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!

 

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.

 


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.

Fighting to Succeed in Business: Have you ever doubted your calling?

I'm breaking through!“If the muse exists, she does not whisper to the untalented.” (from the forward to The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Stephen Pressfield)

I’m afraid they’ll find out I’m a fraud.

I feel guilty charging people to do something I find so easy.

This is really hard. . .is this really what I’m supposed to be doing? Why does it feel so natural and easy on the inside, yet so damn hard and gut-wrenching to try to “get it out”?

What keeps you from breaking through?

If you find yourself second-guessing your calling, or frustrated by the dig-deep work you have to do to “keep going” down this path toward actualizing your full potential, boy are you ever in good company. I’ve never met an independent professional who didn’t feel the frustration and the fear that evolving as a business owner inevitably brings. Every client I’ve ever had has privately confided in me fears and frustrations and nagging doubts about the path they’ve chosen. Dare I say, nearly every strategy call I’ve ever done (hundreds) has included a confession of sorts that revealed the frustration, the angst, the private pain of the beautiful soul on the other end of the line.

And it seems that the most volatile, frustrating moments appear when it’s time for the client to sit down and write or create products, content, or offerings intended to serve the masses.

In The War of Art , Pressfield reveals, “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers (or painters, or musicians, or creatives of any kind) don’t, and that secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance (emphasis added).


Your biggest block: Your own resistance

Ah, resistance–that internal “block” that keeps us from moving forward or taking action. The whispers of fear, the lies that tell us we won’t succeed or that we’re frauds or that today-isn’t-the-day or this isn’t our time.  For those among us who are called to share their gifts with the world, to blaze this unique trail to uncovering their bliss, resistance is an ever-present force that must be confronted with courage as we trust in the call of the Universe for us to give, to expand, to grow.

So what does resistance look like? From The War of Art:

“First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves. . . . If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

“. . . If you find yourself asking, Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist? Chances are, you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death… The more scared we are of our work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work.  The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.”

I’ve often said that for independent professionals (people who are packaging their knowledge and expertise as authors, speakers, coaches, consultants, etc), growing our businesses can be some of the most intense spiritual work we’ll ever do. So how do we “overcome resistance?”

My friend, Scott Jeffrey, reminds us of a beautiful metaphor for understanding the nature of our true selves (that includes the giving of our sacred selves). In his blog post “Approaching Spiritual Work,” he explains, “Numerous spiritual teachers. . .say that the sun is always shining; we need only remove the clouds. The clouds represent our psychological and spiritual work. The sun is the Light that we are (the Self, with a capital “S”), only realizable when the clouds are removed. Our clouds are many: negative emotions, poor habits and tendencies, false identifications, addiction to our minds and thinking, and so on.

“Examining, understanding, and dissolving these clouds represent the core of serious psycho-spiritual work. That’s why it’s work. Once this is accepted as given, we can approach our darker side with courage, forbearance, and patience. Then, situations that trigger our negative emotions, for example, become opportunities to develop instead of reasons to feel bad about ourselves, getting discouraged about our ‘lack of progress’.”

The battleground for overcoming resistance is in our minds, in undoing our crappy programming and embracing our responsibility to give the world our best and make a difference. Go easy on yourself. This journey isn’t for the faint of heart. Your destiny is assured; the sun is shining bright. May courage take you all the way!

Need a how-to guide for working through your resistance? I’ve created a three-part blog series on creating solid content that includes some great strategies for finding your break-thoughs.  If you’re looking for some good reading, I love Byron Katie’s Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life and Patricia Carrington’s The Power Of Letting Go: A Practical Approach to Releasing the Pressures in Your Life.

Best-kept secret for converting more prospects to buyers

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to articulate what we do.  Our goal? To get people interested in doing business with us.

But if you’ve been in business for any time at all, you’ve probably learned that talking about yourself rarely results in someone wanting to do business with you.  (I explore this in 4 Strategies for Booking More Business.)

My friend, Don (@DonCooper) posted this tweet:

Tip: Every time you ask a question, you get a point. Every time you ask a question your prospect can’t answer, you get ten points.

YES, that’s such a great way of framing the power of an effective prospecting conversation (Mark LeBlanc calls it a “meaningful conversation”). You’ve heard me talk in other posts about how important it is to know your customer and connect powerfully with them. The most effective way to do this by listening well.*

Have you forgotten how to listen?

I don’t know that you can really “teach” someone to listen if they don’t naturally have this predisposition.

Listening well, frankly, comes from a holy place: your heart. We listen because we’re interested, we care; we want to make a difference. What we *can* teach each other, or more aptly, remind each other, is that when you’re prospecting or networking, you don’t need to focus or “worry” with pitching people on your services.

You just need to listen, really feel into your prospect’s situation, empathize.  And asking good questions is key.

“Have you thought about it this way?”

There is a lot to the art of asking good questions. Tony Robbins (@tonyrobbins) is the pro on this one . . . I highly recommend his weekend event, Unleash the Power Within.

Ultimately, good questions inspire your prospects to look at something they hadn’t considered before, or to view their problem in a different way.

Stumping the prospect by asking a really powerful question can be a game changer. And so can asking questions that really make your prospects dig and think about their situation differently right there, in the moment.

