10 Things, Without the Metaphor #2

Stinson Park Jacksonville Florida

Number one, an old man, heavyset, in a sleeveless sweatshirt, standing on his stoop at 6:15 am, looking at the blue light of his phone, not out to get the newspaper, standing there maybe out of habit.

Number two, the busy birds, too many to count, rebounding high pitched tweet-chirp-tweet-chirps.

Number three, the dew on the chair has made the back of my legs wet and the sweat on my hand sticks me to the paper as I write. It’s humid today.

Number four, it’s humid, I said that already, but seriously, it’s November 2 at 6:45 and there are streaks of salty sweat running from my temple and more between my breasts and I just felt a trickle in the little dip of my lower back.

Because Number five, I did go running this morning, just short intervals for .75 of a mile. I walked for the rest of the way.

Number six: a crow calls in 3’s, “caw, caw, caw”.

Number seven: I hear dripping water, soft, intermittent pats, but I see the pond is still. I don’t think it’s going to rain.

Number eight, caw, caw, caw.

Number nine and it’s not too early to hear the whoosh of traffic half a mile away. Commuters I’ll only join for carpool, not to the office. A vehicle without a muffler accelerates hard.

Ten is the memory that it took a chain of changes to make this morning being outside to listen and write at 6:50 on the new Mondayest day of the week. I’m glad I walked bravely into this light.

Stinson Park in Ortega, Jacksonville, Florida

Stinson Park in Ortega, Jacksonville, Florida

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

 

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

The Power of No: Setting Personal and Work Boundaries for Greater Productivity and Integrity

Why can’t people get work done at work? It was the premise of a very good talk by Inc. columnist and 37signals co-founder Jason Fried at TEDxMidwest. He articulated the need of “creatives” – designers, programmers, writers, engineers, etc- to have long periods of uninterrupted time to get things done. And, how businesses that spend a bunch of money on a place called “the office” have staff and employees who don’t get their work done there!

I found it to be validating. Liberating. Because saying yes to everything only leads to burn out and overwhelm.

Listen to what he says about work “moments”:

Jason Fried TED Talk, “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work”

He’s got nothing nice to say about managers and meetings. From what I’ve seen of traditional salaried, cubical work, I’d have to say I agree. His work-sleep phase analogy was brilliant.

As a creative, as an entrepreneur, and as a working parent I’ve learned to embrace what I call, “The Power of No”. While a lot of women’s self-help focuses on learning how to say no (and not feel guilty about it), I find it to be addictive and empowering. Being able to say no enables a boundary to be upheld. Being able to say no also offers the flip side of the coin: the ability to say yes with passion, authenticity, and honesty.

When my children were little, I said no to a lot of outings and obligations so that I could say yes to their naps and reasonable bedtimes. When I’m faced with multiple personal growth “groups”, all with evening meetings, I might say no to 4 so I can truly participate in 1. I frequently say no to distractions by turning off social media and my phone volume so that I can say yes to a few hours of writing. And yesterday I said no to a freelance opportunity because my current projects require my focus and an authentic yes.

At first it was hard. Sometimes it still is. It can feel like letting people down or missing out; they don’t always enjoy being told no. But building the boundary makes me a better writer, a better wife and mother, a better business owner. The benefits outweigh the challenges by far.

Speaker and writer Mike Robbins, in an article that appeared on The HuffPost Healthy Living blog wrote, “…saying “no” is one of the most important aspects of living a life filled with balance, integrity, and authenticity. Our ability and capacity to say “no” with confidence is one of the most important aspects of creating peace and power in our lives. This is about creating healthy boundaries, honoring ourselves, and being real — it’s not about being closed, cynical, or unwilling.” He went on to point out that being able to tap into the power of saying no offers us freedom and liberation but also helps those around us to trust we mean what we say.

I appreciated Fried’s suggestion of creating no-interruption times.

  • Cancel the next meeting. Just don’t have it. Everything will be just fine.
  • Switch from active communication (meetings) to timed-choice methods: email or IM
  • One afternoon a week of silent work- “No Talk Thursdays”

“Giving someone a few hours of uninterrupted time is one of the best gifts you can give” he says. Better than software, a new computer, or anything else you could offer.

So think about that. Give yourself the gift of uninterrupted time. Unplug over the weekend. Put earbuds in and tune out distraction. Set boundaries and be unafraid to speak up about them when making appointments. Choose your communication method and teach people that’s the best way to reach you. And then say no. As Jason said, “everything will be just fine.” Keep track of your productivity and you’ll probably find you are better than fine: you are managing life instead of life managing you.

 

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, "Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods"

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, “Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods”