Medaling in the “I’ve never done this before” jitters

Sometimes, when we’re doing something for the first time, we can stumble or falter just from the not-knowingness of it. Let’s talk about that.

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Looking for ways to breathe more life into your website/social media? Try these ten stories.

10 stories that you can easily share, in either juicy bite-sized portions or baked into blog posts or pages (can you tell I haven’t had breakfast yet?).

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If I had my way, everyone would have a coach. Here are mine.

If I had my way, I’d hire everybody their own coach. They can give such great perspective. But since I can’t, I’d like you to meet both of mine.

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A harvest of stories: The big guys do it well, because they know its power

A lot of storytelling happens in the commercial breaks between Super Bowl plays. Some of it is even good. What can we learn from what the ‘big guys’ are doing?

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The power of online communities for owners of teeny-tiny businesses

I’ve just checked in with one of my online communities, which was discussing how to create Facebook Live videos. I’m glad I checked in…video is an area I hope to be braver about exploring this year.

We all know about the downsides of the online environment, right? The lack of boundaries or filters. The pervasiveness and addictiveness of bad news. The temptation to put the verbal beatdown on jerks who we know are simply trying to start a fight. And on and on.

But for all the downsides, there are some startlingly wonderful upsides to it as well. For example, in my post about Facebook, I describe how I’ve remodeled it into a key element of my mental health. For every self-centered bit of ugliness, there are many more beautiful jewels ranging from the thought-provoking to the day-maker to the life-changer.

For those of us who are self-employed in some fashion, one of the best things about the web and social media is the existence of online communities. These can be conversation spaces on websites, web-based communities, or social media groups full of people who share our interests.

Especially if you live in a smaller town, as I do, having a place where I can commune with others who are on the same professional learning curve is worth having to spend a few more minutes online each day, even worth having to dodge an internet troll or sales pitch now and then.

I choose my communities based on a few factors:

What would I want out of a community?

Would it be:

  • A good conversation when I need it
  • Communing with other professionals who do what I do, to learn or teach
  • (Gently) getting the word out about what I do, how I can help, in the places where my primary customer types hang out
  • Avoiding the isolation of self-employment; being around other smart people
  • Learning from one another’s mistakes and successes as I evolve my business
  • Moral support on those days when you just want to hang it up
  • Possible fun collaborations with people who have complementary skills

How big is the community I’m checking out?

You can see that, depending on what you chose above, the size of a community does matter. If you’re trying to get visibility for your work, for example, being in a community of 4000 souls would be a challenge. Many of them are also vying for visibility, and your words can get lost in the cascade of posts every day.

Conversely, if you’re looking for a broad spectrum of ideas, trying to avoid isolation, or seeking good one-to-one conversation, then a bigger community may increase your chances of finding someone out of the masses who’s a kindred spirit (if you pay attention, you’ll spot them).

A small, focused group is best if you’re hoping to find a sense of shared purpose, longer-term relationships, collaboration opportunities, and none of the overwhelm of “200 new posts in your group!”

What’s the vibe?

I can almost guarantee that, if a community has words like “diva,” “b*tch,” or “babe” in the name, it’s entirely the wrong vibe for me.

Similarly, industry power-success jargon like “crush it,” “kill it,” “own it,” or “making bank” just isn’t what I’m up for, so the prevailing atmosphere of the site isn’t likely to be MY cup of tea.

Not all of us have the same preferences there, so to each his/her own. Trust your gut. But make sure the energy and spirit of the group match yours. The last thing you need is one more energy drain—we all have enough of those to go around.

How focused is it?

There are some highly focused “niche” communities that serve the needs of people who work in something very, very specific and want to commune with others who use that same skill or technology.

There are others that are slightly broader. One of my groups is focused specifically on the needs of people building their own small businesses, specifically people who are “conscious entrepreneurs” with a bigger vision for their work than just paying the mortgage.

And then there are groups for people who just love pictures of cats.

So, if you want to get maximum benefit from being in these kinds of spaces, think about these two factors:

Very specific = good for targeted learning, connections, solutions, Q&A. Think of it as something like a club, where you all geek out on the same subject matter.

Very general = good for a sense of community/camaraderie, contented browsing, lots of input, feeling part of something larger. Think of THAT like a big block party, where you have at least one common interest to break the ice. (And, for introverts like me, minus the “party” part 🙂

Is it just one big icky sales pitch?

This is hard to describe but easy to recognize. Many groups, on Facebook in particular, are just elaborate marketing tactics to fill the owner’s sales funnel with prospects, without really providing useful, engaging community-building. You’ll know when you find one of these, and you can decide how comfortable you are with it, and whether to stay or to leave the group.

What form does it take?

The smallest sort of community: Your own blog or business page on social media.

This is the option over which you have the most control.

If you have a blog on your website, you can create a conversation space just by opening up your blog posts to comments (which you can approve before they appear). On social media, you can regularly post useful material and invite people’s feedback around it.

In either scenario, post something interesting and engaging, and when you share it with people, treat it as an invitation to start a conversation about your topic. Ask questions. Invite comments and experiences.

Web communities

There are many, many niche groups on the web that serve as a gathering place for people of specific professions, people who all use a certain software product, fans of creative arts, and tons more. There’s Kinaxis (supply chain experts), Radiolopolis (radiologists), Journalverse (journal writers and facilitators), and Barista Exchange (self-explanatory!).

Social media communities
Facebook has over a million public, private, and secret groups, both paid and unpaid. My own short list of groups includes communities who discuss different kinds of conscious business, healthy entrepreneurship, community gardening, WordPress, storytelling, and meditation.

LinkedIn groups “provide a place for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to share content, find answers, post and view jobs, make business contacts, and establish themselves as industry experts.” They come in all shapes and sizes and degree-of-noisiness. You can join to see what the vibe is, and leave if it isn’t your thing. Find groups to research by using the search feature at the top of your LinkedIn.

Coaching or professional community private groups are usually started by a coach, consultant, or marketing expert to create a conversation space for their own clients. Some are free and open, but the majority are paid and private. Don’t let that necessarily be a dealbreaker; sometimes it’s the only way to keep a group sustainable. For example, the Awarepreneurs community costs $5/month for their online group, group networking calls, support and coaching, and more.

How to find a group to try

Search Facebook groups by logging into your account and looking in the left column for Explore >> Groups, then clicking the Discover tab and using the search box at the top to search for your area of interest. When you join a group, remember to see the Notifications button at the top, where you can dictate which notifications from the group, if any, show up on your page notifications (the globe in the upper right).

To search LinkedIn groups, n the search box at the top of your LinkedIn homepage, type keywords of interest, and click Search. On the search results page, click the Groups tab (it’s under “More” near the top left).

You can also search Google with terms like “online community for veterinarians” or “Facebook groups for women entrepreneurs” or “online discussion group for WordPress beginners.”

. . . . .

Online communities are no substitute for real human contact. But they do come with the crazymagical modern ability to connect with a concentrated group of faraway people who share our specific challenges, who may have answers to the questions keeping us up at night, and who we can help with our own knowledge and experience. That’s something that’s hard to find in all but the biggest cities, IF it can be found at all, and so it’s been well worth it to me. Try it out.

 


 

Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a heart-based business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:

  • I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
  • I’m on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
  • Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me  (completely non-icky, with zero sales pitch at the end) to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.
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In praise of reverse resolutions: Tracking back, not squinting forward

I’m just SO not a fan of the New Year’s resolution thing, and I know I’m not alone. Most of the people in my circle seem to be reinventing themselves in some way every month, even every week, and so it’s laughable when the rest of the world seizes on January 1 as THE day to change something up and try to stick with it for the rest of the year.

