For Social Entrepreneurs, What Comes First: Business or Mission?

Starting a business is hard. Starting a business that attempts to solve large-scale social problems is even harder.

But that hasn’t stopped the most idealistic and ambitious entrepreneurs from trying. In fact, over the last five years, social entrepreneurship has increasingly become the motivation behind startup business plans and a point of consideration in corporate boardrooms. Whether they’re tackling world hunger, improving education or helping people rent out the things they aren’t using, companies of all sizes are seeking ways to make positive change in the world.

As the social innovation movement has grown, so has the interplay — and in some cases tension — between business model and mission. Entrepreneurs trying to both make money and benefit a social mission are often playing a game of chicken and egg, having to decide which comes first: their social cause or their bottom line.

Related: First Coffee, Now Fashion: Apparel Brands Seek Fair Trade Certification Despite Challenges

GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling has a large sign hanging in the company's headquarters that says, The Mission is Greater Than the Company.

GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling has a large sign hanging in the company’s headquarters that says, “The Mission is Greater Than the Company.”

Image credit: GoldieBlox

Some social entrepreneurs, like GoldieBlox founder and CEO Debbie Sterling have built their entire business with their mission front and center — literally. Sterling says there’s a huge sign on the wall of the company’s office that says “The Mission is Greater Than the Company,” a reminder of the company’s focus. “Every few months or so, we check in and make sure that everyone still feels that way, that we haven’t become obsessed with profitability, or cheapening things or lessening the quality,” said Sterling at The Feast, a two-day social entrepreneurship conference in New York City.

GoldieBlox, which makes toys intended to encourage girls to pursue and enjoy engineering, has grown rapidly. It took less than a year for Sterling’s company to go from a Kickstarter campaign to the shelves of Toys R Us. Since launching in September of 2012, GoldieBlox has gone from a staff of one to a staff of 13.

Throughout, Sterling has remained tied to her core mission. “Every step of the way, we are all so passionate, we want to remind ourselves what this is for. It is really about inspiring girls and giving them more options and hopefully sparking that interest that will eventually help them grow up and build our world,” she says.

GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling has a large sign hanging in the company's headquarters that says, The Mission is Greater Than the Company.

GoldieBlox toys are intended to get girls excited about the principles of engineering.

Meanwhile, for some entrepreneurs, putting the mission before the business is a backwards strategy for success. “Having the social goal as No. 1 is inadequate and won’t make you successful,” said Robin Chase, the founder and former CEO of car-rental company Zipcar and the founder of peer-to-peer car rental company Buzzcar. “It makes you focus on the wrong thing because you have to deliver what people want,” Chase said.

Related: Keep Your Employees Loyal By Encouraging Them to Pursue Their Own Projects and Passions

When Chase first started Zipcar, the popular service which allows consumers to rent cars by the hour or the day, she says she was criticized for not making the company non-profit. Chase knew she would need significant capital to get Zipcar off the ground and a for-profit business model allowed her to take on investors and raise capital.

Chase saw Zipcar as a business first and a social enterprise second. While Zipcar gives consumers an alternative to owning a car — an inherently environmentally-friendly and fairly stereotypical social entrepreneurship type of endeavor – that’s not why people buy into the Zipcar model.

“Consumers, or collaborators, will buy a service because it delivers to them what they need in their self-interest,” says Chase. In the case of Zipcar, consumers rent cars because it is more convenient and cheaper than having to maintain a car.

To make positive social change on any meaningful scale, Chase says social entrepreneurs need to first question whether there’s demand for what they are selling.

“In the venture capital community, they say: ‘Will the dog eat the dog food?’ And so you are a startup and you are producing dog food, and the question is, ‘Will the dog eat the dog food?’ If you think about any social thing you are doing, if you are doing it for purely social reasons, well, then the question is: ‘Is the dog interested?’”

Related: Successful Crowdfunding Is About More Than Money

For Social Entrepreneurs, What Comes First: Business or Mission?

Robin Chase, the founder of Zipcar and Buzzcar, says that business success has to come first for an entrepreneur to make any meaningful social change.

Social entrepreneurship spreading

In 2008, when the U.S. economy was buckling under the Great Recession, social entrepreneurship was hardly the movement it is today.

“We started because we didn’t even realize social innovation was a term,” said Jerri Chou, founder of The Feast, an annual conference that attracts entrepreneurs and business leaders committed to social change. Chou started the first Feast conference in 2008 with her co-founders on credit card debt and by inviting the people already in her address book. “There wasn’t a place for this,” Chou said.

During the two-day conference, attendees break into small teams to collaborate and come up with actionable plans to solve current social problems. This year, those social issues included the obesity epidemic in the U.S., U.S. veterans’ affairs and the rising popularity of technology-driven education. In previous years, some of the solutions have extended beyond the walls of the conference. For example, the “Fight Poverty Like a New Yorker” campaign run by the poverty alleviation group, The Robin Hood Foundation, was conceived at The Feast last year, says Chou.

Related: Indiegogo Co-Founder Says Become Obsessed With the Problem, Not the Solution

For Chou and the other organizers of The Feast, social innovation is a broad term, encompassing all business ventures that seek to make the world better in some way. For example, Chou considers businesses like accommodation-booking service AirBnB and vehicle-for-hire service Uber social entrepreneurial ventures. Rental companies included in the sharing economy enable individuals to create wealth for themselves, solve problems and simultaneously use excess capacity in the market, thereby preventing demand for the manufacture of new goods.

While the sharing economy and peer-to-peer platforms are not yet part of the common vernacular outside of the U.S., the concept of social innovation appears to be catching the eye of the international community. Starting in 2012, independently organized Feast dinners were held in countries around the world. The conversation around social innovation overseas in 2013 “almost reminds me of New York in 2008,” Chou says.

Not only is the adoption of social innovation spreading geographically, but it’s also gradually spreading into the titan towers of capitalism. “Larger companies are starting to see the benefit of thinking about not just profit, but about societal and environmental value as well,” says Chou.

Related: Inventor of the Wildly Popular ‘Rainbow Loom’ Weaves the American Dream With Rubber Bands in a Detroit Basement

Catherine Clifford is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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6 Ways to Take The Chill Out of Cold Calling

As an entrepreneur, you already understand the cold call is necessary and unavoidable. As long as you need something in business — more clients, a permit, a loan or a favor, you will have to get to the right person, get their attention and convince them to take action.

When I started my first business, no one knew me. I had some sales experience and almost no cold calling experience, but I did have a lot of guts and an idea I was 100 percent sold on. I made 500 to 750 cold calls a week and followed up in-person with people who had hung up on me just days before. The number of successes were few and far between. I thought — if I can cold call and not be negatively effected, I could do anything.

I still have to cold call in business today. Here are the six key ways to go about it successfully:

1. Confidence is key. Be sold on what you have to offer so much that it would be unethical not to tell the prospect about it. I’m serious. Think of your product or service as a solution to a problem. “I hope I’m not bothering you” should be changed to “I have something that will help you make (or save) more money and quickly impact your business.”

2. Open with your reason for calling. It’s about the customer. “John, this is Grant Cardone, and the reason I am calling you is….” Open with enthusiasm, excited about why you’re calling. This helps get their attention without meandering. Be clear and concise.

3. Make a monster-size claim early in the call. “The reason I am calling is to save you money, lower your rate, show you a way to increase sales.” If you aren’t able to make that big claim with conviction, go back and resell yourself.

4. Anticipate questions, complaints and objections. You must be able to predict every possible response from the person you are calling. Make a list of possible responses, questions, complaints and objections with answers that you can offer quickly.

5. Maintain a great attitude. If they’re rude or dismissive, stay positive no matter what. I get cold calls all the time. My receptionist gathers information about callers to determine how best to help them. She’s polite and professional. I wasn’t available and one caller got frustrated because they wanted to speak with me directly. They didn’t get their way and abruptly hung up. If the caller maintained a great attitude he’d probably have a better chance winning over the staff and getting his goal accomplished. Instead, he took a tone with my receptionist and never met his goal.

6. Be polite, professional, positive and persistent (the 4 p’s). I once had a guy cold call me every day to get a job. Each time he called, he was polite and professional to my receptionist and managers. He was committed and made it clear in a professional manner that he wouldn’t stop calling until he got a meeting with me. By the third week, anyone at my office who answered his call, knew who he was. We even talked about him in meetings and my staff was starting to vouch for him. He used these 4 p’s, got to me, got hired and is now my VP of Sales.

Cold calling is one of those things an entrepreneur must learn to master. The sooner you start to cold call as a way to promote your business, the better off you will be. Set your targets incredibly high, ten times higher than you would normally and then get dialing. The more calls you have to make, the quicker you’ll deal with rejection. And with all those calls to make, you have no time to dwell.
 

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Grant Cardone is an international sales expert, New York Times best-selling author, and radio show host of The Cardone Zone. He has founded three companies: Cardone Enterprises, Cardone Real Estate Holdings, and the Cardone Group. He has shared his sales and business expertise as a motivational speaker and author of five books: Sell to Survive; The Closers Survival Guide; If You’re Not First, You’re Last; The 10X Rule; and Sell or Be Sold.

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20 Tips for Producing Way Better Webinars

Image of Television Set

A smart, well-run webinar is one of the most powerful tools in the content marketer’s toolbox.

If you present an organized, content-rich webinar and you make a connection with each audience member, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an authority in your field.

But, if you present a webinar with faulty slides, cackling audio, or worse … you’ll likely lose the trust and respect of the audience that you’ve worked so hard to gain.

The reality though, as we all have experienced, is that even good webinars run by experienced hosts will occasionally run into errors or technical glitches.

Is there a way to stop these everyday glitches from turning into a total webinar catastrophe?

We’ve created this initial checklist for running higher quality, less stressful webinars. Use it when you’re executing your next online event (and add your own ideas to customize the list) …

The testing process

The most important part of your webinar is making sure all of your attendees and panelists can hear and see your content. If they can’t, you webinar will be a non-starter.

You’ve got to ensure a glitch-free experience for every attendee who comes to your event — and that means testing every element of the webinar process before you show up for the real deal.

  1. Set up a test webinar.
    If you’re inviting guest panelists to join you during the event, ask your guests to join you for the test run.
  2. Fully test your audio, video, and slides.
    Check everyone’s audio, and ask your panelists to use headsets to eliminate echoes and tinny-sounding presentations. Make sure your slides work smoothly. If you’ll be switching presenters, make sure your panelists can advance the slides or show their demonstrations.
  3. Test the recording process.
    Make sure recording works and creates a usable video file. Recruit a couple of friends to attend the webinar, and get them to do backup recordings for you.
  4. Run tests on all interactive components.
    This includes polls, surveys, questions, quizzes or challenges. Make sure the chat box is working so your attendees will be able to get in touch with your team to ask questions or report problems.

A few days before the webinar

  1. Recruit a wingman.
    Having a wingman takes a lot of stress out of webinar presentation. If possible, recruit a colleague, coworkers, or assistant to be your behind-the-scenes person on the webinar. This person’s job is to help attendees troubleshoot individual problems. This way, you’re not fielding “I can’t see this in my browser” questions while you’re trying to present.
  2. Create a back-up plan.
    If something goes wrong, what’s your procedure for fixing it? How will you shift gears to work around the issue?
  3. Have bios ready.
    Get short biographies from each of your panelists. Read them beforehand so that you’re ready to introduce them when the time comes during your live event.

Right before the webinar

  1. Prep your computer.
    Close bandwidth-hogging applications, backups, and other resource-intensive processes on your computer. If you’re running Dropbox, pause the syncing during your webinar.
  2. Stop notifications.
    Turn off all notifications from email, social networking tools, backups, etc. Anything that dings, flashes, flashes or beeps on your screen — shut it down.
  3. Power up.
    Make sure you’re plugged into a working power source.
  4. Prep your work area.
    Remove kids and pets from the area where you’ll be presenting. Also, organize papers and other materials to minimize shuffling and page turning while the event is live.
  5. Turn off noisy gadgets.
    Yes, this includes your phone. Turn it off for the webinar! If you have a lot of things to turn off, make sure to make a list for next time so you don’t forget anything.
  6. Be early.
    Sign on to the webinar at least 10-15 minutes early. This allows you to be relaxed and ready when the webinar starts, plus you can handle any last minute issues that may come up.

