WordPress 5.0: The Pain, the Gain, and Why You Shouldn’t Update Just Yet

This post is especially for my beloved folks out there whose professional websites are built in WordPress – about a third of the world’s websites by some estimates.

Today is the day the benevolent geeks in charge at WordPress released their spiffy new version, WordPress 5.0. You’ll start seeing the graphic above (absent my embellishment…) when you log into your site.

I see you yawning out there. Software update? Dull!  But bear with me for just a second.

It’s not like most web software updates, which just replace the old with the new, in a calm and orderly fashion, like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. This one has the potential for causing some mischief that could be, shall we say, “stressful.”

It’s all about “Gutenberg,” the editor. That screen you’re on when you’re creating or editing website posts and pages? That. I wrote about it this past Fall and posted a little introduction to it here in my post, “Guten-who?

The good part:

It’s pretty neat. The new one uses a system of blocks to let you arrange things on the page in ways you sometimes couldn’t before, embedding different kinds of content (pictures! text! columns! yay!). For non-technical folks who would love to be able to easily create and edit their own pages, and do more than just the one-long-column-of-text thing, it’s going to be awesome.

The bad part:

Many website designs, frameworks, plugins, add-ons are not compatible with it and thus your site might spit up hairballs when it’s installed. That could mean anything from “no effect whatsoever” to the white screen of death, with no way into your site. Especially if your site is more than a couple of years old and hasn’t had any sort of updating of its “guts,” it could be messy.

It is already causing a bit of mayhem, the same sort of mayhem you might expect if you decided, for example, that you wanted your own personal pet rhino. It’s very possible upgrading to 5.0 right now will break your existing website into smithereens unless you follow some special procedures – and who has time for that right now right before the holidays, seriously?

For the do-it-yourselfers:

But okay, to stay solution-oriented: I’m going to list these procedures below for those who care for their own sites. Before updating, you’ll want to do things like:

  • Take a complete backup of your site and download it to your own computer. NOT just your files and database. The whole directory. Your website host can point you in the right direction there.
  • Update your website’s “theme” – the design framework that it’s running (in your Dashboard, go under Appearance>>Themes to see what I mean) – to the newest version available.
  • Also update your site’s “plugins” (Dashboard >> Plugins) which are the little programs that enable your site to do things like cool contact forms, shopping cart, security, automatic backups, etc.
  • Install a little plugin called “Classic Editor” to switch your editor back to the way it was.

See what I mean? Who has time? Even after all of that, it may still alter your finally-beautiful website, so have your web person’s email handy and consider letting them know before you plan to do that (or have them do it for you, and save a few brain cells).

BUT once the WordPress gods get the kinks worked out, it’ll be a pretty nifty little update to WordPress that’ll help zillions of people work with it more easily and create more beautiful things with it. Totally worth it. No, I mean it, it’ll be good for a lot of people.

They are already apparently working on a revision to fix some of the bugs, and should be publishing a cleaner version (or two, or three) of it in January 2019.

SO, TO RECAP:

  • Don’t push that blue “update to 5.0” button. Just don’t do it. At least not for a month or more.
  • If you can’t resist, take all of the steps above FIRST and light a green candle, burn some incense, recite some incantations from the Necronomicon, etc. If you’re not a WordPress geek, coordinate with your web person before you do.
  • Wait until late January at the very earliest. There’s no compelling reason to upgrade right now. None. So let the dust settle, let the geeks pick it apart and let WordPress fix all the bugs.

If you are hosted by Hostgator, and here are all the reasons I still advise against that, you may want to check with them to make sure it’s not going to automatically update itself.

I’ll update this post as things get sane again.

Peace, all.

P.S. If you’re interested in having us do regular updates to your website so you don’t have to worry about this (including security, backups, updates, and all those geeky things), please reach out.  Learn more about how to buy an hour, or five, or ten, to make sure you can focus on doing the work you love rather than trying to be a website expert too.

25 things I do to preserve energy, time, and optimism for my work

There are a zillion vampires that will rob your business of energy, time, and optimism if you let them. Here are 25 things I do to keep them at bay.

