This Week In Business

One Day Website Workshop: The When, The Why, and The How

Last Friday, we gave our twice a year ‘One Day Website’ workshop. Our reasoning is that there are people who have the time/interest in learning website software but not the funds to pay us to do it for them.

The reason we do it only twice a year? Honestly, it’s a ton of work ahead of time (helping people buy domain names, getting the software installed, preparing the slides since the software likes to change periodically). We barely break even on it looking at this from a purely business point of view… but the whole point of this business was to at least ‘Break Even’ so I guess we’re good there. (I know, haha!)

But earning beaucoup bucks is not why we do this. For me, I consider this a bit of community service… and if we happen to get business from it someday, great. But at least we’re doing our part, teaching small pockets of people how to do something they want to learn. It’s a bit like being a teacher again.

I’m always impressed by the variety of people who come to this workshop: different ages (everyone from college students to retirees), different businesses (artists to non-profit directors), different levels of seriousness (from ‘I want to get this done today’ to ‘I just came to check it out’). As someone who runs one very specific kind of business, it’s nice to get a window into what other people are working on, and what they care about in terms of a website.

Since Matt Baya and I started doing this workshop in 2009, we’ve helped take about 200 people through this process in the twice yearly ‘One Day Website’. And that’s kind of cool.

Many people don’t end up finishing their websites, which makes me a little sad. But then I think about the success rate of the adult ed French class I used to teach… or how long it’s taken me to lose 15 of the 30 pounds I want to lose… and I see it’s similar. It’s hard to make yourself do something that is a little (or a lot) against your nature.

I’m always sad when I haven’t taken photos of these things, especially since we had such a nice group on Friday. But it was fun and we do look forward to doing it again!

Had no idea we did this kind of event? For the official internet record, we do it twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall (summer is crazy and winter weather can make travel difficult where we are). The best way to find out about when it’s happening is to subscribe to our monthly email newsletter. We announce the workshop there first, wait 3-4 days then post it on Facebook, the website, etc.

Sometimes, we can do this workshop for a private group, like we did for the Maine Indian Basketweavers and the Maine Crafts Guild. If you can fill a room for us, we’ll show up and do our thing. If everyone chips in, it’s a pretty affordable (and almost painless) professional development opportunity. If you’re a Chamber of Commerce, business group, networking group, adult education facility, university group… it’s a pretty good offer since just about everyone these days needs/wants a website.

So thanks to everyone who came last week, and especially those who came to those first few workshops when we were still learning the ropes. There will be many more of these (and hopefully some other regular workshops) coming to Downeast Maine and beyond.

Those who can do teach. Those who can’t, we can just teach you in a class. ūüôā

 

Managing Expectations For Your DIY Project

My hairdresser Shaina is a great person who not only does amazing hair but also has one of those witty personalities. She posted this awhile back:

fixthatmess

I will say right off that I don’t do anything hair altering (especially related to hair color) by myself. The whole looking in the mirror and having it be backwards thing is enough to keep me from even attempting updos.

I used to do my own box hair color but I knew it wasn’t as good as what Shaina would do. So I finally gave up and left it to the pros. Now I have people emailing me asking who is doing my hair.

This cartoon struck me a certain, specific way because it can relate to a bunch of different kinds of businesses.

What is ombre hair you may ask? Well it’s all the rage on Pinterest. Here are some pictures to show you:

ombrehaironpinterest

 

So you get the idea, it’s one hair color grading into another hair color gradually and on purpose. Now you know!

Here’s the kit Shaina’s cartoon joke probably refers to:

cos-LOreal-Paris-Feria-Wild-Ombre-in-O60-For-Medium-to-Dark-Brown-Hair-mdn

 

Now if you are expecting to look like you’ve just stepped off the runway after spending a couple hours with plastic gloves in your bathroom, you are going to be disappointed.

And this is what we call in the business ‘managing expectations’. This is what I used to do when I did my own hair color and what you need to do when you attempt something yourself that you ought really to hire a professional to do.

Managing Expectations: It will be cheaper but it will take you longer.

It is cheaper to dye your own hair but by the time you set up, do it, and clean up you are talking double the time you would have spent at the salon. But it will be cheaper.

It’s ok if cheaper is important. Just realize you are prioritizing cheaper above quicker.

Managing Expectations: You are not going to get professional results.

If you think you can learn anyone’s job well in 2-3 hours (or even 10 hours) of internet searching, you are delusional.

If you think you can do a better job than someone with years of experience, you are delusional.

Embrace that you are not a professional. You might not be able to execute certain things. It might not look exactly like you expected. It’s ok.

Managing Expectations: You will get functional (and possibly even ok to good) results.

At the end of two hours, will your hair be different colors with this kit? Yes.

‘Results’ are a relative term. Whether you pay my gal Shaina or get your own ombre highlighting kit, you will technically have ombre hair at the end of both processes. But if you put the pictures of each result side by side, they will look different. When that matters to you is when you should pay for a pro. When it doesn’t, keep doing it yourself.

It’s best to know a pro you can call, should you decide to try something yourself in case you decide you can’t live with the results. But heading into a DIY process with some managed expectations is a good way to go into a project, whether it’s coloring your own hair or making your own website.

In the meantime, I’m going to let Shaina keep making me fabulous. Because I clearly can’t handle it.

Hiring Someone To Write Your Blog: The If, The Why, and The How

Many people are surprised when I tell them we ghost write for other blogs. Despite the fact that this blog is fun and kicky, we can be serious when we need to be. Some of our clients have been tech companies (since we have that knowledge anyway), some are just regular businesses.

Many people know that a blog is great for SEO and building authority. So the natural decision to make at this point is: are you going to do it or pay someone else to?

There are a whole group of people who think blogging can and should be handled within your company.


Why Your Blog Could Be Handled Within Your Company

1) Someone in your company knows what’s going on.¬†A content writer is not in your business so they can’t know close to everything that is going on like someone who is there 40 hours a week.

2) Someone in your company¬†can write.¬†Yes, most people graduate high school being able to string sentences together… and some people have a real talent for it.

3) The same person who can write has¬†free time.¬†You can probably think of idle times in your schedule (or an employee’s schedule) and have the thought ‘Hey, maybe I/they can crank out a blog!’

There are a few reasons though why you may hire people like us to coordinate your blog, write part of it for you, or write the entire thing for you.


Why Your Blog Could Be Handled By A Content Writer/Marketer/SEO Person

1) Content writers¬†are lay people.¬†Chances are your customer won’t care and, most importantly, won’t understand fancy jargon. Someone who can explain things about your business in a way your customers understand and enjoy can be worth some money.

2) Content writers are good writers. Someone who understands how to write for the web and how to write concise blog posts that are both interesting to read and written in the voice of your company will leave website visitors with a good impression.

3) Content writers¬†get the SEO stuff.¬†There is a bit more to blogs than the writing part. It’s part specialized data entry, part understanding how blogs work in the bigger picture of website traffic.¬†You need to ¬†know about the following to do it well:

  • using tags
  • interlinking to previous blog posts
  • how to find, use, and cite legal images in a blog post
  • how to write a grabbing headline that has keywords in it
  • proper formatting for easy reading and search engines
  • and more!

4) Content writers are¬†fast.¬†These people look at websites all day so we should be fast. They’ll work at least twice as quickly as your employee doing the same thing. (I’d be slow trying to ring up a customers purchases at your cash register since I have no idea what I’m doing in that situation!)

In other words, you have options. You don’t have to write the blog yourself! You can have a blog for your business and have someone else write it!

Even if you do hand this off, as the person driving this train (re: your business), you will need to set the person helping you (and your blog) up for success.


How You Can Set Up A Blogger For Success Who Isn’t You

  • A blog site

You’ll need to understand a bit on how your website works to understand if you’ll be able to blog on your current site or if you need to set up something on another domain that links to your site. Talking to a web person is worth it at this stage, mainly because you don’t want to build this blog up (and links coming into it) only to have to move it later. (I have moved my blog three times, trust me, don’t do this to yourself!)

