Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Heart of the Matter

What’s gonna make people buy from you?

That’s a tough question to answer. It involves a lot of factors, layered into the mix that comes out as your website. But there’s one really critical factor:

Some might say it’s the products. If you don’t have what your visitors are needing or wanting, they won’t buy from you. It’s true that products are very important. Still, that’s not the most critical factor.

Some might say it’s the content on your site. They’ll come to your site for the info, and stay to shop. That’s what makes your site “sticky”. That’s very important, because it’s also what brings the best search engine rankings. But content isn’t the most critical factor in the buying decision.

At times, I, myself, have said that it’s the experience that surrounds the products. If you create an experience or an association with an experience then people will stay and buy. For example, if you’re selling tents, sleeping bags, and lanterns, the experience these products bring is the enjoyment of the outdoors. If you focus on the experience, you give people a reason to want to own the products. Very important. But still not the most critical

To discover the most critical factor in buying, you have to dive even deeper into your customer. You must go past their mind and into their heart.

I’ve heard it said many times, and in many ways, that people generally will buy something based on their emotions, and then they’ll rationalize that purchase intellectually. I might tell you that the reason I chose this car is that it has a great safety rating, or it gets good mileage on the highway, but the real reason is that I look really cool in the driver’s seat!

So, you want to make your website appeal to the emotions that surround the experience that surrounds your products. Maybe it’s the sense of freedom that comes from breathing the fresh mountain air. Or the adrenaline that pumps my heart when I corner in my new car. When you focus the writing of your website about these emotions, and then follow up with logical facts and product features to support them, then you’ve got the one-two punch that will knock down the sale.

1. Get the thought process down

Start with your products in mind. Think them through the process. First, what’s the experience associated with the products? Then, what are the emotions that accompany the experiences? A good car brings excitement. Camping gear brings a connection with nature and tranquility.

Memories are good emotional triggers, and anything that connects a product to a person’s children is going to bring up emotions. Of course, you’d want to make sure that you’re using that strategy on a product that’s appropriate for a family…

2. Include all the senses

As you’re writing about the emotions a product brings, make sure to include as many senses. In the camping site, mention the stunning view, the sound of the birds in the trees, the smell of the fresh air, and the taste of the marshmallows on the fire! These senses are emotional and mnemonic triggers, and will enhance the connection people feel to your products.

3. Include the facts, but last

I do want to know what a product is and what it can do, but only after I’ve caught the excitement or the tranquility, or the love, or the whatever… Give me the details, the features of the product after I’ve already decided I want it.

4. Editing is critical!

Lastly, go back and revise the words you’ve written so that there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Work in a few more of those all-important search terms.

These suggestions will help you create a website that will not only draw people in, but make them want to buy your stuff as quickly as they can whip out their credit cards! Catch their emotions and you catch their desires and ultimately, their purchases.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The 90% Rule

A long time ago, I was attending our local community college (I won’t tell how long ago…), and I got a scholarship for a couple of semesters so that I could play in the pep/jazz band. It was just getting started, and the band director had been authorized to offer a number of these waivers.

As I was auditioning for the part (more of an interview, really) of bass/guitar player, the new band director revealed something to me that has been one of my “words to live by” ever since. I now call it “The 90% Rule”

Here it is: “90% of life is showing up.”

That’s the short version. The long version is: “Most of the success in your life will come from being where you need to be, ready to do what you need to do.”

When he and I were talking about it, he said, “I’d rather have a band filled with 20 mediocre musicians that I could count on, than 20 amazing players that were flakes.” And the reason became clear to me more and more as I saw both reliable and flaky players interact in that band. Those that were there, consistently, rehearsing and working, got better. It was obviously a slow process, but it happened. Those that weren’t regular didn’t stay with the band. It was the ones that “showed up” that formed the core of the group and that made the band sound good.

That rule has manifested itself in my non-musical life over and over again.

No matter how good I might have been at a job, how long do you think I’d keep that job if I was constantly late or even didn’t show up? What if, as a mentor, I kept missing my sessions? Do you think people would be willing to keep paying me if I’m not there to help them?

A long time ago, in the workaholic ‘80s, there were a lot of people saying that it was OK if you don’t spend much time with your kids, if the time you spend is “quality time”. But if you don’t ever spend any time, if you never “show up” for your kids, what kind of quality can that time be?

How can I expect to build any personal spirituality, any “connection with the divine”, if I never go to church, read my scriptures, or even set myself to meditate or pray?

How many people want to create a business, perhaps online, and might even sink a lot of money into a startup situation, but then never actually create the website. Life is hectic, and it gets in the way, that’s true. But if you want a website to be built, you have to “show up” in front of your computer and be ready to do the work. If you want that website promoted, you have to “show up” on the web and make the connections. You have to submit to the search engines, set up the links, be visible on the forums.

Here are some ways to set yourself up to succeed by simply “showing up” ready to work:

1. Set a time to work

Knowing what time during the day you’re going to do your work can help you “show up” regularly. It doesn’t even have to be the same time every day, though that can help. I find it’s more effective to spend a little time each day, rather than waiting for a large chunk of available time to appear.

2. Set a plan for what to work on

Know what needs your attention most. Be aware of the tasks that are important and the ones that are the most urgent. Balance the two. Don’t ignore the important because the urgent is screaming louder in your ear.

3. Sit down and refocus

Knowing when to work and what needs to be done is pointless if you never sit down to do it. Remember, “90% is showing up”.

Sometimes, when I “show up” to work on my website, I have to take a minute to remember where it stands and where I left off. Sometimes I have to take a look at things, like my site, or my notes, to refresh myself and know where to jump to next.

4. Get past the distractions.

There are always distractions. My kids are wired directly into our home computer network. I think they’ve got wireless cards in their brains. Why? Because it doesn’t matter what they’re involved in or what room they’re in, as soon as I sit down at my computer and boot up, they come climbing into my lap and want to launch the pinball game!

The phone rings, an IM window pops up. A million things can tear you away from what you need to be doing. They want you to “show up” to their issues, not the one at hand. It’s important to know how to get past these distractions and stay with your business.

But sometimes, when I’m working long, a distraction can be good. If I handle it right, it can clear my mind and allow me to come back to my work refreshed. Occasionally, it’s good to play pinball with your sons on your lap. You have to “show up” in their lives, too. But let them know you also have work to do, and you need to get back to it.

And some days, when you’re feeling overwhelmed with so much to do in your life, and you just want to stay in bed and cover your head up with the blanket, remember: “90% of life is just SHOWING UP!”

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Blog as Income Stream

One of the big challenges of doing “the affiliate thang” is that it’s often difficult to get people to “do the deed”. By that I mean, you might get them to click from your site to your affiliate site, but getting them to actually BUY something can be a bit of a challenge.

Glossary Item, for those that have been hiding under a rock for many years, or just barely got on the ‘net: An Affiliate Program is a way for a smaller website to refer people to a bigger retailer website, in exchange for commissions.

Here’s how it works. Site A is a small website, maybe an informational site without products or even a merchant account. Site B is a big retailer, like Amazon.com (who put affiliates on the internet map, so to speak). Site owner A signs up with Site B’s affiliate program, and gets some HTML code. That gets pasted into Site A. Visitor C comes to site A, and, their interest piqued, clicks to Site B. Visitor C buys something at Site B. Site B’s affiliate tracking system notes that Visitor C came from Site A (usually that’s encoded in the URL of the link from Site A to Site B). Finally, the accountants from Site B, pays a commission/finder’s fee to Site owner A (usually 5 to 15% of the purchase).

It’s a very easy way for a site owner to add more products to their site. It’s also a very easy way to make some cash. It can be done very profitably. It can also be done wrong.

One of the worst ways to do affiliates is to put a general affiliate link to an irrelevant “Site B” on your main page. Say, I have a website where I sell sports car accessories. If I were to put up on my main page an affiliate link to, say, a toy store, that wouldn’t be too relevant, now, would it? My visitors would not be likely to think, “Oh, my gosh, how convenient. I’d forgotten to buy Johnny that Ninja Turtle figure for his birthday, and now I’ve got the chance at this sports car site to go do that!”

How much better would it be if my site were about children, to then have the link to the toy store.

And how much better would it be if I’ve got a content article on the site about the history of the Ninja Turtles, and, presto, there’s a link someone can click on to jump to the page in the toy store where they can buy that very Ninja Turtle figure. I write about it, I recommend it, and I send people there to buy it. Doesn’t that sound much stronger?

Well, people are discovering that and taking advantage of that. Take, for example, Manolo’s Shoe Blog. He writes about pop culture and fashion, yes, but especially about shoes. And each time he writes about a shoe, there’s a link for the reader to go buy it.

