Learn the top web trends and smartest strategies for mobilizing your new website

I just finished a great webinar with Karen McCullough, where we talked about the role a website plays in your business and we explored the strategy work we did to develop her new website at www.KarenMcCullough.com.  You can sign up for a free listen to this webinar here.

Here are a few gems:

  • How do you  know what to include on your website?
  • Should you be blogging or doing more with social media?
  • What is the one activity that every business should be engaged in to make sure their businesses keeps growing?
  • What are the the top pages everyone should have on their website?
  • What are the top web trends that you should know about before you develop your new site?
  • What cool” website features might be making your site outdated?

The main reason I wanted to do this webinar for you was to help you understand strategically how to go about building your website.  We shared some great information that will help you to spend your marketing dollars wisely and to build a website that will connect powerfully with your customer to funnel more leads!

=====>  Listen now to this great webinar with Karen!

5 Oft-Unspoken Keys to a Successful 20+ Year Business

I just called my awesome friend, Karen McCullough, to pick her brain about the business of speaking.

Karen is a brilliant speaker who has been in the speaking business for a long time.  I’m doing some profiling right now for the MarketectU Mastermind project I’ve been telling you guys about lately, and I wanted to get a fresh perspective from Karen.  As it turns out, she’s just returning from the national convention for the National Speaker’s Association and she was a full cup!

Karen and I always have the most stimulating conversations.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for her because she’s a true artist when it comes to the business of speaking:  in every way, she hones her craft, reinvents herself and her message over and over again and is always getting better!  Creating longevity as a speaker (especially when speaking is your primary form of income) is no easy feat:  the marketplace is changing so rapidly  and you have to constantly be reinventing yourself. She and I groked some awesome gems that I’m incorporating into this new program, but I couldn’t make you wait a couple more months to hear about them!

We really got going when we started talking about what it takes to be a successful business person in the “information” space:  speaking, coaching, training, writing … whatever it is you do to package your knowledge and expertise.  With so many “marketing experts” telling you how easy it is to become an expert and grow your own platform, we know the truth:  building a platform is a lot of work.  It takes time, and energy, and an incredible amount of resilience to “make it.”  So here is our impassioned food-for-thought!

  1. The most important component to building a successful platform is strong, relevant messaging (and offerings!) that matters.  No matter your expertise, there is a problem that you are obsessed with solving.  Solve it WELL.  And don’t stop solving it … in a dynamic, expanding, connected world, the way our problems “look and feel” are shifting all the time. The way you communicate these problems, the way you understand these problems, the way you resolve these problems is affected by this dynamic environment.  You must constantly be reinventing your messaging.
  2. Creating an experience for your customers matters.  Branding really is king.  It’s important that you learn to pair your message with strong branding.
  3. If YOU are the cornerstone of the brand, it matters how you look.  Looking good, staying lean, taking care of your appearance is really important in this space.  This is not a value judgement — I’m not telling you that it should be this way.  I’m just acknowledging that it IS.  Self care matters.  It not only matters because people are going to derive meaning about your competence from how you look, but it matters because …
  4. To build a successful business, you’ve got to become an endurance athlete.  Everything about building a career in this space hinges on your ability to create and sustain momentum.  You have to get knocked down and get back up more times that you will ever want to count!  You need resilience emotionally and physically.  It’s very important that as you get older, you pay a lot of attention to your own health and vitality (both physically and emotionally!).
  5. People that have the list (and relationships!) have the power.  If you are building a business that does not include a concerted effort to growing your list, you are entrusting your career into the hands of others.  In our ever-shifting world, where we are seeing the epicenters of power dissolving and reorganizing at a breakneck pace, it is absolutely crucial that you take building your own list seriously.  IT MATTERS.

There are a lot of talking heads out there who’d want us to believe that growing a kick-ass business is easy if you know the right marketing strategies, or if you just “follow this formula.”  Things are always easier on paper than in the trenches.  Those who’ve been in the game for a while know that it’s a lot of hard work.  If you want easy, get a job.  Business is for gladiators, baby, and if you are serious about competing, you’ve got to learn to play the game by the rules if you want any chance of succeeding.

My beloved Scott Jeffrey told me early on in my career that as an adventurer, I must always be contemplating:  Who must I become to complete this quest?

What is YOUR secret to staying in business when the going got tough? Share in the comments!

5 Strategies for Building a Website that’s a Powerful Lead-Generator for your Business

Everyone needs a website.

For those of us building a platform, a website is our storefront.  There are a lot of ways you can leverage your website to drive revenue in your business if you know what you’re doing.

I’ve been helping my clients build websites for the last 14 years, and a LOT has changed since we started building them in straight HTML!  And it keeps changing.  14 years is like, 4 lifetimes in the technology world (or more!). If it weren’t for the fact that keeping up with this space is a significant part of how I support our clients, there is no way I’d know how to navigate it well, particularly because things shift so quickly!

There are a few key “rules” I abide by when we help our clients build out new sites.  A website can be a money pit, and frankly, there are only a handful of things that are worth spending money on as it relates to your site.  And how you prioritize and spend money on them depends on the strategies you’re executing and the channels you are leveraging.

The main purpose of your website:  drive your funnels 

A website can (and should!) be so much more than an expensive brochure.  Your website should be driving people to join your list (more on this as we get into the MarketectU Model) and supporting your conversion goals (getting you booked, growing your list, selling stuff).

Unsure of how to structure your site so that you’re able to convert more?  Well, there you have it:  the work you need to do before you waste money on a website!

There are several ways your site should be set up to drive your funnels:

  1. Strategic opt-ins that push people to your list.  I love Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula, and one of the things he teaches as the most important “rule” for growing a platform is always be building your list.  He’s so right on.
  2. RSS functionality if you’ve got a blog.  RSS functionality will allow people to subscribe to your site’s feed so that your new content shows up in their blog reader  (my favorite reader is feed.ly).
  3. Lead Generation – Contact Forms to allow people to request information on services, media or booking inquiries, or general questions.  It’s ideal to use forms provided by the “engines” that manage your business (I like Highrise, MailChimp, and Office Auto Pilot).  Many of these pages should be set up using a landing page-type template for best conversion.
  4. Social Sharing which allows people to like and share your content easily in their social channels.

How can I waste a lot of money on my website?

Want to know how your website can REALLY become a money pit?  Order up all the bells and whistles when you aren’t clear on who your visitors are and what they’ll want to opt-in to or buy.  Spending money building your tools (like your logo and website) before you’ve mapped your funnels and developed your strategy is NOT going to grow your business.  Creating beautiful covers for your products, great logos or marks to brand your services, a beautiful website and business cards … it’s fun.  It’s very fun.  But it’s meaningless unless those activities are window dressing for a really solid strategy,product or offer.

There is a lot of work that goes into building a website “on paper” before you ever build out a live site.  And if you can’t slow down in your business long enough to do the proper due diligence ahead of time, save your money.  You’d be wasting it trying to build out a website without the proper groundwork.

The other way you waste a lot of money?  Changing your mind mid-stream.  I had a web developer colleague tell me once, “People ask me if building their website is going to be expensive.  I tell them that the most expensive thing they can do is to change their mind.”

The MarketectU strategy for building a website hub for your business

So, how do we build websites that are going to effectively support our marketing strategies and grow our businesses?  I follow a few “rules”:

  1. Build your site in WordPress.  I know there are other CMSes out there (like Joomla and Drupal), but if I client comes to me and wants our team to help, we’re building their site in WordPress.  WordPress is free.  It has a huge community of developers and admins that support it, which means you can find help managing your site fairly economically. As the web is shifting, the WordPress platform is keeping up because of their huge developer support community:  they’re developing plugins all the time to integrate new functionality into WordPress. No other platform even comes close to WordPress.com’s affordability and support.
  2. Employ the Law of Crawl-Walk-Run. The Law of Crawl – Walk – Run has been my saving grace in business.  Before I go gangbusters on a new idea or direction, I embrace crawling.  Starting slow, test and measure, and scale with success.  In Good to Great, they call this the Walgreen’s philosophy.
    law-of-crawl-walk-run
    After you’ve sketched out  your site on paper, gather up (or create) your web content and collateral (like graphics, PDFs, video, etc).  Then, have your site developed with a very modest programming budget – we start our clients out at $500-700, plus the cost of the theme.If you’ve aggregated your content well ahead of time, the initial build of your site should only take about a week.  This is where I start with every client.  After we get the basics set and tested, we’ll scale it.
  3. Start with a very basic site using a solid, responsive-design theme.  Responsive design is a theme format that optimizes websites for desktops and provides “app-like” experiences on smartphones, tablets and e-readers.  People are viewing your website on more devices than ever, and there was a time that in order to ensure a good viewing experience on a multitude of devices, you would need to build out a separate design or framework or theme for each different size.No more! Responsive design is awesome, and it really cuts down on your optimizing costs (there was a time we’d have to build out several templates for mobile viewing … it racked up costs).  Make sure the theme you choose to work with on your new project is responsive design.  We are using the Mineral Theme and Michael Hyatt’s Get Noticed Theme and really like them.  They provide a ton of flexibility, and are letting us scale out functionality slowly, over time, as our clients are continuing to expand their platforms. (Check out this great scrolldeck from John Polacek explaining responsive design.)
  4. Integrate key functionality so your site supports social media and direct marketing efforts.  Add plugins to make it easier to “like” and share your content.  Make sure your theme links to your social media accounts.  Integrate call-to-action functionality like “download” buttons and contact forms (most mail programs will give you the code to embed a form on your site).
  5. Consider “branding” your offers visually with clean graphics to help visitors acclimate to where they’re at in your site’s “experience.”  Many people have multiple opt-ins and offers, and it can be confusing or even overwhelming to visitors to keep track of what’s-what.  And when people are uncertain, they don’t take action.A simple visual graphic can help streamline their experience and orient them to what they’re participating in so that they feel confident about interacting with your site.  When you shift gears between these different offers, the visual mark helps visitors connect to the “thing” you’re discussing as they travel through your site. Remember:  you know what all this stuff means.  They don’t necessarily.

Starting with basic infrastructure is best.  Once you get your theme and “starter” content into place, you can do some usability exercises to see where you can make improvements and develop your funnels.

My favorite thing about building a site this way is it allows you to engage, to “get into the game,” without needing a crystal ball to show you the photo finish of your site at the outset.  You do need to have a sense of who your target market is, the funnels you’re building, and what your main conversion goals are.  And of course, some visual branding and good photographs are necessary to get you started.  But growing your business is a marathon that ebbs and flows and twists and turns.  The more flexible your website’s foundation, the better you’ll be able to respond to the market, take advantage of new ideas and trends so that you’re monetizing your platform as powerfully as possible, and build out conversion funnels that keeps your audience engaged and adds a tremendous amount of value.  This paradigm “eats the elephant one bite at a time.”

As you make progress with your proactive marketing strategies (like interviews, speaking, list building, and social engagement — a website is not a strategy), you can build out additional functionality like a slider for the home page to showcase multiple offers or key content, or landing pages to drive your funnels, or fully-developed media and speaking pages. Bit-by-bit, your website can scale with you, allowing you to control your cost and avoid paying for functionality you end up not needing or using.

Tell me:  what are some of your challenges or frustrations with building and managing your website?  Any burning questions as you think about your next site design?  Share with me in the comments!

5 Strategies for Building an In-House, Virtual Team of Contractors

In 2008, I plunged into the “virtual assistant” world by hiring my first virtual assistant.  She was in Detroit, and I barely knew what I needed.

This wasn’t my first time hiring a contractor to help me take care of my clients … for the previous four years, I’d worked with local talent and offshore talent to build graphics and design websites for me.

I have learned a TON about building a virtual time over the last ten years.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve done a lot of things right.  Today, I’ve got a great team of about 15 different contractors who work really hard taking care of our clients.  They are all rock stars in their own right, and I’ve been able to build this team in large part because we follow the Law of Win-Win: I mindful to creating opportunities and engaging with clients only when we both win.

This is my favorite Marketect Law.  I am passionate about win-win relationships—when I see my clients or colleagues struggling with their clients or team members, I can often see subtle strands of violations of this law permeating the chaos.

It is impossible to nail this 100% of the time.  When you’re plunging into something new, or venturing into unknown territory, you often don’t have the foresight to be able to set win-win conditions.  Let’s face it:  sometimes we learn our lessons by getting drug behind a truck.  We’re human.  If you’re like me, you beat yourself up after the truck is done with you (I’m working on that).

law-of-win-win

When it comes to hiring our team members, I’ve learned what the conditions are that make working for me and our clients a “win” for contractors 80% of the time.  And I’ve also learned what our clients need to feel comfortable working with our team.

Here are a few things we do to “hedge our bets” on setting up a win-win environment that honors the interests of SMS, our clients and our contractors:

    1. Think through a great job description.  Before we hire someone, we map out what kind of skills and abilities we want them to have, the software / cloud programs we want them to be experienced in, and we try to be really clear in our expectations.  I want someone to read our job postings and think, “That is so not for me,” or, “OMG, they are looking for ME!”  We are as specific as we know to be.If I’m hiring in a brand new “green” area (one in which I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience), I will talk to colleagues and other team members to get some help so I can attract the right person.
    2. Set up good cloud-based processes and systems to streamline collaboration.  Our team is virtual, meaning that everyone works in their own work environment (home, coffee shop, etc). Initially, I worked with that first VA by assigning tasks via phone calls and emails.  It didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off the bus:  tasks were overlooked, deadlines slipped, details got confusing, steps were skipped … it was very frustrating for me AND for her.Most people care about doing a good job.  They don’t want to be sloppy.  They want their boss or client to be happy with their work. Our team is very accountable (more on that later) for completing work successfully, but when things don’t go right, I don’t stop at calling out a misstep.  I step back and examine our processes to see how we could have set things up to succeed from the outset. Yes, each person is responsible for their work, but if I can tweak our process so that they are able to succeed easier, WE BOTH WIN.

      We use Basecamp Classic for our project management … you can’t sign up for Basecamp Classic from the 37signals website any longer.  You actually have to email them and ask them to set you up in the classic version.  Basecamp Classic doesn’t have the slick interface of the newer Basecamp, but it has crucial functionality around templates that aren’t part of the new program.  I’ll teach you a bit more on Basecamp in a future blog post.

