Of Websites and Gardens: How to Survive and Thrive in Any Climate

winter-garden1Lots of you know that I’m an avid gardener, and grow a mountain of organic food every year. When I’m not helping people with their online marketing efforts, for a big part of the year I can be found in my little 30′ x 30′ patch out back, monkeying with the tomatoes and garlic and kale and pumpkins. We have a very short growing season here at 7500 feet — about 3 months in between frosts, to be precise — and so I relish every minute I get to spend out there eating snow peas fresh from the dewy vines.

When you’re a gardener in northern climates, January stinks. The ground is frozen solid, with not a speck of green to be seen anywhere. I stood out there this morning, steaming mug of coffee in hand, and indulged myself in a little melancholy. What kind of person willingly does this to herself? Lives in a place where three quarters of the year is spent wishing for the other quarter? Suffering hail storms and freak cold snaps and squirrels just to have the perfect Caprese Salad?

Being burdened with a brain that whips out analogies without provocation, that long-suffering person is not much different than the folks I serve with this company. They struggle to get the word out about the wonderful work they’re doing in the world, using a medium that can be challenging at best, exasperating at its worst. They try web sites, email campaigns, free giveaways, social media, YouTube videos. They write blogs so people will get to know them; they suffer through Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm that seems stacked against their posts ever being seen. They try to please Google, just to have Google change its mind every quarter about what ought to rank in its top ten. Some days, despite all the TLC in the world, their efforts seem to bear only a scrawny carrot and an undernourished bean or two.

Here are five things I’ve learned from growing food in an unpredictable place, things that have also served to buoy me through barren times in the promotion of my own work and others’:

Give your efforts the best chance for success.

I’ve been accused of being an over-preparer. When I want something to grow, I give it deep, loose, fertile soil – sometimes two feet deep – so that it has every opportunity to grow up strong. Deep healthy roots mean a resilient plant that in turn produces delicious things for you. In the same way, investing a lot of love and time and thought into your new efforts to market yourself gives those efforts deep roots that are far-reaching, able to withstand drought and disaster. Identifying who you’re speaking to, and what they need the most, then creating products and services that solve that need — this is the path to fine relationships and a fine harvest. Just doing some bare-bones activities online and promising yourself you’ll do more later, that mystical future when you have all the time you need, isn’t putting your best foot forward.

Sometimes you just have to trust.

Each year I grow three kinds of potatoes. In between spring planting and the time when I turn over the soil and find bucket of spuds underneath, I have to trust that something’s happening under there. I do the best I can to get the green plants above ground healthy, but if I go digging around twice a week to find proof that it’s paying off, I’m just disturbing the roots and keeping it from happening.  There’s an element of trust at work.  I can’t force it. I just have to do my best, build all the relationships I can, and trust that the payoff is coming. There is no sense panicking because you don’t see 1000 hits on your web site in its first week. Things can take time to grow, to attract links and friends, and percolate through your audience. Much can be happening underground and you just can’t see it yet. Keep sharing your work and your thoughts, keep connecting with people, and it will pay off.

Remember that everything goes in cycles.

Underneath the frozen ground I have a year’s worth of garlic for my kitchen, planted in the fall, and which will be harvested next summer. This is not its time to be green. Right now, down deep, it is slowly growing, feeling out its environment, sending out roots before shoots.  It knows its proper time.  I am compelled to write a book this year, but it is not time to sit down and knock out chapters yet. My coach friend wants to offer an innovative flavor of coaching, but first she is working with a few test clients to see if it actually benefits them. I have several clients who want a web site, and are immersed in the work of gathering what they want to say and offer before rushing into that next step.  Be aware of the different seasons of your work — which phase of it is best for the energy and resources you have right now?

The right tools are critical.

There’s a business owner locally who can pinch a penny until Lincoln says “ouch.” He looks for the absolute cheapest in everything, regardless of whether it will serve him best beyond next month. The place he hosts his web site is free, but severely limits what he can do with his site, and it’s hard to find on the Web. He uses the cheapest printer, and the substandard materials his clients see affects how they think about him. The email provider he uses won’t send out his blog posts to subscribers automatically, so he ends up writing them twice. And so forth.