Running the webinar

  1. Start your broadcast on time.
    Nothing is worse that a webinar organizer who kicks off their event 10, 15, or even 20 minutes late (yes, I have seen it).
  2. Check sound levels.
    Ask your audience if they can hear and see you. Ask them to verify by sending a thumbs-up in the chat box.
  3. Be organized and in control.
    Announce any status updates, special instructions, or housekeeping items at the beginning.
  4. Provide relevant social sharing info.
    Remember to share the #hashtag and encourage social discussion. You might even consider putting the hashtag in the corner of every slide in your deck.
  5. Introduce all of your participants/panelists.
    Before the event officially begins, introduce the participants and panelists to the audience. This provides proper recognition and can help you avoid confusion once the event starts.
  6. Start the recording(s).
    Don’t forget to hit Record! You will want the recorded version for posting later. You can create additional content on your site with it, plus you ensure that those who could not make the live event can still see your webinar.
  7. Kick off your webinar.
    Have fun!

Running webinars without losing your mind

When you’re doing a webinar, something almost always goes wrong. Let your wingman deal with the issues, if possible, but don’t be afraid to pause your presentation temporarily if the situation demands it.

Your audience will not mind finding out that you’re human, too.

The difference between success and failure in the webinar world lies in your ability to recover from problems. Stay flexible, keep your sense of humor, and have a good back-up plan.

And remember — you can edit almost anything out in the recording after the fact!

Want to learn even more about running a flawless (or close to flawless) webinar?

Chris Garrett and I recently taught a seminar for Authority members called “Creating High-Value Webinars”. And (not surprisingly), we had some minor technical problems, too. But it’s a valuable session, and definitely worth watching.

You can access “Creating High-Value Webinars,” as well as a bunch of other webinar-related content, by signing up for Authority, Copyblogger’s content marketing training and networking community, designed to accelerate your skills and success.

Sign up for Authority today, and get access to an entire library of world-class content marketing advice … for less than a dollar a day.

About the Author: Beth Hayden is a Senior Staff Writer for Copyblogger Media. Get more from Beth on Twitter and Pinterest.

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11 Common Blogging Mistakes That Are Wasting Your Audience’s Time

Image of time being wasted in a trash can

Quick question: Do you know anyone who doesn’t suffer from information overload?

We live in a world full of cheap information. At the push of a button we can get our eyes on far more ideas, blog posts, and news stories than we could ever possibly consume.

It’s hard to remember — or imagine, if you’re a lot younger than me — when information was a scarce resource. But time is a scarce resource. It always will be. And with information everywhere, it is imperative that you treat your readers’ time with respect when they give it to you.

Especially if you want to build trust with your audience so they give you more of their time in the future.

Nowadays, words can seem cheap. It doesn’t really cost anything to publish more blog posts, send more emails, share our life with even more social media updates.

But the idea that pixels don’t cost much is flawed.

Occupying more pixels means taking up more time from potential readers. If you’re not adding value with those pixels, you could be wasting the time of your readers.

And time is an irreplaceable resource. Time is precious. We all know it.

So avoid the 11 common blogging mistakes below at all costs. They waste the time of your readers by contributing to information overload without offering value in return …

Blogging Mistake #1: You love complexity

It’s often thought that complexity is a sign of academic achievement, intelligence, or sophistication.

But the opposite is actually true.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
~ Leonardo da Vinci

A sophisticated blogger uses metaphors to illustrate abstract ideas. She tells simple stories to explain complex concepts. She appreciates the time of her readers.

Next time you write, see how you can simplify your message. There’s no need to dumb down your ideas. Just help your readers process your post and be inspired by you in less reading time.

Blogging Mistake #2: You’re self-indulgent

Let’s not pussyfoot around it.

The harsh truth is this: Your readers aren’t interested in you, your life, or your stories.

As a blogger and content marketer it’s your job to help your readers, to guide them, and inspire them. Talking about your experiences is fine — it can add color and personality to your posts — but only if it helps your readers become healthier, happier, or more productive.

When you want to write a story about your life, ask yourself this: What’s in it for my readers? How can my experience help them?

Blogging Mistake #3: You think you need to publish daily

Are you clogging up people’s inboxes with your announcement of yet another post? Or are your readers excited to see another email of yours arrive?

When you publish blog posts without adding any value to conversations, you end up wasting space. You waste precious pixels.

Don’t waste people’s time with an endless stream of blog posts. Only write when you have something to say. Your audience would rather read one post that inspires them than 20 crappy posts with recycled content.

Blogging Mistake #4: You write purely for SEO

Writing exclusively for Google will bore the boots off your readers. If you’re only writing for robots, then you might be wasting human time. Your readers aren’t interested in regurgitated keywords that exist for crawling robots.

Don’t allow Google to turn you into a keyword-processing machine. Don’t allow Google to kill your creativity.

Always write for your audience first, then optimize for search engines later.

Blogging Mistake #5: You focus on word count

Does this sound familiar …

You’re staring at your computer monitor. At the bottom left hand corner you see you’ve written 537 words. You wonder what else you can write.

The idea that more content is always better has been heavily promoted by some, but this is wrong. The task of a writer is not to write more “text”. The task of a writer is to communicate a message in the length it takes to fully communicate that message.

Got your message across in 537 words? Well done. Now, try to do it in less than 400.

Blogging Mistake #6: You don’t write in plain English

Jargon, gobbledygook, and bombast slow your readers down.

Jargon requires your readers to stop and think about the meaning of your words. Gobbledygook takes up their time without adding meaning. Bombastic sentences slow them down because they’re full of unnecessary words.

When you cut excess words from your sentences, you’re doing your readers a favor. When you replace long words with simpler words, you’re delighting your readers.

Make your posts as easy to read as possible. Write as if you’re writing for a 12-year old. Show your readers you value their time by writing in plain English.

Blogging Mistake #7: Your conclusions are stale

It’s an easy mistake to make.

You’ve poured all your energy into writing your post. Now you’ve gotten to the end, and you wiz through writing your conclusion so all is done.

But serving up an uninspiring conclusion is like presenting the cheapest supermarket ice-cream after a lavish home-cooked meal. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Don’t disappoint your readers with a bland conclusion. Try writing your conclusion first. Or write it the day after you’ve written your post.

Put all of your enthusiasm into a conclusion that inspires, motivates, and energizes your readers.

Blogging Mistake #8: You don’t know who you’re writing for

The idea that you’re writing for hundreds (or thousands) of readers may sound great, but it can kill your writing voice … fast.

When you don’t know who your audience is, your blog posts become generic. They end up speaking to no one and just taking up space.

Instead of addressing a crowd, write as if you’re having a conversation with your favorite reader. If you’re not sure who that is, make up an imaginary friend:

  • Write down what she’s dreaming of and what keeps her up at night
  • Consider what you can do to help her realize her dreams and take away her worries
  • Write down at least 20 ideas for how you can help in your blog posts

Having lots of people read your posts is great (of course!). But when you write your next blog post, just think of one person. Your post will instantly become more personal, more conversational, and more engaging.

Blogging Mistake #9: You don’t care about your topic (anymore)

If you don’t care, why would your readers care?

Boring text slaughters people’s appetites for reading. A good blog post is written with passion. When your enthusiasm shines through, you invigorate your readers.

But how can you get excited when you’ve grown bored with your topic?

  • Talk to clients and understand how you can make their lives better
  • Find a good salesman and ask how he or she would sell your ideas
  • Look for an expert and learn about fascinating details
  • Explore other topics and see how they can be related to yours
  • Challenge yourself to write your most inspirational post ever
  • Take up a writing challenge—come up with a new metaphor, write an ultra-short post, or write a poetic post

Write when you feel enthusiastic. Get blissfully happy and share your excitement. Get angry and passionately argue your case.

You can’t make a dull draft exciting, but you can improve the structure and polish a text dripping with your enthusiasm.

Blogging Mistake #10: You edit your posts in less than five minutes

Are you a super-writer who writes almost impeccable posts in one go?

Most of us can’t even edit in one go. Consider at least four rounds of editing:

  • Review the flow of the post. Can you remove any paragraphs without impacting your story or argument? Does each paragraph naturally follow the paragraph before it?
  • Take out the funny asides that aren’t funny or aren’t relevant.
  • Polish each sentence. Cut overly long sentences in two; replace difficult words with simple ones; and cross out redundant words.
  • Correct any grammar or spelling mistakes

The more effort you put into editing, the easier your post becomes to read. Your message becomes clearer, and your readers will be grateful.

Blogging Mistake #11: You don’t show your personality

Let’s be honest.

Hundreds — maybe thousands — of bloggers write about exactly the same topic as you. What makes you different? What makes you stand out?

When you share useful tips without letting your personality shine through, you become interchangeable with any other blogger in your niche. You become a “me-too” blog, a commodity.

How can you let your personality shine through and increase the value of your blog posts?

  • View topics from a fresh perspective
  • Present arguments to suggest an opposite approach to what most people believe is right
  • Share your personal experiences to guide your readers
  • Entertain with your unique sense of humor
  • Develop your own blogging voice that speaks strongly to your tribe
  • Share a glimpse of who you are to bond with your audience

Your personality, your experiences, and your voice make your posts unique. Your readers don’t just come back for more useful tips. They engage with you because of who you are.

The harsh truth about blogging …

Your readers don’t need another blog post.

Your readers don’t need even more tips.

What your readers need is you — your wisdom, your ideas, your unique stories on your chosen area of expertise.

Never take your readers’ attention for granted. Their time is precious. Use it wisely.

About the Author: Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and marketer on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook. Sign up at Enchanting Marketing to receive a free copy of 21 Simple Tips to Turbocharge Your Web Copy.

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Intel’s Futurist: We’ll Soon Be Living In Computers

Brian David Johnson, says that computational power will increasingly become part of the infrastructure of cities, making them smarter and more efficient.

With technology changing at a rapid pace, the thought of tomorrow and all the tomorrows after it can be hard to process. Scary, even. For Brian David Johnson, the resident “futurist” at Intel, however, the prospect of what tomorrow will bring is thrilling.

“What I tell people is No. 1: they shouldn’t be worried about the future,” Johnson said at The Feast social innovation conference in New York City. “The future is going to be awesome because people build the future. Technology doesn’t get to decide. People get to decide.”

Projecting the future, or future-casting, is the work of combining social science, research, technical data, economic trends and, yes, even science fiction, to model the a prediction of the future. In his position at Intel, Johnson looks specifically at how humans will interact with technology 10 to 15 years out.

Related: In Nanotech’s Small World, Big Opportunities Abound (Video)

To hear Johnson tell it, he has always been a futurist, even before landing his gig at Intel 10 years ago. Johnson, whose father was a radar tracking engineer and mother was an IT specialist, was teaching computer courses at a community college in Manassas, Va., by the time he was 10. He worked on interactive television in Scandinavia and the U.K. before the Internet existed, developing technology to give viewers the option to vote and buy things on their television monitors. Johnson has also directed movies, written books and is an acrylic painter. It is his combination of technical expertise and affection for storytelling that make Johnson uniquely qualified to be a futurist.

Intel

Jimmy the robot being designed and built.

Image courtesy: Intel

In Johnson’s vision of the future, humans will be in control, but living in a world drastically changed by new technology. The biggest driver in tech will be the ever-shrinking size of the computer chip, which he predicts will effectively approach zero by 2020. Five years ago, the average computer chip was approximately 22 nanometers across. Now, it is 14 nanometers across on average. By 2020, the computer chip will be 5 nanometers across, projects Johnson. A chip that is 5 nanometers wide is 12 atoms across.

Johnson says smaller computer chips means almost anything can be turned into a computer. “We will be surrounded by computational power. So for average people, for average users and consumers, you will be living in a world where you are essentially living in a computer, where you are surrounded by intelligence.”

Related: Your Next Cocktail Could Be Concocted By This Robotic Bartender

On the micro side, computers will be inserted in all manner of health-care related devices, says Johnson, dreaming up a Band-Aid that has a computer chip built in. “We can actually monitor our health on an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis,” he says. For instance, if a child has the flu, then a stickable computer embedded into a Band-Aid will allow a parent to monitor a child’s temperature, blood pressure and heart rate.