If you are on the fence on the blogging thing, set up a free account on Wordpress.com and try it for a month. If you like it, you can move it to a Wordpress self hosted site by the Import/Export functions under ‘Tools’ without much trouble. All this to say, to blog you’ll need a place to blog. It may be worth it to have the employee you plan to blog with sit down with your web designer for some training on the software.

  • A regular publication schedule¬†

Whether you are going to publish every Monday or every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, establish this with the person you plan to work with. They are going to be limited by time constraints (like everyone!) and they need to know what is expected. For an employee that’s new to this, allow 3-4 hours per blog post (start off with 4 hours and as the person gets the hang of it, the time will be less). Remember a blog post isn’t sitting and writing: they may need time to contact information sources and do research in addition to the actual writing part.

If you are hiring a content writer, have them create a proposal of what you can expect from them in terms of content and publication schedule. (Note: content writers work much faster than your employee who is not a full time writer. It’s not fair to your employee to think otherwise!)

  • Sources for images

Whether you have a company Flickr gallery, an account with iStockphoto, or just a Dropbox folder where everyone puts in images, make sure whoever is writing the blog has access to this resource. They will need them for blog posts (blog posts with images are much more widely read, and having images has other benefits).

If you are creating the images, make sure to name the files something useful (like the name of the person in the photo). This way, the writer will be able to use the images appropriately and generate captions.

  • Topic structure and leads

Usually at a blog client kick off meeting, we figure out a general topic posting schedule. For example, Mondays are going to be interviews with our suppliers. Here are the questions we’d like to ask them and here is the contact information of some people to start with in terms of the first four interviews. Thursdays are going to be a product review. Donna will email you a list of new products for this season. Here’s a sample review I wrote to kind of give you an idea of what we are looking for on Thursdays…

A ridiculous level of detail? Maybe. But you don’t want your blog writer to stare at the blinking cursor and think ‘What should I write today?’ Having a structure will force ideas for days there are none and give a structure for the writer to work within and make sure the blog stays on topics you want it to be on.

Sometimes people do is hire a content writer to set up a structure for the staff blogger to follow. Give it a month and if it’s not working, you can always change it… but at least it’s a place for the blog to go day to day and week to week, especially those first few months.

  • Access to social media

The best thing to do after you blog? Be able to promote it! If your company has a Facebook page or Twitter account, give this person access so they can promote their posts. Sure you can have it set up so posts automatically go out but letting your writer go onto the social network and respond to comments, share it on their profile, and more means you’ll get way more bang for your buck.

  • Autonomy

By all means, check the first few blog posts before they go online… But nothing will slow down your company’s blogging quite like the bottleneck you will become if this keeps happening. Trust your people to do a good job (and by all means read the blog when it’s online!) but after an initial period of training, let your content writer run with it.


How Do I Find Content Writers?

So you’ve gathered above that while paying an hourly or salary employee to blog is cheaper for you per hour than having a writer do it… but it will also take them at least twice as long as someone just figuring it out. How can you find someone to help your employee get started or to do this for you?

Read blogs.

By reading blogs, you will find bloggers whose style you like. If you want to find someone local, do a Google blog search for local blogs in your area and see who’s writing. If you want someone who specializes in an industry, read blogs in those industries and certain names will emerge. These are good starting points.

Try LinkedIn.

Now that you have some names, look these people up on LinkedIn. Are they legit? Do other people recommend their blogging skills?

With LinkedIn's new skills endorsements, at a glance you can see that while you might not want me to fix your leaking faucet, you probably can trust me to blog for you.

With LinkedIn’s new skills endorsements, at a glance you can see that while you might not want me to fix your leaking faucet, you probably can trust me to blog for you.

You can ever search by skill on LinkedIn (blogging) so think of this site as a way to check someone’s references.

Problogger.net Job Board

If you want to be a bit more general about it all (‘I just want someone who wants the job’), try posting it on the Problogger job board. This is a highly regarded place in the online community to find legitimate paid blogging opportunities. (Well it’s as legitimate as Craigslist for finding an apartment… there are always scammy people but plenty of reputable people use it too.)

No matter the route you go, all bloggers should be able to provide writing samples to you and other pieces of information that can help you make your decision.

Like the rest of the world, you are more likely to find someone you already know for the job. That said, there is no reason you can’t go out and seek a content writer yourself if you don’t know any!
Does this seem like a bit of work? It always is to implement something new at first.
Will your employee need a bit more help then someone who does this all day? Of course.
But is it worth having a blog? This being my 897th entry, I might be a little biased when I say absolutely.

The Shortest Business Book Ever

I'm all about you opening for business. Photo via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway

I’m all about you opening for business. Photo via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway

I have several friends who have very recently started their own businesses.

I am pretty encouraging about this sort of thing, so long as they aren’t remortgaging their house or selling their children to pay for it (or something similarly crazy).

Honestly, six years ago when I started doing this part time, all but about ten people thought I was weird. Then when I quit my job almost three years ago, me being weird got updated to me being crazy.

Someone who I had considered a bit of a mentor up until that point said: “Well that’s gutsy. Good luck, I guess.”¬†Whenever I see this person, I still think of her unsupportive comment.

I will never be that wet blanket for someone else’s dream. (So long as they are not jumping off a financial cliff with no safety net that is.)

Because of my lack of business background and my relatively short climb to moderate success, people ask me for advice. A few people really wanting to charm me say I should write a book.

But my business book would be the shortest book in history:

1) Don’t spend more money then you make. It’s really tempting to go out and buy a new computer, spend $100 at a stationary store, and otherwise buy things for your business that are more pretty than functional.

Here’s an exercise to show you most stuff you want to spend money on is kind of pointless. Try to remember the paint color of the last restaurant bathroom you were in. Or how big the sign in front of the last storefront you went into was. Exactly. Your customers care far less than you think they do.

2) Do good work.¬†Competing only on price, you will never be able to compete with the larger firms or big box stores. So you clearly need something that is good. It doesn’t have to be unique (though that does help). Just good or ideally great.

If you have a good reputation, that’s going to be ¬†your hardest working advertisement. You can’t buy it or fake it (at least indefinitely). Because people are going to talk about you and your business when you aren’t there. You want them to… and you want them to say good things.

3) Be nice to people. This isn’t just to your clients. This is to waiters, interns, people you meet who don’t seem important.

People are mobile. I met a good friend of mine when we were both copy and pasting at newspapers. Now she’s the editor of a statewide publication. Don’t get me wrong, I saw greatness in her when I met her (and her in me). But this just goes to show you that people you are dealing with in one situation you may meet in another… so you might as well be nice.

If you do those three things, you can run a business. I swear it isn’t rocket science. Sure, success takes some luck but if you follow the above three rules, you’ll be ahead of the business starting game!

 

 

Beyond The Printer: Why You Probably Need An Online Form

I think a lot of us (myself included) think of ways to do things that are easier for ourselves versus easier for our customers.

Here’s a great (not me) example. Derrick blows glass¬†and he was invited to enter one of his pieces in a contest. He was sent to a website link for this contest so he clicked from his email. On the webpage was information about the contest and then a link to click on to sign up. So Derrick clicked again.

Two clicks in, Derrick thinks he is going to get to an online form… but it’s a pdf. He’s on his phone, which is how 50% of Americans now access the internet. All he can do is look at the tiny writing and think ‘I guess I need to get on a computer to do this.’

Yeah this is a form I can't fill out, let alone read, on my phone. *sigh

Yeah this is a form I can’t fill out, let alone read, on my phone. *sigh

In addition to being on his non-pdf friendly phone, Derrick, like many of my non-business owning friends, however, doesn’t even own a printer anymore… and feels guilty printing personal stuff at work.

‘Why didn’t they just make it an online form?’ he asked me.

No doubt he will turn this in and someone will have to type his application into some kind of spreadsheet or database that will track all the artists entering the contest.

This what I think happened. The person in charge of the contest made the pdf of the application and sent it to the web department, saying “Can you put this online?” Because most website people feel like they should do exactly what someone asks or seem like they are being difficult (and because they are usually busy people), they took this statement to mean link the pdf on the website, not take 20 extra minutes and build a custom form that gets emailed to the right person or people.

Derrick's simple glass order form. You can fill it in on your phone and he'll make you glass. Bam.

Derrick’s simple glass order form. You can fill it in on your phone and he’ll make you glass. Bam.

Why I love forms:

  • They work on mobile devices and regular computers.
  • The answer goes to the right person in electronic format- less typing for you if you get a form submitted.
  • The person filling out the form feels the immediate sense of accomplishment of having ‘done’ it.
  • Forms can apply to all kinds of businesses and non-profits, service-based and product-based sectors.

Will Derrick eventually have an online cart? Of course. But for now he can take requests… and was able to process a $100 order from a woman two weeks ago he had never met via this form.

Can you create an interactive pdf form? Of course. But in terms of mobile friendliness/readability (not to mention impressive technology), consider converting that pdf on your website you want people to fill out into an online form!

 

On Competition: Why There Is More Then Enough Work For All Of Us

Running a business means taking a fair bit of rejection. This company is no exception.

Rejection is part of life... does it mean we should be afraid of competition? Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/telemax/7035075623/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Rejection is part of life… does it mean we should be afraid of competition? Of course not. Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/telemax/7035075623/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Just a few weeks ago, we lost a bid on a large project to another company. It was a project was local, run by people we know, and matched our skill set. It would have also kept both Alice and I paid for three months. The loss felt not just expensive but very personal.

Fast forward to this past weekend being at a conference with other web developers. A lot of them are way more established, experienced, or otherwise ‘more than’ Breaking Even.

What do these two unrelated events have in common?

Every so often, in a moment of insecurity, I sometimes worry about ‘the competition’.

Ninety eight percent of the time, I relate to ‘the competition’ as I do at a conference. We can learn from each other and be valuable colleagues to one another. But sometimes, I feel a pang of insecurity. It’s not very attractive, helpful, or really very realistic.

Here’s why so-called ‘competition’ isn’t going to get me down, and shouldn’t get you down either.

The internet is huge… and getting bigger.

That’s to say there is a lot of work to do: millions of websites to create, marketing campaigns to implement, blogs to grow. There is more then enough for everyone in my industry and everyone wanting to enter it to work now into retirement.

Not online? In your business, you have a bigger market then you think you do and new people entering it all the time. (You may just need a new way to reach them.) Think about it and I’m sure you realize this is true no matter your industry.

We all need colleagues to do better work.

What’s the best way to understand something better? Listen to several people explain the same thing. Read multiple books by different authors on the same topic.

The more people in your industry, the more quickly it can improve and the better you can become. As the keynote speaker Paul Orwig said at the conference (a proverb): “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Companies are run by people.

People are unpredictable. Most of the time, this can be super annoying.

But sometimes that’s a good thing. For example, a web developer leaves the field… and offers you all their clients. Your businesses merges with another. Your business and another look for ways to collaborate on a common project.

We are all moving around all the time, leaving the work force, coming back into the work force, changing companies, creating companies, retiring.

The larger your network of people in your field (your ‘competition’), the more likely you can take advantage of opportunities like the ones above.

So as you see, ‘competition’ is the wrong way to think about it. It’s why I never use that word except when I think it in a moment of insecurity… about myself.

When a potential client invokes it (usually to get me to come down on a price), I tend to want to run far away from that client, not think badly about Company A.

Colleagues. That’s what I have. And that’s what you have to. And in those moments where you feel ‘less than’ remember that that’s how you’re feeling about yourself… and get back to work.