Love Across The Risk Continuum

    Here are two irrefutable facts:

    Anyone who is doing more than me is a sketchball.
    Anyone who is doing less than me is a pussy. Funny? Kinda...but if you've spent any time around airsports, you know how true that is.
    I'm sure there are myriad examples that demonstrate the universality of this bilateral ruleset, but for the purposes of discussion here, I'll use it to illustrate the most difficult part of being -- and loving -- an airsports athlete: risk asymmetry.
    Risk Identification
    Risk identification is a spectrum phenomenon. You can picture the risk continuum as a horizontal line, marked evenly from 0 to 10 to illustrate the range between total risk intolerance and extreme risk tolerance. To avoid using value-implicit words like "high," "low," "more" and "less," I'll use your mental picture of that diagram to describe two differential places on the scale like this: left and right.
    Each athlete identifies him/herself somewhere along this continuum. Generally, he/she "picks a spot" in the early career and holds to it as a part of his/her identity indefinitely.
    Empirically speaking, it seems to take a significant external event (i.e. a close friend's death, the birth of a child, a marked risk tolerance shift in the athlete's close collective, etc.) to effect a change to the athlete's self-assignment on the spectrum. However, one event does not seem to affect much more than frustration, resentment and rebound: the intense friction caused by risk asymmetry.
    If you have any engagement whatsoever with airsports, you're no stranger to this phenomenon. Most saliently, risk asymmetry is uncomfortable. It can disrupt your focus on planes, at exit points and at launches. It can cause you to swell with illogical self-satisfaction. It can launch you into an absurd fit of anger. It's a strong trigger point.
    When another athlete posts a video online that inspires your "sketch rage," you're experiencing risk asymmetry.
    When you hear another athlete grumbling about another jumper's antics at the table next to you at the DZ pub and you roll your eyes, you're both experiencing risk asymmetry.
    When your partner expresses the desire to kick up (or dial down) their demonstrated risk tolerance and you formulate an argument against it, you're experiencing risk asymmetry.
    The third example is what I'm keen to address here. If you love somebody, whether as a lover, family member or close friend, you'll naturally want them to demonstrate a position on the risk continuum that matches yours exactly. Unfortunately, ain't gonna happen. This phenomenon has depth-charged many a partnership. Luckily, it doesn't have to bust yours.
    1. Remember: all relationships are risk-asymmetric.
    Even if you haven't yet experienced an incident that highlights the risk asymmetry in your blissful union, be aware: it's coming. No two people sit in precisely the same place on the spectrum. Have your tools ready.
    2. Make it a conversation.
    Curious? Take two pieces of paper and draw out a ticked line across both. Title each one "Risk Continuum." Mark a 0 on one side and a 10 on the other. Give one to your loved one, then go into separate rooms to place yourselves on the spectrum.
    When you're done, come back together and talk about it. You both may be very surprised at where the other self-identified -- and why. This insight can be gold.
    3. Don't escalate.
    It's easy to get very dramatic about someone else's decisions in airsports. The temptation is strong to throw around life-and-death hyperbole in order to turn up the volume of the argument.
    Right-spectrum and left-spectrum partners use this fallacious logical crutch equally. That's a shame, as it's a totally ineffective strategy. No matter what side of the spectrum you're on, you can expect a similar result: your sparring partner will simply tune you out, and you'll be exhausted.
    4. Expunge the word "selfish" from your vocabulary.
    Left-spectrum folks: You are not selfish for wanting your loved one to be safe. Right-spectrum folks: You are not selfish for wanting to explore to the edges.
    You are both selves, and you both want things from your lives. One's desires are no more inherently important than the other's. "-Ish" is a diminutive; when you use it, you're demeaning both yourself and the object of the descriptor. Stop.
    5. Try on a different feeling.
    A partnered pair of my good friends, both of whom are airsports athletes, framed this one perfectly for me. "When I get upset," she told me, "I just try another feeling on for size, to see how it feels." Angry? Try pride. Despairing? Try curious. Browse until something fits you better.
    6. Choose the relationship.
    If you don't want to keep a risk-asymmetric relationship, that is by all means your prerogative. Even if you're related, you have the choice to open up enough distance between you that the other's choices do not actively and perpetually cause you pain.
    However: if, after deliberation, you decide that you want to keep your relationship active, you need to choose it -- and choose it like it's your day job. Choose it over venting to your friends. Choose it over angry SMSs. Choose it over passive-aggressive sulking. Choose it over deciding to stay angry. Choose it over and over and over.
    It's key to note that "choosing the relationship" doesn't automatically mean the choice of the relationship over the choice to participate in the frictive activity. Instead, set expectations that ritually emphasize the relationship's mutual importance.
    For instance: the right-spectrum member communicates with the absent left-spectrum member at certain pre-determined points in the activity, and the left-spectrum member always responds with a phrase of encouragement. This must be done with religious adherence; if so, it can help both parties enormously.
    7. Don't kick yourself.
    None of this is easy. Not one tiny bit of it.
    It's not easier to be on one side as opposed to the other. It's not easier in any unique configuration of relationship. It's not easier when you're both athletes, and it's not easier when you're not geographically contingent, and it's certainly not easier when either or both of you are pretending to want something you don't want.
    If you're struggling with this, you're not alone. Look around you in the airsports community: we're all right there with you, whether or not we're talking about it. Take heart, and take the hand of your pussy/sketchball partner. They need you, too.