It’s a time of year when I don’t look ahead as much as I look back. I think of it as a “reverse resolution”—looking backward, not peering forward. And it’s not the oft-recommended lists of “all the things I accomplished and am proud of” I’m referring to (though that’s a great list to make). Instead, I’m interested in this scenario:

Thing 1:  What parts of life and business are going exactly right at the moment? What are the parts that are successful, helping me connect with good people, improving the health of my business, and making me feel alive?  What’s going well? First, I list those. Now, the fun part:

Thing 2: For every good thing, there was a time when this was not the case. For each thing on my list, I track back and follow the breadcrumb trail back to its origins: What small thing happened in the past—either with great intent or just out of the blue—that started me in the direction of this thing I’m now so proud of? It could be an event that only lasted a single second, or an hour, or a day. It could’ve been something ridiculous, or a complete accident! But whatever it was, somewhere there was a spark that led to another, to another, to another, and created this new happy outcome. I find it really helpful to catalog what those sparks were.

Why? If I know what they look like, I can optimize my chances of recognizing similar happy happenstances when I stumble across them in the future. So my “resolution” isn’t to promise myself something new that might be had; it’s to pay attention to each present moment for the spark it might already carry.

Here’s just a random example, one that doesn’t happen to be about business:

Spark: I was standing at our local library’s “What’s New” shelf and chose to pick up a book called The DNA Restart. It’s about the relationship between our own personal genome and the paths we all take to try to stay healthy. In particular, it talks about how all the food advice we get might be utterly useless because our individual genetic markers are all different. It’s not one-size-fits-all: Our bodies are individual, and actually need individualized strategies.

Time: 2 minutes to peruse, 1 minute to check the book out

Chain reaction: I ended up reading the book over coffee each morning for a week. (It’s super-interesting.)  It led to me dig up more about genetics and food.
…Which gave me a huge amount of self-knowledge about my own body’s possible genetic makeup and how it reacts to different things I put into it
…Which changed my diet
…Which finally gave me a clue about the connection between What/How I ate yesterday and Why I feel like a failure or can’t seem to get focused today, so I could do the right things instead
…Which made me so energized I started getting up earlier to write and daydream about good things to do
…Which turned me into a juggernaut of positivity, creative experimentation, and connection (which has been either beautiful or annoying to everyone in my tribe…)
…Which is good. And so it is.

Like that.

Some other sparks I tracked back to, and the chain reactions they created:

After the presidential election, I had an overwhelming, almost insane desire to write. I started a private blog with no readers and no fanfare on January 1, with the idea of writing every day (1 hour to set up). I put down all my fears and stressors and then could let it go for the day. I made the choice to stop that particular blog after a few months, but it morphed seamlessly into daily writing on topics that made my heart feel bigger. That is still my habit.

I dropped a shampoo bottle on my foot and suddenly, unreasonably, decided I hated plastic bottles. A lot. I went online and ordered a bar of shampoo instead (3 minutes). No waste, compostable paper wrapper and shipping box, nontoxic ingredients, and lasts as long as a bottle of hair washing chemicals. So there were (are) no more bottles in my shower. Which made me want to have fewer plastic containers everywhere else in my life. Which has — I would guess — saved me from exposure to a ton of carcinogens, in addition to feeling better about the waste stream from our household.

I had a migraine that lasted two days. In a moment of irritation, I decided to stop doing techie, left-brain work in the mornings (a split second to decide, then 10 minutes to re-shape my Google Calendar). Morning is the time when my right (intuitive/creative) brain is strongest. So I do creative work in the morning. Which made my migraine go away. Which means I’m able to more fluidly write and create nice new ideas for my circle of clients. Which has helped me magically attract more of the perfect clients. Which makes me extremely happy every day of my life.

I joined an online mastermind group for the first time in my life (1 hour to study and decide). Even as an introvert, it has provided me with a small, supportive community of super-smart, super-compassionate businesspeople to talk to. Which shows me it’s possible to bring your heart into your business and still be successful. Which gives me a lot of audacious hope that business will continue to shift that way, away from the impersonal and the deceptive.

And so forth.

It’s hard to trace things back to their original spark (if you’ve ever seen James Burke’s BBC series Connections you may find it easier to visualize). The easiest way for me to do this was to take a moment, breathe, and try to bring to mind one thing that’s a reality right now in my life that makes me happy, and that didn’t exist a year ago. And then start tracking backward, breadcrumb by breadcrumb. How did I end up with this good thing in my life…if I follow the thread back, where is the start of it? And is that something I can do again?

Anyway, it’s a lot more fulfilling than calculating how many calories I need to burn between now and December 31, 2018.

Happy new year,
Margaret

 

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Ten bite-sized things to do now that will reap benefits in 2018

Like many of my clients, my office will take a break this year for rest and reflection. I’ll be away from December 22 to January 3 for my annual year-end retreat. Most emails will wait until I return (apologies in advance for that annoying holiday autoresponder). The phone will go to voicemail. I’ll get more than six hours of sleep per night. And I’ll sink into planning What Comes Next.

It’s a great time of year to make sure our online marketing stuff is working and tidy and ready for a new year. Here are a few things you might consider doing now. If you would like instructions or direction on any of these things, drop me a line and I’ll happily guide you.

1. Make an offline backup copy of your website and store it somewhere safe to be ready in case of emergency. Most sites built by us will have the plugin Updraft Plus Backups installed which makes this a one-click job. Email me if you need to know where to find that.

2. Update your website’s guts (WordPress and all the bits and bobs that make your website ‘go’) to be sure they’re up-to-date and healthy. Those who have a maintenance agreement with us don’t need to worry about this–we will do that for you. For others, when you go into your site’s dashboard, you’ll see the left column littered with red dots indicating what’s out of date. Be sure to back everything up (see 1 above) first.

3. Run a malware scan on your home page. Just go to this link and plug in your domain name: https://sitecheck.sucuri.net/

4. Type up a new page with all of your online marketing details on it. This would include the logins & passwords for your website, for the company where your domain name is registered, for your website hosting company, and for your social media logins. Keep a printed copy and give another copy to someone you trust.

5. Change your website’s password (the one you use to get into it to edit). Make sure it registers as “strong” when you type it in…you’ll see what I mean when you do that. Hacking is a huge problem these days, but simple things like this can help avoid 90% of the problems.

6. See how fast–or not–your home page is. Google is getting very touchy about slow home pages, so knowing where you stand is a good start. Visit https://tools.pingdom.com/ and plunk in your domain name. Let it run, then click “Share Result” to share it with your own email address. If you have concerns, forward it to me and we’ll make plans to help it in 2018.

7. Have a friend visit your contact page to send you an email as though they were a client/prospect. If you have a form, have them use that, or just use an email link. Make sure that no glitchy things are keeping people from being able to reach you!

8. Find a few new photos or illustrations: Visit one of the free photography banks like unsplash.com or pixabay.com to find some fresh imagery that better represents where your business is now. This blog post on finding images without pain & suffering might be handy.

9. Revisit who you’re trying to reach with your business. I know that my definition of the perfect client for me has changed significantly since I started my business. Take a few minutes and a piece of paper and sketch out in words the traits of the person most likely to benefit from working with you—and vice versa.

10. Read your home page out loud. Yep, I said that. The best way to make sure your website doesn’t have the personality of a glossy online brochure is to be sure it sounds like you: Human, welcoming, helpful. Reading it out loud (bonus points if you record yourself reading it, then play it back) helps identify where your language is too formal, too stiff, too impersonal.

 


 

Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a small business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:

  • I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
  • I’m on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
  • Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

 

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X-Ray vision: Seeing through online marketing, making peace with it, and doing better

(groovy image by Golan Levin)

I’ve taken a few days off writing this month, and instead have been reading. A few years ago, writer/speaker/creative Charlie Gilkey wrote a blog post called “Create, Connect, and Consume: Balance Them To Get Your Best Work Done.” Well, I’ve been living in the “connect” and “consume” phases of that cycle for a few days, and I’m both a) glad I did, and b) glad to be back. Hi.