He writes with a certain credibility, and also with a lot of flair. He’s flat out fun to read.

So, why not have a product blog? Or a review blog? The fact that you’ve created a website with a focus gives you an audience. Tap into that audience. Here’s how:

1. Establish a blog

Use the Clicksite Builder to create a blank page, and establish your blog on that page. Use Blogger.com or Xanga.com to create an externally hosted blog.

2. Choose your focus

This should be something that relates to the audience of your site.

3. Find products in that focus

Decide on some specific products that you can comment on. These could be externally sold, through an affiliate program, or even sold through your own website.

4. Find affiliates that sell those products

There are lots and lots of websites out there that have affiliate programs, and products are available in almost all areas. Look in refer-it.com or just Google “Affiliate Directory”, and begin visiting the sites that come up on the list. Look for the products you’ve chosen. Sign up with those sites and get your link codes. Try, most of all, to find affiliate programs that, like amazon.com, allow you to link directly to individual products instead of just their main page.

5. Write reviews and commentaries on the products

The more clever and insightful your comments and reviews, the more your audience will grow, and the more they’ll respect your opinions.

6. Include the affiliate links.

Make sure, above all, to remember the link to the product. You want your readers to be able to link right in and buy it.

There are a lot of really good reasons to explore affiliate product blogging. You can grow the audience for your website and your products. You can establish yourself, over time, as a credible and valuable guru or guide to your audience. And, you can generate some cash flow. That’s always a good thing, isn’t it?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Scarcity v. Abundance

A new way to look at Competition

A quick case study:

Pepsi and Coke. Which one is better than the other?

Well, according to 2004 numbers, Coke had about 43% of the US market share, and Pepsi had about 32%. The remaining percentages were taken by other companies, mostly Cadbury Schweppes, who makes Dr Pepper and 7-Up. Interestingly enough, both of those numbers were down from previous years.

What all this demonstrates is one philosophy of competition. This is the paradigm of scarcity. It says that there are only so many consumers with so much money. That is fixed. And all of the players in the business game are all competing for those same consumers. So, “market share percentages” show who’s winning and who’s losing. If one company gains market share, then the others have to lose. It all only adds up to 100.

So, a lot of money and effort is spent trying to convince the buying public that one is better than the other. Taste tests, market research, celebrity spokespersons… Every strategy is thoroughly tested.

The problem is that it assumes that the market is saturated. That means that everyone that possibly could know about the product has already been reached, and now it’s just all about brand loyalty. This approach has been with us for many, many years, and has been perfected in our general election system.

But there’s another philosophy as well, one that is often more difficult to grasp, more challenging to implement, but ultimately can be much more profitable. It requires a total change in paradigm, a complete adjustment of perceptions. It’s the paradigm of abundance.

This approach says that there is plenty of business for all. “What if,” it says, “instead of fighting and competing amongst ourselves for narrow slices of the pie, we were to work together to make the pie bigger?” What if efforts were made to increase the overall size of the market, rather than carving it up into chunks. Then the percentages could fall where they may, but as the overall markets expand, each company would still be growing.

Let me give you a personal example. When I was struggling, trying to establish myself in the Salt Lake area music scene and recording market, I very definitely had a scarcity mentality. There were only so many recording projects “out there”, and it was my job to pound the pavement and find them. I had to bring them to my production company, and quickly, because if I didn’t, someone else would get them. I worked very hard, and stressed myself very much trying to “beat the other guys”. I was very secretive, and clung very tightly to the clients I did get, because you can’t go sharing that kinda stuff.

Then I was introduced to the concept of the “Win/Win” world. The idea that we can all come out ahead. We don’t have to fight each other for the scraps that are around the table. When you look outside your narrow view, there are plenty of projects, plenty of customers that you didn’t even know existed before.

Previously, I was focusing on bringing bands into the local studios. Bands are very exciting to record. They’re usually working on fresh, original music, and they often have some fans that are eager to hear the new recordings. But the problem is that few bands are working enough to have the steady income necessary for the bigger recording projects. In short, they rarely can afford to come to the studio. In addition, there were lots of studios trying to attract the few bands that did have money. That’s where the scarcity mentality came from.

I saw the availability of other markets. Rather than just compete for “my cut” of the band niche, I started looking at doing arrangements and demos for songwriters. That’s not as prestigious as a band gig. When a band puts out a CD, you can hang it on your wall. Your name goes in the production credits. When a songwriter finishes a song, it gets sent off to publishers and producers, and hardly anyone sees it. But there were a lot of songwriters. I also began exploring the market for jingles and production music. Instead of just griping (although I did my share of that, too), I also looked for ways to expand the pie, to make the overall market bigger.

Sometimes, when I look at Coke and Pepsi, I realize that they’re just trying to be in business. They’re working hard to keep the money flowing and keep their bottom lines profitable. I can’t begrudge them that.

But then I look at all the money and effort they’re spending competing with each other, and I can’t help but wonder what could be accomplished if that same amount of investment were spent on something truly productive.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Supporting the Troops

Generally speaking, when I get emails that have been forwarded a hundred times, I used to delete them. Now, if it’s fun and/or appropriate, I’ll forward it with my signature ad, doing a little bit of viral marketing.

The problem I have with most of these forwarded messages is that they’re usually bogus, or based on flawed or faulty information. I rely pretty heavily on snopes.com to help me sort out the truth from fiction.

But recently I received one about the soldiers in Iraq, a suggestion that we all wear red on fridays, to show our support for them. Here’s the text of that email:


Very soon, you will see a great many people wearing Red every Friday. The reason?

Americans who support our troops used to be called the "silent majority". We are no longer silent, and are voicing our love for God, country and home in record breaking numbers.

We are not organized, boisterous or over-bearing. We get no liberal media coverage on TV, to reflect our message or our opinions. Many Americans, like you, me and all our friends, simply want to recognize that the vast majority of America supports our troops.

Our idea of showing solidarity and support for our troops with dignity and respect starts this Friday -and continues each and every Friday until the troops all come home, sending a deafening message that..

Every red-blooded American who supports our men and women afar, will wear something red. By word of mouth, press, TV -- let's make the United States on every Friday a sea of red much like a homecoming football game in the bleachers.

If every one of us who loves this country will share this with acquaintances, co-workers, friends, and family. It will not be long before the USA is covered in RED and it will let our troops know the once "silent" majority is on their side more than ever, certainly more than the media lets on.

The first thing a soldier says when asked "What can we do to make things better for you?" is...We need your support and your prayers. Let's get the word out and lead with class and dignity, by example; and wear something red every Friday.

I sent this out to everyone on my email list. Will you?




There’s nothing bogus here, nothing trying to scam me into buying Viagra substitutes or transferring money from a Nigerian bank account. I’m not going to get money from AOL or Microsoft for every person I forward it to. In fact, if I were to wear red this Friday, I won’t get a dime for it from anyone.

I used to be cynical about it all, too, until I read the blog of a good friend. She’s trying to manage raising a family (also with a special needs child) while her husband is stationed in Iraq. I have enough troubles trying to be a parent to my kids without thinking of doing it alone for a year or so, wondering if my spouse were ever going to come home.

Anyway, in her blog, she mentions that it’s important to know what “Supporting the Troops” means and doesn’t mean. I liked the things she said. It changed my paradigm regarding the whole ordeal. Here’s my list of what it means and doesn’t mean:

“Supporting the Troops” means respecting that they’re willing to fulfill the agreements they made when they joined our armed forces. Even if that means giving up their life.

It doesn’t mean that I have to support the politicians that decided to send them there. It also doesn’t mean that I have to support the politicians that don’t want them there. I can be Republican, Democrat, independent, red, blue, green, and even orange with pink polka-dots, and I can still support the troops.

It means that I should send one or two of them a letter or email. I’ll bet that everyone reading this knows at least that many who are there.

It especially means that I should help support their families while they are gone. I can stop by and see what help they need. I can shovel the snow off their driveway while I’m doing my own. I can see if they need extra babysitting.

I can be sad when I hear that bad things happen there. It’s a war, to be sure, and bad things are bound to happen, but I can allow myself to feel that along with them.

I can be happy when good things happen. When I hear about schools being built and successful elections, I can celebrate here in America as well.

Whether or not Americans as a people agree with THE WAR is something to be sorted out at Election Day. But in the meantime, let’s celebrate that people are still willing to stand up for what they believe in.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Worth a Thousand Words

One of the challenges that Internet commerce has always faced is the lack of tangible interaction between customer and product. When I go to a store, I can see the product, pick it up, heft it, and see how it works. On the internet, that’s more difficult.