    By nettenette, in General,

    The Sponsor Monster

    I crack the conversation at breakfast: I want to write an article about how the sponsorship model has changed since the beginning of airsports. I remark that I imagine it's going to be a long one -- a book, maybe.
    My laid-back, easy-going, lassaiz-faire partner (who is, coincidentally, sponsored) almost immediately dusts off and sharpens his little-used claws. Why? Who's going to want to talk about it? What's my problem?
    This is a touchy subject.
    Sponsorship, after all, is becoming -- has become? -- a necessary evil. If you're entirely self-funded (and haven't burst forth from fountains of preexistent wealth), you're going to hit a glass ceiling somewhere. No matter what your level of talent, you're unlikely to command any spotlight time in the Airsports Circus without outside support. Sure, you can throw drogues or point cameras at shrieking tandem passengers. But there's no question that you can do a lot more when you look like a floating Nascar -- and it seems like everyone "serious" is gunning hard for those logos. There's an implicit promise in those colorful little patches: the latitude to finally bin your ragged-out gear; to go on the event circuit; to join the big leagues.
    It's not just skydiving, of course. The windy tube is an even-better example. If you're not the lucky recipient of sponsored minutes, you'll probably burn a full workweek throwing meat around (with a few short demos thrown in) before you get the chance to work on your own stuff. Then, of course, there's BASE jumping. A sport that used to be about jumping situation-ally inappropriate gear and hoping for the best is now highly technical, multi-disciplinary, thronging with new talent and all about the suit upgrade. Full-timing BASE pretty much requires a full lifestyle reboot (and perhaps a cross-continental move). Head-to-toe black and yellow sure doesn't hurt -- a color combination that occasionally comes with a staff packer and access to sky scraping diving boards.
    There is, of course, an inconvenient truth at play here: tiling yourself with logos like a mangled game of Connect Four won't put food on the table. Those insignia don't, in and of themselves, represent a living (unless you’re one of the handful of athletes gumming the teat of full-on government funding). Most of them represent gear discounts; free gadgets; a few bucks shaved off each jump ticket; a vetting of your coaching value; a recursive validation you can enjoy whenever you look at your suit, or your canopy, or your Facebook feed. Go 'head and throw 'em all on the table like you're playing Sponsorship: The Gathering, but you're still gonna need a day job. And even then -- as Clif Bar so famously demonstrated -- no sponsorship arrangement is forever.
    And what price support?
    "It forces noncompetitive people to be competitive," sighed a household-name friend of mine over drinks. "It makes totally normal, grounded people look and act like #$%&*@ glory hounds." And if you complain, of course, you're an ass: after all, you made it. Why are you whining? Aren't you smoking cigars and eating caviar among the cosseted elite?
    There is lots to ponder, here. How does a high-benefit sponsorship change an athlete's relationship to these sports*? How does it change athletes' relationships with each other? How does outside support change the sport itself? And that, of course, begs the question: how many fatalities could be connected to upping the stakes for a sponsor?
    Legendary MotoGP winner Valentino Rossi said it best, I think, when he was asked why he didn't switch out his beloved number 46 for the 1. It's the champion's right and privilege to do so, and he turned it down win after win after win. "The number one," he said through a sideways smile, "is very heavy on the front of the bike."
    * Interesting follow-on reading: a 2010 study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton on what scientists call the "overjustification effect."

    By admin, in General,

    Exceeding Expectations

    Image by Lukasz Szymanski The challenge for any business is to exceed the expectations of its customers, especially when expectations are already high. The businesses that can pull this off will gain loyalty and earn valuable word of mouth marketing from their satisfied customers.
    Exceeding expectations is a challenge for the skydiving industry. Everyone who books a skydive already has very high expectations… after all, this is a major event in many people’s lives.
    Having traveled and visited drop zones all over the US, one of the biggest issues I see is a narrow sightedness when it comes to the guest experience. Too often, drop zones are focused on doing just one thing well: the skydive. Though this is definitely what we should be focused on (it’s what people are there for), we’ve lost sight of the complete experience; if the operation isn’t running efficiently, high expectations will turn to disappointment in short order.
    The common culprit in a poor customer experience is wait times. No one likes to wait. Yet here we are, charging a premium price, taking reservations and then expecting people to happily wait for several hours before they jump.
    Informing customers about wait times over the phone and in e-mail confirmations (usually 3 - 5 hours) doesn't make this practice any more acceptable or palatable to our customers who are conditioned to expect instant gratification. In a world where we can order something on Amazon.com and have it show up at our doorsteps the next day (or in some markets, the same day), we shouldn’t expect our customers to adapt to our antiquated practices. Rather, we should be challenging ourselves to find ways to better adapt to modern customer expectations. If we fail to do this, we will undoubtedly face the fallout of negative reviews online.
    How To Exceed Expectations
    To exceed expectations, a business must recognize its weaknesses through the eyes of the customer. The best way to do this is to ask them. However, if you want honest feedback, don’t survey your customers immediately after their skydive; they’ve just had one of the most amazing experiences of their lives, of course their immediate feedback will be positive. When I managed a DZ, I was always under the impression that we were doing a great job because when I surveyed customers following their skydive they always raved about their experience. Only when I started to survey our guests 24 hours after their jumps did I become aware of organizational problems that needed to be addressed. These ranged from employee language on the plane, (not good when your business is located in the Bible Belt) to major frustrations with wait times, to dissatisfaction with media quality. If you want to have a finger on the pulse of your organization, survey your guests after they’ve had time to come down from their initial adrenaline high. If they’re dissatisfied, they’ll typically tell you!
    Understand The Touch Points
    There are usually 20 interactive points of contact that a customer will have with a drop zone. If a DZ wants to gain a competitive advantage in a busy marketplace and see digital word of mouth marketing spread, they should be focused on improving these customer touch points. The goal should be to reach a five star level of service at every touch point. This is not an easy task, but it’s what has separated brands like Disney, The Four Seasons, REI and Zappos from all of their competition. This way of thinking should not be precluded from skydiving - especially considering the time and expense that goes into running a DZ. If we’re investing so much time and money into our operation, why not be the best we can be?
    Below is a list of 20 customer touch points every DZ should be aware of. I challenge all of my clients to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent. The caveat is that the score for each touch point must be graded on the organization’s weakest link within the category. For example, if four out of five instructors give great service and one is average, then the score must be graded on the weakest instructor. Now you see the challenge!
    The Touch Points

