October 2007


While re-reading the emails from both the anonymous complainer and Michelle Carter from the post Vitriolic Response to Michelle Carter, I was struck by a simple notion:

Michelle Carter wouldn’t be able to operate as a funeral consultant if families didn’t have a need for her services.

If I understand her correctly, Michelle operates as an extra layer between the family and the funeral home.  She is paid to be both a grief counselor, through  New York Center for Transition, and a funeral director.  The funeral home provides the services, Michelle runs the funeral and the family is happy.

But why are her services sought out by families?  Because there is something lacking in the offerings of surrounding funeral homes.

To be completely honest, my first reaction to the explanation of what Michelle does was a simple “Who does she think she is?”  Especially since my heart has always been with the person who takes on the risk of opening a full funeral home and has to pay the bills.

But then she explained how she interacts with the firms, and, at least it seems, that she doesn’t just “rent out a funeral home building” but that she only takes over the actual funeral planning portion.

If you find yourself dealing with a funeral consultant, resist your first urge to curse out the consultant and tell off the family.  Consider, for a moment, what your firm lacks that made the family seek out another professional.

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Thomas Poolton, of Colors of Honor, asks an important question:

How do I pay for a sponsorship?

The simplest way is for us to send out a PayPal invoice to the sponsoring company. 

Then, you can pay by credit card or Paypal account.

We’ve enjoyed some great articles from our newest guest columnist, Michelle Carter.  But it seems she’s not without her detractors.

An anonymous reader, who provided the email address blankname1000@yahoo.com and neglected to sign his/her remarks, left this comment for Ms. Carter: 

Great Michelle! Bravo as well. So I guess you missed the CE class where Debbie Orecki told us that even though you are a Funeral Director licensed by New York State, YOU CANNOT DO FUNERALS WITHOUT A BUSINESS REGISTRATION. Wait, sorry, I forgot you are only licensed since 2006. Let’s forget your stupidity for a minute and that you actually posted this information on the net that you operate sans registration, lets focus more on the idiot that rents a chapel to you AND assumes the liablity of your actions by putting his business’s name and registration number on a death certificate. Sweety, wait till you screw up one day with a family and they wanna make a complaint. Better yet, explain to this man’s insurance carrier who the hell you are when you go for a deposition at their lawyers office. Explain to Ms. Orecki that you offered them a laughing stick and see what she says, but let me know after the tears dry ok? Perhaps a freelance entrepreneur like this is the reason not only the volume is down with the so called “legitamate” funeral homes (oxymoron) and the genius funeral braintrust out there such as MFDA and NFDA can’t understand why, but thats also why Paul has to scramble around to find a cheap casket manufacturer and keep his vendors that has put up with this guy’s whims and idisyncrasies for years “honest”. Of course “honest” translates into “how cheap can you do it for” and that ranges from your trade embalmer to your livery man , right down to you buying tissues for the funeral home in wal mart.
So I guess by not giving a family a GPL, Statement of Goods and Services Selected, and Customer’s Designation of Intentions Form, thats doing them a service huh???? And you give them your cell phone number to call them in the middle of the night???? So if it goes to voice mail instead of an answering service and the body is in a house thats easing their comfort too huh??? Don’t you find it just a little embarassing to ask whoever front’s you the following: “I have a call, do you mind if I use the registration for the death certificate?” . Better yet, if a family refers someone to you (which aint happening), isn’t it a nice feeling when they hand someone who dosent know you your business card that you had made at Staples with your pager # attached to it? Actually, I shouldn’t make as much out of this as I have, you aren’t good for more than 3 calls anyway. I laugh how you have the same last name as another Funeral Home in the area where you operate. You wouldn’t be capitolizing on that especially because that said firm is a corporate affiliate would you?? Tsk Tsk Michelle. Not a good example.
Time to call Bakers Pride and price equipment for turning chapel A into a pizzeria and forget parasites and their crap like this.
Thomas Lynch, another beauty, happens to be right about associations keeping quiet. They are useless. Beyond useless to be honest. They keep quiet about Georgia and the whole Joe Nicelli thing because those same NFDA fat cats not only look at a family and ask for $4200 for a direct cremation, but put the body in a used air tray.

If anyone needs me i’ll be in the corner playing with my laughing stick singing cum by ya.

When contacted for comment, Michelle responded with the following: 

Well, who ever you are, commenter, you clearly must know me personally.  That surprises me, since I’ve had the good fortune of working with some wonderful individuals so far in my career.  If you have an issue, or feel like I’ve slighted you in some way, please contact me directly at Michelle dot Carter at gmail dot com, so we can resolve it professionally and privately.