From a macro perspective, Johnson says that the computational powers available a decade from now will allow us to build more sophisticated, nuanced and larger cities – what Johnson calls megacities. “We can actually put computation in the infrastructure of the city so that we can make the city not only greener but more efficient,” he says, referencing innovations that could prevent the waste of electricity and water from cracks in building architecture. “Our cities could become computers and when our cities become computers we can tune them,” he says.

As Band-Aids and cities become computers, so too will some of our companions, says Johnson. His favorite technical gadget, in a manner of speaking, is Jimmy, his walking and talking robot. Jimmy is a 3D-printed robot, “born” about a month ago, with open-source code, available for updates, personalization and iteration. There are two other “Jimmys” in various stages of production currently: One in Portland, Ore., and two in Boston. A prototype for a 21st century robot, Jimmy represents a first step toward social robots.

Related: How Google, Apple, Facebook and Others Use Your Personal Data (Infographic) 

Catherine Clifford is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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10 Qualities Every Leader of The Future Needs to Have

10 Qualities Every Leader of The Future Needs to Have

The reigning theory in business has long been that “alpha” leaders make the best entrepreneurs. These are aggressive, results-driven achievers who assert control and insist on a hierarchical organizational model. Yet I am seeing increasing success from “beta” startup cultures where the emphasis is on collaboration, curation and communication.

Some argue that this new horizontal culture is being driven by Gen-Y, whose focus has always been more communitarian. Other business culture experts, like Dr. Dana Ardi, in her new book The Fall of the Alphas, argue that the rise of the betas is really part of a broader culture change driven by the Internet — emphasizing communities, instant communication and collaboration.

Can you imagine the overwhelming growth of Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter in a culture dominated by alphas? This would never happen. I agree with Ardi who says most successful workplaces of the future need to adopt the following beta characteristics and better align themselves with the beta leadership model:

1. Do away with archaic command-and-control models. Winning startups today are horizontal, not hierarchical. Everyone who works at an organization feels they’re part of something, and moreover, that it’s the next big thing. They want to be on the cutting-edge of technology.

2. Practice ego management. Be aware of your own biases and focus on the present as on the future. You need to manage the egos of team members by rewarding collaborative behavior. There will always be the need for decisive leadership, particularly in times of crisis. I’m not suggesting total democracy.

Related: How to Eliminate Habits Holding You Back From Success

3. Stress innovation. Betas believe that team members need to be given an opportunity to make a difference — to give input into key decisions and communicate their findings and learnings to one another. Encourage team-members to play to their own strengths so that the entire team and organization leads the competition.

4. Put a premium on collaboration and teamwork. Instead of knives-out competition, these companies thrive by building a successful community with shared values. Team members are empowered and encouraged to express themselves. The best teams are hired with collaboration in mind. The whole is thus more than the sum of its parts.

5. Create a shared culture. Leadership is fluid and flexible. Integrity and character matter a lot. Everyone knows about the culture. Everyone subscribes to the culture. Everyone recognizes both its passion and its nuance. The result looks more like a symphony orchestra than an advancing army.

6. Be ready for roles and responsibilities to change weekly, daily and even hourly. One of the big mistakes entrepreneurs make is they don’t act quickly enough. Markets and needs change fast. Now there is a focus on social, global and environmental responsibility. Hierarchies make it hard to adjust positions or redefine roles. The beta culture gets it done.

Related: 3 Life-Changing Habits of High Performers

7. Temper confidence with compassion. Mindfulness, of self and others, by boards, executives and employees, may very well be the single most important trait of a successful company. If someone is not a good cultural fit or is not getting their job done, make the change quickly, but with sensitivity.

8. Invite employees to contribute. The closer everyone in the organization comes to achieving his or her singular potential, the more successful the business will be. Successful cultures encourage their employees to keep refreshing their toolkits, keep flexible, keep their stakes in the stream.

9. Stay diverse. Entrepreneurs build teams. They don’t fill positions. Cherry-picking candidates from name-brand universities will do nothing to further an organization and may even work against it. Don’t wait for the perfect person — he or she may not exist. Hire for track record and potential.

10. Not everyone needs to be a superstar. Superstars don’t pass the ball, they just shoot it. Not everyone wants to move up in an organization. It’s perfectly fine to move across. Become your employees’ sponsor — on-boarding with training and tools is essential. Spend time listening. Give them what they need to succeed.

Savvy entrepreneurs and managers around the world are finding it more effective to lead through influence and collaboration, rather than relying on fear, authority and competition. This is rapidly becoming the new paradigm for success in today’s challenging market. Where does your startup fit in with this new model?

Related: 5 Ways to Coach Your Employees to The Top of Their Game

Martin Zwilling is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. Contact him at marty@startupprofessionals.com.

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Darren Rowse Joins Seth Godin as a Keynote Speaker for Authority Intensive

Image of Authority Intensive Darren Rowse Poster

I call him the nicest guy on the Internet, and he thinks I’m teasing him. I’m not.

Darren Rowse is someone I’m proud to call a friend, but he’s way more than that. He was an early inspiration to me — and countless thousands of others — to get into this whole blogging thing in the first place.

He even helped inspire the brand Copyblogger, which was initially intended to complement and augment the term he coined for those who took commercial online content creation seriously — Probloggers. I simply added “selling stuff thanks to content” (now known as content marketing) to the conversation.

Darren has given so much back to our industry with Problogger. But I remain flat-out impressed with his true business platform – the hugely influential Digital Photography School education hub and community.

So, it’s both his demonstrated online business success and his tireless industry contributions that have me thrilled to announce that Darren Rowse will be keynoting at Authority Intensive. Yes, he’s making the trip all the way from his native Australia to join us in Denver, May 7-9, 2014.

He and the previously announced keynote speaker Seth Godin will help motivate and educate you on the way to taking your business to the next level with content-driven online marketing. And wait until you see the rest of the line up.

What to do next:

We’re offering 400 tickets for Authority Intensive starting very soon, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Members of Authority, our vibrant online community of content marketers, will get first shot at tickets for the live event, our absolute lowest pricing, and of course a full year of marketing education and networking.

Here’s the link to get started.

About the author

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on .

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Is Content Marketing a Hamster Wheel You Can’t Escape?

Image of Hamster

Brace yourself. It kind of is.

Here’s the thing: the more information you share, the more frequently you post, the fresher you keep your website — the better writer/podcaster/researcher/thinker you’ll be, and the greater the chance your ideas will spread.

That doesn’t mean you should post every day. Quality is just as important as quantity. Find a frequency that works for your business and your audience.

But there’s no way around it: successful content marketing involves creating a lot of content, and keeping it up over a period of weeks, months, and years.

But really, what are your alternatives? Spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) on advertising that doesn’t work?

Don’t throw in the towel at the thought of creating all that content!

Today I’m going to show you a technique that — in exchange for some bursts of intense hard work — will bring you long breaks from the content creation hamster wheel.

Binging is bad. Almost always.

Binge eating? Bad. Binge drinking? Terrible. Binge exercising? Not advisable.

But binge writing? Good. Very, very good.

Today’s post will outline how to plan, implement, and use the results from several binge writing sessions.

(And be sure you scroll down to the SlideShare presentation at the end of this post for a visual representation of this technique.)

Pick four days and four times. Schedule blocks of time when your creative energy is at its peak.

That might mean four mornings in a row. If you’re a night owl, you could do this over four late nights.

Schedule it into your calendar, and start getting excited. You’re about to be very, very productive.

Before you begin, plan your outcome

Look ahead at your marketing goals and plan content that will help you achieve them.

What should you tackle first?

Ask yourself what content is most urgent. Is it your next month’s worth of blog posts? A group of landing pages? A sequence of autoresponder emails? A series of weekly newsletters?

Find a group of projects that need to be written, and that would benefit from being written at the same time because they’ll sound more cohesive.

Day 1: Ready, set, outline

Get your environment ready so you have no excuse to stop once you’ve started.

  • Grab provisions — something to drink, and a light snack if you think you’ll need it.
  • Turn off all interruptions, including your phone. Close down any programs that generate alerts.
  • Use reinforcements. If you have a hard time resisting the pull of social media sites while you’re working, use software like the SelfControl App (for Mac) or Anti-Social (Mac and Windows) to block them during your writing binges.
  • Gather any references you plan to use such as books or websites you need open and ready for viewing.
  • Move a little. Get your blood and creativity flowing with a short walk, bike ride, dance break, or weight lifting session.

Then, plant yourself at your keyboard. It’s time to get serious.

To binge write successfully, you’ve got to use a system that will allow you to get your thoughts into tangible form as quickly as possible.

I love mindmaps for this. There’s something about writing little bits and pieces of ideas, and having the ability to move them around and connect them different ways that just works for me.

There are plenty of software programs that will allow you to create mindmaps, or you can draw them out on paper if you prefer.

If mindmaps don’t work for you, try index cards. Write the main idea on the front, and elaborate on the back. Re-organize them until your writing makes sense.

The other tool to try is sticky notes. Some people swear by the minimal space allowed on a sticky note: you have just enough room to state an idea and no more. This limitation will keep perfectionist tendencies at bay, and that’s important.

Create an outline for each of the pieces of writing you plan to tackle. Once you’ve got your outlines ready, you’re done for the day.

Day 2: Write

After the work you did yesterday, your writing shouldn’t be that difficult.

Take your outlines and fill in the missing pieces. Make sure they flow from one paragraph to another. Add subheads where needed.

If you’re writing marketing pieces, make sure each ends with a clear call to action.

And, of course, write headlines that will create curiosity and an irresistible desire to read more.

Do not edit, do not polish, just write. Write more. And don’t stop writing until all your pieces are done.

Day 3: Edit your pieces

One role of editing is make sure your writing style is consistent throughout your work. That’s why editing several pieces in a row actually makes your job easier.

Do you consistently use one sentence paragraphs? Be sure to include at least one in each of the pieces you edit.

Are you a fan of the Harvard comma? Make all your commas consistent.

Take this time to go through your writing carefully. Clarify, polish, and delete extraneous words and sentences.

Most importantly, check to be sure that your writing voice sounds the same across all the pieces you’ve written.

Day 4: Set up your writing on your pages

Have you written a sales page? Get it set up and work on formatting and adding images.

Wrote a month’s worth of posts? Format them, find images, and schedule them for publication. Use the WordPress Editorial Calendar Plugin to set up publishing dates for your content.

Wrote an entire autoresponder series? Open up your email marketing account, set those messages up, and schedule them to start dripping out to your email list.

Whatever you created, now is the time to put it in its final form. Set it up, polish it to perfection, and schedule it to go out to the world.

Now, use your free time wisely

Congratulations: you’ve now freed up time in your schedule where you won’t have to write. You can get off your hamster wheel and take a break.

If you’re really smart, you’ll use the time to support the binge writing you just did. You could:

  • Email influential bloggers and ask them to link to your posts.
  • Create a social media advertising campaign that drives prospects to your autoresponder series.
  • Develop an affiliate campaign that sends people to your sales page.
  • Create complementary materials and link them to your post, like the SlideShare presentation below, or a YouTube video with additional tutorials.

Let’s hear it … are you going to try this technique? Is this something you already do? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

And here’s a little SlideShare I’ve put together for you … enjoy!

About the Author: Find Pamela Wilson at Big Brand System, Twitter, and, lately, on SlideShare.

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Tesla Nabs Apple Hardware Exec to Lead Vehicle Development

Just a week after eBay lured Apple e-commerce executive RJ Pittman to join its ranks, Apple has lost another member of its executive team.

Tesla Motors announced Thursday that it has hired Doug Field, who led Mac hardware development at Apple, to lead the company’s development of new vehicles.

In his five years at Apple, Field led development of many new products including the latest MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iMac. He launched his career as an engineer at Ford and was also chief technology officer at Segway.

Field said his background in the automotive industry and his “dream of creating the best cars in the world” led him away from the consumer-electronics giant. “Until Tesla came along, I had never seriously considered leaving Apple,” he said in a statement.

The electric car company is at the forefront of technology. Tesla’s latest car, the Model S, received the highest safety rating of any car ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Related: Elon Musk’s Tesla Continues Awards Tear for Model S Electric Car

 

Is a freelance writer in New York. She’s written about personal finance and small business for such publications as The Wall Street Journal, MainStreet.com, Walletpop.com, People magazine. She also works as a freelance producer covering money at ABCNews.com. Little attended Howard University where she studied journalism. She loves drinking wine and tweeting, preferably at the same time. Follow Little on Twitter @Lyneka.