This isn’t a new problem. Actually, catalog and mail-order companies have been dealing with this problem for decades. A major key to overcoming this challenge is the product photograph. Having a good photo (or more) of each product on your website is very important to being able to sell it.

But where do you get those pictures?

If you’re reselling a product that someone else is supplying, then usually they’ll provide you with pictures. Those are usually all ready for the web, and can be downloaded from their website or are sometimes provided on a CD-ROM.

But if it’s a product that’s handmade, or something that you’re supplying yourself, you’ll have to take the picture yourself. That can be a challenge in and of itself. Hiring a professional product photographer can yield excellent results, but it can also be cost-prohibitive.

Here are some tips to getting good product pictures:

1) Go digital. Get a digital camera. The picture will be shown digitally, and taking the picture digitally in the first place saves a step. In addition, you’ll be able to set up the picture, take it, load it into your computer, preview it, and then be able to make adjustments to the setting and the lighting to get a better picture immediately. You won’t have to wait for the pictures to come back from the lab.
2) Create a setting. Cut the top and two adjacent sides off of a large home appliance box, and drape some cloth in the inside corner it makes. Put a couple of books on the base under the cloth to support the object.
3) Get lots of light. The most common error I see in home-shot pictures is poor lighting. The brighter the light, the more of the product you’ll see. Low lighting also causes color distortions, like a blue or green cast. Using a flash brings all the light directly from the camera, off the object, then right back to the lens. This leaves no shadows to shape the object, and one big harsh shadow right behind it. Two very strong lights, one on either side of the object, and above it, will light the object very well and create gentle shaping shadows.
4) Take several views of the object. This will give your customers the opportunity to look at it from many angles, as if they were holding it in the store.
5) Try lots of things. Move the lights around. Move the camera. Try different draperies for the background. Test and see which gives you the best results. Then duplicate that with other products.
6) Once it’s in your computer, edit it. Don’t be afraid to adjust the colors. Does it look to blue? Too red? Remember that if you do something that you don’t like, you can undo it, or start over with the fresh picture.
7) Resize the picture. It will likely come off a digital camera much, much larger than this. Set the resolution to 72 dpi. For web display, make it no larger than 200 or 250 pixels on a side. A great freeware graphics editing program can be found at http://irfanview.com
8) Once the picture has been resized, do a “Save As” command. I usually just add the letters “sm” to the end of the filename to remind myself that it’s the “small” version. I keep the larger, high-res version on my computer, because I might need it someday for a poster or printed brochure.

These tips can help you get some great results and display your products as good as possible, whether you’re selling them from your website or on eBay!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Four C’s of Internet Success

Doug McFarland, of Media Metrix, explained that successful sites have four elements, all beginning with “C”. They are: Community, Content, Communication, and Commerce. And I think that’s their order of importance, and the order that a site owner should address them in the process of setting up their website. As the site develops and grows, each of these elements will become more prominent and important, but as a site is being built, they should be taken on in that order.


It’s very important to realize that your customers aren’t just people who give you money, they are your friends. They are your associates. They are people with common interests. And you get to pick who they are.

The very first thing that should be addressed in the creation of a web business is: “Who will be coming to it?” Once the audience of a site is established, everything else might not fall into place immediately, but it will have a place to fall into.

Then you can ask things like, “What do they want to know?” and “What do they need?”


The content is the information that you have at your website. Studies show that three-fourths of web visitors return to their favorite sites for strong content and constantly refreshing information.

And if you’ve effectively established your community, it should be relatively easy to identify the subjects you can provide content in. Finding that content can be time-consuming, but it’s not difficult. Sites like eZineArticles.com (http://ezinearticles.com) can be great resources.


The best thing someone can do when they come to your website is to buy something, right?

The next best thing they could do is to join your mailing list. In fact, sometimes I think that the mailing list might even be the best thing they can do. Because on the mailing list, you can bring them back again and again to buy over and over. Establishing the list is critical to the success of your business.

How do you entice people to sign up? First, simply ask them to. Many will come to your site, be intrigued by your content, and want more. Others will need more to draw them in. Offer some product as a premium in a drawing. The bigger the offer, the more likely people will be to sign up. You will, of course, need to balance that with your ability to provide the prize!

Once you’ve established a drawing, list it at contest sites like ContestAlley.com (http://contestalley.com). These draw lots of people interested in winning free things, and you could be amazed at the signups you’ll get.

Of course, once you get a list established, you’ll want to use it to bring people back to your site. For more content, or for product! Establish a regular email newsletter. It’s not spam, because everyone on your list has requested to receive it. It’s better than third party bulk mail lists because you know that these people are actively interested in YOUR site.


Lastly, establish your site as a place to buy things relevant to your content, and that appeal to your community. Choose products, find sources and put them on your site. Hook up your merchant account to make payment easy. Announce new products in your newsletter.

These four elements, taken in that order, can boost your site up to commercial success!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Goal setting

A long time ago, when I was first mentoring, my supervisor taught me about goal setting. It’s critical to long-term success, and even short-term payoffs. But how do you do it? She showed me seven steps to success.

Step One: State the goal.

We’ve all probably heard that a goal that’s not written is just a wish. It’s too flexible, too easy to be rationalized around, until it’s in a fixed form.

I’ve learned that there are two elements that need to be a part of the written form of a goal, to make it even more impactful and motivating. One is that it needs to be phrased positively. For example, I could say that “I want to lose weight”, or I could say that “I want to be thin”. They say essentially the same thing, but “being thin” is focused on the result, where “losing weight” is focused on the problem. Do you see how wanting to be thin will be more motivating?

Another important thing is to make the goal measurable. How else are you going to tell if you’ve achieved it or not? “I want to be happier” is certainly a good thing, but how will you know if you’ve done that or not? “I want to be filthy stinking rich!” Great. Just how filthy and stinking do you want to be? Put some numbers or conditions on it, so that it’s measurable.

Step Two: List the Benefits

What do you want to get out of this goal? What do you want to have when you are done? Part of the things in this list will be tangible, like money in the bank, or a new car, or whatever you’re shooting for.

Many items on this list will be more personal, like the feeling of accomplishment, the sense of security, the freedom that comes from meeting all your financial obligations.

Whatever the goal there’s going to be reasons why you want to achieve it. Whatever the goal, there will also be times when your motivation lags, and your will to push forward fails. In those times, it’s very good to remind yourself why you wanted the goal in the first place.

Step Three: List the Obstacles

What’s going to be difficult? What will get in your way? A lot of people want to ignore these things, or pretend they don’t exist, but they’ll have to be dealt with. In this step, we’re just going to list them. We’ll deal with them in a later step.

Step Four: What do You Need to Learn?

No matter how much a person knows, or how much they study, there will always be concepts and skills that will be needed to achieve a goal. Why? Well, the very nature of a goal is to go somewhere that the goal setter isn’t, or to acquire something the goal setter doesn’t have. If the person already knew all they needed, he or she would likely already have what the goal is spelling out, right?

So, in this step, list the things that you can see that you’ll need to know in order to complete the goal. Some of these things will be very practical sorts of things. “I need to learn how to build up my reciprocal links page on my site.” Or, “I need to know how to write great ad copy.”

Other items could include more personal things. “I need to learn how to better manage my time.” Another could be, “I need to learn how to overcome my fears.”

We’ll also come back to this in a later step.

Step Five: Who can Help

Make a list of the people that you know that can help you. Mentors and advisors, people who’ve been there before, people with success. They can give you invaluable advice and help you avoid problems that they had to overcome.

Often, family and friends, while not necessarily the most skilled mentors, can offer great encouragement and moral support. Sometimes, however, family and friends can end up on the “Obstacles” list, too!

Make sure to include organizations, like the Small Business Administration, and your local chamber of commerce. Authors of books can be a great help, as well.

Next to each name on this list, also write how that person or group can help you, so you’ll not only realize that you’re not alone in your endeavor, but you’ve also got some specific resources.

Step Six: The Action Plan

I usually set up my goals annually. That’s a nice round figure for a long-term shot.

I also work backwards, rather than forward. I’ll start by saying, “OK, I want to be HERE by the end of this year.” And that’s usually what I’ve spelled out in step one.

“So, if I’m going to be there in a year, then I need to be HERE in nine months. And HERE in six months. HERE in three months, and I need to do THIS by the end of this month. Which means that this week I need to do THIS.”

Working backward keeps the steps much more reasonable and sensible. It’s easier to perceive the benchmarks that I need to set up for myself.

Now, here’s the good part: While you’re setting up the timetable and breaking the big goal into smaller steps, take a good look at the obstacles. One by one, plan for what you’ll do to overcome each obstacle in the list. Then as you do, and cross them off that list, they stop being obstacles, and they become a part of the plan! They become manageable! That’s a very empowering feeling to have!

