How to Track Time While Working With Distractions

This post is the first in series, “Services that Help My Business Go”, wherein Tia shares some of her behind-the-scenes secrets.

 

The other day I had a meeting with a business mentor at SCORE and we were discussing time management and discipline. My mentor, a man with a lifetime of professional management and consulting experience, is a wealth of counsel (for FREE!) on how to continue to articulate my business mission and plan for each stage of growth.

At one point, we were mutually commiserating on how difficult it can be to keep track of time while working from a home office. It’s true any time one works around people, actually.  There’s lots of coming-and-going, stops-and-starts, plenty of distractions as it appears you are available to whomever needs you…when in fact, your job is to “put your butt in the chair and work”.

I’d hit the ceiling of “now, where was I” one day when I googled Time Tracking App’s and discovered  life-and-invoice-saving Toggl. They aren’t kidding when they call it ‘insanely simple”. I create my projects, hit the button, and it begins tallying my time spent. I can bump it when I need to get up or am distracted by another request. It sync’s with my phone. More than once I’ve been at the grocery store and gotten a notification that my time clock was still running…. and so right there between Produce and Seafood I can stop and adjust the cut.

When it’s time to do month-end reports and invoices, it’s all right there. Billable versus non-billable time. How much time each stage of the project really takes. (Oh, and doesn’t that make the next projection easier! No more guess work!)

One day in May I was sitting at favorite local breakfast spot, The Metro Diner, where I’d met with Annika from the Toggl team. Toggl and Teamweek are based in Estonia and she was in the states meeting with their users to gather feedback. I almost wished I had some sort of complaint to offer, so she’d have something to take back with her under, “things we can work on”. But no, all I had was near-shameless gushing. Toggl pretty much saves my butt every month and I love it. I get up from my desk, or stop to take a call, or answer someone’s urgent question a zillion times a day. I would have NO WAY of honestly accounting for time spent without  a tracker and it HAS TO BE EASY.

And so I gushed and she took notes and then told me some truly fascinating things about her country and Estonia’s progressive culture. What happened next is that I tweeted her quote…

The hashtags led to some interesting new Twitter activity

The hashtags led to some interestingly broad Twitter activity

….and I caught a quick glimpse of how sometimes the simplest ideas can become the most empowering.

The fact is, having a business idea is one thing; running a business is another. There’s a minefield of entrepreneurs who focus entirely on their product or service but then fall apart in the background because they fail to spend time “on” the business. As a creative, that is a constant temptation. Administration is not where the fun and excitement hangs out! And yet, administration is exactly what will kill a business faster than you slap a tick. My SCORE mentor certainly confirmed this- he sees people with ideas, people who want money, people who are at all levels of understanding of what it takes to start a company. Even with all his years of experience, he confirmed for me that time tracking and management is at the heart of success, no matter who you are.

Once I have my time tracked and my reports generated (with a single click!), the next step is invoicing. I’ve found a KISS method for that one too- stay tuned for Part Two.

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Jacksonville Images Pinterest Page

I didn’t always think so but Jacksonville is a pretty great place to live, a combination of “the best kept secret” and “rising star”. I already feature my favorite images from around town, usually just shot with my iphone while in the midst of other living experiences, here on this site and in my blog posts. Taking a moment to appreciate the little things, the glimpses of ordinary beauty, breeds contentment and gratitude: this is an exercise in blooming where I’m planted.

It occurred to me that the collection is growing. It would be great to see them in one place, widen the audience, and curate them all together in one simple directory. Hence, I’ve got a new pinterest page dedicated to Jacksonville Images.

Photo taken at Clark's Fish Camp in Mandarin

Photo taken at Clark’s Fish Camp in Mandarin

Client Spotlight: RW Wealth in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Growing up, the rule was, “Leave a room nicer than it was when you found it”. I like applying that principle to my projects because it gets results. It’s gratifying to make improvements that do what’s intended and empowers a client’s goals. In that spirit, I want to share a recent before-and-after, with all the goodies in between.

Today’s client spotlight shines on Dan, Hal, and the accounting team at RW Wealth, CPA’s in Ponte Vedra Beach. They came to me with a mixture of the ideas they had for growth and an openness to how they might get there. They knew ahead of time that their current website and brand identity needed an update and they wanted to provide an easier interface to their clients. These are professionals who make it a lifestyle habit to have their fingers on the pulse of the market. Sensitivity to change is imperative- staying “locked in” to an idea means your progress will do the same: lock. I quickly learned that the mindset in the RW Wealth office is one that looks ahead: they are progressive, rational, understanding, professional, measured-yet-relaxed. Being located so close to the beach lends a sunny atmosphere that they match in attitude.

One thing both RW Wealth and Hired Scribe Media have in common is a desire to make decisions based on evidence. While it might be easier to just say, “we need a new website”, we find it a lot more valuable to know WHY first.

  • What do you want the new website to do that the current one does not?
  • What is your current website doing wrong, or poorly?

This does not have be subjective and should never be reckless. We started with research and metrics to compile a complete baseline report. This was a revealing process that went a long way in explaining why their old website wasn’t offering the results they wanted. The industry-specific framework had once been an easy entry point for a first website, but offered a limited amount of customization with few access points for search engine activity. A vertical design and side menu maxed out with just a few options, making it very hard to expand the site’s SEO. It did offer client portal access but not for as many services as RW Wealth provides. The keyword research revealed an amalgamation of all of these issues: it’s difficult to optimize for the best phrases when a site’s code and structure makes it almost invisible online!

The old site limited client and search engine access.

The old site limited client and search engine access.

The project scope that resulted was customized around improving the current environment to address the specific target ahead, line by line. Phase Two of the project began with new, fresh logo design. RW Wealth had just recently moved their offices farther down A1A, from Solana Rd to near the TPC Village at Sawgrass, next to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. The new logo needed to be eye catching and bright but also communicate the solid approach to fertile financial growth the firm emphasizes. We wanted it to be location-relevant and look great on all print materials, including embroidered options. The sign on the street has a black background, giving us a great opportunity to maximize visibility from the road frontage. The design process was collaborative and energetic- ultimately, it provoked a lot of good conversations on identity and strategic outreach.

The New RW Wealth Logo

The New RW Wealth Logo

My criteria for the new website was a mixture of what they needed fixed from their old pages as well as what it takes to be poised for growth by today’s standards. I didn’t want them to just have a brushed up design and some extra writing: they need this site to last a few years and have some growing space. This meant the new site would:

  • be mobile-device responsive, including tablet use
  • be built with HTML-5, offering cross-browser compatibility and ready for any future changes to the web
  • support graphics, including video, for their extensive client-education products
  • have a lateral, user-friendly design with tiered menu’s and sub-menu’s
  • integrate a blog with scrolling content
  • prioritize security
  • load for speed
  • have clean, light code that allows for full search engine access
  • allow for multiple client portal access points
  • be thoroughly meta tagged on every page

The build included an office-wide photo shoot, over 50 pages of SEO writing, and a client portal that offers quick and easy access to tax documents, investment account log-on’s, and business bookkeeping platforms. RW Wealth provides cloud accounting, wealth management, payroll services, investment and retirement account management, and a full range of tax services. Their new site has been constructed to fully support all of these service offerings, as well as empower their new expansions into start-up and small business consulting-  a hot market in the greater Jacksonville area as we nationally attract attention as one of the best cities in America to be an entrepreneur!

The new RW WEALTH home page!!

The new RW WEALTH home page!!

Phase Three is all about content generation, connection, client education, and growth. The RW Wealth Blog is a place where they can publish relevant financial news, educational information, and community connection. I’ve been consulting business owners on blog integration for over a decade and the platform is not stale when it’s done correctly. It remains one of the most powerful ways a website can boost it’s search presence, social media connectivity, and project the sound of the company voice. Phase Three is meant to progress in stages that work for the long term and also tackles Google Authorship, CRM Email outreach campaigns, and an entirely new site as part of the expansion of service: RW Payroll.

The last phase of any project scope is the tracking of results. They already knew they were seeing a better ROI because of the verbal feedback they’ve received. But earlier this week I was assembling the slides, metrics, and maps that show the progress we’ve made in numbers. Their site traffic is up 40 times what it was, with 58% of that traffic being returning visitors that are staying and using the site multiple times. This means they have a good balance of being found by new contacts and nurturing their existing clientele’s needs. The heat maps are especially exciting as they directly confirm the popularity of the company’s growing cloud accounting services for business owners. Seeing improvements work never gets old! Mission accomplished!

I’ll repeat the analytics process throughout the coming year and recommend adjustments based upon those results, as well as periodically address site updates and additions. I consider this team model clients, representing a collaborative, creative, ongoing working dynamic that makes me want to keep going. The story doesn’t end here-  they are so fantastic in everything that they do that I also now rely on them for my own business accounting needs, and will be sharing that more in a series of posts about the Services That Help My Business Go.

 

sea oats and ocean, just down the street from RW Wealth

sea oats and ocean, just down the street from RW Wealth

 

The One-Size-Does-Not-Fit-All Marketing Approach

Something I love about my work is the variety of projects I manage for each client. This has been a week where I’ve been freshly reminded of the power of first asking the question, “What do you think your needs are?”- and then listening closely to the response.

Often I work with people who aren’t completely sure what the solution to their problem is but they are quite aware something isn’t right. Some part of their marketing or conversion rate isn’t satisfying them. Or, the impression they are leaving on customers, contacts, or leads is disturbing and they just aren’t sure how best to fix it. They might be nervous they’ll get oversold on expensive overkill that masquerade as “solutions”.

So I always start by asking that question. Let them vent if necessary. Once the steam has dissipated, what’s left is valuable insight into their preferences for pacing, expense, resources, introversion/extroversion, internet philosophy…so much can be gained by listening.

The answers gained from that aren’t enough to stand on. They sought out a consultant’s help for a reason. This is where process analysis and analytics come in. I don’t want to advice decisions be made on emotions and perception alone: we need evidence.

  • What’s being done right now?
  • How is it being done? What are the steps?
  • How is that performing?
  • What facts verify something is broken?

Okay, now we’re getting close to a customized solution. By the way…this applies to a heck of a lot more than just marketing and branding. This process analysis and evidence based decision making is as relevant to a recipe for mouth-watering Bolognese sauce as it is technical ISO documents. Anything that must be repeated and carry a level of quality assurance is going to require process mapping, consistent supply, standards for analysis and a protocol to address any glitch.

This skill set is worth developing because it encourages versatility. I was recently meeting with a potential client where this was reiterated. This person was much more interested in transferable strengths  that could apply in many settings than they were a boxed-in service offering. Go back to the kitchen with me a sec: if one knows how to use a set of kitchen tools and appliances, knows what basic spices and pantry items go together, and the basics of ingredient chemistry, that person can pretty much follow any recipe and cook anything that’s wanted. They won’t necessarily be an expert on par with a specific niche- like say, a French pastry chef or Japanese Sushi master. But there’s a skill set in the kitchen that does allow for a very versatile range of food to be created with a high rate of acceptable success. With exceptions for highly-specialized restaurants, someone who needs to hire a cook is most often going to want someone who is versatile and adaptable, confident, open, and skilled with the process.

Once its determined what the desires are, and it’s been paired with what the evidence shows, a new project scope can be designed and pitched with rational, explainable intention behind each step. That project scope for one business is not going to be identical to another’s. Even if they follow a similar trend, it must still allow for individual goals, personalities, approaches, and objectives.

For my clients, it means they got my best at a customized solution for their unique needs. On my end, it means the job is never boring, never quite the same, never just a dressed up version of the same thing the last guy got.

One of our great century old oaks

One of our great century old oaks

Women Entrepreneurs Have Greater Job Flexibility

One Spark 2014

I experientially state that this is true. Flexibility is as good as money.

Before I’m anything to anyone outside of the walls of my home, I am Mom. There are four kids, currently ages 9-18, who need me on a daily basis to be a Life Bracket. (And while I’m talking about Things That Are True, I will also say that it’s a myth that kids need parents less as they age. I have found the teenage years to be at least, if not more, energy-demanding than the infant and toddler years. Sure, it changes a lot when everyone can bathe themselves and wipe their own backsides. It’s downright liberating in many ways. But teenagers need your time. They need eye contact. They need a listening ear. They need money. And, they need an involved parent. This is pretty awesome, actually. It’s very rewarding and fulfilling. Just don’t let anyone say it’s easy.)

I am also Wife. And, I am Writer. I am many roles. One that I am not very good at is Employee and so have chosen to avoid that title. It’s much better to be Owner, Operator, CEO, Head Honchess, the Person in Charge.

My favorite feature of being an Entrepreneur is the flexibility it offers me.

en·tre·pre·neur

[ahn-truh-pruh-nur, -noor; French ahn-truh-pruh-nœr]  

noun, plural en·tre·pre·neurs  [ahn-truh-pruh-nurz, -noorz; French ahn-truh-pruh-nœr]  .

1.

a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerableinitiative and risk.

2.

an employer of productive labor; contractor.
I utilize the flexibility offered through entrepreneurship every day.
  1. I set my own hours
  2. I decide which contracts to accept and which to decline
  3. I develop, approve, and implement the products and services offered
  4. I streamline my energies into the most important, high return tasks

He-Man said it. But actually……

I have the power

Embedly Powered

 

Of course, entrepreneurs also accept full responsibility. The good, the bad, the ugly (you are welcome for the Ear Worm). But it’s worth it. When I can finish a project and then elect to take three months off because one of my children needs to immediately homeschool, it’s worth it. When I can focus on ebook creation and memoir writing and know they will become later assets to my business, it’s worth it. When I don’t have to ask for approved time off and risk being told “no” by a superior, it’s worth it. When I was a single mother and needed to work late at night so that I could be a mother during the day, it was worth it.

I work to support my life: it’s not the other way around and being an entrepreneur is what empowers that. I’m sure there must be opportunities for working mothers out there where they can both work for someone else and enjoy flexibility. They must exist; I just have never found one. Most women I know struggle with finding a way to create the balance. They need to either contribute to their family’s finances or provide for them in full. In general, today’s workplace does not offer them much freedom in determining how they do that.

I was running the numbers for our household budget the other day and just completed the education assessment for my son. It’s time to come off full hiatus and gradually take on more work. There’s no stress in the decision- it’s a matter-of-fact evaluation of the work/life/family requirements. It’s organic, this way of running a business, a family, a life. It’s exactly what I need. This was confirmed through great timing: word of mouth advertising led to a new lead that I’ll certainly pursue. The word “gentle” is rarely heard in conjunction with “business” but that is exactly what this feels like.  A gentle progression of manageable growth that is a means to an end feels rational, healthy, and intelligent. It means I’ll have a greater probability of avoiding burnout, work-generated stress and overwhelm, or over-commitment.

Perhaps, this is part of the strength that women bring to the business world. American business is sort of personified by a dominant male figure in a suit, blindly ambitious and capitalistically hungry.  Stereotypical breadwinners of the past have had the freedom of focus that allows them to know things are taken care of at home while they work to rise to the top at work, take on employees, and make a big impression. I’m thinking out loud here but… women are usually multi-tasking.  Their work isn’t their whole life, even if they love it very much.  Having their energies and loyalties divided becomes personally expensive. Stress, burn out and overwhelm takes a toll on a woman’s health- something never far from the mind of anyone who say…likes Oprah. Helping women prioritize and accomplish a vision in healthy ways is a complete industry. We’re working on it! All. The. Time.

So I bring that womanly wisdom to what I do and the decision-making process I utilize: business grown more like a garden than a steamroller. It’s organic. It’s flexible. It blends together perennial and annual offerings. I scale accordingly. My women-in-business friends are doing so likewise. Our way of working, works.  Flexibility is as valuable (and maybe moreso) than venture capital. Flexibility is a key to success. Women Entrepreneurs, as I have experienced and witnessed both, are quietly rising in ranks of success. Making work, work for us, is just one of the reasons why.

This is a cool place! Jacksonville at One Spark 2014

This is a cool place! Jacksonville at One Spark 2014

12 Reasons Why I Am Not Leaving Facebook in 2014

The word on the street is that there’s an exodus taking place: people are leaving Facebook in droves. The buzz about teens leaving has been around for awhile- Mashable even did this nifty statistic chart showing the age contrast of Facebook users since 2011. And to be sure, there are some gaps there. Articles like this one highlight some of the negative feelings attributed to Facebook. Then, right around the new year, The Huffington Post sent out this post on 11 Reasons Why You Should Leave Facebook in 2014, which quickly became viral for those making resolutions, specifically among the “I hate Facebook” crowd.

There are some good points to consider in all this leaving. Privacy concerns are certainly valid- and Facebook does not have the best reputation for protecting user privacy in recent years. Some users object to feeling tracked or becoming a commodity. They don’ t like having their habits watched. There’s more than one soapbox shouter out there protesting the way Facebook decides what you see (and what you don’t). Even more disturbing are the stories of Facebook making people sad, like the Utah Valley University study that concluded,

 “those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives.”

I can’t say I’ve never experienced a little jealousy online now and then. What I can say is that I’m in no rush to throw the baby out with the bathwater, or unplug off the internet grid, and I won’t be leaving Facebook in 2014. Here’s Why:

  1. I work from home. For the last 9 years I’ve worked online, from home, and with the exception of my family, can easily go for a string of days without seeing another soul. While that might sound charming in a romanticized version of Little House on the Prairie: The Long Winter, its actually quite difficult at times. Social media has risen commensurate with the rates of work-from-home habits and I can see why. Facebook is my water cooler. I use it as a buffer between tasks at my desk- a way to take a quick break and see what’s up.  I can participate in a conversation on my terms- quite helpful when one is multi-tasking and managing as much as I am.
  2. I like staying up to date on what my friends want to tell me about themselves. Sure, we curate what we want others to see. Sure, this might not present the most well-rounded and accurate truth of who we are. But c’mon people- hasn’t that been the case forever? I’m not going there to see all the nitty-gritty intimate details about the people I know. The ones who share that kind of information are boundary-crossers in my book, and that also tells me something about them, and I usually feel grateful for the low-stakes revelation of that and adjust my interaction accordingly. But everyone else? What they choose to reveal about their likes and dislikes, ideas, thoughts, families, feelings of gratitude, smiles-of-the-day…well all of this helps me see a new side of them. This has enriched relationships that are even already quite close, like those of long-standing friends and family. I think I can say in all honesty that my relationships are better for expression than without it.
  3. I keep my lists to people I actually know. I can’t help but wonder if some of the Facebook haters out there just burned out with ridiculous levels of saturation- feeds full of faces and information that they don’t know and don’t care about- because they “friended” everyone they could find. Sorry Charlie- you confused Facebook with Twitter, at least in my opinion. Each platform has it’s strengths. They are not always interchangeable, no matter that you can cross post and duplicate much of your content. The people on my Facebook friend list are actually friends. Or, they are people I’ve met (in person) who I interact with with the expectation of friendship.
  4. Word-of-mouth is still the fastest way to spread the news. I read the Sunday New York Times for relevant world and cultural news. I use social media for breaking news and to at least be a little fluent on what’s trending. I almost never “watch” the news on TV.  But if something big happens, its still on social media first; this is especially true for anything local.
  5. Crowd sourcing is groovy. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve needed to find something, had a question that required an answer from the voice of experience- and by putting it out there on Facebook, received an instantaneous and diverse plethora of options. Facebook wasn’t always like this but now that’s achieved the mass that it has, I source as often in my feed as I do my searches in Google. Well, almost.
  6. I learn stuff from people I find relevant. I guess Your Feed May Vary…but mine is full of friends sharing art, helpful articles, happy news, regional experiences, opinions…and these all matter to me because the people behind them matter to me. I prefer this over TV and other outlets that try to tell me what matters and who should matter. This could change if ads become audible commercials that auto-play. But for now, I glaze over the ads and pay attention to what my friends have to share because I find it interesting.
  7. I don’t find my self-worth online.  Social media can be a dicey playground for the insecure and the vain alike. A picture is supposed to show us who you are and when it comes to the amount of selfies you post, less is probably better than more. It helps to feel secure enough in your own appearance and abilities to not need a lot of ego stroking and validation online– the one’s who don’t are the usually the ones saying they felt invisible or, they’re the one’s posting a new selfie 4 times a day or, they’re the one’s who get mad and stalk off because they think everyone else is bragging about being better than them. I think social media might possibly just magnify whatever issues we already have- so if your opinion of yourself is determined by others, heal that first instead of blaming Facebook. It will follow you wherever you go.
  8. It gives me a place to express.  I used Twitter to learn how to express a thought in 140 characters or less. It taught me to write shorter sentences. I use Facebook as a writing tool as well. Writers love having readers; Facebook naturally provides that. So I use my status updates as way to practice the best way to convey thoughts, stories, ideas and questions. The instant feedback is right there! Where else can a writer find that? What I say and how I use it is under my own control- I see that as powerful opportunity to attempt to sharpen my own skills and perhaps, do something good. This has worked for business growth as well- as evidenced by the way pages can allow a business to use Facebook to interact and develop their audience connection. As a creative and as an entrepreneur, I see this as one of Facebooks’s current greatest benefits.
  9. Boundaries will always matter, no matter where you go. Recently there were several stories about how Facebook ruins marriages. My feelings on this go back to the “social media magnifies what’s already there” that I mentioned above. If you’re a cheater, its certainly faster and easier to accelerate your sinnin’ on Facebook. If you’re a stalker, you’ve usually got a great way to feed your demon. There’s a long list of fairly innocent blunders we’ve probably all made a few times as we navigated what’s become internet etiquette. I’ve definitely learned a few awkward lessons along the way. But at the end of the day, boundaries are necessary everywhere you go. There are things you don’t say out loud and things you shouldn’t do. Anonymity or privacy online doesn’t change that. If you’re leaving Facebook because of a boundary issue, it will follow you- promise.
  10. I like learning new things, new ways, and dislike ruts. I always get a kick out of the people who groan and gripe about the many Facebook changes. “Oh no! The columns changed!” “I hate this new look!” On and on and sometimes away they go. Do we all remember how much things have changed since 1990? Remember when “smartphone” wasn’t a word? ADAPT people. This is when we live. Things change. Faster than before.
  11. I still remember (and enjoy) the delight of being able to connect with people I’d lost contact with in one big room. I joined Facebook as soon as it was public. It was thrilling to think of someone long lost, and to search their name, and voila! Up popped a recent photo! A way to chat! A way to reconnect! My oldest friend, the one I went to kindergarten with, is on my Facebook feed. I have friends from all the places I’ve lived, ones from before my divorce and after. Friends from my children’s baby years and play dates; friends from work, friends from 6 churches. There isn’t any other way I could do this is one place, with such ease, every day. It’s beautiful.
  12. I don’t let teenagers be my guide. Okay, so yes, teenagers are leaving. I have three of them and none of them care for the site much anymore. Which is actually fine by me! I understand they don’t want their parents and grandparents and priest all seeing what they do everyday. I can keep tabs on their lives without stalking their walls.  Reasons 1-11 are all better with my peer group anyway. Our teens are cool. They are smart and innovative and I’m sure they’ll come with great new ideas. They will do this elsewhere, as they always have, and it will be exciting. But I don’t have to follow their every trend. I like it over here with the grown up’s; the water (and the wine) is fine.

Instagram is new hottie, along with Snapchat, Vine, and others. I use those too, though I doubt they’ll top the centrality of Facebook. And, don’t look now: those other sites aren’t fundamentally so different as to avoid the snare that too much social screen time can cause period, no matter where you go. The New York Times recently coined a “new” condition for us to fret over: Instagram Envy.

Photo Taken on the Baldwin Rails-to-Trails bike path, Jacksonville, Florida

Photo Taken on the Baldwin Rails-to-Trails bike path, Jacksonville, Florida

What Happens When You Unplug? Using Technology-Free Time to Make Smart Decisions

I’ll start with the scary part.

Last year, about 13 months ago, I thought I was having a heart attack. At 38. I was driving out of the Target parking lot in the afternoon. I was also talking on the phone, checking for texts from two of my kids, trying to get to another child’s bus stop on time to pick them up, and trying to figure out to do with a major work problem happening California-time (rush hour in my time zone is right about the time the west coasters are back from lunch, ready to go bull-dog on their to-do lists). I had cold groceries in the car and the ice cream was melting. Another driver had just cut me off. My neck was clenched; I could barely breathe. It hurt down my shoulder and arm. I had a splitting headache.

Later, in the emergency room, we would tally up the actual count. I had been doing 8-12 things at a time during a 3 hour window of the afternoon. It wasn’t a heart attack. It was just fried circuitry. My mental machinery was maxed out. I was so plugged in that I didn’t realize my body was screaming, “STOP!”