I have a shovel I purchased 22 years ago, hand-forged in England, heavy steel and sturdy ash handle. It is still the shovel I use every day. It cost me $70.00 in 1993. If I had purchased the cheapest tool for the job, not only would I have likely had to replace it every year ($14 x 22 years) but I would have suffered the frustration of having the thing break at a bad time, or not be able to do what I needed to do.

We always advise folks to invest in the right tools and services that will move you forward, right from the beginning. Note that I don’t mean the most expensive — just the ones that truly serve your needs, and create space for you to do your best work.

Be aware of additional tools that will help you, not just the glamorous ones.

I have a tiny tool in my toolbox that looks like a horse syringe: a clear tube with a red plunger at one end, a little hole at the other. Its job? You fill it with the teensy-weensy seeds like carrots and lettuce, ones that are so tiny it’s impossible to just plant one at a time with bare fingers. Without it, I wouldn’t die, but I would waste seeds, waste time, and spend hours later thinning the seedlings that come up from the clumps of seeds my clumsy fingers drop, and getting them all separated always traumatizes the little guys. A $3 gadget saves time and ensures a better harvest.

There are new tools and services out there that can take the stress and adversity out of a small business owner’s life. For example, someone recently turned us on to Time Etc., a virtual assistant service that offers thousands of talented potential helpers to time-stressed people for less than $30/hour….perfect when you’re trying to research the best email service, flight to Brussels, nontoxic office supplies, etc. Taskrabbit.com is an in-person version, vetted/insured somebodies who can do things like shop for your groceries so you don’t have to live on Big Macs when you bump through an 80-hour work week. Fiverr.com helps with tiny but important tasks; Uber and its ilk get you a quick ride from here to there; Postmates gets your package across town in an hour. Facebook can host a private discussion group where you can answer your clients’ questions; Google Hangouts lets you hold video conferences for up to 10 people free, and capture the video.

There are new and different tools every day that make life easier, free your time, or get things done that have been languishing. For most, you can give them a try with little or no investment. Seek them out; it will save time for the things that matter more to you.

 


 

Whether you are cultivating buyers for your book or roses next to your porch, may your harvest be astonishing in 2015.  Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.

 

 

To update or not to update? (WordPress, that is)

Those of you with WordPress web sites like the one you’re reading (and there are millions of you) have all seen the nagging messages about updating your version of WordPress – right?

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And you get on that right away, right?  What? You don’t?

 

Procrastinators, unite!  (pretty soon…)

This may disappoint you, but I am as guilty of procrastinating this as anyone. Not only can things go wrong when you update WordPress or a theme or plugins, but it’s all too easy to just say, “Maybe this weekend.”  Or “Maybe next week, when I’m done with X.”

Also, not all updates are created equal.  While some are essential to protect your site from ne’er-do-wells, some simply aren’t. Some offer tweaks to features you don’t use, make some functionality easier or prettier, or are correcting situations you aren’t likely to find yourself in if you are small like me.

So it’s with great regret that I must pass on the bad news:  We all have to do it this time.

WordPress announced this week that a security flaw was found by some sharp-eyed development partners that would allow hackers to exploit web sites built in WordPress and in the content management system Drupal (example: WhiteHouse.gov)  I could geek out on you with the technical specifics of it, but the gist of it is that a Denial of Service attack will bring your site down like a ton of bricks, and it will take a lot more to put it back together than it will to just take the time to update now.

As such, it’s important for site owners to make sure they update to the latest version of WordPress to fix the new flaw and to stay current with bug fixes. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/security/new-flaw-puts-millions-of-wordpress-drupal-sites-at-risk.html#sthash.hWv9Iilk.dpuf
As such, it’s important for site owners to make sure they update to the latest version of WordPress to fix the new flaw and to stay current with bug fixes. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/security/new-flaw-puts-millions-of-wordpress-drupal-sites-at-risk.html#sthash.hWv9Iilk.dpuf
As such, it’s important for site owners to make sure they update to the latest version of WordPress to fix the new flaw and to stay current with bug fixes. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/security/new-flaw-puts-millions-of-wordpress-drupal-sites-at-risk.html#sthash.hWv9Iilk.dpuf

The word on the wire? It’s important for owners to make sure they update to the latest versions of WordPress and Drupal to fix the new flaw and, in general, to begin keeping a closer eye on bug fixes.