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4 Ways to Prevent Gift-Card Theft

4 Ways to Prevent Gift-Card Theft

A gift card from their favorite store ranks as many consumers favorite gift. But for merchants, gift cards can be the vehicle for expensive theft and fraud against its customers and the store. The National Retail Foundation discovered in a recent survey that 78 percent of retailers have been victims of gift-card fraud. Interestingly enough, most gift-card fraud against brick and mortar merchants is either the handiwork of professional thieves or store employees looking to make some extra cash, not the casual shoplifter. Every day thieves are figuring new ways to use gift cards to steal and merchants must stay on their toes to prevent fraud.

Here are four steps merchants can take in prevention:

1. Keep an Eye on Gift-Card Racks. Tampering with cards by stealing the numbers or scratching off the protective strip is a common form of gift-card theft. “Keep your gift cards in a location where clerks can watch customers to make sure that no one is tampering with the cards,” says Brian Riley, senior research director at CEB TowerGroup’s Retail Banking practice. “Make sure that all cards have a scratch off strip hiding the number from theft.” Since thieves often steal gift-card numbers that have not yet been sold, monitor your website as well for excessive queries on cards that have not been activated yet. He also recommends video monitoring of gift card racks to catch angles the clerk can’t see.

2. Raise a Red Flag for Zero Balance Complaints. If multiple customers complain that they have received gift cards with a zero balance, it’s possible you’ve got employees replacing customer gift cards with gift cards that have zero balances at the register, since this is often an inside job. Terry Maher, general counsel for the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association, says that in this common theft, an employee rings up the purchase of a gift card on one register and then uses the gift card to purchase a second gift card on a separate register. “The employee then voids the purchase of the first gift card after the second card has been activated,” says Maher.

He recommends setting up your gift card process so that the card is only activated once the sale is logged and the money is in the register. If you use a point of sale system, flag all gift card voids for daily management review to make sure there aren’t fraudulent transactions. He suggests using video surveillance in the cash register area to monitor employees as well as keeping all used gift cards in a secure area so they are not used for fraud.

3. No Identification, No Return. Thieves, often called “boosters,” will sometimes return stolen merchandise in exchange for gift cards and then have the gift cards fenced. Have a clear policy for returns, such as requiring identification and only accepting returns during a specific time period. Christopher McGourty, founder of the National Anti-Organized Retail Crime Association, recommends entering all return information into a database to track customers who are returning a high volume, returning to different store locations or returning multiples of identical items.

4. Compare Number of Gift Cards Activated with the Number Sold. Each week use the report provided by your gift card provider to compare the number of cards that were activated with the number that your point of sale or register shows as sold. If you notice a large discrepancy, then your employees may be turning off the register after a gift card is activated. “When this is done at the right time, the card is activated but there is no evidence that the card has been sold,” Maher says.
 

Jennifer Goforth Gregory has over 18 years professional writing experience and specializes in writing about small businesses. Her work has been published MSN Money, FOX Business and the Intuit Small Business Blog and American Express OPEN Forum.

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Why Google’s New Hummingbird Algorithm is Good News for Serious Content Creators

Image of a Hummingbird

On October 3rd, 2013 Google announced a major search algorithm release called Hummingbird.

Uh-oh.

Does this mean your content-driven business is in jeopardy? Is keyword research dead? Are you going to have to reengineer your entire content strategy?

There’s no question that the Hummingbird algorithm is only the beginning of change in search optimization, but smart content creators can be prepared to thrive in this — and any — environment that may come in the future.

This release is basically a platform that enables Google to better handle “conversational” search queries.

To illustrate this, consider the difference between these two queries:

  1. “golden gate pictures”
  2. “give me some pictures of the golden gate bridge”

The first query is formed the way people have learned to enter entries using a keyboard. This has been our primary input method since web search was born.

Keyboards are not natural human devices, and even for fast typists they are a bit of an awkward device to use, so learning to abbreviate queries to talk to a search engine is a generally accepted practice.

However, the rise of mobile device usage brings some new challenges.

The mobile keyboard cometh

While many continue to type with the keyboards on phones and tablets, they are a bit more awkward to use.

Over time, people are going to increasingly gravitate to voice search in environments where that is acceptable (e.g. environments where speaking to your device is not seen as intrusive).

Voice queries are far more likely to fall into the pattern of the second query above — natural language queries.

As in all things search, Google wants to dominate mobile search too.

Google wants to process “real” speech patterns

Having the best platform for processing conversational queries is an important part of that, and that’s where Hummingbird fits in, though it’s just the beginning of a long process.

Think of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm as a two-year-old child. So far it’s learned a few very basic concepts.

These concepts represent building blocks, and it is now possible to teach it even more concepts going forward. It appears that a lot of this learning is derived from the rich array of information that Google has on all search queries done on the web, including the query sequences.

For example, consider the following query sequence, starting with the user asking “give me some pictures of the transamerica building”:

The user looks at these results, and then decides to ask the next question, “how tall is it”:

Note that the latter query recognizes the word “it” as referring to the Transamerica Building because that was identified in the prior query. This is part of the sophistication of natural language queries.

Another example is the notion of comparison queries. Consider the query “pomegranate vs cranberry juice”:

The Knowledge Graph

These examples involve Google’s Knowledge Graph, where natural language search benefits from the ability to pull real-time answers to queries that understand the specific context of the query.

Note that the Knowledge Graph has accepted some forms of conversational queries for a while, but a big part of Hummingbird was about expanding this capability to the rest of Google search.

I have seen people argue about whether or not Hummingbird was just a front end translator for search queries, or whether it is really about understanding more complex types of user intent.

The practical examples we have now may behave more like the former, but make no mistake that Google wants to be able to do the latter as well.

The mind reading algorithm

Google wants to understand what is on your mind, well, before its on your mind.

Consider Google Now as ultimately being part of this mix. Imagine being able to have Google address search queries like these:

  1. Where do I find someone that can install my surround sound system?
  2. What year did the Sox lose that one game playoff?
  3. What are the predictions for the price of gas next summer?
  4. What time is my dinner on Tuesday night, where is it, and how do I get there?

No, these queries will not work right now, but it gives you some idea of where this is all headed.

These all require quite a bit of semantic analysis, as well as pulling in additional information including your personal context.

The 4th question I added was to show that Google is not likely to care if the search is happening across web sites, in your address book, or both. Not all of this is Hummingbird, per se, but it is all part of the larger landscape.

To give you an idea on how long this has taken to build, Google’s Amit Singhal first filed a patent called Search queries improved based on query semantic information in March of 2003. In short, development of this technology has taken a very long time, and is a very big deal.

The implications of a Hummingbird search world

It is important to remember that this step forward being described by Google as a new platform.

Like the Caffeine release Google did in June of 2010, the real import of this is yet to come. Google will be able to implement many more capabilities in the future. The implications to search in the long term are potentially huge.

For you as a publisher, the implications are more straightforward. Here are a few things to think about:

1. Will keywords go away?

Not entirely. The language you use is a key part of a semantic analysis of your content.

Hopefully, you abandoned the idea of using the same phrases over and over again in your content a long time ago. It will remain wise to have a straightforward definition of what the page is about in the page title.

I’ll elaborate a bit more on this in point 3 below.

2. Will Google make the long tail of search go away?

Not really. Some of the aspects that trigger long tail type search results may actually be inferred by Google rather than contained in the query. Or they may be in the user’s query itself. Some long tail user queries may also get distilled down to a simpler head term.

There will definitely be shifts here, but the exact path this will take is hard to project. In the long term though, the long tail will be defined by long tail human desires and needs, not keyword strings.

The language you use still matters, because it helps you communicate to users and Google what needs and desires you answer.

3. You need to understand your prospect’s possible intents

That is what Google is trying to do. They are trying to understand the human need, and provide that person with what they need.

Over time, users will be retrained to avoid short simple keyword-ese type queries and just say what they want. Note that this evolution is not likely to be rapid, as Google still has a long way to go still!

As a publisher, you should focus more attention on building pages for each of the different basic needs and intentions of the potential customers for your products and services. Start mapping those needs and use cases and design your site’s architecture, content, and use of language to address those.

In other words, know your audience. Doing this really well takes work, but it starts with knowing your potential customers or clients and why they might buy what you have to sell, and identifying the information they need first.

4. Semantic relevance is the new king

We used to speak about content being king, and that in some sense is still true, but it is becoming more complex than that now.

You now need to think about content that truly addresses specific wants and needs. Does your content communicate relevance to a specific want or need?

In addition, you can’t overlook the need to communicate your overall authority in a specific topic area. Do you answer the need better than anyone else?

While much of being seen as an authority involves other signals such as links, and perhaps some weight related to social shares and interaction, it also involves creating in-depth content that does more than scratch the surface of a need.

Are you more in-depth than anyone else? If someone has some very specific scenarios for using your product or service, does your content communicate that you address it? Does your content really stand out in some way?

What’s it to you?

As noted above, this is going to be a journey for all of us.

While Google’s eventual destination is easy to imagine (think Star Trek’s on board computer), Hummingbird has only scratched the surface, and the steps along the way are hard to predict. That will be driven by very specific developments in technology.

For you, as an author, blogger, publisher though, your path is reasonably clear as well. Focus on becoming the recognized authority in your space.

Thanks to Bill Slawski of Go Fish Digital for input on some of the specifics of this article (note that all the speculations are mine, not Bill’s :) ).

About the Author: Eric Enge is President of Stone Temple Consulting, a digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) firm. He is also a speaker at industry conferences about SEO and Social Media. Get more from Eric on his blog, Twitter, or Google+.

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The Power of Mystery

Image of Fog Cloaked Alley

Andy Warhol, Robert Greene, Marcel Duchamp, and JJ Abrams walk into a darkened bar somewhere in eastern Europe.

Andy clings to a Campbell’s soup can. Robert Greene flips through an orange book. A urinal sits in Marcel’s lap. And JJ Abrams — beaming — hugs a light brown box.

The bartender approaches Robert Greene and says, “So, what are you reading?”

Andy slams his little fist on the table and says, “You mean to tell me that in a room with a man wearing a shock of white hair and holding a can of tomato soup, all you notice is a book? A stupid little orange book?”

The bartender eyes Andy for a moment, shrugs, and turns back to Robert, “What are you reading?”

“For God’s sake, man, I’m holding a urinal. Who cares what he’s reading,” Marcel says.

The bartender looks down on Marcel, raises an eyebrow, then turns his attention back to Robert.

“Look!” JJ Abram says, “It’s a big box with a question mark on it! Aren’t you dying to know what’s inside my box? The one that rattles when I shake it? My mystery box? The one I bought thirty years ago and never opened? Don’t you want to know what’s inside? I do!”

“I’m not into boxes,” the bartender says, “So, what are you reading?”

Robert Greene looks up, smiles, and says, “Oh, were you talking to me? This book? Oh, well, it’s about … ”

At that moment, an airplane crashes into the bar, killing everyone inside.

What’s in your book?

Does the scene above remind you of anything?

Maybe a scene from one of JJ Abram’s films, perhaps? It’s a make-believe story, no doubt. Told to demonstrate a simple truth: all the men above believed in the power of mystery.

Andy Warhol once said,

I learned that you actually have more power when you shut up.

Marcel Duchamp believed the less you say, the more profound and mysterious you appear. He refused to explain his works of art — like a urinal he titled “Fountain” — and his fame grew.

JJ Abram said,

Mystery is more important than knowledge.

And Robert Greene, reading out of the orange book, said,

Humans are machines of interpretation and explanation; they have to know what you are thinking. When you carefully control what you reveal, they cannot pierce your intentions or your meaning.

But what do these folks have to do with social media? Scarcity? And why should you care?

Let me explain …

How to be mysterious

Social media is a tool that gives you the ability to say whatever you want, when you want. It gives you the ability to be authentic — one of the key factors behind getting people to know, like, and trust you.

But that freedom — if not checked — has its costs:

  • The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.
  • By babbling on you may appear silly, less intelligent. An air bag. (By contrast, powerful people impress by saying less. Think Seth Godin.)
  • Risk of over-familiarity. This is why strangers have an aura of power, while we take our spouses for granted.

See, in an era of bloggers, social media, and smartphones, it takes a little effort to control that endless spilling of personal details that render a person stale. But this is not an invitation to lie or deceive. This is actually an invitation to elevate your scarcity. How?

