Stop & Smell the BBQ

One of the things I’m always trying to explain to people about my frequent travels is that regardless of where I go on my business trips – every city looks the same: airport, cab, hotel room, conference center. Whether I’m in North Platte, NE or Waikiki, Honolulu, HI – I tend to have about the same amount of free time to “explore”…none.

Every once in a while though, I feel like I hit the jackpot. Over the past year or so, I’ve been privileged to connect with some extra-gracious locals, who have taken the time out of their lives, to ensure that my visit isn’t “just another day at the office”.

My colleague, Rachel, and I spent this week in Kansas City (“Home of BBQ and Jazz”) for the kick-off of the Boomer Technology Circle meetings. I’ve attended several other Boomer events here in KC, and have still managed to see about the same amount of the place: Westin Crown Center, taxi cab, Jack Stack BBQ. This week however, we fell into a tub of BBQ sauce, thanks to Scott Morrill from Boomer. Along with one of the other sponsors, we were whisked out of the Crown Center and off to famous Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ – where you can eat your dinner in a gas station. On the way back, we took the scenic route, and he provided us a tour of the various city landmarks including the new Plaza, the WWI Liberty Memorial monument, and Union Station.

Last Summer, while Brian & I were visiting a firm in the Detroit area, we were honored when an executive cleared his Friday evening at home (a rare occurrence if you know his travel schedule), to spend it showing us around. After a great dinner and a trip to see the Woodward Dream Cruise pre-show, we took a detour and were treated to an incredible tour of Cranbrook, which boasts a campus filled with architecture to take your breath away and keep you talking about it for years.

To be filed in the “once in a lifetime” folder, on a visit to Honolulu for the Hawaii Society of CPAs annual conference (trust me, it was still a work trip, filled with frustrations, 4:30am conference calls, and missed flights), my new customers showed me the Royal Hawaiian treatment. Swooping in for me in Waikiki, we quickly made our escape, explaining that they only go downtown if they have to. We proceeded to drive up a mountain just as it started to pour down rain. Determined to show me their favorite lookout spot, we made it to the top, made the mad-dash to the side of the cliff, and captured the most beautiful rainbow spanning the entire island of Oahu. Afterward, they showed me a great time filled with dinner, donuts, and moochi, as we sampled all of their favorite local spots.

It’s funny how these three experiences seem so simple – all they did was spend an evening with us. Yet the effort from these individuals to provide us business tourists with a little glimpse of something that we surely would have missed without a local there to guide us makes these seemingly small gestures so hugely meaningful.

Unplugged on Oahu

Sounds like a dream come true? Think again! Anyone who longs for a business trip to Hawaii (or any exotic destination for that matter) obviously hasn’t ever been on one of my island work adventures. Colleagues, family, and friends often tell me they’re envious of my travels. Unfortunately, at least in my experience, traveling off the mainland for work is no more enjoyable – but often a lot more frustrating – than any other business trip. Now before you call BS on me, let me just give you a glimpse into my little world a few weeks back as I traded in my stilettos for flip flops on my desperate search for power.

After a great-but-exhausting 5-days in Las Vegas for the first part of the week (if you missed my recap, see Hey, Baby – Let’s Go to Vegas!), my commute to Waikiki was extraordinarily crazy. Between the 4 ½-hour drive from Vegas, the 15-minute “layover” at home in OC, and my 1 ½-hour rush-hour drive to LAX, I arrived at the airport a cozy 30 minutes before my 6-hour flight to the beautiful island of Oahu. So, when I finally arrived at my hotel around 11pm local time (3 hours behind PDT), I was beyond wiped.

I managed to be pretty productive on the flight and cranked out proposals, contracts, and even a blog post. But as we approached the island, my battery read my mind and decided it was bedtime. When I got to my room, I quickly plugged in to release the emails I had drafted, but after the day I had just been through, I threw in the towel and decided to tackle the rest in the morning.

To my horror, I awoke not to the sound of waves outside my window, but to the sight of a low battery warning on my iPhone (which was charging from my laptop). I immediately realized that something was wrong, and my laptop wasn’t on. With my poor Ultra Book clocking as many frequent flyer miles as me, I’d been dealing with a temperamental power cord for weeks. Up until that point I had just managed to use the old “wiggle & twist” & “stick a wad of paper in there” tricks to keep things functioning. Not that day though. I was officially dead in the water.

I got creative, managing to use my iPad & iPhone for my morning calls & web meetings…of course, not thinking through the drain on their batteries while doing so. When I finally got a free window, I decided to trek out to the mall to see if I could hunt down a replacement charger. Several hours later, with a dead iPhone, dead iPad, and visit to three different stores, I returned to my hotel room victorious (Mahalo to Jared at Best Buy in Honolulu, my geek in a faded blue shirt, who saved my day & helped me ensure that the cord was the problem).

As I told this story to various people the past few weeks, the common reaction was an overly-sarcastic toned “Oh you poor thing, stuck in Hawaii with no laptop”. To which I can only reply that until you’ve been in my shoes, you’ll never know how bad it feels to be powerless trying to work on an Island.

Hey, Baby – Let’s Go to Vegas!

2013 marked my 4th annual AICPA Tech+/ Practitioners Symposium in Las Vegas. Over the past 4 years this event has stood out as a highlight for some great (and not so great) reasons. This year was no exception: I caught up with some of my favorite people in the industry, spent the night driving go-karts with a bunch of CPAs, and kept up the accounting trade show in Vegas tradition of invading In-N-Out with “In-N-Out rookies”. While this might sound appealing, I assure you that there are also some very serious side-effects involved with any Las Vegas trade show. To prove my point, I figured I’d spell out some of the reasons I love – and love to hate – the annual event that takes place in nobody’s favorite city.

The Good 

The Drive: Anyone else sick of packing in 3oz bottles, TSA pat downs, and cramming 5-days of business clothes into carry-on luggage? Well hop into our roomy Ultimate Edition (or similar) Avis provided rent-a-car for a smooth ride through the desert complete with stop in the now-famous Baker, California for a hard-earned, made-to-order Blizzard frozen dairy treat (held upside down for your viewing pleasure) from Dairy Queen.

Bonus Feature: The sky is the limit for shoes in Vegas (both in height and quantity). The real question is whether the hotel closet is big enough for my entire footwear collection.

The Bad

Let me start by saying that there is no such thing as a short walk in Vegas. A not-short walk in 5” heels makes for quite the commute from room to exhibit hall to dinner to room to…well, you get the picture. Heaven help me if I forget my laptop charger (or any other necessary item) behind. I’ve just lost an hour of my day – and my feet will be cursing me every step of the walk of shame back to my room (purely hypothetical example).

To add insult to injury, I’m fairly certain they have some type of Wurtzite Boron Nitrade for floors throughout Las Vegas, specifically designed to inflict extra pain on trade show attendees forced not only to walk – but stand in 10’X10’ exhibit hall booths. True story: there could possibly be a YouTube video of me walking barefoot through Aria carrying a pair of Christian Louboutins after I was officially defeated by the Vegas floors of death back in 2011.

The Ugly

Rise & Shine Accounting World (if you’re not still out from last night that is)! It’s 6:30am and breakfast is served! Now, let me clarify that “Breakfast” might include grey-centered hard boiled eggs and other “trade show food stuff”, but thankfully, because it’s 6:30am, you haven’t had any coffee yet, so you won’t care!

Speaking of coffee…don’t even get me started. Only in Vegas can you pay over $5 for a cup of terrible coffee that not only won’t give you even the slightest pick-me-up, but also won’t be remotely drinkable. My good friend @OrangeGirlNZ sums up the Las Vegas caffeine woes masterfully in this “Coffee Bible” of a blog (complete with photos). My advice: Live by it, she’s not kidding.