Don’t know how to tell what version you have?  Click Dashboard >> Updates in the upper left if you have a WordPress site. You’ll see it there. You’ll also see everything that’s out of date. Read on before you start clicking away at those update buttons!

 

What it takes

It’s very possible that your web site hosting company, knowing a potential firestorm when they see one, has already upgraded you automatically. If not, WordPress itself, which is scary-smart, may have patched itself up; it has been quietly updating itself since version 3.7. If you have received any messages about this in your email or on your Dashboard (have a look!) please review your site’s pages and functions to be sure nothing blew up.

0) Set aside some time for this, and make sure you’re not doing it at a time when you’re expecting a big crowd to show up at your web site, if possible. For example, if you have a workshop coming up and registrants are trying to register; if you are publishing a blog post; launching a new product; and so on.

1) Back that thing up:   If you need to manually update your site, I would strongly advise backing up all files and databases beforehand; in the event something unseemly happens, you’ll be able to restore your site while you figure out what’s gone wrong.  If you don’t know how to do this, give us a shout.

2) Turn off any caching programs that may be running on your site. Combine this with #3…

3) Contact your web person or hop on The Google and ask whether there is any reason why you should be concerned about the latest update(s) of WordPress or of plugins.  He/she/it may be able to tell you whether a given update is important, what problems are being reported on the Web about it, and generally, may know whether the theme and/or plugins you are using will spit up hairballs when you upgrade.

4) Take the leap, step 1: There are three big elements that frequently need updating: Your theme (the design your site lives in), your plugins (that run things like your contact form and shopping cart) and WordPress (the engine that drives it all).  Update your plugins and your theme first, then…

5) Take the leap, step 2: If you have backed up and you’re not getting any bad news from your web person, go to Dashboard >> Updates and do what the man says.  Update WordPress to the latest version.

6) Take a good  look through your site and test out all of the different kinds of pages & posts you have. Look at your sidebars and photo galleries and blog posts – and store – give it a good run-through to be sure everything that worked before still works.

We’ll do it together

Okay?  I am going to print off this blog post and stick it on our bulletin board at Web Sites for Good Intergalactic Headquarters, so I’ll be there with you in spirit.

As always, I’m here to help if you need me.

 

 

 

 

Wisdom from our clients, for our clients

wheatley-cover-sffhWe are very, very fortunate to work with the people we do.  Not a single day goes by that I don’t feel that realization washing over me.

It was a rather difficult day, with lots of bad news in the media from every corner, and a creeping sense of despair made it hard to stay focused on the work at hand.  I know others in my tribe have days like this too; they tell me so.

Then, as usual, something happened to make me remember all the good news as well.  What follows is the text from Margaret Wheatley’s poster created for her 2012 book So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World.  It’s a list of behaviors that contribute to an atmosphere of sanity, in these times when we sometimes seem to be descending into fear and chaos.  It may or may not be the antidote for you that it was for me today, but either way, I thought I’d put it out onto the airwaves:

Warriors for the Human Spirit

We are grateful to discover our right work and happy to be engaged in it.

We embody values and practices that offer us meaningful lives now. We let go of needing to impact the future.

We refrain from adding to the aggression, fear and confusion of this time.

We welcome every opportunity to practice our skills of compassion and insight, even very challenging ones.

We resist seeking the illusory comfort of certainty and stability.

We delight when our work achieves good results yet let go of needing others to adopt our successes.

We know that all problems have complex causes. We do not place blame on any one person or cause, including ourselves and colleagues.

We are vigilant with our relationships, mindful to counteract the polarizing dynamics of this time.

Our actions embody our confidence that humans can get through anything as long as we’re together.