Six fun and powerful little tools that are day-makers for people like us

This morning I had an email from a client who was stuck in techie purgatory. She needed to find a way to have just some of her blog posts appear on her website’s home page, but have the whole collection appear on her Blog page, and to top it off, her blog images weren’t displaying when she tried to share them to her Facebook page…basically, everything was misbehaving for her.

Typical of many of my self-sufficient clients, she didn’t want me to wave my geek wand and fix it; she wanted to understand it and know how to fix it herself.

I could’ve sent her a lengthy tome about this-and-that setting, do this/do that, but this is the kind of situation that is best solved by showing, rather than telling.

If you’ve ever had trouble explaining to one of your clients how to get on your webinar, how to make one of your products work for them, or even just what it is you DO, then you understand this—sometimes, video is best.

Enter one of my favorite little tools, Loom. It’s a free service that lets you capture short videos with just one click of an icon in your web browser. You click, start the video, say/show what you need (screenshare, or you talking, or both), and send them the link, all in the blink of an eye. I’ll show you a teensy video at the end of this post I made in Loom and embedded in my blog post in just under two minutes total.

Whenever I use it, it brings to mind all of the small tools that make formerly-time-consuming tasks so easy and fast now, creating more time for me to work with the people I care about (and have a free evening to read books on the back porch). I wanted to share a half-dozen of them with you here that I really couldn’t function without. None of these are affiliate links, by the way; I just think they’ll rock your world:

Privacy Badger

Not technically a time-saver, unless you count not having to deal with ads shoved in your face every time you turn around. I should confess that I hate being tracked by marketers when I’m online. (It reminds me of the scene in the film Minority Report, when Tom Cruise is walking through a sea of customized virtual ads popping up in front of his face.) Privacy Badger is a little gizmo you add to your web browser with a click that “…stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites without your permission, it automatically blocks that advertiser from loading any more content in your browser. To the advertiser, it’s like you suddenly disappeared.” Perfect. It has cut down on a huge amount of ad clutter and junk for me, and I’m grateful. Check it out.

Boomerang for Gmail

I’m a Gmail user, and I have to confess that I probably couldn’t get through the day without Boomerang (or something just like it). Boomerang is a little extension you add to Gmail that lets you do magical things like:
schedule the redelivery of emails back to you if you’re busy
schedule outbound emails for a certain day/time
set reminders for yourself to respond to an email/look for a reply
undo the email you just sent (!!)
attach notes to yourself to an email
pause your inbox for a while so you can breathe
…and a lot more. I love it so much I wrote a gushy post about it here last year: https://websitesforgood.com/tools-for-tiny-businesses-i-heart-you-boomerang/

Zoom

I have lost track of the number of people who’ve said to me, “Oh, Zoom, right — I’ve been on a group call on Zoom but figured it was too complicated to use for my little business.” It’s a videoconferencing tool anybody can use to connect with people all over the world with just a couple of clicks. With a very short learning curve (think minutes) you can expand the reach of your service business from your town to the entire planet. Even in the Free version, you can host an unlimited number of online meetings (think one-to-one or one-to-many coaching, workshops, webinars, trainings…), with 2 to 100 participants if your session is less than 40 minutes, and unlimited session time if you’re just doing one-to-ones. Try a free account and check it out. I’m happy to show up and be your guinea pig, or you can check out my quickstart 1-to-1 session on using Zoom to grow your business here!

Acuity Scheduling

It would take me 500 words to explain how much Acuity has transformed my business, my productivity, and my stress levels. Without it, I used to spend a lot of time doing…well, the tasks to the right. With it, my people (clients and inquirers) can quickly view my availability, self-book their own appointments, reschedule them with a click, receive reminders, fill in intake forms, make payment for paid services, and about a hundred other things that used to take time and bandwidth. For…$10 a month. (or free if you choose that kind of account.) If making appointments is part of your work, it’s worth a look…they’re also amazing at the art of very personal and entertaining support. Check it out.

If you don’t need fancy things like reminders, rescheduling, etc., check out other systems like Calendly or Setmore from this page: https://zapier.com/blog/best-appointment-scheduling-apps/

Loom

Finally, circling back to Loom.