Getting through PSTech week in Vegas is sort of like running a 5-day marathon in high heels on about 5 hours of sleep. While some might prefer to think that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, I think we all know better…what happens in Vegas lives forever on social media. See you next year!Vegas

Things I’ve Learned from my Publicist

In honor of this special day, a tribute to @austinnexus, one of my very favorite people in the world. Here are just a few of the many things he’s taught me:

1. Never let an editor catch you in Chuck Taylors.

2. If you eat healthy 99% of the time – you are entitled to one (1) Mocha Chip Blizzard on every trip through Baker, CA.

3. When it comes to accounting trade shows…nothing good happens after midnight.

4. There’s no such thing as too much (good) coffee.

5. Good things happen to those who follow through and take advantage of every opportunity – even if it takes longer than you think it should.

6. With the right business purpose – you can justify paying just about anything for a great pair of shoes.

7. Always look toward the future – and think about what you want your shoe closet to look like.

8. Your network and your reputation are both fragile: handle with care.

9. You can never be too prepared for a natural disaster.

10. A ride to (or pick up from) the airport can sometimes be the most treasured gift.

11. Let him carry your bags – you’ll be glad you did when you’re pushing his wheelchair in 40 years.

12. The Bellagio tram door won’t even wait for someone as important as him.

13. The best kind of bar is a raw bar.

14. It is perfectly acceptable to drive straight from the gym to In-N-Out Burger as long as it’s not more than once a month.

15. Never underestimate a 4 hour car ride through the Mojave Desert…it just might change your life forever.

Happy 50th Birthday, Mr. Publicist! May the next 50 be even better than the first…

The Trade Show Diet

I’ve been to a lot of trade shows. From Vegas, to Orlando, to D.C., to San Diego, to Fargo, to Atlanta, to San Antonio, to San Francisco, to Puerto Rico – there is one thing that absolutely never changes: the food. Normally I’m a big fan of consistency. Take In-N-Out Burger for example – anywhere you find that signature yellow arrow, you know you’ll get a fresh burger, hot fries, and if you’re in the mood, a creamy vanilla shake. Trade show food, however, has a bit less favorable type of consistency – it’s ALWAYS terrible.

Forget about trying to eat healthy. Who’s ever heard of Protein, Vegetables, Grains, and Dairy? The four types of trade show food groups should actually be: Something Fried, Something Drippy, Something Soggy, and Something Fishy. Some of my absolute favorites from over the years would be the “over-boiled-in-mass-quantity gray-centered-eggs”, the “antique-leather-boot Prime Rib roast” (a recurring feature), and my all-time favorite – the “cockroach-essence French rolls” (a completely different story in and of itself). I used to truly believe that it’s impossible to screw up a sandwich, but not anymore – I’ve had one (or two) of those along the way too.

To add insult to injury, most events are so crazy that you’re only able to eat one or two of these terrible meals a day. The starvation approach does offset the fact that the infamous 6:30 a.m. breakfast tends to cut into any possible gym time. I often joke about getting plenty of leg workouts during a tradeshow walking around in my heels, but in reality, there’s nothing that makes up for the fact that you can often go days without even seeing a fresh veggie that’s not covered in salt, slathered with butter or drowned in oil.

Of course, this strategy could also lead to the worst possible scenario: the day you find yourself cleaning your plate – and even commenting to your lunch neighbor, “Wow, that was pretty good!” Right then and there, you know you’ve been overcome by a full-blown case of too much trade show food.

My advice: back away from the buffet table and plan for success. I never leave home without my emergency supply kit containing dried fruit, nuts, protein bars, and homemade energy bites…because you never know when you’ll need a peanut butter banana low-carb tortilla wrap at midnight in National Harbor, Maryland (not that it’s ever happened to me).

TradeShowDiet

When Work Stops Being Work

I wasn’t ever able to meet my Great-Grandmother, Nellie – she passed away several years before I was born. My parents, determined to instill in me her wisdom, even gave me her name (Kimberly Nelle – this is after she insisted that she “wouldn’t even name a dog Nellie”). My three brothers and I grew up hearing stories about Grandma Nellie, who had played such a big role in my mom’s childhood. Of all the stories we heard though, one in particular comes to mind as I travel around doing this thing we call “work”. See, Grandma Nellie always said, “The smartest and happiest of all people are the ones who make play out of their work”.

