answering Service Website 

Sometimes Posting Too Much Information Can Work Against Us

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-answering service

Over the years I’ve looked at hundreds of telephone answering service websites. A few are great, many are good, and some need improvement. A common page for many answering service sites covers pricing. There are different ways to handle rate information, each with their advantages and disadvantages.

Post Rates Online

Though I’ve never tracked it, I think most answering service websites post their rates and rate packages. 

This has the advantage of eliminating budget-conscious tire kickers—who won’t hire you anyway—from taking up your time. It has the disadvantage of conditioning answering service clients—especially yours—to shop for price. Remember, if someone selects your service based on price, they’ll leave as soon as a better price comes along. High churn results. Therefore, I’m not in favor of this practice.

Request a Call

Another approach is to encourage people to call you for more information. You could say something like, “Contact us today for a customized package to fit your specific needs.” 

The advantage of this approach is setting the expectation that you will design an answering service solution to meet the unique requirements of the prospect. The disadvantage is that you will invest time pursuing clients who merely want the cheapest service.

Complete a Form

A step up from requesting the prospect to call you is presenting them with a simple form to fill out to receive more information. Since they’re already on your website, this is an easy ask. The fewer questions you require them to fill out, the greater the chance they will complete your form. 

The advantage of using a form is more requests for information then if you ask them to call. The disadvantage is even more cost-conscious prospects to weed through.

Use an Online Quoting Tool

An option I’ve only seen a few times, but which bears consideration, is an online quoting tool. Prospects enter their basic call parameters and call volume into an app on your website. Then the tool automatically provides a custom quote to best meet their expected usage. You can either display their custom quote once they enter their information or you can automatically email it to them. Obtaining their email address allows you to follow up. 

The advantage of using an online quoting tool is that you can still provide rates quickly to prospects, thereby eliminating those who are shopping for the best price. This also keeps you from posting rates online. The disadvantage is the cost of setting up the quoting tool and maintaining it.

Action Step

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each of these approaches based on what you want to accomplish, your position in the marketplace, and how your prices compare to your competitors.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his book How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

How to Protect Blog Content

Legally protect your blog content

A lot of writers wonder if it’s necessary or wise to protect blog content that they post online. What if it is material for other writing projects? Should it be freely accessible online?

First, I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. A great resource is Helen Sedwick’s book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook. This is an excellent tool that every writer should buy, study, and implement.

Given that, here is what I suggest to protect blog content.

To start, place a copyright notice on your blog. This will help keep honest people honest, and it lets readers know you’re serious about your work. But beyond that, it accomplishes little else.

If you’re concerned with people copying your work, that is stealing it, there is always a chance it could happen. Though the risk is small, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it—short of not blogging—so the best thing is to not worry about it, and post what you want to post.

If the posts will be part of a future book—something many people have done—you might want to hold back some content, but I have heard of bloggers who blogged their entire nonfiction book and didn’t feel it hurt sales. You can also post excerpts from your indie published book.

However, if the posts are from your traditionally published book, check with your publisher. They may not want you to post anything from your book, and depending on your contract with them, it may not even be legal.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Improve Your Call Center by Providing Ongoing Skills Training

Improve Your Call Center by Providing Ongoing Skills Training

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

This year we’ll embark on a series of articles about how to move your healthcare call center forward to better meet the needs and expectations of your callers and patients. We’ll start by talking about providing your frontline staff with ongoing skills training.

For your call center, you begin by hiring the best staff, providing them with the detailed training they need to do their jobs well, and then scheduling them to handle calls. It’s a great start, but it’s just the beginning. 

Over time their skills will drift away from what you expect and migrate toward what is expedient. Even more of a concern, they will learn from their coworkers sitting next to them. Though they may acquire some good skills this way, they’re more apt to pick up less-than-ideal habits. It’s a given that what you don’t want to occur in your call center will much more readily permeate your entire staff then the best practices you desire them to emulate.

That’s why it’s essential to provide periodic training to your staff. Through this, you can reinforce the best skills in call handling, customer service, and patient satisfaction that you want them to consistently provide. And then you can teach them new, enhanced skills too. 

Just as vision is leaky, so too are call handling skills. Both require regular reminders. Therefore, you need to teach and reinforce the skills that you want your staff to use in your call center. Do this on a regular basis. You need to provide this to every frontline employee. 

Though you may want to start with the under-performing staff first, this is backwards. If you start with them, they’ll view your training as punitive, which will detract from your objective of enhancing their skills.

Instead, you might want to start with your best-performing staff. They are apt to view the advanced training as a reward, making them much more likely to retain and implement the customer service techniques you teach them. Then roll the training out to the rest of your staff. They’ll receive your instruction more positively.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News, covering the healthcare call center industry.