I explained it above, but I’ll show you the results here:

From the moment I clicked the Loom icon on my browser to posting it here, 1 minute 45 seconds elapsed. The videos can be longer, shorter, or much more elaborate if you like (you can include screen captures, videos, etc.), but Loom’s strong point is the ability to just knock out a quick visual and share it with very little effort, so you can do more of it. Check it out.

FB Purity

Oh, what a life saver for those of us who want to use Facebook for business or personal reasons…  F.B. (Fluff Busting) Purity is a browser extension that lets you customize Facebook in amazing ways. It alters your view of Facebook to show only relevant information to you. It lets you remove the annoying and irrelevant stories from your newsfeed such as game and application spam, ads and sponsored stories. It can also hide the boxes you don’t want to see on each side of the newsfeed.

CNET described it better than I ever could: “The interface is extremely intuitive. Apart from having the option to hide a multitude of stories including profile updates and tagged photos, you can hide the suggestions box, sponsored box, and the “get connected” box in the right-hand panel of the screen… Facebook has the ability to hide some of this for you (not the side panel though)… having all these options clearly marked in one place with checkboxes is very practical.”

The ability to hide the more annoying and useless-to-you aspects of Facebook, while still having the option to display them, is an incredible time- and energy-saver. You can even filter out posts by keyword (to avoid politics, celebrity news, so-and-so’s tweets, etc.) so you never see them and have to cope with the associated emotional distraction. I couldn’t work without it.


Those are my favorite tools today, though I’m discovering new ones every day. I would estimate that using these tools has helped me recapture at least three hours every week–and BAM, there’s three hours I can spend on working with the people I love, exercising, meditating, building income, or just playing with the dog if that’s what I need for my mental health.

Got any great little tools that YOU use and couldn’t do without? Please share with me! I’m always in the market.

Love,
Margaret

 


LEARN SOMETHING NEW AND SAVE A BUNDLE

Looking for a fast, friendly, personal way to learn how to manage those online things you’ve been paying others hundreds of dollars to do? Reach more of the people that matter, start offering online workshops, finally start using video on your website, and more!  Save some money, time, and brain cells: I offer one-hour, 1-to-1 sessions to self-employed folks who’d like to do more, but without the pressure of a webinar or the geek-speak of online classes. Choose one from the course list, or request a customized session for exactly what YOU want to learn.
Let’s have some fun. What do you want to learn? >

Building blocks of a healthy web presence for your thoughtful small business

I’m forever tinkering with my own biology. From what/when/how much I eat, to how much physical activity I engage in, to what sorts of chemicals I allow into my microbiome and home, I’m a fun-loving scientist using my own body as the test subject. (If I ever try to do something like graft on a second brain or install bionic hands, I’ll get permission from you guys first.)

I’m stacking up blocks, taking them down, stacking them another way. I’m experimenting, noticing, tracking, and adjusting. What works? What keeps me joyful and what weighs me down? What has no effect and isn’t worth the trouble, and what gives the most gratification and reward?

As you might guess, I often put on my Fun Scientist lab coat when it comes to websites for my self-employed kindred spirits too.

I’ve noticed over the years that, just as there are a handful of simple things we can do to make our bodies/homes/lives happier and healthier, so too there are a handful of simple things we can do that make promoting our work easier, more effective, and less likely to cause headaches and heartburn. Below are a few of them. I’ve divided them into “public facing” (the part the public sees) and “behind the scenes” (the part that’s mostly invisible to the public).

Basic website elements: Public facing elements

HOME/LANDING PAGE: As my teenaged friends would say, “No duh.” Yes, you need a home page. Make sure you have one that doesn’t take forever to load, and that acts as a warm, welcoming anteroom for all the wonderful goodness inside.

It should use colors, images, and language that makes people feel the way you want them to feel (calmed, excited, curious, hopeful). It should give them a topline view of how you can help them shift from where they are now to where they want to be. It should have clear next steps to reach you or get more information.

Oh, there’s a ton I could write about the elements of a successful homepage, but for now, just remember this mantra and make sure your homepage says it: I’m glad you’re here. I see you and know why you’ve come. Here are some things I can offer for that. Here’s what you can do next.

ABOUT: Include an About page that helps people know, like, and trust you. People visit About pages for several reasons, but it all wraps around learning whether you’re the best person for what they’re hoping to achieve, have, fix, or become.

Tailor your About page to your ideal client. If you’re offering a service to an audience for whom credentials=credibility, detail those. If you’re offering something where being a good-hearted, wise listener is most important, show me that. Show me your face. Show me your humanity. Show me that you “get” me.

A CLEAR VIEW OF WHAT YOU OFFER: Don’t just list what you do a Services or Products page. Give me the full details on what you offer, how much it costs, and how it’s going to change me. Let me see/hear the voices of other people who’ve experienced the service. Describe the “new story” it’s going to create for me. Give me a next step (buy button, ‘more information’ button, sign up button).

There’s a thousand mile difference between “Here’s what I offer” and “Here’s what I offer and here’s why it’s going to light up your day/life/work/health.” Make sure you’re putting the effort into creating the latter.

TIERED OFFERINGS: Many folks sell very expensive services and/or products, and they are usually worth every penny. But although your prices might be perfectly fair, when you’re starting out, you may find that you have trouble building a client base. It’s not that you’re not worth it, because you absolutely are; it’s just that many people need to be eased into feeling confident and comfortable enough to spend their dollars working with you.

Offer a variety of entry points to working with you or buying from you, at different price points that give them a staircase rather than a ladder. The easiest first step is to offer lots of free content (articles, blogs, etc.) that show you care about them. The next might be a free consultation. After that, a low-priced offering such as an ebook, workshop, or mini-session helps them to get a taste of working with you. Then a mid-priced offer…are you seeing the staircase now? If you offer all of those, your high-price-point coaching packages no longer feel like such a risky endeavor. They know you. You’ve proven your mettle and have been honest, helpful, and generous.

BE PAINFULLY CLEAR ABOUT NEXT STEPS (CALLS-TO-ACTION): Check and doublecheck that you’ve provided a path to a next step toward you on every page, perhaps one for every option you present to readers. (If you make readers burn calories trying to figure it out, they will assume you’ll also make them burn calories if you they choose to work with you.) Calls-to-action must be very clear and obvious – buttons of contrasting colors are particularly useful here. If you have any doubt as to whether your call-to-action is clear, have someone unfamiliar with your website walk through it and give you feedback.

DON’T NEGLECT CONTACT DETAILS: Be sure to provide clear and persistent contact information and a way for your reader to reach you if they have questions or want to explore further (such as a free consult). Persistent? Remember that, while they are meandering in your site assessing your offerings, the YES of inspiration can strike them at any time. Make sure there’s always something in view that aids and abets them in following that inspiration; don’t make them go hunting for it.

BLOG: Hey! Come back here! I know all the reasons why this word makes you recoil (see my blog post “10 Reasons to consider writing a blog, even if the thought of it makes you cringe“)

But I can’t overstate the value of including something on your website that has new juicy material added to it regularly. If it helps don’t call it a blog. Call it Articles. News. The Latest. What’s Up.

It says several things about you: I know my stuff. I am out here paying attention. I am always thinking of how I can be helpful to my people. I am generous with my time and wisdom. I am trustworthy and I show up for you. I am someone valuable to have in your life.

Basic website elements: Behind-the-scenes stuff that’s still super-important to have:

A SECURE CERTIFICATE that lets you have “https.” Google has already started to scare the heck out of your site visitors by warning them away from any sites that don’t have this, and it will become fairly universal in the coming month. Please don’t postpone. Learn more in my Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/websitesforgood/posts/2155915141307233

A PRIVACY POLICY that includes your cookie policy, information on what data your site collects from them (GDPR stuff), and terms of use of your site. Contact me if you need to have this created for you. Not only does Google use this as a factor for search engine listings, but you really don’t want to run afoul of the GDPR/data privacy laws.