    3. Track time to the minute.  I have tried every-which-way of pricing out the work our contractors execute for our clients, and the only way that I’ve been able to land on a predictable win-win is to have our team members track time to the minute.  We will estimate all projects for our clients before they’re executed, but if our team members don’t use all the time, we bill only what was needed.  If we run into glitches or bumps that require more time than expected, we get approval for extra time in advance. ##This does a few things: ##a) our contractors don’t lose their shirt on project creep or scope changes because a client can’t make up their mind, ##b) our clients don’t deal with padded time where they’re paying more than they should to have work done,c) our clients are mindful of their demands and expectations…put another way:  changing your mind is expensive. If a contractor loses their shirt on one or more of your projects, they aren’t super motivated to keep working with you.  Trust is breeched.##Estimating projects and tracking time to the minute is the best way I have found to balance the interests of all involved so that I could create continuity on our team.
    4. Projects must be completed to be billed.  There is nothing more frustrating to me, personally, when working with a contractor in a virtual environment than to have to pay for work that I’m not yet able to leverage, or to have deadlines creep on and on and on with work not being completed. I know enough about human behavior to know that properly placed carrots are a better motivator than me micromanaging details.

      But there’s another dimension to this, too:  people who work on a contract basis consider themselves to be business owners in their own right, and they value freedom and flexibility.  It is important to me to create a work environment that both gives them freedom and flexibility, and also has built-in accountability so the work is getting done.

    5. Enforce a strict communication policy.  Early on, when a client came to me with a question on one of our projects, I’d promise to find out and get right back to them before reaching out to the team member.  When it was crickets over the phone or email, I would get incredibly frustrated and even embarrassed because I didn’t want our clients to feel like we weren’t available when they needed us, or we didn’t care about their details. Sometimes, I wouldn’t be able to reach that team member for a day or two.

      Communication in a virtual environment is one of the biggest obstacles to developing a cohesive team.

      Over the years, our policy evolved to something like this:

      • Office hours are 9 to 5.
      • All team members should be logged on to Skype during office hours (either on your desktop or phone).
      • If we need to reach you, you commit to respond within an hour.
      • If you are going to be unavailable for any reason for two hours or more, send a calendar invite to me, your team lead and any relevant parties so that we know you’re out of pocket.  You are not asking for permission, you are simply communicating your availability.
      • This shift was a breath of fresh air!  We had fewer fires, we were able to get fires under control quicker, deadlines across the board were being met more efficiently, timeline creep drastically lessened, our team members felt more connected to each other and to our work because they were accountable to each other … this was HUGE.

Our clients, overall, really enjoy working with our team, and our team members are invested in both SMS and our clients.

It is important to me that clients feel taken care of and trust that the work is being done well. When I first started offering support services to our clients, I dealt with some skepticism about whether or not this “virtual team thing” was really going to work out for them … there can be a lot of uncertainty around trusting people you can’t see or you haven’t hired yourself to take care of your “baby.” This policy has gone a long way in helping us to get over the hump and add real value to our clients on a budget!

What are some of your biggest frustrations in hiring or working with virtual team members?  Or what are some great “tricks” you’ve learned for leveraging virtual assistants or team members?  Let’s talk about them in the comments!

The Secret to Building Your Platform and Selling More

When I was a kid, my sisters and I LOVED Super Mario Brothers. I had the prestigious honor of being the first one in the family to conquer the last world (8-4) to win the entire game. In this dungeon, you had to jump over bad guys, squat down pipes and eat coins, all in a very specific order in order to keep progressing to the ultimate challenge: the biggest fire-breathing dragon yet.  Your charge:  slay him and save the princess.

super-mario-bros-ending-e1296602742128

If you didn’t squat down the pipe, the level would repeat and it’s like you’d be stuck in this Groundhog Day of about 10 seconds’ worth of the maze, repeating ad nauseum.  A bummer when time would run out and, welp, you were still basically at the start.  And remember, you have a limited number of lives:  you’re too dense to make progress?  Then … game over.

I ended up conquering level 8-4 through sheer repetition:  copious hours of tedious jumping and squatting and coin-consuming.  I played the game over and over and over, each time eeking a little further into the dungeon.

I showed my sisters exactly what I did and they were able to conquer the level, save the princess and win the game much faster because someone showed them the key sequence. Ironically, I didn’t realize at first that there was a pattern.  It just seemed odd that the game would sometimes let you move deeper and sometimes start you over.  What’s going on?!  I remember thinking initially.  And if one of us got farther than the other, “Hey!  That’s not fair!”

One day, there was an “Ah-ha!!!” moment: there was a cryptic “order” to progressing through this level.  I had to figure out the exact steps if I was going to save the princess.

Last fall, I had my designer help me create what would end up being an infographic to show our clients the MarketectU framework we followed to help them build a solid, scalable marketing plan and business. I wanted our clients to visually “see” how our process worked … the strategic context for why-we-do-what-we-do-WHEN-WE-DO-IT matters.  There are a lot of different strategies you can implement to grow your business.  And they’re all potentially good–if you do them at the right time.  But if you execute them at the wrong time, oh man.  The frustration of losing time, money, energy, opportunity …it can really suck.