And do the same thing with the Step Four list of things to learn as well. It will be amazing how much more reasonable they all seem when they’re in the plan, instead of when they’re blocking your way.

Step Seven: Set the Review Date

If this is to be an annual goal, then set it for one year from today. Or set it at Dec 31, and review it then. However you want to do it is fine.

I used to call this the “completion date”, but it’s really more a time of review. Did I achieve the goal? By how much? Did I miss the goal? How close did I come? What will I do next year? Set up another seven steps.

These seven steps have proven to me over and over again that they’re very focusing and motivating. I recommend using them for setting your big goals. It’s not necessary, though. If you’ve got another system that works for you, then use it. But a life without a goal is without focus and ultimately lost.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Content, Content, Content

We know that good content drives people to your websites. We know that thoughtful, well-written, and informative articles brings interested people in, and that when those articles are written to include strong search terms, they power your site up on the search engines.

But where can you get the content?

Well, first of all, there’s a lot to be said for not re-inventing the wheel. If someone else has already said it, and said it well, why redo it? Why not just republish it in your site? Why not go out on the net, find articles already written, and put them on your site?

Plagiarism! Theft of intellectual property! Illegal! Copyright laws, and all that.

Well, the dictionary defines plagiarism as: “To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own.”

That means that republishing isn’t the problem. Republishing without credit given to the author, and/or without getting permission from the author is the problem.

So, that breaks it into three steps:

One, find an article
Two, contact the author and get permission
Three, put it in your site.

Finding an Article

There are a number of ways to accomplish this. The long way, but sometimes the best way, is to google up some sites that would interest your audience, and look for content there. This can be a lot more time-consuming, as you’re investigating site after site, but can get some really great articles that are well-focused on your audience.

Another is to find an article archive website, like eZine Articles (http://ezinearticles.com/). This site has a huge number of articles on many many topics. Internet business, family life, current events, personal development, all kinds of topics are covered here. Check the topic directory tree, or just do a search.

Getting Permission

At eZine Articles, they have very clearly spelled out the instructions to use the articles. At this site (and I’ve found this to be common among others), articles can be used for free, but the publisher must agree to certain conditions, like not changing the text of the article, and including the links back to both eZine Articles, and the author’s website. The articles also can’t be sold or included in compilations for sale, etc…

If you find an article on another website, it’s usually just as simple as sending an email to the author (who is usually the site owner), and getting permission. In most cases, the authors will give permission in exchange only for a link back to their home page.

Putting the Article on Your Site

Finally, simply create a page and install the text of the article into it. Make sure that you include everything that you agreed to as you were getting permission, like the linkbacks.

Creating the Content

If your website is based on something that you’re passionate about, and knowledgeable in, then you have an advantage in that you can create your own articles. They don’t need to be long, maybe as short as 1000 words or so, but they do need to be informative, and useful. Don’t just write up more sales copy for your products.

Tell someone how to use the product in a new way. Keep in mind that products are based on experiences, and experiences can be shared. If you’re selling tents and sleeping bags, remember that they are all about the experience of camping. So, tell them some tips that relate to camping. Write an article about setting up a camp to stay dry if it rains. Write about how to store food and keep it away from animals. Include some dutch oven recipies.

Then post these to your website, just like the others.

And then, turn around and share those. Offer them to other websites. Post them at eZine Articles and other archive sites. Why? Because if people use them, they provide links back to your website, links that boost your traffic and your search engine ratings.

Remember that the web is all about information. Shopping, products, and e-commerce are relatively new additions to cyberspace. Provide something valuable, and they will come!


For the record, if any readers wishes to re-publish any of the articles at SOHOman, my policy is to allow it, stipulating that the text not be changed, and that there be included a link back to http://sohoman.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Beating the doldrums

Many years ago, in the days where the sailors used to travel across the oceans, they’d often have to cross this area of the ocean that they now call the “Intertropical Convergence Zone” or the “ITCZ”. There are all kinds of geological and meteorological reasons for the phenomenon, but basically what it boils down to is that in these areas of the ocean, there can be days, or even weeks where there’s no wind.

Now to a guy on a sailing ship, whose primary propulsion method is wind being caught in his sails, that would be a very difficult time. Add to that the fact that this usually happened near the equator, where it’s very hot and humid, and you can see that they’d have problems.

They’d sit there, lightly floating on the still water, doing nothing.

For days, or, like I said, sometimes weeks at a stretch. With supplies getting low, and tempers getting short.

These times were called the Doldrums.

Since that time, we’ve all encounted times where we feel like we’re not moving forward, not getting anything productive done in a project or endeavor we’re involved in. The energy and motivation wanes, and even when we do put in effort, it seems to be not effective, leaving us sitting dead in the water.

When that happens, here’s some things that can be done about it.

1. Take a step back and look at the big picture

Re-assessing the goals and objectives that fill out the big picture of your business can be a great motivator. Often we get so locked into the day-to-day efforts of running our businesses that we forget what we were trying to accomplish in the first place.

Assess what your big goals are, and how your current steps are moving you toward that goal.

2. Take a step in and focus on each step one at a time

Sometimes the big picture can be so huge and so overwhelming that focusing too much time and attention on it can be detrimental, or overwhelming. At times like these, it’s good to get myopic and only look at the next step. What tasks do I have to do today? Can I get them done and crossed off my list?

3. Take a step aside and do something else for a time

Sometimes we simply get to wrapped up in our endeavor, that we get overly focused, even obsessed. At times like that it’s a good idea just to take some time off. I’m not saying weeks or months, but even a day working on some other project or even a day with your family can re-energize and get the wind back in your sails.

4. Take a step forward

Ultimately, no matter which of the other approaches you take, it’s going to come back down to doing something. And often, it doesn’t matter so much what you’re doing, as long as something’s getting done. My dad used to tell me, “It’s easier for the Good Lord to guide your feet when they’re moving!” As you begin getting even nominal tasks done, they can get your momentum moving forward and getting things accomplished.

Whatever you do to get your ship moving again, realize that the cycle of activity is natural, and not to beat yourself up over lost time. Just get things moving again, and you can get your business back on track.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Business Journaling

In business we have to keep lots of records. Most of those usually include numbers. Revenues to be input, expenses to keep and track, receivables, payables, projections, estimates, the list goes on.

We have a lot of text records, too. We save memos, seminar notes and handouts, magazine articles. We have day planner pages and calendars. There are often mountains of paper that are kept in the wake of a business that’s moving forward.

Much of that record keeping is important and valuable to various aspects of your business. But it can be very confusing to use all these disparate documents to capture a picture of what your business is really doing and what it’s really like. To that end, I think it’s a great idea to set up a business journal.

A business journal is a lot like the personal diary you might have kept as a kid. It’s a chance for you to keep notes on what’s happening in your business, and how you’re dealing with it.

Why to do it

  1. A safe-keeping place for your memories and your ideas.

As you work and live through any difficult and rewarding endeavor, you’re building up experience. Much of that experience is intangible, more and more so as it fades farther and farther back into memory. The ideas you have that flit through your mind, exciting and clever though they might be, are even more intangible. One way to make them both real is to write them down. Then they become captured on the page, and can be referenced. The ideas can be brought out later, the memories can be revisited.

  1. A record for those that follow you

You might not think of your company as being something historic, and in the big scheme of things it might not look that way right now. But who knows how it will grow? Did Eric Clapton know that he was going to be such an influence on popular music the first time he picked up a guitar as a child?

Even if your business doesn’t grow to such earth-changing proportions, your history will still be of interest to your children and any that would take over when you leave the business.

  1. A record of your progress

How often has someone taken on an endeavor, and after struggling with it for a time, gave up just short of their goal? Often that happens because during the day-to-day struggle of making things happen, it’s difficult to step back and look at the progress that’s being made. Often, I’ll look back at my personal journal or my studio blog and realize that I have, truly, come a long way.

  1. A resource for you to study

As you look back at a journal, it’s possible to review the events and challenges that you overcame in the past, and review the ideas that never got fully implemented. New ideas and new ways to implement old ideas can come forward. Sometimes, bigger trends can be seen and taken advantage of.

  1. A way to work through problems

Many times I find myself in the middle of a problem with my business that I just simply can’t figure out. I don’t know how to overcome the challenge or to sort it all out. In times like that, it’s very helpful to sit down and just start writing about it. As I put my thoughts on the page (virtual or tangible), it begins to sort itself out and becomes clearer to me. Sometimes, solutions come. Other times, I simply find a better perspective. In any case, it usually ends up better.