If you use WordPress, PLUGINS FOR SECURITY (such as Wordfence or iThemes Security) AND FOR AUTOMATIC BACKUPS. Unless you relish the possibility of throwing your website investment of time and money down the drain due to hacking or system failure (plus the cost of having a new one built), you really can’t go without these any more. And there’s no reason not to. They are free, and just need to be installed and set up with basic settings.

GOOGLE ANALYTICS (or other systems of tracking visitor statistics): This is very simple to set up, free, and allows you to receive reports showing who’s coming to your site, how they found you, where they go, where they DON’T go, and a lot more.

AT LEAST A LITTLE SOCIAL MEDIA: Basic presence on at least one social media channel can help most of us, and it’s nothing to fear. A Facebook business page (NOT your personal page) or a LinkedIn profile are natural choices for many. The ability to reach millions more of your people for free is not something to dismiss just because it sounds hard. But because it DOES sound hard, I’m working on two bite-sized private training sessions to just sit down with me for an hour on Zoom and get it done. We’ll have fun. There will be music and poetry and cold drinks 🙂 Write me if you’d like more information on that.

There are many more things I can list, and of course I could wax poetic about telling your story, being a changemaker, choosing the right photos, etc.

But like the basic building blocks of keeping your body healthy, we’ll start with these…then experiment, notice, track, and adjust.

Enjoy!


P.S. Remember, if you don’t have these things, you can always drop me a line and ask me questions about anything. I’m here.

Self-care for the self-employed: Taking time to read the map

Like all the self-employed people I know and love, I try to grow my business in a variety of ways. Some ways feel natural, as natural as running a hand through my hair. Others push me outside my comfort zone.

The latter, of course, isn’t fatal, and is even good for us to an extent, right? I try to do a little more every day to “get out there” and get better at what I do, slowly moving beyond what I previously thought was possible for me. I like to look at it as a long, exploratory walk on a new-to-me trail through a beautiful forest. I could choose a route that I’m already 100% familiar with, I suppose. But stepping out of my “known,” my habitual ways of interacting with the world, tests my stamina, my courage, and my powers of observation. And that’s all good.

Until it isn’t.

It’s a quiet morning in Colorado. I’m sitting out on the back porch, being scrutinized by an upside-down chickadee on a nearby branch. I’m sipping coffee and staring out into space. I always have a sense that I should be doing something else instead. Some marketing thing. Some new-product development thing. Some big audacious goal. But this morning it’s a nagging voice I can barely hear, like being yelled at by someone who’s behind thick glass.

I pull a metaphorical curtain over it, and go back to sipping and staring.

Over the past few months, I’ve taken on things that have pushed me out of my introvert comfort zone again and again. Publishing a book. Public speaking. Interviews. More networking and collaboration than I think I’ve done in the last five years combined. A lot more of “the M word” (marketing) than I’m comfortable with.

All of this from the person who, at any party, is the girl in the corner having a quiet conversation with a tall potted plant.

I’ve enjoyed it all, in the way you enjoy the new muscles you start to notice in the mirror after committing to a new exercise regimen. It’s like, “Wow, look at that. I’m so glad I’m doing this.”

It feels like I’ve been on a trail, carrying a knapsack full of protein bars, Red Bull, wise books, and a walkie-talkie connection with some very smart mentors. Exploring, experimenting, breaking through to new parts of the wilderness within me. Enjoying the scenery and the healthy feeling of getting stronger and wiser and braver.

But after about 9 months of pushing hard with both hands, widening my comfort zone and filling my mind and heart with new things, I screeched to a stop. My body started to break. My mind would wander in circles. I was weary, overstimulated, insomnia-wracked, unable to turn my brain off. My emails to people had lost their tenderness. My morning writing became more mechanical, and there was no pleasure in it.

So.

Photo by G. Patterson

I’ve stepped off that trail for a while. I’ve put the adventure of moving into new lands on hold. Instead, I’m back at the porch table with my journal and my pen (the equivalent of my map and compass), thinking about where I might want to go next. I’m quietly, carefully mapping it out. There are an infinite number of possible destinations to choose from: Which one(s) will be the most joyful? Which ones will make my time here on Earth matter most?