We stay present to the world as it is with open minds and hearts, knowing this nourishes our gentleness, decency and bravery.

We care for ourselves as tenderly as we care for others, taking time for rest, reflection and renewal.

We are richly blessed with moments of delight, humor, grace and joy.

We are grateful for these.

(Meet Meg Wheatley at http://margaretwheatley.com – she’s amazing)

How does a web site happen?

I’m a Big Picture person, so it’s helpful to me to have a bird’s eye view of anything new in my life before I dive into it.

In my working life, I’m often approached by people wanting to have something done on the web, and who are like me, wanting to see the thousand-foot view first, then nibble on the details. I’d say fully 50% are people who have either a) never done a project like theirs before, and so have NO idea what to expect, or b) have done it before and had a bad experience, or at least one that left them feeling bad.   So most are apprehensive because they don’t know how the process will go. What can I expect? How long will it take? What are my responsibilities in all of this? How arduous will it be? How much does it cost? What if I make a mistake and at the end I get a huge bill for something?

I nod and smile at their emails. I get it.

Things have changed from when I first started doing web work about 18 years ago. Then, I was in charge of information technology for an organization that wanted to build its first web site. There were very few people who knew very much about the medium then, and since we worked for advertising agencies, we hired one of them to design a web site for us. They asked very few questions, and didn’t return phone calls, but reportedly held a lot of “team meetings” and brainstorming sessions we weren’t invited to. They came back with a site that made my eyes hurt: garish colors, cartoon icons, a menu that didn’t match what we wanted to put out there, and so much more. It would have made our sleek, professional association look like a children’s toy manufacturer.

And then came the invoice for $5000.00.

I still have bad dreams about that experience. And like all good nightmares, it drives me to run my business in such a way that I never, ever do that to anyone else.

I can’t speak for all digital marketing companies; I only know how WE do things. But I wanted to share what I feel is the process that should be followed by everyone who does what I do:

THE MIND MELD

Marketing yourself on the web is like a complicated machine. There are lots of decisions to be made about what goes where, what its purpose is, and how it needs to work once built. No one outside your brain can know what your goals & dreams are, who your audience is, what will motivate the people you want to reach, and where you want to go with your life & business. So this first phase involves questions . . . sometimes lots of questions . . . in order to clarify what you’re creating, and synch up your brains so you both have the same vision. Beware the professional who does not ask enough questions.

THE BLUEPRINT

In this step, you take all of the answers above and co-create a roadmap from where you are to where you want to be. At the bare minimum, this articulates all of your goals and expectations, as well as a detailed vision of the people you’re trying to reach (and what you offer when you reach them) the site’s structure, interactive features, desired timeline, and cost range. This may take some back-and-forth to get right. Take that time. When it IS right, you enter into a contract to bring it all to life.

THE VISION

The web designer takes everything she (now) knows, along with agreements about things like color and structure, and sits down at the drawing table to create some possible designs – the beautiful container into which you want to pour your words and pictures. See this as the beautiful, functional space into which you’ll welcome your audience to talk with them. Typically, the designer produces two or more different ways of putting all of the pieces together into something the works well, and emails the drawings to you to review. You choose, or adjust and then choose, approving the final one you like best.

THE PROTOTYPE

So now the final flat drawing can be brought to life, as it’s programmed into an actual interactive space on the web. It starts with just a framework, with yawning empty spaces where your unique materials will go. You again have a chance to look this over, and make sure it’s what you signed up for. Then comes . . .

THE BRICKS, MORTAR, PAINT AND PAPER

With guidance, you provide source materials like your logo, the navigational structure (“menu”) you want, specific photos and imagery you want to use, text, etc. You may already have things written, or you may need to write them. You may have photos you want to use, or you may need to be pointed to places where you can pick out what you like. No matter the exact path, with these building blocks in hand, the designer can create complete pages, menus, useful mechanisms, signups/contact forms/calls to action . . . everything your site or social media presence needs in order to come to life, and to open for business.