My more typical pattern is to spend a few minutes each day trying to ingest other peoples’ wisdom, usually right between checking in with my business circles, and feeding the dog his breakfast. It’s a hurry-up kind of thing, and in those eleven-and-a-half minutes I try to take notes, Boomerang some things back to myself later, and/or convince myself I’m for SURE going to remember what I read this time.

Spending more time reading has a strange effect on me, though, and it’s not always pleasant. In that strange method in which my memories have filed themselves, I keep thinking of a sci-fi film from the 60s called “The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.” In it, Ray Milland plays a scientist who develops a technology that allows him to see through things. At first, it’s fascinating to him, then disturbing, then it drives him insane. Although I don’t plan on going crazy, I have started seeing through things to their core, and it’s a weird feeling.

I’ll explain: I was invited to a ‘free’ online summit this week, in which many luminaries in coaching and creativity would be giving webinars over the course of several months. There was a time when I would have seriously geeked out about this. But rather than just enjoying the thrill of finding it, I saw it for what it was: A learning experience, yes, but mostly it’s a structured opportunity for each of these speakers to build their subscriber lists, by offering their material in exchange for your email address.

Sifting through Facebook, I see why some very good-hearted people and pages ask, “What’s your favorite poet?” or even more directly, “In the comments, post a moving GIF to show me how you’re feeling this morning.” It isn’t that they really care that I love Rumi and I feel overcaffeinated. They know that engagement on Facebook—likes, comments, and shares, especially with pictures and video—gains them brownie points with the FB gods so their deliverability increases.

Even when people send me a contact request on LinkedIn, I find myself wondering whether it’s happened because they’re about to announce a new product or service, and want to widen their audience as much as possible first.

Before you think I’ve become a new age negative nancy, hold the bus. I do see through these things, but they don’t depress me. They just…are. This is how these particular people are choosing to build their businesses and make a living. It is their choice to market this way, and it doesn’t make them bad people. In fact, in many cases it means they are hoping/able to do more good things in the world. It’s okay. It’s a personal choice I have no right or desire to criticize. But there’s a “lost innocence” quality in it for me, now that I see motives rather than just enjoying it all.

On the upside, it makes me super-sensitive to the opposite of these tactics, which is authenticity.

Here’s an example of THAT: I subscribed to Louis Grenier’s mailing list the other day because I wanted the promised free download called “How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers.” The download was fine, but the emails I received made me smile. The first email was just a basic thank-you and download link. Great. But the second one said, “I’ve set this email up to be sent to you 2 days after the last one.” Sounds simple, right? But think about it: How many carefully-crafted automated emails have you received that tried so hard to masquerade as “It’s really me, writing just to you Mrs. Firstname! Please keep opening my emails…” I was surprised and happy with the transparency of “Hey, it’s not really me – but I thought this tool was the best way to get useful stuff to you, and so I’m showing you the innards of it.” The emails continued in that honest, open vibe.

And another: Writer/coach/creator Tad Hargrave has something called an “Are You Sure?” page that he sets up so it pops up AFTER someone clicks a Buy Now button, but BEFORE they pay for the item. It slows them down, explains the program they’re buying, distilling it down to a very clear, crisp description so they can be certain it’s going to be of value. Does that mean that some people might change their minds and not buy? Of course. But if you’re really interested in making sure that people who aren’t a fit for your programs never sign up for your programs—avoiding possible bad feelings for you and for them—it’s the ultimate in openness, bravery, and genius.

On the same day I re-noticed “Are You Sure?,” I saw that Mark Silver of Heart of Business was offering a free (with no signup!)  PDF book about ethical pricing in coaching, “Don’t Buy Now” that I found bracing and cool.  Judith Morgan, one of my favey-fave coaches for small businesses like ours, offers a PWYW (pay what you want) model. Authentic business coach George Kao offers a megaton of gorgeous free content on his website – it would take days to enjoy it all (ask me how I know…)

I mean, this kind of stuff is all around us. All over. Every day, people are coming over from business-as-usual to a place that is more ethical, more transparent, and more authentic. I’m overwhelmed sometimes with the sheer number of people crossing my path who are choosing to ditch the industry-standard sales pitch and come back to something real and human.