  • Hold something back. This is not unlike the tease. Or the internal cliffhanger.
  • Pull a disappearing act, like the unannounced social media sabbatical.
  • Each question you answer should lead to another question.
  • Hold some parts of your life close to the vest. Vow never to talk about that area.
  • Allude to things, but don’t fully explain.
  • Use misdirection. Suggest one thing while you are working on another.
  • And delete all your tweets. Like someone on our staff regularly does.

Naturally, there are risks to this approach. It raises the stakes and you must deliver on any promise you make. Any suspense you create. You must deliver.

And you mustn’t be so mysterious that you are a turn off. With the information you provide your audience should still be able to guess and distill your essence — like knowing what’s in the orange book without knowing exactly what’s in the orange book.

If that makes sense?

And, if it doesn’t, don’t you want to know more?

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is a Senior Writer for Copyblogger Media. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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4 Innovators, 4 Ways to Get Inspired

Creativity is critical to entrepreneurship, whether you’re a veteran tycoon stuck in a rut, an aspiring entrepreneur pursuing your big idea, or a thriving small business owner seeking solutions to an operational challenge. Sure, lightning may strike — but the savvy businessperson knows that inspiration, like opportunity, is as reliant on discipline as it is on a muse. We spoke to innovators in industries ranging from space exploration to skateboarding invited to PopTech’s “Sparks of Brilliance” conference in Camden, Maine to learn how these creative successes find their inspiration. The event began Thursday and runs through Saturday of this week. A livestream of the event is available at poptech.org/live.

4 Innovators, 4 Ways to Get Inspired

Adam Steltzner’s method: Brainstorm first, analyze later
[Note: Steltzner will not be attending the conference due to complications from the recent government shutdown, but we feel you’d enjoy his tips regardless.]  Reasoned, clear thinking helped Adam Steltzner, chief engineer and development manager for the Mars Science Laboratory at NASA, land the rover Curiosity on Mars. But collaboration, selflessness, and trust were what he and his team relied on to find a way there. “My brain gets stuck easily, so I need to agitate my mind to change perspective and freshen up ideas,” he says. “Generating ideas contemporaneously with a group — it’s like playing music. When you play music, your action is making it, but the music is also making you. There’s a communal oneness with music that is similar to brainstorming with other people.”
Your strategy: Make brainstorming a two-step process. First, air every idea, with zero critical evaluation. Then analyze the ideas. This process, he says, brought about the creation of the sky crane, and ultimately landed Steltzner’s team — and us — on Mars.

4 Innovators, 4 Ways to Get Inspired

Shantell Martin’s method:
Focus on you

Shantell Martin’s whimsical line drawings grace objects as small as baby sneakers and as grand as billboards. She has balanced her work in the fine art world with commission-based pieces for both global corporations and individual families, but ultimately, she says, “the pen knows where it’s going. I just follow.” In order to make sure her pen is always moving in the right direction, Martin doesn’t home in on her art. She concentrates on herself. “My focus isn’t my career,” she says. “I work on trying to be healthier, happier, kinder, forgiving and more compassionate. I want to be balanced emotionally in all of these different ways and surround myself with good people. When I’m positive and healthy, the side effect is that I want to do what I love, and that’s drawing.”
Your strategy: If you find yourself in a creative rut, take a break from work. Make sure that you’re eating well, exercising and spend time with friends. Refreshing yourself will provide a fresh outlook on the problems you want to solve.

4 Innovators, 4 Ways to Get Inspired

Anab Jain’s method: Look to potential change
Superflux, Anab Jain’s London-based design studio, bridges the worlds of science and what seems like science fiction, exploring quantum computing, synthetic biology, and post-apocalyptic technology. She says her inspirations are society’s tangible needs. “We need to look at the world around us in order to shape the future,” she says. “What we hope to do is broaden our perspectives and show alternate visions of reality by exposing hidden potential and complexities in every day issues.”
Your strategy: Examine the accepted facts about your business and the clients you serve, and consider what is hard truth and what is fiction and therefore what can be changed. Once you break down the component parts of, say, a client request or a company problem, you will better equipped to visualize alternative solutions and generate new ideas.

4 Innovators, 4 Ways to Get Inspired

Rodney Mullen’s method: Get uncomfortable
Lauded as the most innovative skateboarder in history, Rodney Mullen says that while competition can inspire creativity and push you forward, it can also put you on a treadmill of trying to outperform your competitors in a linear way. “Winning” isn’t a catalyst for creativity, he notes. Instead, Mullen, who has founded several skateboarding companies, seeks inspiration in discombobulation. “For me, being in an uncomfortable place, whether by rotten circumstance or by choice, is incredibly inspiring because it forces me to do something new,” he says.
Your strategy: Take your work out of context. See how your product or service will work in a foreign situation or different industry. The new environment will catalyze new approaches and ideas.
 

Amy S. Choi is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work has appeared in BusinessWeek, Women’s Wear Daily and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. She is currently working on a book about her travels through the developing world

Richard Branson: I Cried When I Sold Virgin Records

Most entrepreneurs know launching a business requires blood, sweat and tears. Perhaps none more so than Richard Branson.

At the 40th celebration of Virgin Records, the 63-year-old who has helped shape the music, space and airline industries, recalled crying when he sold the record label more than 20 years ago for $1 billion.

“Of course, it was very hard – it’s like selling your children,” Branson said in an interview with Reuters. “I mean, you build something from scratch, we had just signed Janet Jackson, we had just signed the Rolling Stones when we sold it, and I remember running down Ladbroke Grove, tears streaming down my face with the check for a billion dollars.”

The record label was sold to Thorn EMI in 1992 and was the catalyst for many other business ventures. In the years since selling the label he founded, Branson, who is currently attempting to make commercial space travel a reality, would go on to launch some of the world’s most innovative companies.

“We wouldn’t be building spaceships today if it hadn’t been for that (sale) so it was the right decision,” Branson told Reuters.

Related: Richard Branson Shares Letter He Wrote to 12-Year-Old Fan About Keys to Success

Is a freelance writer in New York. She’s written about personal finance and small business for such publications as The Wall Street Journal, MainStreet.com, Walletpop.com, People magazine. She also works as a freelance producer covering money at ABCNews.com. Little attended Howard University where she studied journalism. She loves drinking wine and tweeting, preferably at the same time. Follow Little on Twitter @Lyneka.

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Synthesis Hosting Delivers a New Option for Improved European WordPress Performance

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The mission of our Synthesis WordPress hosting team is to combine world-class technology into an independent offering where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The result is unparalleled performance, security, and support for your WordPress website that you can trust.

Today, we are pleased to announce the latest technology extension that we have added to the mix.

Effective immediately, new Synthesis Starter Plan customers can choose to have their sites hosted in data centers located in either Virginia or Amsterdam.

Other plans will follow shortly with the same option, and we will also provide the option for current customers to make the switch.

Why is a European data center option important?

Until now, Synthesis’ core offering has been served through a world-class data center based in Virginia.

Way back in the beginning, the Synthesis team strategically chose this location and the providers associated with it because it is the most central single location for delivering reliable, rapid response times to clients in the U.S. and across the globe

But because Synthesis has grown to have a truly global customer base, our plans have always included data center expansion into markets that are closer to our customers.

So while Virginia-based servers may deliver great response times to Eastern Europe, Africa, and even to the Middle East and beyond, data centers in Amsterdam can bring it even faster.

This is why the Synthesis stack was designed (from the beginning) to be provider-agnostic. We are not beholden to any single technology provider, so we can make decisions based solely on bringing you the best service possible.

It was a no brainer to provide this additional data center option. We just needed to find the partner.

Who did we choose?

After a careful selection process, we decided to launch our European offering on Digital Ocean’s infrastructure.

Our process for selecting locations and data center partners is methodical. We reveal some of our thinking here, in our whitepaper entitled “The Truth About WordPress Performance: Why You May Not Need What You’re Being Sold”, where we highlight the importance of core optimization … which is exactly the point of launching this additional data center option.

You will see more expansion announcements soon as we solidify solutions for Southeast Asia and Latin America.

In addition to data center locations, the Synthesis crew has been hard at work developing technologies around performance and workflow. We cannot provide specifics about these developments right now, but we can say this: if you are a corporation running WordPress or an agency developing WordPress-based sites for clients, game-changing solutions for you are on their way.

Simply put: there has never been a better time to host your WordPress site with Synthesis.

Any questions?

If you have general questions about Synthesis that you’d like to get answered before purchasing, check out our FAQs.

Or, if you have more specific questions you don’t see answered there, contact us anytime.

Thanks!

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13 Ways to Attract More Webinar Attendees

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It is one of a content creator’s worst fears …

What if you decide to host a webinar, take the time to create an incredibly useful presentation, sign in on the day of the event, and no one shows up?

Maybe you’re already using webinars to grow your mailing list, build authority, and connect with your audience. Or perhaps you’re just starting to consider adding them to your marketing mix.

Either way, you probably have one huge question — how do you get people to sign up? What’s the best way to get a good crowd?

Promoting a webinar does take some work, but there’s no magic or wizardry here. It simply requires solid, steady effort during your promotion period.

Here are thirteen ideas for attracting more people to your webinars, summits, and other virtual events:

  1. Blogs and websites You should always use your own blog as the very first place to talk about your webinar. Don’t rely on your webinar service’s automatically-generated pages to spell out all the details — some services limit the amount of space you can use for speaker biographies, bullet points, images, etc., so it’s a good idea to create a blog post or website page to help you promote your event. Explain the hook, describe the benefits of attending, and link to the sign-up page.
  2. Email: Send notifications about your event to your email list. Follow-ups and reminders are highly recommended — sometimes subscribers need to hear the message more than once. And as with all email marketing campaigns, the secret is to make sure your emails are more than just sales pitches. Tell stories and use testimonials to make your broadcasts interesting (even for the people who aren’t interested in your event).
  3. Social networking: Promote your event extensively on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. Don’t be afraid to post more than once about your event — you’ll get in front of a different cross-section of people each time you talk about it. If your social platform has groups where promotion of webinars and events is allowed (be sure to read the fine print to be certain) consider promoting your webinar to those groups. Just make sure you’re a trusted member of the group before you started promoting — don’t just butt in and start promoting right away.
  4. Forums: If you’re a member of Yahoo or Google Groups, membership site forums, or other online communities, you can promote your event in those groups, too. As always, make sure to always double-check the rules of your community about self-promotion. Some groups have strict rules about when and if you’re allowed to try to use that particular group to attract sign-ups for your events.
  5. Podcasts: If you host your own podcast, make sure to mention the date and time of your webinar to your listening audience. And if you have friends and colleagues who have podcasts who might be willing to promote for you, make sure to leverage that, as well.
  6. Videos: If video is something you do well, you can use short promotional videos to get the word out about your webinar. Emphasize your “hook” and point out the benefits of attending. You can even give a short “sneak peek” of your content in order to show people how valuable the event will be.
  7. Visual Aids: We’re definitely in the age of visual marketing, and visual aids can help you get the word out about your event. Consider creating badges, infographics, and other images that will catch your audience’s attention and entice them to click through to your sign-up page. Put your images on Pinterest, Facebook, and other visual platforms (and include links back to your sign-up page wherever possible).
  8. Flyers: Consider using old-fashioned paper flyers to promote your webinar — especially if your audience is local. Think high-traffic areas like malls, grocery stores, recreation centers, co-working spaces, and other places that offer a bulletin board for flyers and business cards.
  9. Partners and affiliates:Reach out to your affiliates and strategic partners to help you advertise your webinar. If you’ll be presenting a (paid) offer at the end of the event, make sure your affiliates get credit for the sale by tracking their affiliate code with their referrals.
  10. Event listings: Many local newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs offer free event calendars. Explore the possibilities of getting your webinar listed on these calendars, particularly if you know a particular calendar is frequented by your target audience.
  11. Offer a webinar as a thank-you gift: If you’re asking your mailing list or social networking followers to do something for you (fill out a survey, spread the word about a sale, and so forth) you can offer a free webinar to them as a thank-you gift. It’s a great way to express your gratitude (and it allows you to connect with your audience on a deeper level, too).
  12. Use during product launches: You can take advantage of the buzz you receive during product launches to invite folks to your webinars and events. You can even use webinars as a way to segment your list for an upcoming launch. If someone signs up for a webinar on a particular topic, you can bet they will likely be receptive to receiving future promotional emails about a product or service on the same topic. Use that to your advantage during the launch process.
  13. Ask your guest to help out: If you’ve invited a guest speaker to co-teach a webinar with you, it’s okay to (politely) ask them to help you promote. But don’t go overboard, though. I’ve recently seen some folks who mandate that guest speakers promote their events extensively (even if the instructors are donating their teaching time). This is good recipe for losing your guest speakers. So use your head – you can politely ask, but treat their extra promotion as a special bonus. It’s great if you can get it, but don’t count on it or demand it.