    Social Media
    E-mail exchanges
    Phone Interactions
    Road Signage
    Parking Lot (the condition of it)
    Greeting at manifest
    Condition of the bathrooms
    Quality of DZ Food (snack bar or vending machines)
    Quality of training
    Wait Times to Make Skydive
    Presentation of the Jumpsuits
    Presentation of the Instructor
    Presentation of the Videographer
    The Aircraft
    The Ride to Altitude
    The Skydive
    Time it Takes To Receive Media
    Quality of the Media
    Quality of Materials (certificate of achievement)
    The Closing (defined as a thought out ending highlighting accomplishment) In today’s digital world, word of mouth can make or break a business. If you want to leverage this powerful tool to your benefit, then you have to start consistently exceeding customer expectations. Take a step back and view your business through the eyes of the customer. Focus on the entire experience, not just one element within it. Remember, the actual skydive is only one component of the overall customer experience. Strive to make every component as incredible as the skydive itself, and you’ll turn customers into raving fans.

    By admin, in General,

    Dangers of Being a Hero - Camera Safety Advice

    Norman Kent is not only one of the leading skydive photographers, but he is also an advocate for safety relating to freefall photography and the use of mounted cameras within skydiving. Norman has been jumping with a camera since the mid-70s when at only 25 jumps, he strapped on a Kodak Instamatic.
    Over the past 40 since, Norman has established himself as a leader in the skydiving photography world and is a well respected member of the community.
    In the past, we've run several articles relating to the safety of camera usage. In 2013, Melissa Lowe published a piece titled "Hey Bro, Check Out My GoPro" which tackled the topic and included conversation with Norman Kent over the potential safety issues of the camera.
    Since that time, the popularity of action camera use in extreme sports has skyrocketed, with more and more individuals focus being shifted towards the media capture side of the jump. Norman Kent has released a new video on his Youtube channel titled "Dangers of Being a Hero", in which he addresses and revisits some of the topics relating to action cam safety.
    In the video Norman runs through several series of video which illustrate just how easy it is for snagging to occur on the camera, and continues to express how despite the fact that many people feel as though the risks are exaggerated, that the incidents are occurring, even if only rarely has it thus far resulted in death or injury.
    "It's not the equipment itself, it's the attitude of 'it's only a GoPro'"
    Norman Kent continues on in the video to look at alternate mounts that can be used to minimize snag potential and further ways in which one may be able to increase their safety when flying under a camera.

    By admin, in General,

    Teaching Students To Navigate The Landing Pattern

    A skydiver at the Oklahoma Skydiving Center pointing out their landing pattern. Image by Corey Miller
    When we teach students how to skydive, the lessons do not just stop after the first jump course. One important skill all skydivers need to know is how to navigate through the landing pattern. I have heard instructors refer to talking to students on the radio as “remote controlled skydiving” because they guide the student where they want them to land, and they tell the student every turn to make. If we are supposed to teach our students how to pilot their canopy, then we must ask ourselves, “How is this enabling the student to learn?” In this article I will discuss a method of teaching the student how to pilot their canopy that is not only easy to use, but also allows the instructor on the radio to remain in control if the student needs additional guidance while descending under canopy.
    Teaching the student piloting skills starts in the classroom. Of course we teach the students the SOPs and to make sure they have a canopy that is Square, Stable, and Steerable; but now what? Do we just give directions to the student over the radio? Realistically, for the student who just opened their canopy for the first time we, as instructors, will probably have to do that. The student has emotions of excitement and fear going through their mind while adrenaline is going through their body. This mixture can make anyone confused, so don’t be surprised if the first time in the landing pattern you are flying a “remote controlled skydiver”. Having said that, let’s discuss how we are going to teach the student to navigate the pattern and eventually, be removed from radio status. I like to start this process with a laminated picture of the landing area and a grease pencil.
    With a laminated picture the instructor should sit down with the student and first, have the student draw an arrow showing the direction of the wind. Now we know that the student is aware of the wind direction and we do not have to assume that they do. Next, have the student point out where their “playground” is going to be. For those who do not use the term “playground” that is the area where the student can fly their canopy, while they are descending to the proper altitude to enter the landing pattern. Next, have the student make a mark showing where they will enter the downwind part of the landing pattern and at what altitude this is supposed happen. This is the time the instructor can discuss at what altitude to leave the playground and to start thinking about the landing procedures they covered during the first jump course. Additionally, let the student know that next time things could be different due to wind direction and speed. Next have the student show where, and at what altitude, to make their turn for the base leg of the landing pattern.
    Since an aerial picture of the drop zone is be used, the instructor can point out hazards and landmarks at this point. For me, I like to point out a grass runway at the drop zone and to tell students not to go pass it figuring it is better for them to have to walk back a little bit than to risk getting too close to the hanger or the active taxiway. Finally, have the student show where, and at what altitude, the final turn would be.
    At this point the instructor should reiterate the importance of the wind sock, what altitude to stop turns and to do only small corrections, and of course, when to flare. Since the student is making marks on a laminated picture, it is a good training aid to keep and to use when debriefing the student after the jump. The instructor can point out how the plan and the actual landing pattern were different. The instructor then can talk about how safety could have been affected and discuss a plan for improvement. After the debriefing the student, just wipe the photo clean and use it for the next student. Now, let’s talk about our first jump student some more.
    When teaching a first jump student, I do not advocate going through all of this in great detail on their first jump. Instead, have them look at the picture. Ask them about where they would want to be at 1,000 feet. Where would they turn for the base leg and final leg of the landing pattern? If we, as instructors, get into too much detail for the first jump the student can have a sensation overload and forget everything. Additionally, a sensation overload could make the experience less enjoyable and possibly hinder the chances for repeat business and some good word of mouth advertising. By just showing them what will be happening we can reduce the student’s anxiety by reducing their fear of the unknown. Additionally, if there should be a radio failure while the student is under canopy, having shown them on a photo of the landing zone and discussed where they should be in relationship to various ground features we have just increased the chances for the student to land safely.
    Author Bio:

    Corey Miller is a C rated skydiver who held both coach and IAD instructor ratings. He holds a Master in Aeronautic Science degree with specialties in Teaching and Human Factors. He currently works as an Instructor/Quality Assurance Inspector in the Aerospace Industry. He calls the Oklahoma Skydiving Center his home DZ.

    By coreyangel, in General,

    Marketing To The Millennials

    Have you ever been at a restaurant and observed a group of people not speaking to one another because everyone was staring at their phones? The age group most likely to be "engaging" this way are people born between the years 1980 and 1996 - the Millennial generation.
    There’s a lot of good news about Millennials for the skydiving industry (for example, they put experiential value ahead of ‘stuff’), but there's some bad news too: many of us haven't adjusted our marketing plan to capture the Millennial market. We've only just begun to dip our toes into the vast ocean of digital marketing which would enable us to meet Millennials where they are - online. Having a functional website and a Facebook page is no longer enough; to effectively reach this demographic, we need to be fully immersed in the channels they are using and understand why they use them.
    Why You Need To Be Marketing To Millennials
    Although skydiving caters to individuals between 16 (depending on your country) and 106, the number one target demographic for the skydiving industry is men and women between the ages of 25 and 34. Have a look at your Facebook Insights and you'll probably notice that the largest percentage of your fan base usually falls within this category. And this category fits squarely within the age range of the Millennial generation.
    Love or hate their addiction to smartphones and tablets, there’s no denying that 18-34 year olds are an important segment, if not the MOST important segment of your customer base, and their influence is growing.
    According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials will surpass Baby Boomers as the largest living generation in 2015. In the U.S., Millennials are responsible for an estimated 1.3 trillion dollars in annual spending. This number will only increase as more Millennials reach their peak income earning years over the next two decades.
    The future success of your business will depend in large part on your ability to properly market your services to the Millennial generation. As digital natives, the way Millennials interact, view, and engage with the world around them is completely different from previous generations. Their preferences are different, their values are different, and their spending habits are very different.
    Companies who want to effectively tap into this growing demographic are going to have to embrace a completely new marketing strategy that takes these differences into account. In a recent report, “How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever,” The Boston Consulting Group outlines the ideal marketing strategy for capturing the Millennial generation. They call it reciprocal marketing and describe it as follows:
    “Instead of being a process that is led and pushed by companies, modern marketing is an ecosystem that is influenced by some factors that a company can control and some that are beyond its control. It is a system in which marketers, customers, and potential customers perpetually exchange experiences, reactions, emotions, and buzz.”

    How To Create An Effective Reciprocal Marketing Campaign
    1. Be WHERE Your Customers Are
    To effectively reach Millennials, companies must be present online and offline; they must have a strong mobile presence.
    According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 83% of Millennials now own a smartphone. Of those, 50% report that their preferred device for accessing the internet is their smartphone. This means many of your potential customers are accessing your website on a mobile device.
    Have you visited your website on a smartphone or tablet lately? How does it look? Is it easy to read and navigate, or do you have to constantly pinch and expand to see the text?
    Millennials are the instant gratification generation - If your website is not responsive (meaning it automatically adjusts to fit any size screen or device), chances are they won't be sticking around for long, and you won't be getting their business.
    2. EMBODY What Your Customers Aspire to Be
    Millennials are looking to connect with brands that reflect their values and project who they aspire to be. What do Millennials value? Luxury, adventure, excitement, travel, and authenticity – to name a few. They describe their generation as tech savvy, modern, risk taking, rebellious, smart and humorous.
    If you want to strike a chord with Millennials, make sure that your company’s messaging, imagery and personality reflect what they value. This shouldn't be too difficult - what could be more adventurous, exciting, authentic, and rebellious than skydiving?
    And there's more great news for our industry: a recent poll found that Millennials place a higher value on life experiences than on physical possessions. In fact Millennials’ spending habits are the driving force behind the new “experience economy.” 78% of Millennials said they would rather spend money on a memorable experience than on an object; 72% indicated that they would likely spend more money on experiences than physical things next year; and 72% reported suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out), a condition that is driving them to engage in more experiences so they can “keep up” (i.e. post pictures and status updates of their exciting life experiences) with their social networks.
    3. ENGAGE with Your Customers to Build Trust
    If you want to build customer loyalty among Millennials, you must engage with them. Millennials desire to interact and share their experiences and opinions with companies through social media. Research indicates that recognition is extremely important to Millennials so when you open up a dialogue make sure you are prompt to reply to customers who engage with you. Make them feel as if they have a personal relationship with your brand.
    Millennials are overwhelmingly skeptical. Only 19% believe people can be trusted. This means a company has to work hard to gain and maintain their trust. Authentic engagement via social media is one of the best ways to do this. When you build loyalty with Millennials who have already used your services, you encourage them to share their opinion of your company with their friends. And because Millennials’ purchasing decisions are largely influenced by friends and family, making your current customers brand advocates will reassure their social circle that you are a trustworthy company to do business with.
    Social Media - Quick Facts
    52% of Millennials follow/like their favorite brands online via social media channels.
    Facebook is still by far the most popular social media channel with Millennials, but more users are engaging with multiple platforms daily.
    Relevant platforms:
    2014 Usage Statistics (18-29 years old)
    Facebook = 87%
    Twitter = 37%
    Instagram = 53%

