Category: Empowering Ideas

Reclaiming Idealism

I have been working with a long-time friend on re-developing my personal brand. I say “re-developing” because it is a process of reclaiming the energy, the passion, the purpose of why I do what I do. I started by reclaiming the title “Idealist”.

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When I launched my personal brand in 2005 and gave myself the title Idealist, it had two meanings. The first meaning was that I helped my clients come up with and stretch the ideas of what was possible for their business. The second meaning was that I was extremely optimistic about the future and I embraced that my optimism was a bit idealistic.

Many people helped me grow my business. I learned a lot from them and am forever grateful for their time and insights. But in many ways I allowed their insights and advice to destroy my idealism and to sidetrack what I was trying to accomplish. Over the years, I began resisting sharing the raw personal stories that I believed were so critical to connecting with other people in the world. I dropped the title of Idealist in favor of “being taken more seriously” and I focused less on stretching ideas and more on outlining paths to the typical business metrics.

The silver lining is that I vastly improved my business skills and knowledge. However, the greater good that came out of my years of rejecting idealism was the void I felt. There was always a feeling of dissatisfaction after a job well done. There was the numbness I experienced as I went through the routine of mapping out a plan to meet a goal. It was obvious what I was doing was working, doing a job. I was back on the hamster wheel that once drove me crazy enough to leave a good steady paycheck and to leap into the unknown. I say this was the greater good because it was this void that reminded me of my purpose.

The darker the world got the more I realized my light was no longer shining. We are living in precarious times right now. I believe it is vital for each of us to find our light to shine our way through to better times. My light is idealism, whether it is in the form of helping people stretch the ideas of what is possible, being unrealistically optimistic about the future, or identifying the silver lining of tough situations. It is my purpose of why I do what I do.

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Can you cause people to act?

Published in 2000, Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point exposed how getting the right people to know about an idea or select teens to make a fashion statement can create a new trend.  Gladwell did a great job outlining some examples, but his idea was far from original.

One of my favorite documentaries, The Century of Self, talks about how appealing to people’s emotions and ego will cause them to make certain purchases and the best way to do that is to partner with people they look up to or relate to.

The question is can you become someone who has an influence on others? I have worked with social media influencers for over a decade and I have learned a thing or two about what makes them influential. Read more on my Linkedin Article: How Do You Become an Influencer

Be an Influencer

Marketing Lessons from Jar Jar Binks

Last weekend I had the opportunity to coach a high school student who is already pursuing her career goals in film. She has written and produced a couple of short films, is currently working on a music video for one of her original songs and has landed some freelance work on sets around the city.

She asked me to help her with understanding how she needs to start building her online brand. She has so many interests and ideas it was a struggle to bring everything together.

We talked about my favorite definition of brand. “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in  the room.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

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Jeff Bezos is a man who had a core idea that he developed in many different directions.

But when you are going in so many different directions, the next challenge is understanding who you want to speak to. Who is your ideal audience and why should they care about you? What can you say to make them care about you?

Our evening evolved from a purely marketing conversation to one about movies and directors. The talk of movies turned to talking about Star Wars. Any conversation about Star Wars can go on for days and nights and go into many directions. We talked about what made the original movies so magical. Not only was it that George Lucas was able to create “out-of-this-world” special effects with limited resources, he was able to tap into a story that was deeply meaningful to the audience of the time. It was a story of rebelling against tyranny and the idea of hope for the future, told at a time when a younger generation had been protesting and fighting for change in the country. The heroes of the movie were all flawed, but they were confident about who they were. And there was no doubt about who shot first.

Star Wars was magical and George Lucas was a hero. So what went wrong in 1999 with the release of Star Wars I – The Phantom Menace?

A lot has been written about what went wrong and that night a lot was explored about what went wrong. Jar Jar Binks seems to be the poster child for everything that was wrong with the movie. During the conversation, we stumbled upon an important marketing lesson.

It seems to me that Jar Jar Binks was created for the purpose of speaking to and attracting a younger audience. By thinking about the audience first, the story strayed away from the brand, the core of what people used to say about Star Wars when it was not in the room.

As Jeff Bezos of Amazon has proven, a brand can offer many services to many different people without losing the core of who the brand is and what it stands for.

When George Lucas tried to bring in new stories with new characters, the focus of the Star Wars brand and what it stands for was lost.