Need even more webinar growth tips and tricks?

Copyblogger’s Chief Digital Officer Chris Garrett and I recently taught a session called “Creating High-Value Webinars” that is only available to our Authority members.

Our advice during that session? Do anything you can think of (as long as it’s not illegal or even remotely spammy) in order to put virtual butts in seats for your webinars and online events.

Work hard, promote well, and reap the rewards.

You can get instant access to “Creating High-Value Webinars,” as well as a whole host of other content that will make you a much smarter content marketer — including an amazing session with Chris Garrett and Lewis Howes, a self-made webinar superstar — by signing up for Authority today.

Do you have other creative ways to attract sign-ups for your webinars? Share them with us in the comments …

About the Author: Beth Hayden is a Senior Staff Writer for Copyblogger Media. Get more from Beth on Twitter and Pinterest.

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5 Things You Have to Understand Before You Start a Business

5 Things You Have to Understand Before You Start a Business

Like many startups Weebly, the website creation and hosting service, was born in a college dorm room. Back in 2006, co-founders David Rusenko, Chris Fanini and Dan Veltri wanted an easy way to display their work on a website. They weren’t satisfied with the available options, so they set about creating their own service. A year later their project was accepted into the startup incubator Y Combinator, and Rusenko, Fanini and Veltri dropped out of school to move to San Francisco.

Fast-forward to present: 15 million people have created a site on Weebly, and 100 million people visit a Weebly site every month. The company has been profitable since the beginning of 2009 and currently employs 80 people.

Here’s Weebly CEO David Rusenko on how aspiring entrepreneurs can do what he did seven years ago, and turn an idea into a business.

Related: How Accelerators Help Start-ups Get Funded

Start. Today.
Rusenko cites analysis paralysis as the single biggest obstacle between a great idea becoming a successful business. “A lot of times, it’s more appealing for people to think about what they might be working on rather than actually start doing it,” he says. Your idea doesn’t have to be perfect — perfect is impossible. Instead of obsessing over every single detail, “see where it goes, and then adapt it over time,” Rusenko advises.

Don’t expect overnight success.
Tech lore is chock-full of instant success stories. Most of them, Rusenko insists, are pure illusion. While a startup may blow up quickly – awash in money and press coverage seemingly overnight – it’s often a result of years of behind-the-scenes hard work. “If within three months, nothing much has happened, just remember that it took us over a year to even apply to Y Combinator,” Rusenko says. “Get started now, but understand that it’s going to be a long and difficult process.”

Build off of past failures.
This ties back to Rusenko’s previous point: hard work rarely results in immediate reward, but it can lead to amazing opportunities down the road. The most successful entrepreneurs have put in years of hard work, Rusenko says. “It’s not always directly related to what they are working on now, but they’ve tried out multiple ideas.” He points to Ben Silbermann, who developed the unsuccessful app Tote before eventually hitting it big with Pinterest, as evidence that initial failure should never be the endpoint.

Related: Why You Should Ditch Your Billion Dollar Business Ambitions

Create a product people actually want.
It sounds simple, but Rusenko sees many entrepreneurs getting bogged down in the nuts and bolts too soon. “Early on, people tend to focus on things like getting official company seals and letterheads, finding a law firm, filing patents etc.,” Rusenko says, “but those things are actually incredibly easy to do.” Before getting to the details, make sure you can adequately answer this question: will anyone want our product?

Like your co-founders.
“One of the biggest reasons companies fail early on, is co-founder disputes,” Rusenko says. And while there’s always a certain amount of luck involved – friends don’t always make good business partners (just ask Noah Glass) – Rusenko insists it’s important to have a natural rapport with the people you’re going into business with. You’ll be seeing a lot of them, after all. As in a successful marriage, “good communication is key.”

Related: Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught? (Video)

Laura Entis is an intern at Entrepreneur.com.

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5 Tips for Businesses Navigating Obamacare

Thanks to the new health reforms, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees have new tools with which to provide health care to their employees. As you navigate your options, BenefitMall’s president, chairman and chief executive officer Bernard DiFiore has compiled five tips that small business owners like yourself should keep in mind.

1. Small biz, big taxes. Under the Affordable Care Act, millions of uninsured Americans will have access to health insurance regardless of their medical history. Under the mandate, insurance has to be “affordable” and in order to meet those standards. The federal government will supply tax credits. To pay for the tax credits, a variety of taxes and fees were included in the law and business owners will see these fees accumulate. 

2. Don’t assume you can’t afford to offer care. Despite the extra taxes and fees, don’t automatically assume you can’t afford a plan on the exchange. For example, if a small business with less than 25 full-time equivalent employees provides health insurance coverage to their employees and covers at least 50 percent of the cost of health care coverage for their employees, they may be eligible for a federal income tax credit.

 3. Be patient. The federal small business exchange, known as the SHOP exchange, is scheduled to open for enrollment November 1, affecting 33 states whose marketplaces will be run by the government. This deadline might change and some eligible businesses are not waiting until enrollment begins, and risk potential savings for their companies. With any major initiative, there will be upfront challenges in terms on knowledge, processes and technology, but give your company the chance to learn about all the options available.

4. Don’t forget about traditional coverage. While much of the public attention regarding the health insurance system has centered on the new public health exchanges, the traditional private market for health insurance remains a strong presence on the health insurance landscape and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The vast majority of Americans — individuals and small employers — are expected to remain covered by plans that are offered in the traditional private market.

5. Never navigate the ACA alone. Business owners should never navigate the new health reforms alone as the regulations are complex and can change. Seek the advice of a broker, CPA or attorney to ensure the plans you’re considering are compliant and right for your company.
 

As president, chairman and chief executive officer of BenefitMall, Bernard DiFiore is responsible for overseeing the company’s overall strategic direction, planning and execution. Working with more than 20,000 Trusted Advisors, Brokers and CPAs, BenefitMall provides the one of the nation’s largest portfolio of insurance and payroll services designed to help more than 200,000 small to medium-sized companies.

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Why You Don’t Need to Freak Out over Google’s (Not Provided)

Image of Zombies on Broadway Poster

We all know that SEO is evolving, right? The SEO world is prone to earthquakes, and the ground has been moving a lot lately. One of the latest temblors is a development known not-so-affectionately as “Not Provided.”

In the good old days, a useful thing you could do was to log into your Google Analytics setup and see exactly what words and phrases people were using to find your site.

Then Google started to hide that information for some searches. And in September, Google decided to make 100% of that search term data “not provided.”

So we web publishers have had a major piece of data — the precise strings of words that folks are using to find us — taken away. Which should be a major bummer for those of us who want to give web searchers a great experience with our wonderful content.

But it’s not worrying us here at Copyblogger, and it doesn’t need to worry you either.

Here’s why.

First, Google isn’t the only search engine

OK, it’s the important one. According to the July 2013 report from ComScore, Google’s market share was 67%.

But that leaves 33% of search coming from other sources … and as of now, search engines like Bing and Yahoo continue to pass keyword information to analytic applications. So your analytics program is still seeing a sample of the types of keywords that users use to find content.

33% is a lot better than zero, and it can still give you some strong data about what’s going on with your site.

You also have some keyword data still available in Webmaster Tools. It’s not as robust as what we had before, but it will give you some clues.

But you have other resources, too.

You know your audience better than Google does

Don’t get us wrong. The engineers at Google are pretty damned smart. But the most sophisticated and elegant algorithm on the planet can’t beat the mighty power of your brain.

This (in Sonia’s opinion) is where SEO professionals can go off the rails. They work very hard to think like Google’s algorithms — when they’d be better off thinking like the intended audience.

Smart content marketers start their process (as they always have) by forming a deep understanding of what the audience wants. That is where smart keyword research begins. That is the starting place for headlines that get the click.

It’s too bad that Google won’t confirm your instincts and intelligent understanding of what your audience wants. Too bad, but not fatal.

You may ask, “But what about the data that is (not provided)? Don’t I still need to confirm that I am getting the search traffic for the terms I’m trying to rank for?”

Yes. And you already do.

A real world example

To help show you what we mean, Sean has pulled an example from Copyblogger.com. We’ll be discussing the data for this post.

Take a look at a screen shot of the keyword terms in Google Analytics:

The first thing you may notice is that for the past 30 days, more than 68% of the keywords are (Not Provided).

This is not surprising since a) Google’s market share is about 67% and b) the post would appeal to a broad audience segment that is likely to use the full range of search engines.

An additional 15% are (Not Set). That can be any number of factors, including referrals from other sites, clicks from emails, etc.

Starting at line number 3, we’re seeing the data coming in from other search engines. In fact, for that 30-day period, we see more than 500 unique keyword phrases.

Now as we mentioned, Google Webmaster Tools (as well as Bing Webmaster tools) does provide a sample of search queries to a site based on the query entered by users. For the same period, Google Webmaster Tools recorded 81 unique keywords.

And when we compare the keywords available from Google Analytics (which shows the terms people use in other search engines) to the keywords in Google Webmaster tools (which shows keywords people use in Google) we see some interesting patterns.

First, 32% of the queries used by people in other search engines exactly match the queries people use on Google. So users of other search engines are not some radically different type of human being.

90% of the top ten frequently used words contained in the search queries for both Analytics and Webmaster Tool match exactly, with the only exception being the word “timeline.”

TL;DR, what does that mean?

All this just means you’re still getting data on how people are searching for the content you create. And while it may not be as complete as it once was, it’s a lot better than zero.

But there is something else we can discover.

Even if you didn’t read the post in this example, can you take a guess on what the title is? We’ll save you the click … it’s:

How to Create a Cover Photo for Your Facebook Timeline

Even without reading the post, you can tell (because of a clear headline that spells out the benefit to the reader) that the author was trying to target people who were looking for ways to create a cover photo in Facebook for the timeline.

Non-surprising fact of the day: the words that people used to find the content aligned with the actual content.

So how do you know people will find this content on search engines? In other words, is there a way to predict the type of search terms people will be using to find this particular piece of content?

Before this post was ever published, we knew the type of keywords and terms people would use to find it.

How? We used Scribe.

Predictive keyword analysis

Analyzing this post in Scribe (our content optimization software) allowed us to know how the search engines would see the content before it was ever published.

First, Scribe gave this page a score of 100 out of 100, showing how well this content aligned to our recommended best practices for SEO copywriting.

Second, Scribe showed a site score of 63 out of 100. That means that this page was a good fit for the Copyblogger site — we weren’t trying to rank for something that was completely outside of we’re known for.

In other words, if this had been an article about six-pack abs or natural flu remedies, we would have had essentially zero chance of ranking for it. But because it was related to what we already write about, year in and year out, Google figured we probably had something intelligent to say on this topic.

Maybe most important, the two Primary Keywords found in the page were Facebook and Cover Photo. In other words, we were confident that the search engines would see the article the same way we saw it.

If Scribe had discovered different Primary Keywords, that would have meant that the search engines would likely become confused as to what the article was about. Which would have meant a little intelligent tweaking until we were on the same page again.

Not all keywords are created equal

When we created Scribe, we knew that not all words found on a page were equal. So we created a way to rank keywords (and filed a patent on the process).

When a keyword is ranked as Primary, it indicates that search engines would index this page for the Primary Keywords discovered with a 95% degree of statistical certainty.

So even before this page was published on the web, Scribe showed that the search traffic to the page would include one or more of the terms Facebook and Cover Photo.

Now, look back at the analysis of the search queries people used.

Notice how many queries contain the Primary Keywords? Every one contains either one or both of the terms.

In other words, Scribe predicted what terms the content would rank for before the content was published.

There’s no substitute for your judgment

Sure, it’s still a good idea to do some keyword research to discover the terms that general people are using to find content like yours.