In response to your comments, let me assure you that everything I do is well above board.  I’ve had several conversations with Ms. Orecki to be sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.  I didn’t go into the minutia of how I operate for this guest blog, for the sake of brevity, and because I didn’t think it would interest Tim’s readers.  (For those readers not in New York, Deborah Orecki is the head of the Bureau of Funeral Directing, a division of the NYS Department of Health, which regulates the funeral industry.)

Technically, whichever funeral home the family chooses to work through is the one that ‘gets’ the call.  I work as an independent contractor or agent, much like your trade embalmer or part-time outside help.  At the end of the year, I file a 1099 just like they would.   My families do get a GPL, Statement of Goods and Services Selected, and Customer’s Designation of Intentions Form from the funeral home just like they would with any funeral.  It’s not much different from hiring someone on a temporary basis to keep an eye on things while you’re on vacation, or handle an out-of-town call for you.

It’s a win/win situation.  My families have me involved in the funeral process, creating the service they desire, and the funeral home gets revenue with substantially less work on their end.  I haven’t had any issues with it so far.  After all, the fact is that someone is going to handle that funeral.  Would you rather have that revenue yourself, or have it go to the guy down the street?

It’s also prudent to point out that grief counseling is not regulated by Ms. Orecki’s office, and one does not need a funeral home registration to provide those services.  Very few certified grief counselors are also funeral directors.

Yes, I do give clients my cell phone number, which rings to a redundant land line so there’s no chance of going to voicemail.  If a family calls me at 2 in the morning, they don’t tell an answering service their loved one died, they speak to me directly.  I don’t know of many other funeral directors who could say the same thing.

And yes, I do have the same last name as a pair of funeral homes in the area. I’ve actually found that to be more of a liability than an asset.  I have no desire to be affiliated with a large corporation, or to be perceived that way, and I make that very clear to anyone I come in contact with.   That said, I can’t change my name or my hometown, and I think most people are smart enough to make the distinction between the two.  It’s been more than a decade since anyone in my family has been affiliated with that firm, so I think people have caught on by now.   I should point out that all of my clients so far have chosen to work with the independent firms in the area.

And finally, in response to your comment about call volume going down:  There certainly are firms in this area that are handling fewer calls than they have in years past.  There are also firms who have experienced an up tick in call volume.  I would attribute this to two things.  First, a large segment of the population in this neck of the woods are relocating to the warmer climates of South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, etc., and subsequently dying there.  Second, I think consumers are more savvy these days. If they’re unhappy or not completely satisfied, I think they’re more willing to bring their business elsewhere these days than they were in years past.  I hardly think this is a situation that is unique to the Metro New York area.

Anyway, the point of my last post was that we, as an industry, are being given a great tool to help shape and change the public’s perceptions of who we are and what we do.  The documentary The Undertaking featuring Thomas Lynch airs tonight on PBS.  For it to have the impact it should, we need to work together.  It will benefit all of us.

And this is the part where I comment.

To my anonymous reader, I can only offer my sincere condolences on what has to be a pretty bad situation.  You are clearly perturbed about something.  Somehow I doubt you’d be so bold with your rude remarks in a more public setting or a place where your identity could not be so easily masked.

I’m not a fan of ad hominem attacks (the kind where a person’s name is attacked, rather than their actions) and I don’t allow them on the blog.  How do I do that?  By moderating comments and only allowing those that are relevant to the discussion.

So why did I print this one?  Because in between all the rude personal cutdowns is also an important question:  how can Michelle serve families without operating a funeral home.  I think she’s answered that sufficiently.  If anyone refutes her assertion that she operates within the law of New York State, please, let me know.

If you choose to comment on the blog, make sure you include your email address so I can converse with you.  I’d love to have a more accurate account of our anonymous reader’s issues with Michelle, but I can’t, because he/she chose to purposefully mask his/her identity.

I strongly support the rights of my readers to share their opinions, not only when the fit with what I or another columnist has written, but especially when they offer an opposing viewpoint.  Unfortunately, taking a rude tone, referring to the writer’s work as “stupidity” and demeaning a female writer by calling her “sweety” will lead me to believe that the complainer is actually the one with a defect.

As you may know, from reading the post, Sponsorship Now Available!, we’re offering the opportunity for companies to reach our readers by sponsoring the blog for a week at a time.

We’ll add your name to the header (with the tag “Sponsored by”) and add a quick sentence to the end of each blog post that indicates your support.  Plus, we’ll kick off the week with a short post about your company and how much your support means to us.