    By admin, in General,

    Boost Your Marketing with Lagniappe

    Image by Czapla As the skydiving market continues to grow and more dropzones open their doors, finding creative ways to make your DZ stand out from the competition is more important than ever. One simple way to gain a competitive advantage is to add lagniappe to your arsenal of marketing tools.
    What is Lagniappe? (pronounced lan-yap)
    A Cajun French word often associated with New Orleans, lagniappe is best defined as “a little something extra.” If you've ever checked in at a Hilton DoubleTree Hotel and enjoyed a warm chocolate chip cookie at the front desk, you’ve experienced lagniappe. If you’ve flown Southwest Airlines and checked your bags free of charge, you’ve experienced lagniappe. These “little extras” are not an afterthought, they are an important component of the marketing strategy for companies big and small around the world.
    Small Business Strategy: Lagniappe
    My parents run an eco-kayaking tour (Antigua Paddles) on a small Caribbean island. Everyday they compete against 98 other companies for the same cruise ship passengers visiting the island for a few hours. The competitive environment is cutthroat, and my family has needed to use some creativity in order to stand out. Over the past few years, TripAdvisor reviews have become the number one source of marketing for businesses in Antigua. In order to trigger lots of 'talk' on TripAdvisor, my parents have made lagniappe a key component of their marketing strategy and it shows: they are currently ranked number 3 out of 100 attractions on the island.
    How They Do It - After a fabulous three hour tour combining kayaking, hiking, and snorkeling, guests are offered two unexpected things: a chilled, scented face towel to freshen up and homemade banana bread, baked fresh every morning at 7:00am. Their guests love it. If you take a moment to read some of their TripAdvisor reviews, you'll see just how many people comment on the face towels and banana bread... it's literally like putting the cherry on top of a dessert.
    How to Use Lagniappe at Your DZ
    Here are a few examples of how you can incorporate lagniappe into your daily operations at the DZ:
    1. Free 'ice pops' or freezies. This is an inexpensive gesture that your guests will love while waiting to make their skydives especially during the warm summer months. Kids love this and if you can please impatiently waiting children, parents will love you for it!
    2. Complimentary Coffee Mug or Shot Glass - This is a great lagniappe to gift after the skydive. It can be a bit expensive, but there are sources on the web to get some great deals. Check out alibaba.com for the most inexpensive logoed gift ideas.
    3. Starbucks Gift Card - If someone leaves a positive review on your Facebook page after their skydive, send them a handwritten thank you note with a free $5 Gift Card to Starbucks or another local coffee shop. If they loved you before, they'll love you even more now! And, added bonus, they’ll probably talk about your unexpected gesture on their social media channels.
    4. Discount Fish Bowl - After your guests have made their skydives, have them reach into a fish bowl to draw a ticket for a discount for any merchandise in the store. Discounts range from 5% to 25% off... of course the majority of the tickets will be for 5% off. This is fun for the customer, builds goodwill and it'll encourage guests to think about buying merchandise... everyone loves a deal!
    5. Free Reserve Repacks - Reward your licensed skydivers for buying their systems with you instead of going to the big name retailers in the magazines - offer two free reserve repacks when purchasing directly with you.
    6. Free Tours for Kids - On a weather hold? Get the kids together and take them to the loft. Allow them to put on a rig, show them the cutaway procedures, teach them where the reserve and main are. As mentioned above, if you can make the kids happy by enhancing their experience, you'll make the parents very happy. The only cost is time.
    7. Special Cards - Have your reservations team find out if there are any special occasions with anyone in a group... bachelor parties, birthdays, anniversaries etc. When the individual arrives, surprise them with a special card signed by the staff wishing them a great day in the sky! Executing this is easy - have the staff sign a dozen cards in advance and then have the person taking the reservation, customize it. The recipient will be amazed!
    8. Fresh Cookies - This is doable and awesome. Take a page from DoubleTree or Otis Spunkmeyer and offer free cookies to each person after their jump! Good incentive to get people into your store... all you need is a small toaster oven and cookie dough.
    9. Personalized Thank You Card for AFF Students - Have AFF instructors fill out personalized cards on a "Jump Well Done" and mail them the same day. Your AFF students will feel encouraged and feel part of the DZ family when they receive their card on Monday.
    10. Give Out a Free Beer - Have a bar at your DZ? If so, award your guests with a ticket for a free draft beer or soda. Getting people in the bar after their jump will probably result in some food sales. If you don't have a bar on the DZ, work with a local bar in town...they'd love the extra traffic and your guests will enjoy a cold one at no cost to you!

    By admin, in General,

    Staying Current During Winter

    The winter months are a great opportunity to catch up on all the things we weren’t doing throughout the summer, such as working on our homes, engaging in winter sports, and mending relationships with our non-skydiving friends. It is also a time that can lead to a dulling of our skydiving abilities, and our memory of correct procedures. As a result, the period following a substantial break can be a very dangerous time for skydivers, and a great many injuries come as a direct result of a lack of currency. If we are creative, however, we can keep our skydiving minds warm even when it is cold outside.
    If you own a rig, for instance, it is quite easy to set up a hanging harness in your house. We have been using a secure chin-up bar for many years, and it works great. All you need is an extra pair of risers, a set of soft links, two climbing carabiners and a doorway. A retired pair of 18 inch risers work best for most doorways, to keep you high enough above the ground to create a good simulation. First, attach the tops of the spare set of risers together with the soft links. Next, loop the risers over the chin-up bar, and attach a carabiner to the large ring on the bottom of the risers. Then all you need to do is clip the carabiners through the three ring attachment hardware on your rig and you are ready to train. Keep in mind that if you are unsure about the security of your chin-up bar or door frame structure, be sure to wear a helmet and have a cushion underneath you just in case things go badly.

    Some of you are thinking, I don’t need to practice pulling my handles all winter, I am a licensed skydiver. I know what I’m doing. Although we all know this is not the truth, everyone needs to practice their emergency procedures, the point of hanging yourself up goes far deeper than just practicing pulling your handles. There are a great many things you can rehearse and learn while suspended in your own rig. I am not talking about the tired old harness at the dropzone that does not remotely resemble the one you jump. I am embarrassed for our sport when I do not even find one of these old beaters hanging at a training facility. That needs to change. No, I am talking about your own personal rig: your handles, your harness, your home.
    There are several things you will love about this initially embarrassing practice. One huge benefit is to practice transitioning from your deployment harness configuration to the flying and landing configuration. For most of us, this involves loosening the chest strap, and experimenting with different methods of moving the leg straps slightly forward to make yourself more comfortable.
    By sitting in the harness for long periods of time, your body can change and become stronger in the ways that allow you to be more comfortable under canopy. You can also explore harness turn inputs by swinging side to side by loading one legstrap at a time, which may illuminate a need to relocate the elastic butt strap between your legstraps. This “freefly bungee” is great for preventing a legstrap from sliding forward in freefall, but if located too high or too short, can prevent harness turn capability while under canopy. A “fastex” pinch-release can allow you to remove this strap entirely, and hanging harness training can prepare you for the new muscle memory of your procedural change.
    Hanging harness training will also allow you to practice flaring and leaning forward for landing. You can even tie webbing straps to the legstrap articulation hardware and have a friend pull your legs forward when you flare to simulate the pitch change, allowing you to rehearse leaning forward as the canopy pitches back to a higher angle of attack. This will help you to remain in balance for the touchdown, and by rehearsing this process in your downtime, you may even emerge from the ice and snow with more skill than the previous summer. Further, you can maintain your upper body strength in the canopy-specific muscles by lifting yourself up by the front risers dive loops, and by pulling on elastic bungee cords or “thera-bands” attached to the chin-up bar. These are easily acquired from most physical therapists, drug stores or apothecaries.
    By using carabiners to attach yourself to the suspension system, you will be able to avoid the need to remove your main parachute for the simulation. It will feel slightly different with your main parachute still in the pack tray, but it will be close enough to make the practice a valid training method for staying fresh through the chilly months. It is also helpful to remove your main from time to time, and attach the suspended risers to your rig’s three ring system to practice cutting away. A mattress, helmet and spotter is a really good idea for this practice. This will help you to get a clearer picture of what it actually feels like to chop your main, and may even result in your awakening to the fact that your method of pulling the handles needs work, or that your cutaway system requires lubrication. Be sure not to actually pull your reserve ripcord unless you have a rigger handy. When you do bring it in for your spring repack, definitely give that reserve ripcord a go in a full simulation. All good training requires accurate, complete rehearsal of what you will need to do in the sky.
    For wingsuit flyers, a hanging harness can be a fantastic training tool for staying current with the post-deployment sequence. Gear up fully and practice riding through the deployment with your knees together and your hands on the three rings. Then rehearse unzipping your arms, unstowing the toggles, loosening the chest strap and then unzipping and dressing your legs. For increased realism, try aiming a carpet blower up at you at the approximate glide angle of the canopy to simulate the relative wind. This will add the pressurization of the wings, making the process surprisingly like the real thing.
    If you wear your helmet as you do all of this, the simulation will be quite realistic and highly beneficial. Such rehearsal will be very helpful for keeping the habits that save your life fresh in your mind. Be sure to practice malfunction procedures with your wingsuit on as well. The only thing you need to worry about is the doorbell, and the awkward explanation to the mailman.
    Freefall skills are harder to keep fresh, unless you have a wind tunnel nearby. There are ways, however, to keep sharp without spending a lot of money. An FS “creeper” is a fantastic tool for practicing your belly flying, and creeper parties are a fun way to get jumpers together in the colder months. You can even have creeper competitions to stay on your game. It may feel a bit silly at times, but it is far better than trying to remember the dive pools all over again when the snow melts. I also find that an indoor swimming pool is a great asset in the winter, allowing you to work in three dimensions and play with new possibilities, especially if you have fun-loving skydiver friends. Nose plugs are really helpful for upside down swimming.
    I also enjoy pulling out my gear in the winter and taking the time to slowly and methodically look over all the details I may not have had the time to check during the fast-paced summer months. Even if you are not a certified rigger, this is your gear and you need to be comfortable with every aspect of the equipment that saves your life. Pull out your main and climb inside your cells; inspecting the crossports, the seams, and the reinforcing tapes. Look for broken stitches, pulls, and damage to the fabric that may have occurred during the jumping season.
    Inspect the bottom of your lines, your connector links and risers. Be sure to run your finger inside the slider grommets to check for rough spots that will damage your lines. You can also check your line trim by cutting the main away and tying the risers to something secure like a door hinge. By pulling tension on each line group in bilateral symmetry and comparing back to the center cell, you will learn volumes about the condition of your parachute. If you have spectra lines, you will be amazed how much your outboard lines and brakes will shrink over time through friction against the slider grommets, and from lack of loading. For a detailed education on main parachute inspection and an eye-opening retrimming technique, check out this video.
    Another powerful way to keep your head in the skydiving game is through watching videos. There is a great deal of eye candy on the internet, although not all of it falls under the category of training, or even positive visualization. Be careful what you watch, visualization is a powerful form of training, and some of what you watch can pave the way to higher levels of fear. Furthermore, watching lots of poor technique can dull your image of the “right” way to fly.
    Fortunately, there are some fantastic instructional videos available, which can actually expand your skydiving knowledge as the snow falls. The Australian Parachute Federation, for instance, created a fantastic malfunction video series called Cutaway. Additionally, here is a link to an in-depth Parachute Flight Safety Video Series, a canopy course ground school for all levels that will far exceed your expectations.
    To further the goal of expanding your skydiving skill through knowledge, there are also several incredible podcasts on the internet that can bring a wealth of knowledge to your computer, phone or tablet. Skydive Radio, Jump Twenty Six and Radio Skydive UK all provide a wealth of information that can enhance your abilities and literally extend your life. Interviews with leaders in the sport will expand your knowledge of the essential history of skydiving, safety practices, and secrets to get the most out of your airtime. Best of all, you can enjoy this learning in the comfort of your own earplugs.
    When we remember that most of what it means to be a skydiver actually happens on the ground, it becomes more than obvious that we do not need to turn off our skydiving brains once the chill hits the air. Although it is true that a flight to someplace warm is the best way to stay current in the winter, it is not the only way to continue being a skydiver. With a bit of open-minded creativity and ingenuity, we can continue our training all year long, and even emerge in the springtime with a deeper understanding than we had before. Freezing our thoughts about something we love this much not only increases our risks, it also costs us a piece of ourselves. Pull out your gear and keep the feeling alive, you will be glad you did.
    Brian Germain is a parachute designer, author, radio personality, keynote speaker, and has been an active skydiver for 30 years. You can get more of Brian’s teaching at Adventure Wisdom, Big Air Sportz, Transcending Fear, and on his vast YouTube Channel