The lesson of the night was, know who you are and what you stand for or you will end up with a Jar Jar Binks.

jar-jar-binks-lucasfilm.jpgOriginally Posted on Sensei Project

SEO Tips for Creative Writers

I have two degrees from Florida State University. One in Business Marketing and the other in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. I tend to like to emphasize the word “cTypewriter.pngreative” in that degree typically when I am caught with grammar errors in my writing. But also when the topic of SEO writing comes up.

Although I’ve been a Social Media consultant for over a decade and Social Media and SEO go together like cats and viral videos, I spent years resisting SEO best practices.

In my mind SEO was the antithesis of creativity. To write content that was optimized for SEO was to write for a computer program as opposed to writing for other feeling, thinking, and dreaming human beings. But as a marketer, resistance to SEO best practices was futile. I had to find a compromise. What I learned in the process was that although content that is written specifically for search engines and have titles that get a lot of clicks may attract lots of traffic, if there was no substance and no emotional connection, all that traffic is worthless. The focus of any content should first and foremost be on making a connection with the audience. The more I learned about SEO, the more I learned that making a connection is also a good SEO practice. Here is why.

SEO and Dwell Time

Ok. Before I dive into “dwell time” I want to point out what I just did here. I used a header tag with a subtitle that not only describes what I am about to talk about, but also includes keywords. My content is still conversational here, but I am sprinkling in some SEO best practices.

Keywords should be in URL, Title Tag, H1 or H2 Tags, Image Alt Tags, Image URLs, Body Copy.

If you want more information about the hows and whys of header tags, I recommend this site.

And if you like my conversational tone then you are taking the time to read the rest of my words and not just the keywords that may have brought you to this post. That means you are sticking around on the site for a period of time. That is the dwell time – how long searchers spend on the clicked-through result before returning to their search results.

Google is the number one resource for all of our questions for one main reason: It delivers good answers at the top of search results quickly. It does so by watching users behavior. If a search result is causing users to “bounce” off the site quickly, then it was not a good result and it will get pushed down on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) or maybe even disappear completely.

Good, engaging content gets people to stay on the page longer and that helps your SEO. This is also one of the reasons why you want to lead people from one page to other interesting and relevant content on your site through internal links.

Tell Me What You are Going to Tell Me

This is rule number one in any communication; written or spoken or in a song or piece of art. You need to set expectations and then deliver on that expectation.

But how does this impact SEO? Google (and those other search engines) evaluate the click-through rate-ratio to determine the quality of your content.  This is the number of times a given search listing is clicked vs the number of times it was displayed. Meaning, is your title and metadata (the description) displayed in a search result, and do a significant number of people click on your link? If not, then Google will determine you are not what the searchers are looking for and your content will disappear.

This is why click-bait titles work for SEO. People see an enticing title such as “10 things you need to know about sunblock” and they click to find out what it is they need to know. But if the content is basically an infomercial about a brand of sunblock, then people will leave the site disappointed. Perhaps the brand has more reach and awareness, but they did not earn trust and satisfaction. So not only should you set the right expectations upfront, they should be expectations that attract readers and when you deliver on those expectations your readers should leave delighted, wanting to share their newfound knowledge. Which leads to the third SEO tip.

Get People Talking About You

The more people share your content on social media, the more traffic your site will get. The more traffic you get, the more Google (and other search engines) will pay attention. Also, if others are linking to your content from their own blogs or website, your page will increase in authority –meaning Google will see it as the the go-to page or site for the information you write about.

This is why people who are focused on writing for people and not just trying to game the search engine algorithms will always win in the end. Good content with well-formed urls and metadata that shows up as you want it when other share your content, enables you to make sure each piece of content is well-packaged to travel throughout the web. And the best way to get people to share your content is to become part of or create an online community through social media platforms where your content is seen as valuable. That’s a winning combination.

Do You Have What It Takes to be a Freelancer?

I have been on my own since 2005. It is a rollercoaster ride. At one point I considered getting off the ride and joining a company. That would be sacrificing the flexibility I had been enjoying. I spoke with my son about it. He asked me why I was considering a “real job.” I explained that I would like a steady paycheck. His response was “I know that money gets tight sometimes, but when you are rich, you are really rich!”

I laughed and decided what I really need to do is manage my money, time, and activities to achieve the stability I was seeking. In my article, Top 5 Ways to Survive as a Freelancer, I highlight a few practices that have worked for me.

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Why and How I Keep My Inbox Zero

Alright, first I will confess that I rarely get my inbox to zero but I try and usually end the day with less than 10 emails in my inbox.

Why?

Like many of you, I juggle a lot. In some ways my inbox has become a virtual to-do list. When the inbox is full I feel a bit overwhelmed and disorganized.