Breakthroughs are on the other side of great questions

I often reframe a problem my client is experiencing with their breakthrough in mind: your problem means you’re doing XXX right.  You’re on the path to XXX, which is great! The next level requires you to figure this out–this is a good problem to have!

Many times, our challenges are calling to the hero within us, showing us where we need to step up in our lives (remember the powerful question: Who must I become to complete this quest?) Reminding who you’re talking to that their “problems” are gateways to bringing out the best in them can be a really powerful reframe.

What if this were God, the Universe, or the  Spirit’s way of calling to your courage so you could break through?  What if this didn’t mean you were failing, but you were on the brink of a breakthrough?

So, for example asking, Have you considered . . . ? or How does believing XXXX serve you? can bring an unconscious pattern to conscious thought.

Similarly, asking, What if you tried XXXX? can awaken a perspective in your prospects that has lain dormant.

Applying your expertise to their specific challenges and asking questions to help them realize how they are stuck (rather than you telling them, which they are likely to resist) is also a really powerful way to help your clients.

Question:  What questions do you ask your prospects to help them see that they need your help?

Why your website doesn’t generate more leads

In my last two blogs, I talked about the importance of building trust through your website and the real value of quality content. In this blog, I’m going to discuss a distinction that might sound counter-intuitive at first, but which is absolutely crucial to designing an effective website: The primary purpose of your website is not to tell people about you and what you do; the primary purpose of your website is to connect with people who are searching to solve specific problems that you are uniquely-qualified to help them resolve.

Design your website to address the needs of your potential clients, and to connect their needs with what you offer by:

  • Resolving frustrations
  • Finding tactical solutions (step-by-step)
  • Finding and booking the right speaker
  • Learning and Growing (by reading high-quality content)
  • Hiring a coach or consultant

In their search to resolve their issues, your prospects need to come across content that connects with their problems, frustrations, needs. Your website should focus on THEM and their reality, and strategically connect them back to you and what you offer. If your existing homepage greets prospects and describes who you are and what you do, then it’s time to crumple it up and start again.

When designing your website, keep your focus on your clients

I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but no one cares who you are. They don’t care who I am, either. That is, they don’t care until I’ve built considerable rapport with them; that’s when they’ll want to know more — and I should have a page on my site that educates them.

One final website design tip: strategic menus

I’ve established a new “protocol” or “best practice” as it relates to building sites for my clients. We use the main menu to focus on what my client’s prospects are looking for: it might identify the title(s) they organize themselves by, or it might call out the action items they are going for when visiting the site.

For example, for one client, we have a main menu with three options aimed at identifying the three main distinctions of the client’s target market:
Leaders | Leadership Teams | Leadership Bench
For another client who’s a practitioner, our menu items are:
Can Dr. Andrew help me? | How does a treatment work? | Book an Appointment

We put this main menu just underneath the header in the traditional place you expect menus to appear. Then, we have a secondary menu that starts in the upper right corner that includes links to content that’s more “ego-driven,” so to speak. In this second menu, you’ll have links like “About,” “Contact Us,” “Meeting Planners & Media,” etc. If someone is specifically looking for this content, they’ll be able to locate it easily, and by putting it in the secondary menu, you’re leaving the main menu more visitor-focused and useful for your clients and prospects.

With time, intention, and great content, you can build a website that will really support the growth of your platform. It likely will cost you more than $1,500, but it’s worth the investment if it’s built right.

Hit me up with your questions in the comments below . . . I’m happy to help!

The secret ingredient for getting more leads from your website

In my last blog, Read This Before You Design Your Website, I discussed what your website should do for your business and how your budget should look when building your website. In this blog, we’ll look at the value of trust and how your clients will be more likely to opt-in to your site when they trust you.

There is one variable that makes “selling” the services of an independent professional different from selling widgets:  TRUST. Before people are going to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on your services, they are going to have to trust you significantly.

Here are three ways to earn trust from your prospects and clients:

  • Your prospects trust your clients, if they know them. Leverage your client list, client’s logos, and client testimonials; and you can obviously have your trusted clients and colleagues refer people to you, transfering the trust and goodwill they’ve built to you.
  • Your prospects trust your consistency. This one is huge, and I touched on it in the blog post about networking. When you are still around month after month, year after year, with good relationships and a solid reputation, people will obviously trust you more.  It’s important to be consistent in your efforts, whether  networking, blogging, or speaking.
  • They trust your expertise. That book you’ve written, or those blog posts you put up consistently, week after week, contain content that proves to your prospect that you know what you’re talking about. (This is precisely why I encourage my clients to GIVE IT ALL AWAY. Don’t hold back your “best stuff” because you want people to hire you to get it; it actually works the other way around.)

Your website is the perfect forum for connecting with people’s pain, frustration, hopes and dreams, and for showing them that you really know who they are, what they struggle with, and how to help them break through.  Don’t expect to get people to sign up for your expensive programs as a result of visiting your website — their buying process likely doesn’t work that way. This one distinction can revolutionize your thought process in building your website and email marketing strategy.  I hope you wrote this one down.

Want to know if your website is a good trust-builder? Sign up for a strategy session!