I’m resting more. I’m breathing more. I turn off the computer for hours, sometimes longer. I say “no” more (a lot more, a fiscally scary amount of “no”).

I stay hydrated. I eat very, very well. I move my body and gently keep it limber and strong. I systematically remove toxic things from my home and my life. I’ve traded the business development books on my nightstand with a copy of Dr. Frank Lipman’s How to Be Well, and am on the second reading of it.

I still take care of clients, answer emails, do coaching sessions and consultations. I’m still here, and doing what I always do. I’m just off the dusty trail and back in my comfort zone for a while. I’m quiet, listening more than speaking, moving slowly and deliberately so I can sense what feels best. I’m planning the next few years of my life on this Earth.

Though I’m not recommending you do the same—we are all in different places in our work—I want to be sure to remind you that this possibility exists for all of us. If it feels as though this is what you need as well, make it so. Say no more. Clear the parts of your day planner that no longer bring you the same joy. Feel your body’s reactions as you move through your “normal” working day, and take note of the rhythms of tension and stress. Set aside some time to do what feels comfortable and easy, and see what kind of inspiration that ease brings. You may find that dialing it all down for a while helps you reshape the things that just aren’t working for you anymore, with no self-judgment and no regrets.

It’s worth it.

Be well.

 

For self-employed folks, noticing your mental state can make all the difference

One of my mentors often says, “Your state of being is the most important thing.”

Translation: Think about how you feel right now, this minute, as you read this post. If you had to equate your state with a traffic signal, would you be green (relaxed, content, confident, optimistic) or red (tense, worried, pessimistic, low energy, overworked, etc) or somewhere in between? (yellow)

As much as I’d love to always say I’m in a green state, that’s just not true. Sometimes I’m reaching for something that’s hard for me. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m not doing enough, or I’m doing too much. Sometimes I’m just not sleeping or eating or doing what’s right for my body, and it’s like trying to take a journey in a 1973 Ford Pinto that’s held together with duct tape, baling wire, and Bondo.

Part of my problem — and perhaps you share it — is that I sometimes get so wrapped up in a project or task or situation that I feel as though the only way to honor it, to successfully get through it to the other side, is to keep my face in it for as long as it takes. (Or until I physically can’t do it a minute longer.) The thought of taking a walk, sitting outdoors, or heaven forbid, lying down with my eyes closed for a few minutes, just feels like a dereliction of duty. “It’s just going to take longer to resolve this unless I stay right here and keep working on it until my eyeballs bleed.”

The best thing we can both do for ourselves, my friends, is to stop a few times a day to be aware of what our respective traffic lights are showing. Unless you’re a neurosurgeon, one minute is not going to kill anyone. We can stand up, stretch, go to another room, breathe, and conjure up something simple we can do to move to a better state.

To this day, I can look at the history of my business, look at the pieces of it that have never quite been what I wanted them to be, and I can tell beyond a shadow of a doubt which ones I forced myself to do in a red state. They just reek of it. I feel tense and dissatisfied when I look at them.

The converse is true too. The things I created in a green state, when I felt like I was in flow, channeling the very best parts of my nature, are the things to which people have reacted the most positively, and thus are the things that helped me build a business I love.

Your state matters. It’s not woo-woo. It’s just a fact.

A water break changes my state of beingMy go-to state-changer? Get up, walk to another room, and drink a tall glass of cool, clear, delicious water very slowly. Use your most beautiful glass. Take at least two full minutes to drink it. Close your eyes and feel it moving out into your cells, hydrating them and lubricating them, loosening everything up. Remember to be grateful that you have this magical silver handle in your house that you can turn, and — get this — pure, clean, life-giving water comes out. You didn’t have to spend hours out of your day to fetch it. You don’t have to worry about catching cholera. You didn’t have to pay much (or anything) for it, or stand in line. It just…happens. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

Other state-changers I employ include very short guided audio meditations like these, having a dog that needs to go outside periodically and bark at the enemies (aka neighbors), five minutes of loud and beautiful music in my headphones to drive out all other thoughts, and using an app or system like https://tomato-timer.com/ to remind me to stop and take note of my state.