Sure, it’s still a good idea to check the partial data we do receive, and see if the traffic is coming in for the terms you think it should come in for.

But at the end of the day, while mechanistically trying to reverse engineer the data has its place, it isn’t even close to the whole story. Abstract analysis should be an enhancement to your judgment as a business owner. Because you know your audience better than anyone else can.

SEO expert Jenny Halasz was recently quoted on Search Engine Land as saying,

There’s no doubt that not having keywords provided will make it a little harder to discover customer intent, but there are a lot of other ways to get clues about that, including actively engaging with your customers on social media and such.

And we’ll leave you with the words of our own Executive VP of Operations, Jess Commins:

We still have general data in Webmaster Tools, Bing, and various data-stitching methods for analysis. But really, it’s not about the keywords bringing people in … it’s about what you do with them when you get them, and whether you deliver on why they came to you in the first place.

Great content will not lose in this battle. And tools like Scribe are even more important now, because they can help writers fine-tune their message for readers, not engines. They’re the ones who matter.

If this year is the year of the writer, changes like Hummingbird signal that next year will probably be the year of the reader. Writers run the show, but shows won’t matter if you can’t keep an audience in their seats.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned on Copyblogger for more thoughts on the Hummingbird algorithm in the coming weeks …

About the Author: Every once in awhile, Copyblogger’s chief content officer and CFO Sean Jackson write a post together. This has not torn a hole through the very fabric of space and time. Yet.

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Take a Look at These Four Breathtaking New WordPress Themes

Image of Sixteen Nine Theme from StudioPress.com

If you’re not a designer by trade or hobby, then putting a WordPress website together from scratch can feel a bit like scaling a mountain on your own (if you’ve never climbed before).

Daunting. Arduous. Maybe impossible.

Even experienced climbers, certainly those concerned with safety and support, are going to begin at a base camp and follow a somewhat beaten path — a framework.

Now, we can’t teach you the first thing about scaling a mountain, but our StudioPress team can most certainly guide you with ease and comfort toward majestic new heights when it comes to designing your website.

Think of the new and improved Genesis Framework 2.0 as your base camp and the four new child themes below as scenic trails that lead to your site’s design summit.

The view just might take your breath away.

This brand new theme has a story to tell

Image of Sixteen Nine Theme from StudioPress.com

Sixteen Nine is a brand new theme for Genesis 2.0, originally created by StudioPress founder Brian Gardner for his own website. He’s since moved on to a new design (go figure!), but now it can be all yours.

Sixteen Nine is the quintessential setup for a personal blog but far from limiting. Which makes sense, based on how Brian named the theme.

Sixteen Nine takes its name from the elevation of Mount Everest’s North Base Camp (16,900 ft). Located in Tibet, it is the more difficult of Everest’s two base camps to set out from because of the extra permit required. South Base Camp is in Nepal and is one of the most popular trekking routes in the Himalayas.

But regardless of where climbers start, reaching the top is all that matters. Likewise, whether you have personal or professional goals in mind for your site, you can use Sixteen Nine to get there. Check out the demo or just go ahead and buy it now.

Or …

If you want to truly turbocharge your site’s performance, get Genesis 2.0 and Sixteen Nine plus W3 Total Cache Pro for free (seriously) when you sign up for a new hosting plan over at Synthesis.

Subtle redesign, same simplicity

Now let’s swing the pendulum in the other direction, from the maximums that Mount Everest represents and demands … to Minimum.

new studio press themes - minimum

Our Minimum Pro theme takes the original Minimum, adds a subtle redesign, and infuses it with all the goodness of Genesis 2.0.

Like Sixteen Nine — and all new StudioPress themes — Minimum Pro is mobile responsive, built with HTML5 markup, and fully supportive of microdata.

Pitch perfect for portfolio projects, Minimum Pro gives you exactly what your site needs to succeed … and nothing more.

View the demo for Minimum Pro here.

Stunning imagery stands out even more after overhaul

Whereas Minimum went through only a subtle redesign, the Expose theme received a complete makeover once Genesis 2.0 was released.

new studiopress themes - expose

Having HTML5 at their disposal allowed the designers at StudioPress to make Expose Pro even more conducive to creating stunning displays of beautiful photography.

See for yourself right here with the demo.

Now, if you’re still breathing, let me tell you about one more splendid new Pro theme from StudioPress.

The best gets better …

It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

Metro is one of the most popular StudioPress themes ever, and we weren’t going to mess with a working formula that you love.

new studiopress themes - metro pro

That is why Metro Pro is visually a carbon copy of regular ol’ Metro … but freshened up and modernized with HTML5, mobile responsiveness, and all of the other essential under-the-hood features of Genesis 2.0.

What can you do with Metro? What can’t you do with it? WordPress themes don’t get much more versatile than this.

The Metro Pro demo is available here.

… Or is the best still yet to come?

What you see above is just a little taste to whet your appetite. New and updated child themes for Genesis 2.0 are being released at the StudioPress blog every week.

And once you become a My StudioPress member by purchasing a theme, you can get others at a mountainous discount. Or you can become a Pro Plus member and save, literally, over $1,000.

So catch your breath and keep climbing. You’re not far from the best view of your website that you, or your audience, have ever seen …

101,000+ people take WordPress further with StudioPress

Image of Genesis 2.0 Logo

Our Genesis Framework for WordPress empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress.

With search-optimized code and functions, 55 turn-key designs, state-of-the-art security, and unlimited support, updates, and websites you can build, Mashable calls Genesis the “best of the best” among premium WordPress themes.

Serious online publishers trust Genesis to provide a solid foundation for their sites. By serious, I mean people planning to get somewhere with this Internet thing.

Whether you’re a novice, or an advanced developer, Genesis provides you with the rock-solid infrastructure to take WordPress places you never thought it could go.

Pick up Genesis 2.0 today!

Need a little help?

If you have questions about Genesis that you’d like to get answered before purchasing, please contact our Support Division directly.

If you are an existing StudioPress customer, please log in to MyStudioPress for all support questions.

For non-support related discussions about WordPress, CSS, design, and site feedback, please jump into the StudioPress Community Forums anytime.

Thanks!

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The 10 Fastest-Growing Small-Business Sectors Right Now

The 10 Fastest-Growing Small-Business Sectors Right Now

Image credit: Shutterstock

Over the past year, the strengthening housing market has been helping small businesses grow – and fast.

Sageworks, Inc.’s most recent analysis of companies with less than $5 million in annual revenues finds that four of the ten fastest-growing sectors of 2013 are related to housing.

Building finish contractors and real estate agents’ offices saw sales grow by nearly 15% over the past year. Architectural and engineering services, meanwhile, grew sales by 14.2%, and foundation, structure and building exterior contractors’ sales increased by 10.6%.

Related: 3 Energy Trends With the Power to Change the Future

Sageworks analyst Libby Bierman says the partial government shutdown had a “notable impact” on the number of mortgages being processed, which may slow the growth spurt.

But since the shutdown lasted only a couple of weeks, Bierman says it is unlikely to cripple these expanding businesses.

“It will show a slight blip, but not all revenue is tied to home mortgages. It will have some impact, but not something that in the long-term will put businesses out of business, most likely,” says Bierman.

Related: Google’s Secrets to Small Business Success

Perhaps surprisingly, grain farming showed the strongest growth of all sectors analyzed by Sageworks, posting a nearly 20% increase in sales.

“There was a drought in 2012, so they increased prices dramatically because the supply was cut so much,” says Bierman, who says the sector was new to the list. Bierman predicts that grain farming is unlikely to make a second appearance on the list of fastest-growing small-business sectors, but says there’s room for another surprise.

“I imagine we’ll be seeing similar externalities that will change [the list],” says Bierman.

Related: 5 Top States for Business-Tax Climate

The full list of the fastest-growing sectors:

1. Oilseed and Grain Farming
2. Building Finishing Contractors
3. Offices of Real Estate Agents and Brokers
4. Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
5. Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
6. Computer Systems Design and Related Services
7. Other Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing
8. Utility System Construction
9. Specialty Food Stores
10. Foundation, Structure and Building Exterior Contractors

Related: 24 Simple Marketing Tips for Your Business

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The Road Ahead For Entrepreneurs And Tax Reform

The Road Ahead For Entrepreneurs And Tax Reform

Image credit: Shutterstock

There is much talk in Washington about tax reform. But what does it mean for entrepreneurs?

The possibilities of sweeping tax reforms happening in the next year are remote, with the only real glimmer being a possible deal as part of addressing the shutdown/debt ceiling. That’s further down the line—call me after the elections, but I would still say it is highly unlikely for the next three years.

Why is that? It is not for lack of effort or commitment by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Max  Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. They have certainly been pulling on the oars of tax reform.

In this case, the fault does lie in the stars – i.e., the Congressional leadership and the administration. The two parties leadership roles are poles apart on what they want to accomplish in tax reform, with the Democrats looking to emphasize corporate tax reform and raising significant revenues (tax increases) and the Republicans wanting broader business tax reform (more on that below) and that reform be revenue neutral (no net tax increases).

Another dividing line between the parties has been whether there should be a discussion of only corporate tax reform, which, as readers know, is a primarily bigger entity, or business tax reform, that would encompass all types of businesses (including pass-thru’s such as LLC’s, S Corp’s, and partnerships). Most start-ups are organized as a pass-thru. Chairman Camp has had some success in moving the discussion towards business tax reform, but it is taking a good deal of educating congressmen and senators to understand that most start-ups and the 93 percent of businesses organized as pass-thru’s don’t benefit from corporate tax reform.

Overlaying these divisions is the simple reality that tax reform is not a priority for the administration. (Note: I don’t say that as a criticism. The administration has other items on its “to do” list. That’s fine, but tax reform isn’t one of them.) That makes it all the harder for Chairmen Camp and Baucus to push the rock.

So, all that said – if you were going to have tax reform, what are the possibilities that might matter to entrepreneurs?

Capital Gains Tax. Always of interest to investors – the general betting is that capital gains (currently 20 percent plus 3.8 percent ACA add-on) would go up in a deal on tax reform. The Democrats have been keen on increasing the rate and bringing it closer in line with taxes for ordinary income (top rate 39.6 percent plus 0.9 percent Medicare tax). What has surprised me is what used to be a “never retreat” position of the Republicans gave way in the deal this past January that saw the capital gains rates go from 15 percent to 20 percent. In discussions with Republican staff, the comment was that they just were not hearing of this as a priority from constituents. I could see capital gains going up to 25 percent (plus the 3.8 percent add-on). 

Dividends. Will stay linked with capital gains. When they go up, so do dividends.. 

Ordinary Income. While some Democrats will want to see the top rates go up further, this is where the Republicans dig in. The real fight will be on deductions and credits (think mortgage and charity), which both sides have indicated some openness to scaling back. The rough difference is that Democrats would use the savings from limiting deductions (it can be hundreds of billions of dollars over ten years, depending on how you limit the deductions) for more spending, while the Republicans would use the money to offset lowering the ordinary income rates. Same bed dreaming different dreams. At a minimum, ordinary income rates stay the same, and it’s hard to see a deal Republicans are willing to take that doesn’t have a reduction in the rates.

Estate and Gift Tax. Nothing happens. This dog sleeps. Some view the estate tax as too generous, some want to eliminate the estate tax. Most members view that this was a good deal ($5 million per person indexed for inflation and 40 percent rates) and don’t want to kick the slumbering hound.

International Tax and Repatriation. No repatriation without international tax reform – no dessert without spinach. Move to a territorial system. Chairman Camp’s proposal is the early-bird blueprint for what reform in this area would look like.

Corporate Tax. The corporations are banging for a rate of 25 percent. My read is that the lowest the rates could go (keeping revenue neutral and getting rid of various deductions and credits) is around 28 percent. This will not make the corporate folks happy, and they will be even more unhappy when the tax-writing committees get to 28 percent by goring ox and slaying sacred cows. Many of the corporate folks are happy for reform if it gets the rate to 25 percent and does so by getting rid of the other fellow’s tax benefits. Awakening will be rude. 

Entrepreneurs and Startups. Credit the Senate Finance Committee for putting together a useful compilation of proposals on innovation and startups. In addition to some standards – increased expensing for startups and small businesses, there are also suggested proposals on Section 1202 stock (expanding dollar caps $75 million and also allow S Corp’s and LLC’s to be eligible). Also included is expanding the availability of credits (especially the R&D tax credit) to startups and allowing its deduction against the AMT – all good ideas. 