    By admin, in General,

    Show Me The Money

    Image by August Haeuser
    I want to come clean with a confession: Jerry Maguire is one of my favorite movies of all time. There, I said it. While I'm being vulnerable… I never miss a week of Survivor either. (Don't' judge too harshly). Now that I've totally opened myself up about my tastes (or lack thereof) let's roll into the opening scene of this amazing film.
    The movie begins with super sports agent, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) writing a mission statement (not a memo) entitled the "The things we think, but do not say." This mission statement was an inspired piece of clarity that brings to light that the company (Sports Management International) has lost site of its purpose. It became more about the money and less about the client. Jerry's mission statement actually suggested having fewer clients and making less money.
    Of course, Jerry was promptly fired.
    So what does this have to do with the business of skydiving? Everything… except for the fewer clients and less money part.
    There is a definitive shift occurring in the business of skydiving. USPA membership numbers indicate a slow and steady increase over the past decade, but student numbers appear to be decreasing at many DZ’s around the country. Many blame poor weather in 2013, and it was a factor, but it goes deeper. There is a hidden war raging in the game of search engine optimization (SEO) whereby third party organizations are rising within search rankings and picking off an ignorant public and overcharging them for their skydives. Mix this with the oversaturation of daily deals (in nearly every marketplace), an influx of newer dropzones and everchanging and inconsistent weather patterns and it’s little wonder that many established DZ’s are seeing a decline.
    An Uneasy Panic
    This change is being fueled by the way many DZO’s are reacting to conditions happening before our eyes. Similar to climate change, we’ve been aware of it, but the realities of what it actually means hasn’t conceptualized until now. Rather than pausing and seeking out correct action, many DZ decision makers are making quick, reactive decisions to try and boost volume. This reaction is being driven by the panic felt in seeing the numbers decline despite the economy actually improving.
    In the case of daily deals (Amazon Local, LivingSocial, GroupOn) many DZO’s feel threatened that they are losing market share whenever a competing dropzone offers a deal. It takes discipline to not follow suit and offer a deal at a similar price. The majority of DZs do follow suit which decreases the demand for full-retail-priced student skydives which drives down the price significantly. This is scary when one considers the costs associated with running a DZ. The only way to offset these lower prices is to have very high volume in an extremely efficient operation. The model for high volume becomes compromised when more competitors enter the marketplace to get a piece of the action. The response? Continue to offer more daily deals, which forces DZO’s to enter a vicious cycle that they can’t get off of. This model that many DZ’s find themselves is not sustainable and will result in either more cutting corners to make the numbers work (which has the potential of elevating risk), going out of business or surviving long enough until others go out of business first.
    What The Hell Do We Do?
    So, the news above seems a little dire. I’m not an economist, but I’ve had the advantage of traveling around the US and different parts of the world looking at the industry from a business perspective. With a 13,500 foot view, here is what I would suggest:
    1. Get Off The Train. At some point, the majority of DZs who are on the daily deal train will have to get off as they will recognize the lack of sustainability for the long term. The problem with getting off the train is the sudden cash shortage. Downsizing may be required whether it be with an aircraft, equipment or the size of staff, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Decreasing expenses during this transition is key. Before pulling the plug from the daily deal cycle, begin making preparations for the cash shortage.
    2. Normalize Pricing. Once off the train, begin normalizing pricing whereby each student jump made is profitable once again. Volume may not be as high, but the business will be more sustainable.
    3. Win the Battle of Search. Amongst the price gouging, there’s actually some good news occurring. Third party vendors are charging up to $339 for a tandem skydive while offering lousy customer service and veiling a lot of truth to the customer. So where’s the good news? There are customers willing to pay a lot more than we’re currently charging to make a skydive! These third parties are pulling these customers in because they are winning the battle of search. Each DZ must invest in strong SEO practices to win this difficult battleground. Lately, more and more DZs have been joining these networks to offset the drop in business which only feeds this monster. Rather than join these networks, we must beat them.
    4. Look a Million Dollars. Make the investment to have branding and website design showcase your DZ as a major attraction within the marketplace. Trading out jumps for the creation of a website with a local jumper will no longer cut it. Creating a website is one thing. Creating a functional website with great design is another.
    5. Win the Customer. Throughout the last several decades, the skydiving industry has focused more on the skydive and less on the overall customer experience. DZs must focus on utilizing word of mouth marketing and transforming customers into joining the marketing team of the dropzone.
    Be an Ambassador of Quan
    When Jerry Maguire learned that he was being fired, he rushed back to his office and called every client he could to try and get them to stay with him as their agent. Only one demanding client stayed… the venerable Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr). Jerry would eventually have to rebuild his business doing things the right way by being professional and focusing on the details. The same holds true for our industry. We must be flexible enough to change as the skydiving industry of today is vastly different than the industry of ten years ago.