My mantra for the next several weeks became, “Do one thing at a time. Do what’s essential.”  If you’ve ever tried this, it can be incredibly hard. No more multi-tasking. No more hyper-availability. No more non-essentials. I was gone for a little while. The world did not fall apart. But no doubt about it, there was a learning curve, folks.

I’m happy to say with heart-felt conviction that it paid off. I’m healthier this year. I have dedicated unplugged times; a few each day and the entire weekend as well. My family will be the first to say that I still face the temptation to do too much with my smartphone. It can, after all, do  a lot of things, for which I am extremely grateful. I can not imagine the amount of coordination, logistics, and organization I am responsible for would happen if I didn’t have the benefit of technology so literally at hand.

Still. Any time-out will quickly separate the essentials from the non-essentials. Not all of it is obvious. Sometimes it requires a significant step back to be able to see what you need. And then changes can be determined. One thing your smart phone can’t do is make a smart decision for you! You might be too plugged in to even hear what else is going on.

What else are you missing?

We have to relearn some things and learn to trust that everything isn’t going to fall apart if we put technology away for a little while. It actually, might be falling together. Quietness is a gift that reveals what we need to see. It also free’s us to more effectively focus on what we’ve chosen to pursue.

In a recent article triggered by the viral phone video, NY Times writer Nick Bilton shared a few recent cultural instances where unplugging puts the focus back on being present, beyond no-texting-and-driving or putting away our phones at the movies:

…the Unsound music festival in Poland banned fans from recording the event, saying it did not want “instant documentation” and distractions that might take away from the performances. In April, during a show in New York City, Karen O, the lead singer of the rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, told audience members to put away their phones (using an expletive to emphasize her point).

A number of New York restaurants, including Momofuku Ko and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, have prohibited people from photographing their food. (Note to foodies: Your quinoa does not need to be artfully posted with an old-timey look on Instagram.) And, of course, many mothers and fathers who fought to keep the television out of the kitchen may see smartphones as the next threat to dinnertime civility.

 

So think about it. What happens when you unplug? When you log out of certain social media outlets? This lesson definitely has a business trickle down effect. As a consultant, I favor marketing methods that are some what active even in your absence. In my opinion, that’s where the most value is. I’d venture a guess there are few people who truly prefer being virtually on-call for their business lives 24-7 (or even half that!). Work can be enjoyable… but even if it’s your dream come true, there are still hours you’d like to be sleeping, relating, playing, exploring, etc. It’s great to develop platforms that work for you even when you’re not around.

At the same time, you can’t outsource your life. There are some things that require your honest presence in order to succeed. If you are going to be logged out of them for long periods of time, they may not be the best option for you at all.

My lesson was that I need breaks. I make smarter choices that align with my values when I set the phone down and walk a way for a little while. My smarter choices yield better results, as true whether it’s about ice cream or business.

The Lions of San Marco Square- shopping and dining district

The Lions of San Marco Square- shopping and dining district

 

 

 

Build Your Bridges: How to Improve Site Performance

“No man is an island” according to John Donne. Turns out, neither is no well-performing website.

Still, plenty of businesses build a website all about,and only about, them. It’s got their “about”, their FAQ’s, the contact pages, the list of services. Then, they go out and do their work.

There’s no blog to generate updated content.

There’s no social integration, online or otherwise.

They don’t participate in community events, initiatives, or charitable outlets.

Or, they do and never talk about it.

No one reviews them, links to them, or even really visits the site.

And, maybe the search engines don’t either, because they can’t access the site well. It’s just another pretty face with broken code and no inner optimization.

Sigh.

Here’s the analogy I always share: your website is an island. It’s real estate you buy and build upon. There’s an airstrip but only a few people have planes. What you need are bridges to the mainland. You need access pathways for your traffic to reach you.

It’s a web, this internet you built upon. Webs naturally have connections. If you aren’t connected, you aren’t truly here.

Incidentally, Jacksonville achieves connectivity through its many bridges over the St. John's River.

Incidentally, Jacksonville achieves connectivity through its many bridges over the St. John’s River.

 

 

Does Cost Predict Performance?

It’s a scary question. No one wants to invest in something that won’t get the job done. But there’s an even scarier question worth asking:

Does the performance reflect the cost?

There are so many examples out there of expensive things that don’t live up to their performance expectation. This is certainly true when it comes to products, tangible items. The phrase “durable goods” doesn’t mean what it used to. Things can be made more cheaply and they are, to the detriment of durability and very often, performance.