A person who is juggling multiple demands and responsibilities will have any number of questions, requests, and bits of information being virtually launched at them at all moments of the day. By keeping an organized and clear inbox I am able to be responsive, efficient, and dependable.

If you Google “Inbox Zero” you will find many articles with a variety of tips on how to achieve Inbox Zero. Many repeat the advice of Merlin Mann who is credited for the term Inbox Zero and his 5 step advice to delete, delegaterespond, defer and do. There is also advice out there that tells you to only check your email at the top of each hour or only twice a day. Some of that might work for you, but some may not. We all have our own styles and demands on our life and the key is to find the process and the technology that works for each of us individually.

Here is the process and technologies I use.

GMAIL

I have used Gmail exclusively for over 10 years. If you send an email to my past business Sherry@concepthubinc.com or to my current business sherry@senseiproject.com you are actually sending it to a Gmail account. Gmail has a variety of features and plugins that help you organize your life but you do not have to be stuck with an @gmail.com address to use them. Through Google Business, you can set up your own professional email address.

So how do I use Gmail to keep my life organized?

Multiple Email Accounts

I have multiple email accounts for each section of my life. One is my personal account, one is the account I use for managing fundraising activities for my son’s school band, one is for work and the email of my past company is still active? Why so many emails? It allows me to wear one hat at a time. I can check my personal email less often because there is less likely to be anything urgent there. I can ignore the band email until I am ready to sit down and work on my volunteer activities there. My current company email I keep open almost all of the time and my past company email still exist because that is how some people still know how to get in touch with me.

Filters

The filters in Gmail act like traffic cops. I have all the emails that go to my previous company email being sent on a detour to my current company. This way I do not miss an email that was sent to my previous address and I also don’t need to log in to check the previous email. You can also filter emails by topic or by the sender. I have a family member who constantly sends emails to my work address instead of my personal address simply because that is the address in her contacts list. Yes, I have asked that she change it, but change is hard for some people. So I simply filter her emails to skip the inbox and be redirected to my personal account.

Below is the screenshot of my previous company email being redirected to my current company. You will find all  your filter options  under settings and then the tab “Filters and Blocked Addresses.”

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To stay informed I subscribe to Google Alerts and newsletters about many subjects. I receive over 100 informative emails per day. This could become a huge distraction. I made the choice to have all my alerts and other newsletters to be sent to my personal email instead of my work email so that I can avoid such distraction from my most important inbox. I have also set up filters so that such emails actually skip the inbox and are directed into their appropriate folders for me to access when I am ready to sit down and sort through such information. You will notice in the screenshot below that I have filters for incoming bills and coupons set up as well. Notice that there is an exclamation mark in front of bills. The reason is the folders are organized in alphabetically, but Bills is an important folder for me, so I added an exclamation mark in front of the word bills to ensure that the folder is on the top.

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You can also set up subfolders. I have a folder for my son Dylan with the subfolder underneath for emails related to Marching Band.

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In my work email, I have a folder for every client and every type of internal messages. I do not set up filters for all messages but once an email is answered I file it into the appropriate folder even if I am still waiting for a response.

Setting Reminders

There was a time when my inbox was full of emails I was waiting for a response back from or that I was waiting to think through or uncover an answer before I responded. This was an inbox that filled up with lots of anxiety-inducing to-dos staring at me everytime I opened my email. This all changed when I discovered Boomerang.

You can try Boomerang for free and receive 10 message credits per month or get all kinds of fun, organizing features starting as low as $4.99 a month and going up to $49.99 per month.

I use the free version still. When I respond to an email and am waiting for a timely response back I set my boomerang to remind me to ping that person again if I do not hear back by a certain day and time. This allows me to file the email out of my inbox and into the appropriate folder until boomerang sends me a reminder.

Another feature I use is the ability to write an email and schedule it to go out at a certain day/time.

These features are simple and, except for Boomerang, have been around for a very long time. Yet it seems every time I sit down with a client or peer and their inbox is open I see hundreds and sometimes thousands of unopened emails in their inbox. I feel myself shaking and the overwhelming urge to clean it up. Maybe I am a little OCD but it makes me wonder if not enough people are aware of the simple ways that are available to keep their digital world a bit more tidy.

 

The Negotiation Game

Some people believe that the price you quote is the opening bid. They believe they are in a game and to win the game they have to get a price that is below the value. It has been suggested that to be a player in this game you have to set your opening bid much higher than your value so that the other player feels like they won the game once you have reduced your price to be equal to the value that you have to offer.