This was what my parents used to tell us as my brothers and I would be facing the daunting task of cleaning our bedroom…perhaps that’s why I remember it so well (we heard it a LOT). But as I’ve grown up and had a taste of “grown up work”, I realize just how great this advice truly is.

I’m pretty blessed. Sure I work my butt off, and travel all the time, sometimes go without sleep or food (or both) – heck, sometimes I’m just happy if I can tell you what time zone I’m in. But all in all, I absolutely love what I do – and the number one reason I love it so much, is because of the people I’ve met along the way. Last week was a great example of that –where my weekend-off disappeared, yet I still managed to love every moment of where I was and who I was with.

The ITA (Information Technology Alliance) provides two opportunities each year for those of us in the accounting world to connect with industry colleagues, partners, clients, and friends in a special way. By drawing some of our profession’s biggest names & brightest stars, each Fall & Spring ITA event winds up being a sort of “Accounting Who’s Who Schmooze Fest”, to say the least. The intimate setting of just a few hundred people ensures that quality networking time with the right people is also a priority. And the best part: No trade show booths! Those of us that work the trade show circuit know that those events serve a purpose, but something that really sets ITA apart from other industry events is the way we as vendors are able to really integrate ourselves right into the community in a very organic way.

Above all, these gatherings give us an opportunity to build lasting memories with our peers, that otherwise wouldn’t happen. From late-night In-N-Out Burger runs, to field trips to local oyster bars, to perfecting the art of “Steveing” (which is a completely different blog post by itself), to quality heart-to-heart conversations with people who have walked down roads in their career that I will one day cross myself, there’s really something magical about this group. And every once in a while, a memory is made like the one below that won’t soon – or ever – be forgotten. While I may not be the smartest person, Grandma Nellie – thanks to your advice, I’m most definitely one of the happiest…

How to Fit 8 Pairs of Shoes in a Carry-On

This was one of those weeks where there was no such thing as a “weekend”…as I spent last Friday evening preparing for a Saturday morning flight, I saved one of my most daunting projects for last (not necessarily advisable): Packing. Now I’m not one of those women who allow myself the luxury of that checked-bag – mostly for fear that I’ll one-day repeat my Milwaukee experience from years ago when my luggage never showed up. I figure since I’d have to carry all of my shoes in my carry-on anyway (to avoid separation anxiety), I might as well just shove everything in (besides, your carry-on bag can’t be “overweight”). Needless to say, packing is always a very strategic yet often a very stressful operation in the Hogan house.

So what’s my solution? The Brigg’s & Riley Baseline 21” upright rolling bag (with built-in garment bag). Yes, surprise, surprise, I’ve found myself the largest legal carry-on approved by TSA. And believe me, I use every inch of it!

As I left home this weekend, I knew I was going to be in at least three, but most likely four different cities over the following five to seven days (that’s right, I hadn’t even booked my final flight home). Of course, as any other normal person in the accounting industry, I live and die by the rule that I am only allowed to wear a pair of shoes once during a trip, so do the math – I’m traveling with eight pairs (make that nine, counting the ones I flew in).

Packing my bag is a bit like Tetris – somehow trying to wedge every stitch of clothing in between those heels. I’m actually considering a patent for my genius stuffing skills, but for now, I’ll share the love with a few trade secrets:

  1. Don’t be a stacker – you’ll waste valuable space! I admit that there was a day when I would neatly organize shirts, pants, socks, etc. each in their own “stack” – and simply place them in the suitcase. This technique simply doesn’t work when attempting to include five pairs of 4” heels in a bag. You’ll be out of room before you can say stiletto!
  2. Double stuff! If I can roll it, squish it, fold it, or squeeze it – it’s most likely going to be stuffed inside shoes. All those little things add up, so when you can repurpose the empty space inside all those heels, you’ll find that you can make 21” go a lot further! Just beware, this enables you to pack small, but I assure you it won’t be packing light.
  3. Think outside the bag! Believe it or not, I don’t clean my house, go to the gym, or like flying in high heels (a few trips running through SFO in 5” platforms has cured me of that desire). Unfortunately, that means that all the heels need to be packed. Never fear, just be creative – I’ll often pack some of my small-but-heavy items that I don’t need immediate access to while en-route (my laptop power cord, phone charger, & ScanSnap), which frees up space in my infamous Orange Bag for that extra fragile pair of glass slippers.

 Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, I’ve included a shot of my bag packed for a 7-day trip. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I wore every pair!

The Social Network

After spending the first half of last week in SoCal, then jetting off to NorCal to continue a marathon of meetings, appointments, conferences, and calls, it’s safe to say that the highlight of the crazy few days was the time I had to network with friends and partners. This shouldn’t come as any big surprise, seeing as I tend to be a broken record when it comes to the value of one’s network. So on the heels of a week filled with numerous examples of just how important these relationships are – I figure there’s no better time to post a tribute to a few folks that I have the pleasure of including in my own social network…

To start, my hat goes off to Doug Sleeter, and the entire Sleeter Group team for pulling all the right people together at the 9th annual Sleeter Group Conference (one of the most successful networking shows I’ve been to this year). From Monday evening’s Keynote session featuring executives like Rod Drury of Xero (who came in all the way from New Zealand), Sage’s Himanshu Palsule, and the legendary Greg LaFollette, to Wednesday afternoon’s closing session presented by none other than Rick “The Closer” Richardson (sorry I missed it, Rick – but so happy we got to have lunch!), Doug brought out all the big guns.

For me, the greatest value in a show like that isn’t the things I learn from sessions – and isn’t the prospects that I meet in the trade show expo area. It’s all about the networking time. People always ask me how I manage to keep up with all the traveling I do, and the real answer (even when I’m as tired as I am right now) is that I just don’t want to miss out. There’s nothing better than the ability to spend 5 minutes with René Lacerte – or having the pleasure of catching up over dinner with Jennifer Warawa.

When I departed the conference, I took my networking on the road…my next day started out with one of CPAPA’s 25 most powerful women in accounting, Geni Whitehouse – someone I’ve always seen at shows, and have heard about for years, but we hadn’t had a chance to spend quality time together. As if one legend a day isn’t enough, I ended my evening with one of the only reasons to visit San Jose on a regular basis: Taylor Macdonald just might be in town. Spending time with Taylor is sort of like learning at the master’s feet. I think I turn into a sponge whenever I’m around him, hoping to soak up as much advice as possible…what a privilege I’ve had to be included in his network these past several years.

While all of this was happening, one continuous networker (who I never actually saw in person) that always adds the right color to the mix, Xero’s Community and Coffee Queen – and lover of the best color ever, Catherine Walker was a constant social media presence. People like Catherine are true examples of leveraging social media to shrink miles between a network. While I ran out of time to stop by and share a premium local coffee with her, I somehow still feel connected to Catherine as we exchanged numerous messages on Twitter.

While we can only be in one physical place at a time – we can reach the entire Twittersphere with a simple 140 characters. In my last post I declared that there’s no replacement for face time. While I firmly believe this, leveraging our social network can often create lasting impressions on those relationships we hold so dear.

Old Dogs Can Teach New Tricks

And by “old dogs” I do mean “seasoned accounting veterans”. I just got home from the Midwest Accounting Show in Rosemont, IL, where I was honored (and a bit star struck) to have opportunity to eat some authentic Chicago deep dish with one of the most respected thought leaders in the industry, Dana “Rick” Richardson. Most people know Rick as the closer – it never fails that show managers put him on the schedule for the end of the day, and he comes in just like any good relief pitcher and gets them 1, 2, 3.

