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Pay It Forward
by Kare Anderson

~September 1988
Her lower lip was trembling as she stood behind three other seminar attendees who had approached me during a break. When they left she stepped up close so she could speak low enough to not be heard by others, although no one else was left in the room.

"Hello, Kare. I'm Irma. When my son Sam called this Sunday, I told him that my boss at the hardware store got the Chamber of Commerce invitation to this cross-promotion seminar and suggested that I go in his place. It sounded like a helpful skill for me to learn. I like being helpful and I don't have many work skills. When I read the seminar description to Sam, he told me he'd heard you speak at a medical convention and encouraged me to come."

Now her hands were shaking too. I nodded. "You see my husband announced two months ago that he had wanted more adventure in his life and was moving in with Melissa, his secretary. That's why my son suggested I get a job, get out of the house. After 35 years of marriage and being a mom and community volunteer, this is a real change. I even needed to learn how to use the cash register, but Sam's high school friend Jim owns five hardware stores. Jim hired me to run one of the front registers."

Now her eyes were welling up, but she looked at me steadily as she spoke. I took one of her hands in mine.

"I just want you to know," she continued, "that I am going to win the 
cross-promotion contest you and the sponsors announced, because I want to give back to Jim for hiring me."

Three hundred business leaders and one trembling, new-to-the-workforce 
grandmother attended that "Stand Out in an Over-Advertised World with the Right Cross-Promotions" seminar, cosponsored by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and several corporations.

~December, 1988
Yes, I shared Irma's story with several people, including the salesman who sat next to me on my flight back to San Francisco. He was one of three people who sent me a news clipping from the Austin paper about the woman who posted offers from neighboring businesses on the front of her cash register at a hardware store. One I remember was "Get a free pink blossoming azalea plant today from the Tang Nursery, right around the corner. Just buy a minimum of $150 of handy hardware supplies with us today." Jim Armano, the hardware store manager, was quoted as saying, "Irma has increased our sales more than any advertising campaign I've concocted in the twenty years we've been in business."

~March 1989
A letter from Irma: "Dear Kare, Of course you know from my earlier letters how much I continue to enjoy creating cross-promotions, but my newest one reminded me of something I've been missing. Through my cross-promotion with the home electronics firm across the street I've met friends of the owner. I am now providing English tutoring for two young gentlemen, Lee and James Tong. They moved here from Taiwan to work at their cousin's new software company, and they already feel like family to me. Computers are more complicated than cash registers, aren't they?"

~July 1989
Irma sent me an email message, only the second one from her. She asks me to mail her two autographed copies of my book on cross-promotion to share with her Taiwanese friends. Inside each of the ten books we mail to Irma, I write, "For Inspiring Irma: By my calculations, Irma-the-'amateur' has actually conducted more cross-promotions than I, the 'professional.' Here's to your great heart and helpfulness. Your fan, Kare."

~April 1995
Taped on the front of the cash registers at Jeanne Tong's five neighborhood noodle shops in Taiwan are offers for a book by an American entrepreneur about how to grow your business with the right cross-promotions. Lee and James translated my book, which their cousin Jeanne had printed in Taiwan by prior agreement with me. In our partnership, Jeanne proposed that she be the Taiwan distributor of the book, selling them through small businesses that come into contact with other small-business owners.

In just two years Jeanne has sold 28,000 copies. I will be meeting her for the first time this year when she visits me in San Francisco, on the way to visit her cousins in Austin, where they have started a business software company. And you might have anticipated this: Irma is the office manager for Lee and James' seven-person start-up.

~September 2000
Sitting at the open air terrace of the Grand Wailea Hotel, I stared at the ginger trees and waterfall during a break at the world-renowned Maui Writers Conference. Sam Horn, author of _Tongue Fu!_ and _ConZentration_, had encouraged many people, including me, to attend. She is the co-founder, Mistress of Ceremonies, and master encourager for many writers. I had just met a movie producer who was animatedly describing an upcoming movie by her friend, movie director Mimi Lederer. "Pay It Forward" opens in most movie theaters in the United States on October 20th.

The movie is based loosely on a book about a young boy who eagerly dives into a class assignment to come up with an idea to help the world. His idea is to encourage people to "pay it forward" by doing three good deeds and, instead of expecting a payback, to request that the recipients "pay it forward" by helping three more people. I bought the book so I could read it on the way home from Maui. The movie has Oscar buzz. You may want to see it too.

~October 2000
I have been providing communication coaching for the past six months to Tien Liou, an extremely bright Taiwanese-born CEO of Kendin Communications, maker of "ethernet components for network applications," a Silicon Valley-based company that will go public within six months. You can guess how I met him.

***Gentle Reminder:
As the holiday seasons approach, remember that you can be a major coauthor of the kind of story you want your life to be by making more moments meaningful for the people you meet. Don't wait for a holiday or other big moment. If you give enough other people what they need in their life, you often get what you need, sometimes even before you know you need it and from people you didn't know could provide it. Opportunity is often inconvenient and often flows from bringing the best out in others. The paybacks will keep coming back to you.

Tell me your story about or suggestion for a "cross-promotion" or a "pay it forward." I'd like to consider including it in my next book, _Make Yourself Magnetic: Pulling People Closer and Propelling Ideas Farther_. 

In March 2001, Irma is getting married to a coworker she met through one of her cross-promotions. Guess who gets to be the flower girl, because she asked? I plan to carry a pink-blossomed azalea plant down the aisle.

At Kare's site, http://www.sayitbetter.com, you can see past columns on such diverse topics as "Speak English Like it Tastes Good" and "Be a Safe Center in a Skirmish"; peruse the "Favorite Picks" section with its extensive list of related books, Web sites, and other helpful resources; visit "The Store" to get a book, card pack, or tape (such as "Make Yourself Memorable," $12 for 100 suggestions on how to become a more compelling communicator); and read about the programs Kare can present at your conference or in-house meeting.
                                                        ExpertMagazine.com 2000