When it comes to products, sometimes you get what you pay for. Sometimes you don’t.

It’s true in the service industry as well. Services may be a bit more difficult to ethically cost slash…but we all know this is a global economy. Money in one country means something else in another. Outsourcing happens. And along the way a reminder has been experienced.

Sometimes you get what you pay for. Sometimes you don’t.

In my career experience I’ve seen some things go on that make me boil. Here are a few:

  • Expensive websites that are so cluttered and cumbersome to load that traffic clicks away before the page finishes.
  • Expensive websites that have broken code, no anayltics and no optmization. Which means, all the continued and ongoing resource the site owner pours into the site won’t mean squat.
  • Cheap writing that was generated by a machine; a paragraphed assembly of irrational keywords that aimlessly stab in the search engine dark.
  • Cheap writing that was created by someone with poor language proficiency, which saved the owner a few bucks and makes their business look really bad.
  • Stories from business owners who were sold on services and products that don’t effectively  help them achieve their goals and target their unique audience.
  • Stories from business owners who do things because they are sure they need to…but can’t really explain why. It’s a sure fire red flag of either a random approach or a bad sale.

I believe business owners, no matter the size of their company and the strength of the current economy, care about where they spend their resources. Most of those I’ve worked with value investment over expenditure. With an investment, performance surpasses cost.

With a defined vision, a planned content structure, quality products and services, and ongoing analytics and performance reports, that will happen.

Photo taken at the Dreamette, a Jacksonville favorite for dipped cones.

Photo taken at the Dreamette, a Jacksonville favorite for dipped cones.

 

When Bad Marketing Happens to Good People

I don’t really understand why my electrician needs to be on Twitter. He’s on call 18 hours a day, has a family, and more work than he knows what to do with. But when he was here to fix some wires the other day, he heard what I did for a living and said, “Oh yeah, I need to get my business on Twitter and use social media.”

I found my electrician by searching online. He  needs a better listing in Google Places. His website should stay modest but it could certainly use a software update and some optimization to help him stay up in the rankings. His logo is a bit hokey; if brand identity really matters to him, that could use a fresh pass.

Mostly, he just needs a day off.

What made me bonkers that day was the reminder that one size does not fit all when it comes to marketing strategy. Some business really benefit from deep sites with extensive copy, very visible and frequent social media integration. They experience noted increases in conversion rates from email campaigns and newsletters. There are still industries who thrive on direct mail, customer incentives, and street signage. Some people get on social media and actually harm their own interests. Or, they sign up and spend on ideas they can’t make come to fruition.

Trying to do it all, just because you think everyone is doing it and so should you, is random and wrong. It’s spreading yourself too thin. Bad marketing isn’t about the medium: it’s about the application. So here’s the prescription:

  • Get a vision of what you want
  • Think about your audience and what they need
  • Create a plan to meet that need and engage their attention
  • Keep is Simple Sweetheart
  • Measure Your Progress.

If something isn’t working, you can always adjust. The catch is that you can’t measure progress if you don’t know where you started and where you want to be.

Case in point: A dentist wanted more customers. People need the dentist but they also hate going. Our city has tons to choose from too. So this marketing savvy dentist hatched a plan: make coming to the dentist more attractive.  He had his vision, he knew his audience, and he started a plan.

To get attention he:

  • has a great website that’s deep and easy to use.
  • invested in a fantastic reminder system that syncs with calendars. Patients get reminders via text, email, and with a phone call.
  • offers an incentive program that makes kids beg for their next appointment: free movie passes if you keep your scheduled 6 month appointment!

He kept it simple. His office is very busy actually handling patients and appointments. They don’t have time to maintain active social media profiles or write newsletters. They’ve seen marked customer increases through their incentives (there’s another one involving free dinners out for sharing a referral). Their website needed some improvements and they addressed that; I experienced their business model when they needed a series of internet articles written and published to increase their search rank. Their website comes out on top and they’re easy to reach. They have a good local reputation.  They’re happy, their customers are happy.

 

One size doesn’t fit all, no matter what the salesman says.

Photo taken at Mickler's Landing, south of Ponte Vedra.

Photo taken at Mickler’s Landing, south of Ponte Vedra.