After holding the attention of 1,500 accountants for over an hour and a half at the end of a long day, Rick was gracious enough to join my XCM Teammates, Brian Austin from Avalara, along with Doug Sleeter, Jody Padar, and Jennifer Warawa, three nationally recognized accounting influencers, for a “FOX” (Friends of XCM) dinner at Gino’s East. I think it’s safe to say that nobody on that bus knew exactly what was in store for the evening. Unfortunately, none of us were able to see Rick speak an hour earlier – but it didn’t matter, we all got our own private session at the master’s feet.

We hadn’t even pulled into the Gino’s parking lot when my colleague, Beth Bruck, had resorted to making a “Rick List” on her iPhone of some of the technology devices Rick began to mention. As the conversation continued well into dinner (2 slices of pizza into dinner that is), that list kept growing. So did Rick’s audience, as he quickly added the third XCM blonde at the table, Jamie Soper. I couldn’t help but sit back in awe that here I was at a table with so many accounting greats – Jennifer, Doug, Jody, Brian – and Rick, who has been a rock-steady icon in the CPA world for longer than I’ve been alive, and might just be the most tech-savvy of us all. From being a Mac champion, to embracing the Cloud, to his love of productivity apps like Evernote…he proves more than anyone I’ve ever met that technology is not defined by age or by generation, but rather by willingness to think outside the box, and by a passion for achieving greatness.

As this year’s CPA Practice Advisor 40 Under 40 list hits the wire this week, I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a big thank you from those receiving that honor – after all, without folks like Rick, we’d have no footsteps in which to follow…

The Four Types of Trade Show Stalkers

One of my very favorite blog posts of all time is by Scott Cytron: The Four Types of Trade Show Reps. For anyone who has had the pleasure of attending even half as many accounting conferences as me, it is clear that Scott is spot on. When I read this post a few years back, I immediately decided that if (when) I had my own blog, I would have to do my own take on this theme…so here it is, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Four Types of Tradeshow Stalkers.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I started on the conference scene at the ripe old age of 22, or maybe it was the fact that I’ve always been the one who just hates to miss out on any action, but it sure didn’t take long for me to discover that amid all of the amazing thought leaders, industry ISV partners, accounting press, and my practitioner friends is one more class of attendees: the stalkers. For those of you who know me, you’ll agree that I must have some type of stalker magnet and seem to attract what one colleague once referred to as “the best of the worst.” I’ve taken the liberty of categorizing these folks into four main groups.

The Family Guy

These poor guys barely get out of the house…but when they do, look out! Warning signs to watch for are strategically placed tan lines on the left ring finger, absence of any personal life discussions, and the combination of consistent yawning before 10pm (when they normally get to bed after the kiddos are down) & frequent unexplained trips away from a group when a cell phone rings “Sorry, I have to take this.” These are perhaps the most harmless of the stalkers, as they typically turn in early, but be careful friending them on Facebook; that woman in the photo might not be as friendly as her CPA husband.

The Internet Romeo

Another relatively harmless bunch may seem pretty normal in person, but save the good stuff for on-line follow up. These are the ones who get you to almost let your guard down at the show, before you quickly realize that they’re not merely interested in continuing the workflow conversation. True story: I once received an email that began “I normally don’t like Monday’s here in Utah, but last Monday started out quite well after our discussion about scanners…” My advice: Ladies, don’t be afraid of that block button – use it when necessary.

The Repeat Offender

These are the guys who have the determination of Olympic athletes. It’s not bad enough to be turned down once, but they insist on repeatedly returning for more rejection as if they are unable to grasp the concept of the word “no.” These guys, if left unattended, have the potential to become the most dangerous breed of tradeshow stalkers, The “Don’t You Dare get in that Elevator with Him.”

The “Don’t you Dare get in that Elevator with Him”

Laugh if you must, but I speak from experience. It’s amusing (but also a tad unnerving) when I guy gets into an elevator and attempts to push the highest floor before realizing his key isn’t coded for that level. I’ve been saved by hotel security a time or two. After that experience, I’ve learned to stall outside of elevator bays – one time until the wee hours before my phone finally buzzed and I was able to politely excuse myself “Sorry, I need to take this.”