We’ve already had three companies sign up, with more who have expressed interest.

So don’t dawdle, especially if you’re going to take advantage of the low, low, low price of just $25 a week!

To participate, drop me an email at finalembraceonline@gmail.com, leave a comment here or call me at 321-287-0628.

Via our friends at Neatorama:

Geeks tomb

You may have heard about “viral marketing” and how it’s a byproduct of the Internet.  Everyone from political candidates to car companies are trying to get their latest marketing effort to “go viral” in hopes of turning hundreds of thousands of people on to their product.

In technology terms, viral marketing is what happens when an idea (sometimes called a ‘meme’) spreads from blog to blog or through email much like a virus spreads in the organic world.

“Viral marketing” is what you and I would call “word of mouth.”

Here’s a simple, Internet-based example:

I write this blog about funeral service.  A funeral director in Missouri reads it.  He likes it.  (He knows who he is.) 

He reads every day and takes note that we sell quilted cot covers.  Someone he knows in the offline world says, “Gee wiz, I need a new cot cover.”

To which our reader says, “By golly, I happen to know a company that makes them.  And their blog sure is swell!”

At this point, a co-worker leans in to remind them that it’s no longer 1954.

So the referred person checks us out, places an order and loves the product.

The original reader sees our cover on his acquaintance’s cot and thinks, “wow, those are nice.”

And pretty soon he’s ordering a few.

Okay, maybe that example isn’t exactly viral, in the strict sense that all the techies talk about viral. 

But it illustrates an important point about the way that your customers find you.  I offered free information to everyone who wants to read it.  In fact, I’ve tried to build a specific voice (my own) through the opinion pieces and other stories I share so you’ll recognize me and want to come back to hear more.

Every once in a while, my stories have to do with the business I run everyday: quilted cot covers at www.cotcovers.com.  It makes sense that I’d talk about it, since I spend so much time thinking about it, planning the future of it and worrying over it.

You, in turn, know that I make quilted covers (which you might not need right now), but you also get a lot of other, useful stuff out of me.

When it’s time to buy a quilted cot cover, is there any doubt that you’ll be buying it from me?

The same it true for your clients.  When you sponsor the local baseball team, you don’t expect for the families of the tykes to make pre-arrangements in the stands.  When you volunteer at your church or advertise in the cheerleading program, you do so with your eye to future referrals.

Viral marketing has been around for years.  In fact, I think advertising consultants have only called it “viral marketing” so they can charge big bucks to teach companies how to use this “new” concept!

sponsorship.gif

Our post-convention readership has leveled off at just over 400 people each weekday.  (Weekends are another story, as most of you are much busier and I don’t post much on Saturday or Sunday)

So I think it’s time to try to monetize the blog.  What does that mean?

Simply, I’m ready to get the blog to pay for itself. 

No, I won’t be asking any of you to pay to read the blog.  That would be foolish and, to be honest, I don’t know how many people would be willing to pay for what I write!

I plan to open the blog to limited sponsorship.

First, let me reassure you that I will NEVER, EVER allow anyone to pay for a good review of their product or service.  Every opinion I’ve brought to you on this blog has been absolutely truthful and from my heart.

On the other hand, I’ve had a few companies ask me if they can advertise here, as they know that we have a savvy readership (that means you, smarty-pants!) and that we connect on a daily basis with our visitors.  Building awareness about your brand is important, so advertising on sites like Final Embrace and in the trade magazines is an important part of getting the word out.

So I’ve decided to accept ads on a limited basis.  But we’re not going to have banner ads or flashing blocks on the side of the blog.  I’ve decided to rent out a little piece of our header (that part at the top of the site that has our logo on it) to sponsoring companies.

I’m offering weekly sponsorships of the blog for the low, low, bargain basement price of $25!

(It sounds better if you imagine a booming announcer guy voice when you read that last part!)

I’ll also write a short article about the company that sponsors the blog and I’ll add a tag at the bottom of each blog post that indicates the sponsor.

What will I do with all the mad money this sponsorship will bring in?

First, even if I sell every single week, we’re only talking $1300.  But even that amount will help pay for a few black and white ads in the trade magazines to boost our readership.  In fact, we might even be able to raise our rates when we pass 1000 readers a day!

Anyone interested?  Surely there are a some companies out there that want to sponsor this great blog for just $25 a week!

Drop me an email or respond to this post.

(Final Embrace Contributor Forum Attendees get their first week free, when they sign up for at least two weeks.  So don’t forget to remind me that you were there!)

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