  1. A chance to practice writing.

A practical consideration: A lot of doing good business is tied up in written communication. Writing every day can only help that. And, if you do it on the computer, that will only help your typing speed.

How to do it

  1. It’s your journal, set it up how you like it.

There are lots of ways to journal. Get a blank book, a three-ring binder. Type in MS Word or some other word processor. Blog. Whatever works for you. Don’t let anyone else tell you how to do it, because it’s not THEIR journal, right?

  1. Start today

Don’t put it off. You’re doing business stuff today, so start today. Put the date at the top of a page, and start writing.

  1. Start with today

Let’s say that you’ve been in business a while. You’re not a beginner. That means you’ve missed a lot of events in your “history” that passed before you started journaling.

Forget that.

Don’t stress what has gone before, just start with today. It’s much less overwhelming and much easier. If you want, you can go back later and rewrite all the backstory.

  1. Write in it each day that you do business related things

Every day that you do something related to your business, write about it. It doesn’t have to be much, just a simple paragraph or two. You are working on your business every day, right? Then write every day!

  1. Write the details of what you did

Often in the details lie the learning. So, as you write about the details of what you did that day, you’ll remember, learn and grow from them.

  1. Write how you felt about it, not just what happened

In addition to writing the raw, dry facts about what you did, write how you felt about it. Did you encounter challenges? Did you fix a problem? Write about how that impacted you. Not only will that help you see your personal growth, it will make it much more interesting to read years later.

  1. Brainstorm ideas

This is the perfect place to write down the raw, untested ideas as they flow from your brain. Not all of them will be good ideas, and not all should be implemented, but as you write them down, you preserve them for future analysis and revision. Maybe years from now, an idea will be feasible, whereas now it might seem crazy.

Journaling can be a lot of fun! As I go back and read my old studio blog entries (my form of business journaling), I remember shows and recording sessions. I can see how far I’ve come and how I’ve gotten through the slumps and the phases of manic activity. It’s really been a big blessing to me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lifetime Achievement Award

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine.

Imagine that you are approaching the end of a long and fruitful career. This is not necessarily the career you are actually in. You’ve been working at this effort for the greater part of your life, and as a result, you’ve been able to accomplish some wonderful things.

As you approach this time of your imagined life, an announcement comes. You’ve been chosen for a special Lifetime Achievement Award. It will be presented at a special testimonial dinner, with all of your family and friends in attendance. Many of your friends and colleagues will be speaking as well.

While you’re imagining this great event to celebrate your lifetime of work, here’s some things to think about:

1) What is the award? Name it. While you’re doing your imaginings, it’s not necessary to imagine yourself winning a real-world award, like a Grammy, an Oscar, or a Nobel. In fact, it’s a little more personally revealing to make up the award, and it will seem to be more real if you actually give it a name.

2) What is the award for? If this is to be a Lifetime Achievement Award, what achievements are being celebrated? Remember, you’re imagining yourself possibly years from now accepting this award, so they don’t have to be things you’ve actually accomplished so far. These can be general contributions to a certain area or facet of life, or they can be specific successes.

3) Who are the speakers? Usually, when someone gets a big award like this, there’s lots of people that get up and speak about the recipient. Sometimes, someone will put together some kind of retrospective on that person’s life. At your awards ceremony, who would be the people that would speak? What will they each say about you and your accomplishments?

4) What is your acceptance speech be like? Finally, you’ll get the chance to stand up and express yourself as well. What will you say about you? What will you say about your accomplishments? What will you say to those that have honored you with this award?

5) What is being served for dinner? :-) Hey, I like to imagine the yummy things, too, ya know?

What’s the point of all this? It seems to be a simple exercise in conceit, right? I mean, what’s more arrogant than giving yourself an award?

Well, as an exercise, there’s a real purpose. As you write out the answers to each question, and then study them over, you can discover some very interesting things. You discover the things that are truly most important to you in your business. When you identify what the award is for, you’re identifying the one thing that you think is most valuable to you. When you imagine what you want your friends, colleagues, and family to say about you and your business, you’re telling yourself how you want your business to impact the world around you.

And when you imagine your acceptance speech, you’re acknowledging how you feel about that purpose.

Now you have a clear vision of what your business should grow up to be. And with that clear vision, you can begin to plan steps to get to that end. Small steps at first, that will eventually add up to giant leaps.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Getting Your Pitch On

I want to share with you an experience I had recently. In my ongoing efforts to promote my CD, “One United Generation”, I got hooked up with a distributor, WindRiver. As a part of that alliance, they invited me to a very exciting event. It’s called the LDS Booksellers’ Association Conference. It’s a chance for all of the authors and artists, distributors, producers, and end retailers to all gather and meet. The subtext, of course, for the whole event is for the buyers hired by retail shops to find all the latest and greatest in books, videos, audio and music CD’s, games, and other products all aimed at the market for Mormons. It happened here in the Salt Lake City metro area. I'm not meaning to preach, I just mention that because it's the context for the whole story.

It was a fascinating study in niche marketing.

But I’ll save that article for another day.

They set me up at a table, with copies of my CD’s. I would chat it up with people as they walked by, sign a freebie CD, and show them the order forms and hope they would place a wholesale order with one of the other staff there at the booth. It was a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to meet lots of cool people.

It was also a great chance for me to learn how to get my pitch on.

Let me clarify:

As I got started in the morning, I noticed something. Everyone that came up to me asked me what my music was like. I hadn’t thought of anything to answer that. "What IS my music like?" I wondered… Well, it’s kind of all over the map, stylistically, but it’s all sort of centered in classic rock. The lyrics are all uplifting and positive, not slimy or sleazy at all. It’s varied, but it rocks. It’ll really appeal to teenagers, but it also has some grown up fans, as well…

I started to explain this to people, and I could almost hear them start to fade and yawn inside within a few sentences. I could see the “That’s nice, thanks” in their expressions as they wandered off.

Then, in the late morning (fortunately, before the lunch rush), I remembered something I’d heard from both business speakers and music industry types. If you can’t sum up your sound in an identifiable catch phrase that will grab someone’s interest and make it clear exactly what you’re doing, you’re in trouble.

The business types call it the “elevator speech”. You imagine you’ve just stepped on to an elevator in an office building or in a hotel at a convention, and someone asks you what you do. You have 15 seconds, 20 at the most, to tell them before the doors open and they step out onto their floor. What will you say? How will they react? How can you grab their attention so they ask for your card?

Well, there I was, without my elevator speech, and I was in trouble. I wasn’t signing very many CD’s, and the few people I was giving them away to didn’t seem to be that impressed. My pitch was falling flat.

So, in a lull before the lunch storm, I took a minute and I came up with a catch phrase that I thought would draw them in, and make them go “Really? That’s interesting!”

And I tried it on some people. One by one, as they came up and asked, “What’s this like?” I said, “It’s Mormon rock! It’s kinda like Aerosmith meets the missionaries!”

And before I knew it, I was signing CD’s. By the end of the afternoon, I had completely run out. My elevator speech was working!

Here’s some things to think about while you’re making your own elevator speech:

  1. It’s gotta be short – Remember, you’ve got a matter of seconds to deliver it. The fewer words, the better. When I’m writing (as all who read my articles will attest), I tend to get wordy. I think there are lots of others who have the same tendencies. That’s OK, the trick is to edit down afterward. Start with all the things you want to say, and keep trimming and trimming.
  2. It’s got to sum up what you’re all about – The big challenge that I found with this was that I had to actually decide what I was all about. How can I sum it up when I don’t know? If your business is so scattered and diverse that you can’t make a clear summation, then that might well indicate some troubles in your business.
  3. It’s got to give them something familiar to connect with – By using the name of the band Aerosmith in my speech, I gave them an identifier. It’s something they already know and understand. From that they know that I’m not playing soft pop, but rather harder classic rock. It’s also not an obscure indie band that only a few people will know.
  4. It’s got to show how you’re unique – Part of what grabs people’s attention is something different, unique. At the same time that I’m connecting with something they’re familiar with (see above), I’m also taking them somewhere they’ve never been before. In the Mormon market, there’s really not a lot of rock music, especially that sounds like Aerosmith. And the concept of hardened rockers opening their front door and meeting missionaries from any church is a surprising image, isn’t it?
  5. Not too vague or all-encompassing – “I create long-term technology-based business solutions to enhance corporate effectiveness and profitability” might cover all your bases, but it’s to vague for anyone to grasp. It also uses too many meaningless buzzwords and sounds like a rejected corporate mission statement. You’ll have them yawning and hoping their floor arrives soon. Clearer, more specific, and with more punch. “I use computers to fix companies” is a step in the right direction. It’s punchier, but it’s still a little vague.
  6. Prepare it in advance – One of the biggest mistakes I made that day was that I threw myself into a situation where I needed a pitch, an elevator speech, and I didn’t have one. Making it up on the fly is tough.
  7. Practice it – Say it over and over in your mind until it becomes automatic. So it flows off your tongue while you’re shaking a hand, or being introduced. It helps to come across with confidence, not hesitance.