So I owe a debt of thanks to more mainstream marketers. Thanks for bringing honest marketing back into focus for me.

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What can you do when you’re under the weather but feel under the gun?

I know a lot of superhero self-employed folks. To paraphrase the US postal service motto, neither circumstance nor snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. They keep on chugging along, no matter what life throws at them. I imagine there are some in my community who think I fit that category.

If that’s you, I’m apologizing in advance. I hope you still love me.

I take pride in perseverance and in dedication to my work in the world. But on some days, like today, exhaustion and insomnia has rendered my brain a soft, spongy gray mass of tofu. No amount of caffeine has been able to coax even a tiny green tendril of creative thought from my head this morning—the morning that I have promised myself to publish a blog post.

Have you had days like that? I am guessing most of us do. We’ve made a promise—to ourselves or to others—to “show up,” but while the spirit is willing, the physiology is most assuredly not. So what do entrepreneurs, small business owners, and self-employed types do in these situations? That’s what I’m asking myself this morning.

Here’s what I’m doing to sort it out. First, a self-examination to assess what is and isn’t working for me today:

  • Physical body: Good. Tired, but perfectly capable of most motor functions. Can hold pen and hold coffee cup. And refill coffee cup. And refill again.
  • Level of safety. Good.
  • Overall mental acuity: Compromised. Have put full carton of milk into the cupboard with the glassware. Am wearing inside-out T-shirt.
  • Left brain (logical thought) is at about a 7 out of 10, but most days I’m required to operate at at least a 9 in order to do website-related work. I can re-read emails 2 to 3 times and get the gist. I can form simple sentences. I’m making judicious use of spell-check.
  • Right brain (creative/intuitive thought, which I most need today) sits at about a 3 out of 10. Not good for writing a book chapter, also on my agenda this morning and something I am very committed to.

What can you do with those tools?  I’ve found a yellow writing pad (took 7 minutes) and am scratching out a list of what I can accomplish today, where I am, with what I have:

  1. First, follow George Kao’s advice and take some creative rest. It’s the kind thing to do, and may help get a few more neurons to fire.
  2. Check in with my support network, my touchstone, to reassure myself that I’m still me and still in here, and to gain clarity: The world is not going to come crumbling down around me, and in fact will be fine without me until tomorrow.
  3. Shape my day slowly and carefully, doing what I can and must. I can cautiously respond to emails and calls, reschedule the tasks that can be shifted, and be measured and deliberate about all of the left-brain actions that can’t wait. I can also employ that brain hemisphere (the more ‘together’ of the two) in creating rational actions to help give a hand up to the other hemisphere.
  4. Be gentle with my right brain, which doesn’t respond to threats and whip-cracking. I can’t force it, but I can try to lure it from its slumber. For example, I found a series of talks early this morning on the website DO: The Encouragement Network, a space for makers, thinkers, and creators of all kinds. I can set their podcast on autoplay, and listen to enlightening, encouraging stories from people like us. I’ll have a notebook and pen at hand. Just in case. At some point, I’m hoping that part of my mind will start getting itchy to rejoin the world and start creating something juicy of its own.
  5. Properly feed and hydrate my body and brain, so tomorrow will be better. Simple, healthy food. Lots of pure water. Vitamins, sunshine, and gentle, frequent movement. My work is important, but not life-or-death. There is time to get back into the best possible mindset before undertaking new tasks.

Your tactics may look different when you find yourself under the weather, but the basic framework can be the same: Assess what your resources and abilities are. Trust that the world will be okay. Do what you can, using the tools that still work. And know that, as my friend and coach Judith Morgan reminds her self-employed flock, sometimes when we allow a little space for healing, we can come back with new realizations and perhaps even genius ideas that we couldn’t have accessed the day before.