    By admin, in General,

    6 Strategies for Handling Negative Reviews

    Image by Vincent Reeder Do you remember what it was like to go on a first date? Imagine inviting someone out that you felt was completely out of your league...beautiful, intelligent, witty - the whole package. I feel nervous just thinking about it. Naturally you'd want to leave a great impression. You hope that at the end of the night your date would say that it was the best date she'd ever been on. To reach this outcome, attention to detail is necessary. I'd wash my car, research restaurants to ensure the atmosphere was romantic, the food outstanding and the service excellent.
    Now visualize picking your date up. Think about how you feel physically: sweaty, nervous and a marathon-pumping heart rate. After you've practiced saying "Hello, you look beautiful tonight," (several times) you get out of the car, walk confidently up the driveway without revealing your internal emotions. Once she greets you at the door, your awareness levels are in hyperdrive - you notice everything in milliseconds - the way she looks from head to toe, how she smells… your subconscious notices what's behind her as she stands in the doorway. Is her place messy or neat? You take everything in.
    The emotions felt on a first date are how our students feel when arriving at the drop zone for the first time - out of their comfort zones, excited and nervous. Our students notice EVERYTHING from the moment they drive in to the parking lot until they've landed from their jump. As drop zone operators, we must remember that we are hosting the ultimate date - the opportunity to give someone a lifetime memory. Every detail on our date should be carefully examined - each customer point of interaction be brought to a five star standard. Our goal is to have our guests say that their experience was one of the best days of their lives.
    Bob Marley once sang, "You can't please all the people all the time…" No matter how hard we strive to exceed customer expectations, we will never be perfect.
    Smartphones have empowered consumers to become critics that effect how other consumers decide where to spend their money - with your business or with your competitor. When negative comments are posted about your business, how you react (or not react) can greatly effect the outcome. In this week's newsletter, we examine tips for handling negative feedback.
    6 Strategies For Handling Negative Reviews
    Tip 1: Don't Knee Jerk
    The natural response when reading criticism is to immediately become defensive and type out a quick response. DON'T DO THAT. Sit with the criticism for a while and let the initial shock that you've been publicly called out, settle. The walls aren't caving in and some of the criticism may have merit. Try to be objective and own your part in the criticism. The biggest mistake is not making necessary changes to ensure a similar review doesn't pop up in the future.
    Tip 2 - Join The Conversation
    After you've calmed down, it's better to join the conversation than ignore it. Negativity breeds negativity and joining the conversation is better than allowing one person's views to rumble into an avalanche of criticism that becomes unmanageable and viral. It's best to be non-confrontational, non-defensive and act as a caring human being. Be calm in your response and say sorry if you need to. Introducing yourself and showing that you're a real person puts a face to a business as opposed to a corporate entity with a PR spin. Pick and choose your battles as well. If someone is a tyrant and is abusive... the general audience will be able to discern that.
    Tip 3 - You Don't Have to be Right
    Realize that you don't have to be right. People who spend a lot of time online are used to companies trying to spin everything into a positive. If you're wrong, it's okay to say you're wrong. No one is perfect and it can be refreshing to see some honesty. Acknowledge and see if it's possible to find resolution by contacting the individual directly. If you can convert a critic into a fan of your business, the word of mouth spread is far greater. Criticism and how a customer's complaints are handled can be very valuable in spreading goodwill about your company.
    Tip 4 - Don't Get Caught Off Guard
    If you haven't done this yet, stop reading this newsletter and do it now. (I'll wait here while you get this done). Go to Google Alerts and plug in your company name. If anyone mentions your company online, you'll at least be in the know. It's never a good thing to have an online war raging about your company and have no awareness that it's even occurring.
    Tip 5 - Never Go Into A Diatribe (This is Queens English for "Don't show your ass.")
    Let's suppose the criticism you've received is misguided and wrong. The most common mistake is how people respond by: a). working themselves into a lather and taking a hard stance defending themselves and b). write a long-winded response that only fuels the comment thread (we see it on a daily basis within the forums of dropzone.com). When responding, keep calm and carry on (even if you want to rip someone's head off) and keep it relatively succinct. Rehashing each detail of the customer encounter WILL fuel more commentary from those watching the thread unfold. Keep in mind, you're not responding publicly to an audience of a few - it could be a few hundred. No matter how right you maybe, acting indignantly will only turn many people off.
    Tip 6 - Don't Hide- Be Transparent
 Many companies delete negative reviews - particularly off of social media feeds. Deleting people's posts can cause rancor for those watching things unfold and they WILL CALL YOU OUT on it. The best course of action is to respond. Of course, there are some people out there ('trolls') who are looking for trouble and are looking to pick a fight.. when things get abusive, it's time to pull them off.
    The Realities
    Anonymity empowers people to say things they normally wouldn't in the presence of others. Showing you're human, interested in helping to solve a problem and publicly apologizing will usually diffuse most situations.

    By admin, in General,