No one likes to feel like they’ve failed, especially when they’ve invested SO MUCH.

Over the years, I’ve developed what has turned into a set of Marketect Laws: principles that provide an anchor for how to make solid business decisions. As my foray back into the blogosphere, I’m going to start breaking down the framework, the context, for how to assess and build your own business development strategy.  This exercise isn’t just about marketing … and Marketecting (our unique approach to mapping out and implementing your business strategy) isn’t just about marketing, either.  This philosophy, if you will, represents the convergence of marketing, leadership, team development and execution. There is a bit of an art to how you pull things together.

law-of-sequencing

Marketect Law: Law of Sequencing

The law of sequencing has at its core a few fundamental principles:

  1. Sequencing matters.  A lot.  Dialing a phone number’s digits in the wrong order will result in your call not going through to the right person.  Switching the words around in a sentence interferes with its meaning (“Jim bit the dog.” “The dog bit Jim.”)  Understanding the progression of events or activities required so that your efforts are sustainable  matters.  It’s not fun to excrete every ounce of energy out of ourselves to execute on a strategy or initiative, only to have to walk away from it because we don’t have the resources (time, energy, leverage) to keep it going.
  2. Our anxiety or fears can often get in the way of us doing things in the right order. We’re impatient, or we’re avoiding, or we’re ignorant and asking for help makes us uncomfortable.  I am just as guilty of this as anyone.
  3. Executing on strategy requires discipline.  Sometimes, the hardest thing for independent professionals to come by is discipline … we don’t have someone standing over us or holding us accountable.  I’m jotting this down and a topic for a future blog post, because we need to tune in here and start executing some really solid strategies for harnessing ourselves to anchors that provide discipline so we can get over this hump!

Stay tuned … more on sequencing coming right up!

Where do you see the Law of Sequencing showing up in your business?  Do you have some what’s-the-right-order questions about growing your business for us to grok?  Leave a comment!

 

Marketing Voodoo: The most promising strategies for growing your business

A few weeks ago during a radio show interview, I was explaining to the interviewer what’s involved in understanding your customers, connecting powerfully with them, creating compelling offers that they want to buy, and implementing effective grassroots campaigns for growing your relationship with prospects.

“So what do you say to the person who says, that’s a lot of work … I don’t want to do all of that.”

“Um, get a job.”

No, I didn’t say that. “Business is for gladiators,” I replied. If you want to be successful as a business owner, you’re going to need an incredible work ethic and steely resolve to persevere when the going gets tough. It has, it does, and it will.

When people talk to me about their struggles growing their businesses, I sometimes feel like they have a secret longing: they want marketing voodoo. They want me to show them how to wave a magic wand that will outline an easy, step-by-step marketing plan that will bring droves of clients to their doorstep.

I wish.

There is no magic wand when it comes to effective marketing.

I know that’s disappointing. After all, who wouldn’t like to get their hands on some sassy marketing voodoo? But the truth is, creating the right mix of offers and strategies that connect powerfully with your target market and escort them down the sales funnel to official customer status requires a lot of work.

I often say that the power of marketing is in sequencing: doing the right things in the right order. Once you bust this riddle, you’ll notice your sales funnel getting traction, more clients coming on board and your marketing efforts will pay off tenfold.

The best marketing voodoo I can share is what I believe is the fundamental goal of good marketing: setting the proper conditions to ensure that the people who would benefit most from your services know how you can help them solve their problems, alleviate their pain, take them to the promised land, in that very moment when they realize their need (because it hurts, or they acknowledge they’re tired of being stuck, or something comes up that makes change a MUST).

I created the Marketing Triad to help my clients understand the most important strategies independent professionals should put in place FIRST.

The triad includes three groups of strategies: Networking, Visibility Strategies and Grassroots Strategies. Here are a few examples of each:

Networking Strategies
· Local Meetings
· Trade Shows & Conferences
· Referrals & Strategic Alliances
· Telemarketing / Follow-up
· Social Networking

Visibility Strategies
· Local Showcases
· Speaking at Conferences
· Teleseminars / Webinars
· SEO / SEM (Web Marketing)

Grassroots Strategies
· Database / Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
· Follow-up Marketing
· Direct Mail
· Email Marketing
· VIP Lists

Determining the mix for your Marketing Triad is crucial to your marketing success, as these are the core strategies you should mobilize to sell your knowledge and expertise.

Start with networking and visibility strategies. Determine where you can go, who you can present to, to help you build a list of prospects whose needs are a match for your services. Get yourself booked, pencil key networking opportunities into your calendar, begin to connect with the marketplace. Maintain and nurture those relationships through Grassroots Strategies, drawing them into your sales funnel, all the while building TRUST.