Some more good advice about your elevator speech can be found at http://www.b2bhints.com/biz/2005/08/marketing_essen.html

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is There a Handicap Parking Space in front of Your Virtual Store?

Today, I went to website and saw an award-winning advertisement that really hit me. It was all about how a handicapped person sees the world. It recast the minority as the majority. It imagined what the world would be like, for example, if almost all people were in wheelchairs, and people standing upright were out of the ordinary. To view the ad, go to http://www.ad-awards.com/

Since I have a child that is probably going to live most of his life in a wheelchair, this ad appealed to me very strongly.

It made me think about our websites. What are we doing to help those that are impaired in some way access our sites? Isn’t their money as green as anyone else’s? Their credit card numbers work the same as mine, don’t they? We want them to be able to buy from us, too, just like everyone else, right?

In some cases, a web business’ prime target audience (for example, seniors) could have a large percentage that have some level of disability. Designing for adaptability would be a necessity for such a site.

Now, it’s also true that in a lot of website design systems and templates we don’t always have as much control over a site as we might like. One can also go so far to the other extreme that a site might well be very accessible to a handicapped person, and lose all of it’s enticement to the rest of the world. The idea is to compromise. To do a few things and keep some simple guidelines in mind so as to make your site MORE accessible than before.

  1. Realize what assistive technology people are going to be using to experience your site. Someone who is visually impaired, for example, might have a big monitor and be using an enlarged font size to view your site. Or, they might be fully blind and be using a text-to-speech conversion software. Someone with mobility issues, like my son, might be using some specially designed pointer technology, like an adaptive mouse or track-ball instead of a standard mouse and keyboard.
  2. Many states and cities have adaptive technology centers that help the disabled to interface with technology. http://www.new-horizons.org/adpctt.html lists some of these state centers. These centers will often have adaptive technology experts who could give some great advice on what sort of changes could be made to a site to make it more effective.
  3. When preparing text for your website, take special care for the formatting. The text color should contrast sharply with the background. Pay close attention to the font style and sizes. Avoid sharp contrasts in fonts http://www.lighthouse.org/print_leg.htm and http://www.lighthouse.org/color_contrast.htm both have some great advice in this area.
  4. When writing the text of your site, “front-load” the paragraphs with the most vital information so when the visitor listens to the site in a text-to-speech (T2S) conversion program, they will be better able to direct their navigation of the text.
  5. Avoid “click here” text links. Instead, make the clickable text descriptive of where the link will take the visitor. This will make much more sense in when read aloud by a T2S converter.
  6. When installing a graphic, write a sentence describing the picture in the alt text area of the img tag. When the page is being scanned by a T2S converter, this will be read in the place of the picture, and the visitor will understand what the picture is about. Bonus hint: If you use search terms in this descriptive sentence, it can also boost your ranking with some search engines!
  7. Most sites rely on good pictures to capture a visitor’s attention. But someone who is visually impaired can’t see the pictures, at least not as clearly. So, make your product descriptions very descriptive.
  8. Numbered lists are easier for T2S conversion than bulleted lists.
  9. When laying out your page, plan for more whitespace and less clutter. Not only is that easier for a visually-impaired viewer, but this will also make it easier for someone with fine-motor issues (like moving a mouse pointer) to click on links and navigate.

These are simple things that can be done a bit at a time to make a site more available and effective for more people.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

How to Write a Great Website:

Part III Content is King!

So far, we’ve been talking all about the main page. How to draw them in to your site. How you keep them there, however, is more based on your sub pages! That’s where you have the opportunity to really shine. You can provide good useful and valuable information. This is one area where you can compete against the huge retailers. Do they answer product questions? Do they give advice on how to actually use the products? Nope. They just sell ‘em.

Try it. Go to a big retail store. Find someone in a vest and ask them about a feature of a product. 9 times out of ten, what will they say?

“Um… Sorry… I don’t know much about those…”

As a small retailer, you’re in an excellent position to really draw in the customer because you know about your products. You can answer questions. You can help them actually USE the products instead of just HAVE them.

To do that, you have to look past the products.

You have to take stock of the products that you have on your site, and look past the hardware to the experience they represent. Let’s do a couple of case studies.

Let’s say your site is selling cookware and kitchen utensils. Pots, pans, that sort of thing. Look beyond the gear on your site and ask what is the experience the gear brings. What would you use them for? What kind of information would be useful to that audience? Let’s brainstorm:

1. Since these things are used for cooking, how about including some recipes on the site?
2. Articles on how to use spices to their best advantage.
3. Articles on meal planning and nutrition.
4. How to organize a kitchen to most optimal.

Notice that this information is not more marketing hype, but is actually usable and pertinent. That doesn’t mean it can’t be promotional. If you write about using spices, why not include some spices for your customers to order?

A constant rotation of good, informative content can bring visitors back to the site. They want to know what’s new, too, don’t they? And not just the visitors, but the search engine spiders will return more often as well. Each time they find a difference in your site, you’re red flagged for a quicker return. Some of the busier blogs get spidered daily! Make your site a living, growing destination, rather than a static bump on the information superhighway.

OK, you know that you need content. So, how do you write it?

First, realize that writing content is different that writing a main page or a product description. In this case you’re not trying so hard to convince, but rather to inform or instruct. The inverted pyramid we talked about before usually doesn’t work here. A more logic-based structure is better.

If you’re giving instructions, a step-by-step order is simple enough. What do I do first, then what do I do next, then what do I do after that? I don’t recommend assuming any level of understanding in your reader. It’s better to explain something and make sure they understand rather than to assume it.

After a first draft, have someone else look it over. Not just for proofreading, but for logic, too. Do they understand how to do it, now that they’ve read your article? What parts were unclear? Rewrite. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time!

Writing can be very difficult. It also gets easier as you do it more and more. So, as you keep adding new content and keep updating your main page, it’ll constantly improve and move your business forward!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

How to Write a Great Website: Part II Inverting Your Pyramids

Last week, we talked about how to come up with concepts to write about when making a commercial website. We talked about features, and playing “So What?” to discover the benefits derived out of those features.

Sometimes, though, it can be tough to organize your thoughts. You’ve got all these concepts and ideas to write about, and maybe you’ve even written a first draft. But it doesn’t seem to flow. It doesn’t grab you right away.

Let’s take a lesson from journalists.

Try an experiment: Get a newspaper, and read it from first page to the last, but only read the first two or three paragraphs of each article. When you’re all done, you might be surprised to realize that you still have a really good idea of what’s going on in your world. Why is that? You didn’t read very much of the paper… Why would you know what’s happening?

It’s all because of how newspapers are written. See, editors know two things: One: They know how most of us read papers. We skim them, then when an article grabs us, we read more. Two: They know that when the articles are getting compiled, they don’t always know how much space they’ll have. They might have to trim an article. But to do that, they want to shorten it, but not rewrite it.

Both of those issues are solved by having their reporters use what’s called “The Inverted Pyramid Format”. This is something they teach in journalism school from the first day.

Imagine that you could whoosh over to Egypt, lift up one of the great pyramids and flip it over on its point. THAT’d be something to write about, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, if you could, you would notice that suddenly the really heavy stuff is now on top, and the pointy little details are at the bottom.

That’s how journalists structure their articles. All of the important information is at the top of the article. The things that you need to know, like who, what, when, where, how. Gradually, the information becomes less and less critical, until all that’s left at the tag end of the article is the points.

This makes it very easy for an editor. First of all, that’s how people read newspapers, right? Important stuff first! Also, if the article needs to be trimmed, the editor can just cut off the last couple of paragraphs of the text. No need to spend time rewriting and restructuring.

So, why should we care about this? Well, web readers are very similar to newsreaders. We tend to skim, and look for things that grab our attention right at the top. We want to know right away at the main page what the site is all about. No mysteries, here, bub, or I’m off to someone else’s site!

How do you do it? Once you’ve brainstormed your ideas using “So What” or whatever method you want to use, ask yourself which ideas and concepts are the most critical for your audience to know? Those go to the top. And fill them with powerful search terms, too, so the search engines grab a hold of them and pull you to the top when someone searches for your topic.

With good ideas, and good organization and flow, your main page will pull them in and draw them deeper, into the catalog pages or the content pages. That’s what we’ll tackle next time.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

How to Write a Great Website: Part I So What?