So, now that I’ve rambled, consumed 1.5 cups of coffee, and bent your ear for a few minutes, I’m going to put in my earbuds and make some progress on my day. Even if it’s not the day I thought I’d be having, it’s still going to be a good day. I hope yours is too.

Love to everybody. Take care of yourselves, and to my friends in the US, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

 

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It’s a conversation, courtesy of your website (and her friends)

My clients know I often talk about websites like they’re people. To me, they have a personality, a job, a goal, and a life story. If they were interns or employees, their job descriptions would be very clear. They also embody a sort of living conversation with people who come to visit them. Let me give you an example.

I recently stopped by a new bookstore in my town. I was curious about what they offered (being only the second book retailer here in this small place).

Unusually for me, I wasn’t looking for anything specific at the time. I knew vaguely that I’d like something business-related, because I was in a bit of an “Inspiration Funk” and thought some fresh reading might help shake loose some original thought.

Here’s how the conversation with the proprietors went:

(Me) “Hi guys. Welcome to the neighborhood. We love having a new bookstore within walking distance!” (handshake)

(Owner) “So glad you stopped by. We’ve got some fresh coffee brewing in the corner by those big armchairs. Make yourself at home. Can I help you find what you’re looking for?”

“I’m not looking for anything in particular, but do you have a business book section?”

“Absolutely – come right over here. What do you do? What sort of thing interests you?”

“I’d just like to browse what you’ve got for some new ideas. I have my own business too, and lately I’ve been looking for creative ways to freshen it up.”

“Excellent. I love talking to other self-employed folks. You know what? We just got in this new book about marketing that sounded really different from all the rest of them…let me find it for you.”

“Awesome. Thanks.”

I sipped coffee while browsing, and painlessly bought my new book using their handy iPad checkout. At their suggestion, I joined their mailing list, and decided to go home and “Follow” the store on Facebook to stay aware of their sales and community events like readings and workshops.

Pretty standard retail stuff, right?

But let’s tease apart that whole story. Here’s how the conversation flows, from their point of view:

1) Well, hi there. I’m glad you’re here. Make yourself comfortable.
2) What’s your story? Let’s talk about why you’ve come, even if you’re not entirely sure yourself.
3) Ahhh, I see. I think I may have something helpful. Let me show you.
4) Here’s how to get what you’ve decided on; we’ve made it easy.
5) You know, we should keep in touch, if you don’t mind. Here’s how.

A good website—one that’s human and helpful—says and does all of this too:

  • With your home page, you set the tone, with words and with imagery, so people feel an immediate sense of having arrived at a comfortable and helpful place.
  • That page also makes a connection with the reader right away by beginning a conversation with them: What’s going on with you right now? What did you come here to look for? How can I help? It’s not always clear who they are. Sometimes, since you have a specific audience in mind but don’t know for certain s/he’s the one reading, you have to make assumptions: “So many people are struggling with (X) right now – as many as a million people nationwide…”
  • Only then do you describe your main offerings in detail (products, services, help, wisdom). The bookstore dude didn’t meet me at the door waving a copy of Atlas Shrugged, trying to convince me I needed to re-read it right now. He asked questions. Listened. Suggested.
  • Provide super-streamlined ways to purchase the thing(s) I’ve now decided I most need. Note the shop owner didn’t walk me around and block my way by trying to sell me an Ironman DVD, a bookmark, and a copy of Where the Wild Things Are (fun fact: I already have two copies). You can have them displayed in your offerings; but pop it up in my face as an impulse buy or a upsell, and you’ve become “that guy.”
  • Whether they purchase or not, offer visitors ways to continue the conversation. This can be through the site, through an email signup , or through social media.

What you can do next:

Take a look at your own home page and website.

What’s the conversation that’s taking place, even if it might currently be one-sided? What’s missing?

As usual, you can always contact me for inspiration and help. Have a great week!

 


 

Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a heart-based business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:

  • I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
  • I’m on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
  • Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

 

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