THE EMPOWERING ORIENTATION

Step back and look at your shiny new web space, lovely but still closed to the public. A good designer will give you a tour of it, and identify what’s needed in terms of the proper care and feeding of your site. Any specific training you or your staff will need to move forward happens now. Web sites are never “done,” but are constantly evolving as your work evolves. Your web designer should make sure you know how to make that happen.

THE LAUNCH

When everything is polished and you’re ready to throw open the doors to the public, the designer will do the behind-the-scenes work to get your domain name yourwebsitehere.com to “point” to the beautiful new creation, get your email working and delivered, submit you to the search engines, etc.

. . .

This may seem like a lot, and of course it is. But — at the risk of sounding like a bit of a cheerleader — it can be a priceless exercise, as you immerse yourself in your vision, your “tribe,” and your unique work for a few days or weeks, gaining a tremendous amount of clarity in the process.

So that’s our favorite bird’s eye view. We welcome questions about any aspect of the process that might worry you, or anything that feels the least bit murky or stressful. We love what we do, and love to use our skillset to help people doing good things. Give us a shout at 720-507-1893, skype mterrian, or drop us an email and say hello.

 

Why do we do what we do?

I have a skinny little Moleskine journal that lives in the riser on my desk, about 3″ x 4″, and in back of it is a page I call the Doom Page. This is the page on which I’ve kept a tally of the number of times I’ve been told I’ll never get rich by serving only people and companies doing good in the world. I put another hash mark on it this morning; it joins its many brethren there. Ho-hum. I keep the list as a little private joke, and because it makes me smile. (I’m big on smiling. It’s good for your health.)

It also keeps me in touch with my “Why.” Why do I do what I do for a living? Why do you?   What do you want to have done/been/had when it’s all over?

Here’s my Why: I want to wake up in the morning and get to work with some of the best people walking this world. People whose minds, hearts, and feet are all pointed in the same direction, and are doing good work.

With that as my Why, the organizations, companies and individuals we work with all share something in common: In one way or another, large or small, they’re spending their life energy on work that increases the amount of good in the world.

It may be an author writing a book about the resurgence of real wisdom. An organization creating a supportive community for those who build . . . community. A coach who helps people heal themselves through writing. A consultant who wants to help develop leaders who run better businesses.

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Check out Billions Rising, which helps people become more self-reliant worldwide. Awesome.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to have daily contact with people helping others become bigger, better, healthier, happier, and more prosperous. And it’s even harder to describe why it matters so much to me, moreso than just monetary wealth.

It’s the opposite of drinking in the poisonous messages pushed by the global media machine, which collectively make you feel like we’re all going to hell sans handbasket, it is all (insert villain’s) fault, and thus the only thing worth doing is to squeeze as much wealth/power/prestige/stuff out of the earth as possible, because, well, everyone else out there is only in it for themselves. Aren’t they?

Here’s the truth: All over the world, there are people who woke up one day, looked around, and decided to become more than just an income-producing, stuff-accumulating short-timer on this rock. They decided to do something that matters, and focus on something bigger. Yes, you have to have some type of income to make it in this world, however much you’d like to have, but these people are finding ways to do that AND leave the joint a little better than they found it.

We get to work with those people, receiving regular injections of good news about community building, pioneers solving societal and environmental problems, courageous acts on behalf of perfect strangers, and hundreds or thousands of small actions taken to nudge us in the right direction. Is this for the future, for our kids and grandkids? Sure, but it’s also for NOW. For us. Because this sort of life is so much richer, and so much more fun, even if you are an introvert like me.

Technology can be a beautiful thing, in many ways. I became hooked on teaching it when I realized how much it helps good people get the word out about their unique work, their offerings, their gifts.   And so we help people use digital media wisely, efficiently, and affordably, to help these good people attract the eyes and ears of the world and gain support for what they’re doing.

So I sit down in my chair, the chair from which I’m writing this post, with a smile on my face. Every. Single. Day.   Most of the people I serve do the same.

We help them get where they want to go, no matter what the “where” might be. They are part of something bigger, better. And when they forget, I remind them.

Which makes me rich beyond measure.

Wanna be rich too?