Make no mistakes about it. You can hear all you want about how cool and visual the web is. You can talk about all the interactivity, and the multi-media. You can talk about podcasting and streaming video.

The web is still a text-driven medium.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but how can you tell what order they’re in? What will draw a customer in and get him excited about your product? What will catch a person’s attention and make her feel welcomed and comfortable? Pictures help, but pictures alone, without words, lack clarity and purpose.

So, you have to write your website. And to that end, I’m launching a three-part series on the processes of writing a great website.

The first part is often the scariest part. Before you type that first word, while you’re staring down that blank screen, you’ll need to figure out what you want to say. Often, that’s what hangs people up the most. They struggle not to put words on the page, but to find the thoughts to put into words. Once the thoughts and ideas are there, the words themselves tend to flow pretty naturally.

So, a great place to begin coming up with ideas is your product(s). That’s what you want to communicate, right? That’s what you want to sell! To write about your products, you’ll need to know what their features and benefits are.

A feature is some basic, inherent quality that a product has. It’s blue. It stands three and a half feet tall. It’s compatible with both Windows and Mac. There are lots of things like this that describe the products. They’re often called “specs”.

The trouble is, they’re boring. They don’t capture the attention or the imagination. They don’t show why I, the customer, should care! That’s what the benefits do. They talk about what the product is going to do for me, how it will make my life better.

Sometimes, benefits are obvious, sometimes not. In either case, there’s a way to draw them out. It’s a brainstorming game called, “So What?” Imagine yourself as an annoying little 6-year-old brat. You’ll start the game by picking a product, and then a feature of the product, then the brat joins in. Here’s how it works.

Your Adult Self: I’ll start with this Left Handed Wind Shifter. The feature is that it’s made for left-handed people.
The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: Well, that means that left-handed people can use it.

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: Well, they can shift the wind, now, without having to get a right-handed person to do it for them.

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: So, they have more control over their environment.

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: So, they can get more accomplished without the wind getting in the way.

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: So they’re more productive

The Brat: So what?

Your Adult Self: So their life is happier!

We went through a string of basic benefits, until we finally arrived at the “Ah Hah!” benefit: Life is happier. And as we played the game, we wrote the benefit ideas down. We’re forming a list of the benefits.

The Left-Handed Wind Shifter has other features, too. You can play “So What” with each of those benefits. What about your other products? What about the Right-Handed Rain Repeller”? It has features and benefits, too…

The more you play the game, the longer your list of benefits grows, and so, you have more things to write about. More things to write about, means easier writing. Look over your long list of benefits and see which ones repeat, or which ones stand out. Assemble these concepts into sentences and paragraphs, and there’s your first draft for the main page.

Only a first draft!? What changes should we make?

That’s next time!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hub and Spokes

Several years ago, a colleague of mine taught me a very powerful promotional strategy that I’ve been slowly implementing over time. It almost happened subconsciously, as I wasn’t fully aware that I was utilizing it. But a few weeks ago, as I was doing a presentation, I mentioned this approach and taught it to those that were in attendance. And I started using my own music website as an example. I suddenly realized that I had been implementing this very powerful strategy all along.

It’s called “Hub and Spokes”. Imagine a bicycle wheel: There is a central hub, and a lot of spokes that draw inward to it from an outer ring. The hub represents your main website. The spokes are links from related websites that you run and maintain, each pointing inward to the central hub, as well as forming an interconnected wheel of links to each other.

Let’s take a look at my “wheelie network”:

In the center, there’s my main music website, http://markhansenmusic.com. It’s where I sell my CD’s, promote my performances, communicate with fans, build my mailing list, and share my new songs. That’s the focus of my web business. The hub.

In the wheel, I’ve got http://musicianstools.com. This is where I promote myself as a music business mentor, much like my efforts as an Internet business mentor. That site links to my main site.

There’s my blogs, at http://moboy.blogspot.com, where I comment on Utah and religious popular culture (a large part of my musical audience), and here at Sohoman (where I comment on business trends and promotional methods). While the Sohoman blog isn’t really thematically relevant, I still include it because people still click from it to my main site. It is linked, and it does draw traffic.

http://latterdaysongs.com is another wheel site. It’s a place for my audience to find songs and sample other artists, as well as my own tunes.

Now, these are all the sites that I’ve built and I maintain. In addition to that, I’ve also got some pages set up on websites that are hosted by other people. These are usually grouped thematically, but not always. They do, however, always point back to my main home page.

The Internet Underground Music Archive hosts some of my music files, and information about me as an artist, with links back to my site. My IUMA page is: http://artists.iuma.com/IUMA/Bands/Mark_Hansen/. All of my songs are available through a system called “weedshare” and are hosted on a number of pages, including http://weeddex.com/Mark_Hansen. You can find me at http://www.ldsmusicworld.com/artists/mark_hansen.html, and as a CD reviewer at http://www.ldsmusicnews.com/reviews/reviewers.php#mark.

One of the best spokes sites I’ve been able to find is in the big personal hosting site called MySpace.com. My profile there is found at http://www.myspace.com/mrkh. There, I can network and make new friends, I can build a fanbase for my music, I can share my music files, and I can link back to my main hub.

All of these form a wheel of related and integrated sites and pages that all point, spoke-like, back to the central hub website. Why is this helpful? This is a lot of work, isn’t it?

Well, in the first place, this creates a network of places where people can find me. Instead of being one lone site in a vast ocean of websites, now, there are a handful of places through which people can come to me. More entry points = more traffic.

And, since they are all relevant sites, hosted separately from my main page, and link back to my main site, they all contribute to the overall link popularity and search engine ranking of my hub. The search engines don’t know that I own many of these sites, and frankly, they don’t care.

So, how can you do the same thing? Now here’s where the creativity has to come in. To fully implement this program, you need to think of ideas for additional, related, and relevant websites. Find free hosting sources, and create them. Get them listed on the search engines. Get them interlinked with each other, and with other sites. Link them all to the main hub site. Find sites that other people own that will allow you to claim a spot, like MySpace. Always keep in mind the principle of identifying your audience, and putting your advertising (or your spokes sites) where they are.

This is also something that builds over the long term. I didn’t just go out and set up all these sites in a week. They all have to be created and grown in their own time, often one at a time. Gradually, the “empire” builds and the traffic increases.

And the wheels turn!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

How Not To Rank Well On The Search Engines


Forget What You’ve Heard

The world of search engines has changed a lot over the years. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of changes in as little as the last 4 months.

But in spite of that rapid change, there are some things that, sadly, stay the same. How does that saying go? “The more things change, the more they stay the same…”? And one of the things that never changes, and never ceases to amaze me, is how long misinformation (and out-of-date information) lingers.

So, in an effort to stem the tide of old and inaccurate articles, I offer this up. I realize that in many ways, it’s like trying to stop a flood with a bailing pail, but here goes, nonetheless:

1. META Tag Keyword List – A long, long, time ago, the META keyword list was king. This was where the search engines found out what your site was all about, and discovered how to reference it for searches. Very quickly, it was abused. People began repeating the keywords here, and these lists quickly expanded to hundreds and hundreds of words. The search engines retaliated by limiting the number of repetitions that would be effective. Finally, the search engines stopped paying attention to it at all, preferring to pull keyword and key phrase matches from the visible text on the website itself.

2. Irrelevant Keywords –Again, back in the days when the META tag ruled, a lot of sites would include irrelevant keywords in the tag. The thought that if you came up on more searches, that’s more chances for people to find you, right? Wrong. Instead, you became more clutter that they weren’t searching for, and, while you might have gotten more initial click-ins, when those people arrived at your site, they were angry and confused. Those kind of customers rarely buy, or come back.

3. Visible Keyword Lists –Once it became clear that the search engines were paying more attention to the text in the page itself, then people began moving the keyword lists to the page. So, you started seeing these huge lists of keywords at the bottom of websites, usually with lots of repetition. The initial problem with this is obvious. Your customers will see this gibberish at the bottom of your site. Soon, the search engines began checking for sentence structure, and so the lists began fading in value.

4. Color Matching –In an attempt to make the big lists at the bottom of the page invisible, one trick for a while was to make the text color match the background color, rendering it invisible. Of course, you still had a huge blank space at the bottom of the page, because the text still took up space, but at least it was hidden. Of course, once the engines started checking for grammar and content, this strategy also faded.

5. Misspelling Keywords –While there may well be some circumstances where this might play still, as the META tag influence faded, so did the strategy of including misspelled keywords. The theory was that some people just don’t know how to spel. Oops, I mean “spell”. So, if you included some mistyped versions of your keywords, you would catch those people that would also mistype the word as they were searching. The problem is, now that the Keywords META tag is no longer used, you’d have to include the misspellings in the visible text of your site. That can make people question your credibility.

6. Doorway/Gateway/Magic Pages –This was an interesting approach. The idea was to create separate pages that would either redirect or link to your main page. You could make each of these pages uniquely optimized for the requirements of a particular search engine, then visitors would click through to the real site. Not only was this a lot of additional work, but the search engines started to kill these pretty soon after the strategy developed. These pages just end up cluttering the search engines’ databases, and cluttering up the search results. Still, there persist SEO companies to this day that will tout this method of search engine ranking, and will also sell you software that will autogenerate the doorway pages.

7. Link Farming –When Google, and later, Yahoo, began figuring inbound links into the equation, other things began changing in the SEO wars. The idea was that if lots of other sites link to you, your site must be more popular, and hence, deserves a better ranking. It makes some sense, and done right, it still carries a lot of weight. The problem is that a lot of webmasters think that ANY link is a good link, and that’s not really the case. They set up link exchange programs where hundreds or even thousands of irrelevant sites automatically link back and forth to each other. These are called link farms. They don’t help, and in some cases, they can actually hurt.

8. Automatic Submission Programs –These are programs that will submit your site to hundreds or even thousands of search engines in one shot. What a timesaver, right? And it is. However, the vast majority of those search engines are minor, and not that impactful. There are four main search engines that are valuable to be listed in, and those should be registered manually. By that I mean, you should go to their site, find the submission page, and sign up. Why four? Because other, smaller websites draw their results from these databases, so getting listed here will automatically get you listed in the others as well. The four are yahoo.com, google.com, search.msn.com, and dmoz.org. An autosubmit program won’t hurt you, and as long as the price is low, can get you in some of the minor search engines with little or no effort. Still, register with these big four by hand, and you’ll get where you need to be.

So, now that all of these old-school SEO gimmicks are faded and debunked, what do you do to get a good ranking?

1. Prepare a website with good, informational content, full of relevant and well-researched search term matches. Include those search terms in the text of the site in natural and grammatically correct ways. Optimize your sub pages the same way, choosing terms relevant to the content of those pages.
2. Find good, relevant sites to exchange links with. Quantity is good, but quality is also important. Don’t link with link farms. Remember that SEO is only a part of the reason to exchange links. Links can also bring targeted clickthroughs on their own.
3. Work to get others to link to your site without exchanging links. Post relevant comments on message boards and blogs with your web address in your signature. Provide content articles to relevant websites with a link back to your site.
4. Update and add to your site frequently.

In short, running a good website will get you good rankings. Playing the tricks is played out.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Scanning the Horizon: Podcasting

As you’re steering the ship of your business out on the ecommerce ocean, it pays to pull out a pair of binoculars and scan the horizon. What will you see there? You might see some storm clouds beginning to form, or some waves starting to pitch. You might see an island or a port of opportunity.

Sometimes, you’ll see things that, at first glance, might not seem to bear much impact on you or your web business. What should you do about those things? Should you ignore them? If they don’t seem to make a difference to you now, why should you bother? There’s plenty enough on your plate already, right?

Well, you should ignore the distant objects and storms at your own peril. While you’re sailing along, asleep on the deck, that far-away storm can swing close. That Island of opportunity might pass you by. In other words, just because it doesn’t touch you right now, doesn’t mean it won’t ever. And the more you know now, the better you can steer clear of the storms, and straight to the most fruitful of islands and ports.

So, from time to time, I’ll be introducing you to some news items that might well be off on your horizon, but bear closer scrutiny. Learn of these things, be aware of them, and you’ll be better able to adapt to them when they’re closer to you.

One of these things right now is Podcasting.

What is it? In essence, it’s like blogging, but using downloaded audio, instead of reading text. In other words, people and companies are preparing short audio programs that listeners can download and play on their computers, or on their handheld listening devices, like an iPod. The Podcasters create this listenable content on a regular basis, putting out “shows” full of interviews, news, opinions, and music. And, of course, ads (we’ll talk more about that later).

Just like the word “blog” is a blending and shortening of the term “web log”, so is the word “podcasting”. Take the words “iPod” and “broadcasting”, shorten and blend them, and you get “podcasting”.

First, just take a few minutes to explore the podcasting world. You might start at http://www.pod101.com/, which has some links to great articles describing what podcasting is. You might want to read the Wikipedia article all about podcasting. That’ll help explain what it is, but to really get the flavor, it’s best to finds and spin some ‘casts! There are a number of sites that host or help share the actual podcast episode files. Odeo.com and podcast.net are just a couple. You can also go to any ordinary search engine and search for “(topic) podcast”, then start downloading and listening.

Podcasting has only been around a couple of years, and has only barely begun to make an impact on popular culture. There is some talk (full of hype, granted) of podcasting ultimately taking the place of radio. I don’t know that it will take that extreme, but this is a trend that is definitely making itself heard in our popular culture.

And right now, as the explosion is only beginning, there’s a lot of opportunity to get involved. How? In two ways:

One, create and share your own podcast. This is still a very technical option, requiring some skill with audio recording software and RSS feed hosting. It would take a beginner some time to research, or they would need to hire the work out. Ultimately, as your podcast builds audience, this could draw more visitors to your website.

To do a podcast, you would approach it the same way you would a blog. Find a theme, a focus. Find and set up a hosting/feed system. Create the content by writing and recording you podcast. Send it out regularly, to build an audience.

Two, find current podcasts that are targeting your audience and purchase advertising, both as an audio ad (much like current radio ads), and banners on the podcast homepage.

Whether or not Podcasting becomes anything more than a passing fad remains to be seen. For now, it’s an island out on the horizon that we need to watch.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Story...

I just recently discovered an incredible resource for a guy like me in the Indie Music Promotion Blog by Bob Baker. What a wealth of information and encouragement it carries for a musician facing the daunting task of making his/her name known in a sea of musicians.

See, the Internet has changed everything about the music industry, and it will yet drive even more change. One of the ways it has changed things is in opportunity. Let me tell you a little story…

Ten years ago—No, twelve—I recorded and released an independent cassette called, “A Joyful Noise”. It had ten songs, and I was really proud of it. I managed to sell a few of them, but most of them I gave away. I don’t think it got more than a few miles from my Salt Lake City home. Actually, now that I think of it, I remember giving a copy to a friend from my home town in Indiana.

The internet was in its infancy then, and I hadn’t even heard of it.

Fast forward a few years, to the later ‘90’s. I had discovered the ‘net, and had learned how to make web pages, and had been doing them for others and teaching them how to promote them for a few years. A good friend of mine convinced me to start promoting my music on the web again. I was looking for a way to share samples of that cassette, plus the newer songs I was writing. That was the time just before when mp3’s were starting to break out into the popular culture. I set up my site, and posted up a couple of songs. Gradually adding more as I recorded them, building up my fan base, and my mailing list.

Fast forward to now. I’ve got a CD out that’s selling from my website. I’ve had over 15,000 downloads of my various songs. I’ve gotten emails from fans from all over the world, from as far away as India, Europe, and Indonesia. And I’ve never signed a record contract with a label, small or otherwise.

My point? That without the Internet, my music would have never gone much farther than my immediate circle of family and friends. With the Internet, I am worldwide. It’s not a question of whether or not the ‘Net helped me do things “better”. It allowed me to do things that were IMPOSSIBLE without it.

But that’s also the problem.

Because along with me discovering that the Internet was a great place to promote my independent music, millions of other indies also were discovering the same thing. Go to google.com and type “Music”. You’ll get, on any given day, anywhere between 300 and 500 MILLION results.

That brings me back to the blog at hand. It’s all about how to find your audience and connect with that audience so that in their minds you rise above those 300 to 500 million to become the one they turn to first.


Sounds to me like what any business should be doing, right?

The similarities are amazing. As you go out and do searches on the ‘Net, don’t you find there are millions of others doing the same kinds of businesses? There is nothing new under the sun. There is always going to be competition. How do you rise above it to become the one that your audience turns to?

Well, first of all, you have to identify your audience. Trying to be all things to everyone is a great way to become nothing to anyone. Who do you really want to come to your store?

Second of all, you have to reach out to them. Here’s an excerpt from one of Bob’s recent posts:

“Every day, do something to promote your music (read: “your business”). Reply to an e-mail from a fan. Send a review copy of your CD to a new media source. Call a club owner to set up a gig. Talk to another artist about a cross-promotion idea. Search online for new Internet opportunities.

”The activity doesn't have to be earth shaking. As long as the actions you take are focused on connecting with more fans, doing something simple every day will reap huge rewards just three to six months from now. I guarantee it.”

I guarantee it, too. It’s happened to me. It’s happening to me. Make it happen for you.