(For my clients who just think I’m naturally chill and/or I’m genetically wired to walk around with a calm smile on my face all day, I’m sorry to disappoint.)

And if I don’t believe myself, I can turn to page 156 of Judith Morgan’s swell book, Your Biz Your Way, and hear her voice in my head, saying, “Breathe. And take care of you first, above all else. Relax! You’ve got this.”

There are tons and tons of ways to improve our state, something for literally everyone. For example, I’ve always loved this list from Charlie Gilkey. Maybe there’s something here that will help you get to green today, or at least move toward it: https://www.productiveflourishing.com/12-simple-ways-to-be-present/

Here’s an article by George Kao explaining his view of “green yellow red,” and how he handles his own state of being:

https://www.georgekao.com/blog/greenyellowred

So whaddya say? Let’s get green today. If you want to love your work and grow your business, it really does help.

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.

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.

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.

 

The Story Hour: The surprising joys of creating an oasis of time for your ‘why’

Some of you know that I’ve been working on a book this Fall about storytelling for small, conscious businesses like ours (tentative title: Storytelling for Small Business: Growing Your Business Authentically Through the Power of Story). Having put so much emphasis on story for years with my clients, the act of gathering and sharing a useful body of information about it seemed a natural and pleasing next step. It’s also been an eye-opening experience, in more ways than one.

Two important new habits have emerged from the process of writing this book (and I DO so love a new good habit, almost as much as I love shedding an old bad one).

  1. Gently coercing myself into making time for creativity. I’ve been rousing myself early in order to create more time for creative work. Creating—whether it’s pondering my mission, writing for my own online outreach, brainstorming new ideas—has always been the redheaded stepchild of my work day. You know, the things that you’ll do, but “maybe later when I have time.”I’ve never been very good at early rising, especially as the sun rises later and later, so I had to train myself gradually. I haven’t used an alarm of any sort for many years, but I set my mobile phone to gently ping me at earlier and earlier increments: 6:45, then 6:40, then 6:35…and so on.It was very hard at first, so I reward the soft animal of my body for getting out of bed at my new set point, 5:30am (gosh, even writing that is hard).

    I lavish gifts on it like a good curl-up in my most comfortable chair with nice light, a silky soft blanket, a hot and delicious caffeinated beverage next to me, and time and space for something I loved doing: Writing, reading, sketching, or just listening to guided meditations or creativity podcasts.

  2. Reconnecting with my own story, and the stories of the people in my world (like you). Because I’m always immersed in different stories during this time, I’ve come to call that time of day my Story Hour.I re-tether myself to my own story, the “how” and the “why” I came to this work.I gather all of you around me (in the form of reading your current writing on your websites, newsletters, social media, etc.) and reconnect with YOUR stories. I see who you’re trying to help, what you’re offering, what’s happening in your world.I write something new every day to share with you all, be it a blog post, the beginnings of an article, something on social media, etc. That reconnects my story with yours, and plugs me into the larger world of what I’m here to do. It’s the energetic equivalent of plugging myself into a soul charger and refilling my batteries ’til they blink green again.

It’s no wonder I don’t need the alarm any more—our bodies do work on the reward system, after all. So, to recap: Comfy chair and lighting, steamy hot cafe au lait, warm wooby, quiet time to create something new, and the joyfully energizing act of spending time on my bigger vision as I stay connected with people and causes that matter.

Can’t think your way out of a paper bag early in the morning? Not a problem. The time of day isn’t as important as creating a habit that’s compelling to you.  If you’re more of a night person and find yourself shuddering at the thought of all this, know that the same routine can apply for your preferred daypart, though I’d skip the caffeine part at midnight if you have trouble sleeping. If you do your best creative thinking at mid-day, find a way to set aside a piece of that time for this ritual, no matter what it takes.

The idea is to carve out a new niche of time and make it non-negotiable, sacrosanct, and intensely habit-forming. The rewards are immense.

Do you have a ritual or habit that keeps you connected with your big Why? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

 


 

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.