How Web Hosting is Like a Free Puppy

When I told a few colleagues the title of this blog post, I got big grins and dramatic nods without even telling them what the post was about.  If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve likely dealt with a hosting crisis that has fried your nerves and stressed you to the max. As a non-techie with over ten years’ experience hosting websites for clients, have I ever learned a thing or two about avoiding the potholes (because, *ahem*, I think I’ve hit them ALL)!

This is a topic that people write books about (I’ve mentioned it in another post, too), so without getting too deep, I want to share with you a few “secrets” I’ve learned along the way to avoid 95% of the issues that typically come with having a site live on the internet.  Let’s start with the most important considerations, in my experience, to ensure you’ve got a good setup.


A great server configuration for your website will include:

  1. Reliable server with good uptime that allows your site to load quickly, with minimal downtime.  Not all services are created equal. You can test this by using Pingdom.com to evaluate the load speed of sites on different servers. (A great tool for analyzing the load speed of your website is Google Page Speed.)
  2. Automated backup system that regularly backs up your site both on the server and on an alternate server (“backup” server) so that if your site crashes or is hacked, it can easily be reloaded and launched. (We have our sites backed up locally daily and offsite weekly).
  3. If you use WordPress (and you should!) or any Content Management System (CMS), it should be updated regularly for security purposes (monthly seems to suffice).  There are some ways you can have this automated, or you should have a qualified programmer that does this manually for you (it doesn’t take long, and you need someone with more expertise than a typical VA).
  4. If you are doing a lot of media or special launches or campaigns that could drive a lot of traffic to your site, you’ll want to make sure your hosting setup will accommodate the traffic.  I once had a client who was booked as a guest on a huge talk radio show, and the traffic he received during and after the interview crashed his site.  Reeeeeally bad time for the site to crash.  *Gulp*
  5. Do not host your email on the same server. I repeat:  Do not host your email on the same server as your website.  I highly recommend using a dedicated email service to handle all your email.  First of all, if you’re hosting on the cheap, you are most likely using a shared server that is also hosting hundreds, thousands, or tens-of-thousands of other sites … if any of these sites are engaged in shoddy spamming practices (and they are), the entire server will be blacklisted, affecting your email’s deliverability.  Secondly, if anything at all happens to your site, your email will go down with it.  A crash, hack, explosion, server outage, or any number of scenarios could bring down your site.  It’s in your best interest to have your email hosted elsewhere so you still get your email while they’re figuring out what’s up with your site.  (If you need a third reason, most local email hosting sucks … they have poor spam filters in addition to their poor deliverability.) My favorite solution for email is Google Apps, for about a dozen reasons I might go over in another post. :)


Common Misconceptions about the Cost of Hosting a Website

There are lots of misconceptions about hosting out there … the biggest one being that hosting is cheap.  Renting square footage on the server is cheap, just like buying land is cheap compared to the cost of laying cable and plumbing and building the house (metaphors aplenty on this one).  Here’s what is not cheap about hosting a website:

  • Moving your site to a new server,
  • Backing up your site regularly,
  • Testing to ensure it’s working properly,
  • Keeping the server up-to-date with the latest patches and software updates,
  • Keeping your site software updated (different from server software),
  • Making sure all the software and plugins on the server plays nice with your site and your CMS (like WordPress or Drupal),
  • Troubleshooting server-related glitches, and more

All of these things cost money.  Choosing a service provider based on price alone is like picking up a puppy from the pound: you don’t know what you’re getting.  What kind of diet has it been fed (translation: vet bills)? What kind of bad habits has it picked up (translation: chewed Manolo Blahniks, a bitten milk man, gnawed table leg, “spots” on the carpet)? What’s its temperament like? Has it been properly socialized?  How much is it going to eat every day (translation: $$$)?  How much exercise will it need?  Puppies become dogs, and they’re the furthest thing from cheap.

When finding good hosting for your site, there is a LOT to consider, and most people are clueless until something goes wrong and they’re looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars in emergency programming expenses to fix things (not to mention the time and energy–unplanned–that you expend resolving your issue[s]).  And sometimes, God forbid, things can’t be fixed.

Learn about SMS’ web hosting support for WordPress sites.

Question:  What are your server nightmares, and what have you learned? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Greatest lesson from the remarkable Steve Jobs

Contemplatively, I just watched the commencement speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005.  It’s very moving and profound, to say the least.  In it, he talks about his brush with death, how he hopes to live another 20 or 30 years, and shares some of the most profound lessons of his life.

 

 

Like many, I’m struck by the tragedy we all feel at losing someone so innovative, so extraordinary … so young.  In spite of all his amazing contributions to modern culture, I’m wondering, Did we receive all of his gifts? A heavy thought to ponder, no doubt.  But one thing is certain: he lived to give them.  An intense, driven creator, there’s no question that he lived his life as one committed to giving us all that he had–and he took a lot of heat for it.

My colleague, Lori Collins, pointed out what is sure to be remembered as the most profound part of his speech:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.  Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.  You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

The chills are relentless as I contemplate the gravity of his observation, the unchanging reality that he is gone forever. I’m thinking of the times I wallow in my own selfish self-pity when contemplating a next move, or weighing the risk-reward of showing up authentically, of risking rejection, of (god-forbid) being a total failure at something I care about succeeding at deeply.

When reflecting on his life, he profoundly reveals:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.  You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever… because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

Every week, I talk to amazing professionals who are struggling to figure out their next move, trying to make sense of their path, digging deep in hopes of hitting inspiration or courage to fuel the next leg of their journey.  These people are incredibly creative, loving, giving souls who have been given really special gifts which often are considered “unconventional.” They don’t quite fit into the current molds and models of society, so giving these gifts requires courage and heart, passion and conviction, and FAITH that this journey is the right one, that everything will pay off in the end.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the ttrap of thinking you ahve somethign to lose. You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.  And thank you.

 


Facing the Sting: Why Solopreneurs are destined to stay that way forever

I just found my way to a blog post that stopped me dead in my tracks and lit my bottlerocket to the moon.  This guy is bananas – as a bit of a marketing snob and wordsmither myself, I’m mesmerized by Peter Shallard’s (@PeterShallard) poignant way of communicating the honest-to-God truth about what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.

In his post, “The Truth – Why Solopreneurs are destined to stay that way forever,” Peter cuts right to the soul of what is keeping so many independent professionals stuck.

Here’s a brief intro to what Peter says about the destiny of solopreneurs:

Most solopreneurs have dreams or vague plans to one day make it to the big time. A proper company and staff to boot. Whether it’s an in-house team or outsourced global workforce, every business owner dreams of growing the family, even if only to a single virtual assistant.

Yet such dreams are almost never realized.

Despite the lower-than-ever cost of bringing outsource talent onboard, entrepreneurs still struggle more than ever to actually getting around to doing it.

I have a nose for self-sabotage and something here reeks of internal conflict! This post explains why you still haven’t hired that person you know you should. Hint: It’s all in your head.

“I just can’t let go”

Famous last words of the archetypal solopreneur who endlessly procrastinates hiring the help they need.

I want to just copy the whole freaking post and paste it here for you to read.

My experience hiring my first virtual assistant

I remember when I hired my first VA three years ago.  I was kinda terrified, not gonna lie.  I mean, looking back, it wasn’t a big deal, but it felt like a HUGE commitment to siphon off part of my cashflow every month to another resource, in spite of my being very clear that I needed to get leverage, stat, if I was going to keep growing my business.

I’ve seen my clients grapple with this over-and-over again.  Truthfully, the reason I have a marketing team that executes booking / publicity, marketing administration and social media marketing for our clients is because the thought of trying to find a qualified, solid resource to execute on their strategy (once they’ve defined it through my Marketing Gameplan program) was intimidating and overwhelming to them… and I saw them struggling once they hired someone because they didn’t know how to bring out the best in that resource.

Make the shift from solopreneur to entrepreneur

I love how Peter closes out his post, with a charge to all “solopreneurs” to get about the business of breaking through to greater possibility and fulfillment as an entrepreneur.  Remember our charge: Who must I become to complete this quest?

Getting a team of people to do important work is harder than it looks. It requires a special set of skills that you won’t learn in school or from your parents. It’s tough and your unconscious mind knows this.

That is why your veins are riddled with fear. Your intuitive self is trying to stop you rushing into a situation that it knows you can’t handle. The same thing would happen if you lined up to ride a rodeo horse. Fear. It means there is something coming up which you need to prepare for.

This post isn’t about “how to be a manager” – it’s about how to pay attention to the signals your mind is sending you. It’s about how to overcome a hugely limiting form of self sabotage, that’s stopping you achieving your business goals.

If you’re a solopreneur who has always dreamed of building a team, it’s time to start preparing your mind for the challenge. You’re not procrastinating because of “control” issues, you’re procrastinating because you’re not ready… yet.

So get ready. Read, learn, train. You know how to be an entrepreneur. Now it’s time to learn how to be a manager.

You can check out Peter’s blog here (add him to you RSS Reader – good stuff!).

How are YOU getting leverage in your business by outsourcing and bringing in help?  And how are things going for you? Let’s talk about your experiences in the comments!

How do I budget for my website? 5 important costs to consider before you spend a dime.

3D Dollar by Digitalart

“How much does it cost to create a good website?”

It’s a misleading question, in many ways – in truth, the actual cost for designing your website is minimal compared to the costs for making it “good.”  Or even “great.”  Check out another one of my blog posts about the important components of a good website here.

For independent professionals (speakers, authors, executive coaches, consultants, trainers, etc), the actual design of your website could be as inexpensive as “free” if you’re a do-it-yourself-er who knows WordPress and wants to use a free template.  Or, you could have a custom HTML template created with custom programming for integrating things like eCommerce and subscribe forms, styling sidebar widgets via CSS and other such techi-ness.  You’ll likely pay $500-$1000 for a template website, and anywhere for $1500 to $3500 (or more, if you’re REALLY going bananas) for great design and programming (slicing a design into HTML code can be very time consuming, as can styling widgets and customizing the look-and-feel of forms).

Having your site hosted is another expense.  Factors like if you’re using a shared server or dedicated one, and how much traffic you’re getting, and how many backups of your site you’re having created (and where those backups are being kept) can all influence your hosting costs.  The average Joe can expect to spend $10 to $60 monthly on hosting.

The REAL upfront cost of building a great website is in creating great content. Content includes things like:

  • Overview of your offerings
  • Strong “About” page (bio, etc)
  • Blogs and articles
  • Podcasts, videos, and other multimedia
  • Media Room with useful media resources
  • Downloadables like one sheets, white papers, and other tools used to support different aspects of your marketing

Creating powerful, compelling copy is THE most important component of your website. Like, if you don’t have that, you’ve wasted whatever time and money you’ve spent getting your site up.  A mediocre design and powerful copy are WAY more important than a beautiful design with weak copy. (For some strategies on creating compelling copy, check out this blog post for tips.)

But it doesn’t stop there.

Many other aspects of maintaining your online presence could potentially impact your budget, including:

  1. Updating software & plugins, and integrating new technology into your website. On a pretty regular basis, your server and likely your software (like WordPress) is going to be issuing updates to hardware and software, respectively, that you will need to install.  It’s not uncommon for these updates to break or conflict with other programs and plugins set up on your site and / or running on your server.  This is not a good place for DIY-ers to be experimenting. You need a pro to help. You can often hire VAs for this kind of support if it’s simple.  More complicated issues will need the support of a programmer.  You really can’t get by without these ongoing expenses if you are actively marketing online and engaged in social media, so plan for it.  I’d recommend putting at least an hour monthly into your budget.
  2. Updating graphics. It seems that once or twice a year, both my and my client’s website graphics will need to be updated to accommodate some kind of change we want to implement on the site.  These changes can cost as little as a couple hundred bucks, or as much as $1,000 to execute (or more).  It doesn’t happen frequently, but you should expect to be reviewing things every six months and learning ways you can improve things.
  3. Adding additional functionality to integrate with social media.  It goes without saying that social media is evolving and changing at the speed of light.  Sometimes we can anticipate the changes, but more often, we are a bit blindsided by the “new thing” that people want to do in the interest of sharing content.  WordPress is awesome because it allows you to integrate new functionality via a plugin pretty easily.  Most plugins are free, and with a little training, you might be able to add these plugins yourself.  Be wary, though:  it’s not uncommon for new plugins to need some tweaking so they “look good” on your website, or for new plugins to conflict with existing plugins on your website, requiring the assistance of a seasoned programmer to fix.  It seems that several times a year, we need to bring in a programmer to help us manage upgrading our sites’ functionality (typically a couple hundred bucks each time), so plan on it.
  4. Optimizing new content, managing Google adwords and Facebook ads campaigns. Obviously, step one is creating the content.  But once the content is created, it needs to be proofed, optimized for search, uploaded to your site, and if you’re committed to getting more traffic for your site, submitted to other sites around the web (like Digg, article submission sites, guest blog posts, etc).  And of course, you want to create tweets for the content, schedule them for facebook and twitter (and Google plus), and more.
  5. Adding landing pages, creating new content and reconfiguring conversion paths. After you launched your website, you started getting feedback that your visitors were looking for something you didn’t position well (so they were unable to find it, sometimes leaving the site without doing anything).  You were hoping people would come to the site to buy something, but what you realized after monitoring things for a few months was that people were looking around and leaving without so much as signing up for your newsletter.
  6. Or consider that you started getting feedback from people that inspired you to create a new offering that you want to display front-and-center on your website.  New copy needs to be generated, your menu might need to be changed up, you might want to tweak your home page or add a new page to your website, and update other copy to drive traffic to this new page. Sometimes, these tweaks only require an hour or two of support; other times, you’ve got a full-fledged project on your hands that might take 20 hours and several weeks to execute.

It is really important for you to consider the implications of these variables when you begin thinking about creating a new website. It is very common in my work for me to talk to professionals who’ve spent a huge wad of cash on making their website pretty, with little-to-no funds remaining to actually get results by levaraging social media and engaging in activities that drive traffic.

If you have a limited budget, go the site template route and budget for important money-making activities that directly affect the ROI you are going to experience by creating an ecosystem that attracts customers, builds your credibitility, stokes the fires of raving fans and inspires others to share your work with their friends.  Spending all your budget on a pretty design with nothing left over for taking action predestins you to be one of those frustrated professionals who struggles to make their website work for them.