Do you like playing this game? I don’t. In my article, Should You Negotiate Your Price/Value? I suggest a few new rules to apply as a way to avoid this antiquated idea of business.

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3 Easy-To-Use Project Management Tools

I work with a team of experts who live and work in a variety of places with a flexible work schedule. There are a variety of benefits to this structure including being are 42able to recruit the best talent without being geographically restricted and being able to have a team member available during non-traditional hours.

There are challenges as well such as being able to track the progress of a collaborative project or to understand the workload that each team member is carrying. There are many project management tools available to overcome these challenges, some, such as Basecamp are much more robust than others. But sometimes less is more.

A more basic project management tool can keep you focused on just what you need to track and keep you from avoiding the rabbit hole of being able to track every little detail. Here are 3 simple solutions we have used.

Google Sheets

Just a simple spreadsheet within Google Drive. We have used Google sheets when we were juggling multiple tasks and needed to make sure each team member knew what was assigned to them when it was due, and the level of urgency. See example below:

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Workflowy

Workflowy’s tagline is Organize Your Brain, and that is really what it is good for. What we like about Workflowy is you can create your own personal workflow that only you can see as well as Workflows that other’s can see. It is a tool we have used to understand the workload each person is carrying based on how each person’s point of view. Our team not only shares information about the projects but also information about what they need to do in their personal life or on other projects so that we can see the whole picture of what their availability is.

PBWorks

As we have grown we found that we needed a Project Management home base. We needed a tool that could provide is with a task list, where we can keep notes that we can access easily, and where we can link out to other resources. PBWorks has been incredibly useful for us provide both the simplicity and individuality. Our team members can still use many of the tools that they prefer but ensure that we have access to all information in an organized fashion. The built in task tool allows us to assign tasks to each other, link to all the needed resources,  and track progress without any back and forth emails.

Whether you are working with team members sitting in the cubical next to you, or in a state across the country, or even another country, using basic, customizable tools can keep you all on the same page.

How to Find the Right Word

I love words. The way they sound, how they convey meaning or elicit emotions. Words are powerful, or as Hawthorne says:

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

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In this noisy world where marketing is driven by compelling content, it is vital that we find the right words that convey the appropriate emotions which lead to the desired actions.

Here are a few tools that can help:

The meaning of words have changed and expanded over time. Take for example the word epic.

“Pertaining to or constituting an epos or heroic poem; narrating at length and in metrical form as a poetic whole with subordination of parts a series of heroic achievements or of events under supernatural guidance.”

That definition has nothing to do with how I interpret the word epic on my Spotify playlist of Epic Songs.

If you want to find all the various meanings of a word, head over to Wordnik to find an extensive list of meanings of words and phrases.

If you are searching for words that convey a feeling and you cannot think of anything appealing, or you need to find another word for sentiment or trying to think of it’s opposite, WordHippo has you covered.

Sometimes help is needed even before you search for the right word. You simply need to get your ideas in line and organized. That is when I turn to MindNode to map my mind.

Once your ideas are organized and your words are all lined up, do you wonder if they will be clear and if they will make your audience feel? Ask Hemmingway, well at least the app, to take a look and see if your words and ideas provide a good hook.

5 Tools To Help You Reach Your 2016 Goals

As 2015 is coming to a close many of us are starting to think about our 2016 goals.

They may be personal goals such as lose weight, business goals such as developing 3 new shutterstock_111541157offerings, marketing goals such increasing qualified sales leads by 300%.

A goal is only a hope if you don’t create an action plan that allows you to take action to reach your goals. Here are 5 tools that can help you craft your action plans.

1. GoalEnforcer -Visualize your Goals and Achieve your Dreams!

A visual goal planning software that can help you plan, get focused and accomplish goals. You have the ability to color code your goals and rearrange them simply by dropping and dragging.

2. Goalscape – Simplify Life

Goalscape provides visual tracking of all the complex parts of reach a goal and allows you to assign a value of importance to each task.

3. GoalsOnTrack – A Systematic Approach to Achieving More by Doing Less

GoalsonTrack enables you to create SMART goals, prioritize tasks, and track the time and journal your progress.

4. LifeTick – Start Achieving Your Dreams Today

LifeTick is very similar to GoalsOnTrack but is positioned to work with groups of people including families or students.

5. Goal-Buddy – Get a Goal Buddy for Motivation, Accountability and Results

There is lots of advice out there that says the best way to achieve your goals it to make yourself accountable to someone else. Goal-Buddy helps you do just that by helping you set your goals, list out the tasks, and then find a buddy to be accountable to.