As a general note, both sides of the aisle are open to proposals to help startups and entrepreneurs ,and I am interested to hear from readers what they think would be useful for Congress to consider.

The bottom line: While tax reform is being talked about, it will be a long and winding road before any big changes in law occur. Entrepreneurs need to not wait for Washington, but they do need to sharpen their pencils to make certain that they are taking full advantage of what is already available at the state and federal level to lower their taxes.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Dean Zerbe is the national managing director of alliantgroup and is based in the firm’s Washington D.C. office. Prior to joining alliantgroup, he was senior counsel and tax counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. During his tenure on the Finance Committee, he was intimately involved with nearly every major piece of tax legislation that was signed into law. He can be reached at dean.zerbe@alliantgroup.com or by visiting alliantgroup.com.

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99 Ways to Market Your Art

Image of Working Pottery Wheel

You’re an artist — a writer, musician, illustrator, or dancer. Maybe you’re into doll sculpting, keepsake jewelry making, fashion photography, plein air painting, or composing ambient electronica.

You’re pretty brave when it comes to creating, but the mere thought of marketing your work might make you break into a cold sweat.

Would you rather be shot out of a cannon than toot your own horn? Is balancing on a tightrope more attractive to you than asking people to shell out money for your masterpieces?

If so, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Keep reading, because I’ve got enough reassuring marketing ideas for you in this article to keep you occupied for the next several months …

The mission is unnerving, but the stakes are high

Many people — faced with the choice of either promoting their latest writing project or entering the ring with a whip and an elephant — would choose to face the moody and unpredictable pachyderm.

You’re good at your craft. You want to spend your time making more stuff, not annoying people by schlepping your wares. Besides, that’s not your strength, right?

The problem is, learning to be a good marketer really is a matter of life or death to an artist. You simply can’t make money unless people are buying your products, coming to your shows and exhibits, or reading your work.

But — there is good news. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life hiding, boring but safe, behind protective glass.

With the proper training, preparation, and official pro safety gear, you can learn not only to be a master marketer but also to actually relish the thrills of your commercial daring and death-defying, cash flow-generating feats.

Throw your hat into the ring

Officially and publicly announce to the world your intention to be a competitor.

Stand up as an artist who rebels against the common assumption that you’ll always be broke, forced to live in your car, and starve to death if you have the audacity to try to make good money from your passion.

  1. Reframe the ruthless tiger into a cuddly pussycat. The words marketing and sales can put more fear into people’s hearts than saber-toothed tigers. If this describes you, I have just one piece of advice: talk to people. Just talk. Convey information, have conversations, educate. Whether you’re online, at lunch, or on stage … it’s all just conversations and relationships. Once you realize you are simply making your work available to people who are already interested in it, all the pressure is off.
  2. Resolve to use your superpowers for good. Here’s the deal. Someone out there desperately needs what you do. People are starving for connection, inspiration, fun, beauty, laughter, depth, momentary distractions, and the warm fuzzy feelings and memories that art brings them. If you found a cure for cancer, keeping it to yourself would be wrong, wouldn’t it? You have a moral obligation to get your work out to the people who need it. Art might not be a matter of life or death, but it sure makes the difference between a beautiful journey on the planet and a bland existence.
  3. Imagine yourself accepting your Lifetime Achievement Award. What will it be for? What will you have accomplished? Think in terms of the impact your work will have on people. You need a vision for your art business and entrepreneurial career that will carry you through the tough times. You’ll need to know who you’ll be, what you can do for your audience, and where you’re headed so you’re not distracted from your main goals.
  4. Commit to the long haul. Be patient and kind to yourself. Your road won’t always be easy, and yes, there is a lot to learn. But it’s not complicated; you can absolutely do this. Build your fortress one block and one wall at a time.

Identify your most thrilling feats

If you’re not sure what you do that’s worthy of prime-time TV with big ticket sponsors, try some of the following tactics:

  1. Realize you’re already brave. Ask friends, fans, and customers what things you have the nerve to do that they admire. You probably tend to take your piano compositions or playwriting for granted, yet how many people have told you they could never do what you do? You can talk to them in person or send them an email with a few simple questions. You might get some surprising answers.
  2. Revisit/relive your standing ovations. Think back — when have you done something that absolutely delighted your fans, customers, or clients? What have you done to make people throw money and praise at you? Write these things down and purposely do more of them.
  3. Stand proud in the spotlight. You’re unique. Play that up. List some key ways you are different from your competition and communicate them. Your goal should be for people to say, “I know them; they do this!”
  4. Become a mind reader. Get into your customers’ heads and read their thoughts. Not literally, of course. But ask yourself what they like, what they don’t like, how they spend their time, where they hang out, how they are feeling, and what keeps them up at night. Interview current fans and customers to find out why they buy from you. Ask a handful of people if they would mind answering a few short questions in exchange for a small gift. Then ask these same questions to a larger group via SurveyMonkey or similar online tool. Listen when they respond.

Find your adoring, adventure-hungry fans

It’s all about the tension, excitement, and the energy of the crowd, right?

  1. Build your command center. Get a real website if you don’t have one. Social media sites should all drive back to the main hub of your operations and engagement on your website.
  2. Craft captivating stories. Tell how you got to this place. Daredevils don’t start out jumping canyons. They start on three-foot-high ramps. Stories are powerful ways to build connection and they’re universal. How did you get where you are? What were your turning points? What struggles did you overcome? What have you learned? Use humor and emotion.
  3. Bare all. Figuratively, of course. What’s your mission? Why do you do what you do? How do you want to help people? Talk about those things that drive you to thrill-seeking artistic entrepreneurship.
  4. Flip on the camera when people are raving about you. Gather testimonials — these could be formal or informal or (even better) a combination of both. It could be as simple as asking for a quick video the next time someone compliments your work. What others say about you is more powerful than what you say about yourself. So take the pressure off yourself. It’s not bragging. Testimonials allow you to connect with more ideal fans.
  5. Share center stage. Round up videos and pictures of happy customers’ experiences. Have them submit photos of themselves using, displaying, or listening to your work. New fans will relate and imagine themselves there too.
  6. Collect your press clippings. Grab and share clips from Twitter, Facebook, and fan mail on your websites. All those nice things that people say to you online and offline (with their permission) are fair game and easy to gather.

Become unforgettable

Getting in front of people isn’t enough. Your next assignment must knock their socks off. You can do it. Start with the following ideas:

  1. Give your people what they want. Knowing what your fans want is your job, not theirs. And you know, or you will now, if you didn’t before — that they are not really buying the object. They don’t care much about the physical book itself, or the CD or coffee table sculpture. They’re buying a feeling, an experience, a lifelong memory, an emotional connection.
  2. Needle fans with their biggest fears. They won’t really be in danger of course, but they don’t know that. Imagine their worries and frustrations. How does your work help your fans ease their minds? You can help them prevent boredom, take time to smell the roses, laugh at ridiculousness, or dance while the dancing’s good.
  3. Tantalize fans with their biggest thrills. Identify your clients’ driving needs, problems, or desires. A trigger exists that makes people actually take the time to read what you wrote, check out your work, come to a show, and finally pull out their wallets and buy from you. You have to know what that is. Is it the excitement your work generates? The desire to capture and relive a great memory over and over? The feeling of being on the ground floor of a movement?
  4. Titillate them with their deepest desires. Once you discover what you really sell, dangle it in front of people’s faces. Tempt them with the outcome they’re seeking. Make it irresistible.
  5. Master mind control. Plumb the depths of their psyches and speak to one person in your marketing. You do this by creating an ideal customer profile and imagining yourself talking to that person. If you’ve done one in the past, it never hurts to revisit it. If you’ve never done one, a ton of information is out there. It’s incredibly worthwhile.
  6. Be astounding and unpredictable. Push the limits. Do things differently. Keep people on their toes by constantly surprising them. Don’t feel you have to do things a certain way just because everyone else is doing it.

Rally your supporters

No one accomplishes amazing feats on their own. Usually a whole team is working behind the scenes to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

No matter how small your scale right now, you can and should have a super-supportive club.

  1. Round up your superfans. Gather those people who will follow you to the ends of the earth. Show them your gratitude by offering them something special — a limited edition piece, or an online or in-person fan appreciation party. Then keep getting your work out to more people to grow this bunch.
  2. Find backers. Find out who the influencers are in your niche and build genuine relationships with them. Start now, because this will take time. Don’t ask for anything yet; just be cool and giving. If your work is a good fit for their audiences, your backers will not only have great stuff to share with their followers, but they’ll also give your fan base a boost.
  3. Recruit volunteers. Let people help you. It can be as simple as asking — most of the time, we just don’t think to do this. Maybe someone’s good at making posters, organizing events, walking around neighborhoods or visiting local businesses distributing fliers or business cards. Ask!
  4. Build a street team. Let your most loyal and vocal fans be part of the team. They can help share the announcements that excite them and the works that move them. They can hang posters, spread the word about special offers, and bring new people to events.
  5. Embrace your friends and family. They are your #1 support network. They might not always understand. They might be overprotective sometimes. But they are there through the triumphs and the failures, cheering you on. And they will tell everyone they know how proud they are of you.
  6. Assemble special teams. Line up reserves that are always on call for those times when you need extra help. Know which friends have the skills and desire to help you with specific projects. Find a Virtual Assistant before you need one. Post a project on E-lance.
  7. Cheer, chant, and do the wave. Have a rallying cry that unites everyone on your team, a common enemy you face, a dream or goal you all share. Make it succinct and memorable. Hugh MacLeod has, “Office Art That Actually Matters.” You could use something like, “We’re not here for a long time; we’re here for a good time,” “Photos that make you smile,” or, “Short stories that will kick your butt into action.”

Fan the flames of excitement

When you tap into that sweet spot of giving people what they want, they will come back for more. They’ll breathlessly anticipate your next move. They’ll tell all their friends and drag them along to meet you.

So throw a little fuel on those flames.

  1. Give fans previews of coming attractions. Include upcoming releases, shows, and new places you’ll be showcasing your work. Turn it into a must-see event, with real, not false urgency. People can see through false deadlines like snake oil — use urgency wisely.
  2. Award backstage passes. Open your studio, either physically or virtually or both. Explain your setup, your equipment, favorite themes or materials. You could go into your work process, things that inspire you, or how you capture your ideas. All this is fascinating to people.
  3. Hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony; christen the new wheels. Have an actual grand opening with hand-signed, snail-mailed invitations. Offer tours. Make it into a virtual event by doing a short video showing your studio and equipment. Do a press release and run it in the local papers.
  4. Roll back the curtain. Do a short video or blog post highlighting your actual creative process. Make a whole series of journal posts for a large project like a book or CD. Follow a project from start to finish and document it with photos, video, or a journal. Share this on your blog, or on YouTube.
  5. Offer new fans a test drive; let them take their own lap around the course. Come up with something exclusive, irresistible and valuable (that you could charge at least $20 for) that your fans will just have to have ó a print, short e-book, or a sample CD or DVD. Give this away in exchange for an email address, which you can then use to further build your relationship with them.
  6. Arrange frequent meet-and-greets. Engage face-to-face with your fans before and after shows and events. Hold online meet-and-greets like Twitter chats, Google hangouts, etc. Really engage online. Don’t just add people to increase your friend count; build relationships as much as you can. Have conversations and really get to know people.
  7. Schedule regular public appearances. Post interviews or create an FAQ page. If you don’t have anyone from the press asking you for interviews, pick a well-spoken friend you are comfortable talking to and film a chat to feature on your site. Ease in to this if you’re camera shy. Post the transcription on your site.
  8. Get on Letterman (or the next best thing). Create a YouTube channel. Do you think YouTube is just a big time suck? It is that, but it’s also one of the world’s largest search engines. That means your audience is there, looking for people who do what you do. Do a YouTube introduction and a mini-instructional. Upload videos of your open house and other events. It’s all valuable content that you can use to engage people and drive them to your main site.
  9. Formalize your fan club. Get a real mailing list and create cool incentives for people to sign up. Keep adding to the exclusive content to keep people engaged. Constantly be on the lookout for quick content bits and share them regularly, in between the big announcements. Let your personality fly.
  10. Become your fans’ first choice. When the time comes and your audience is ready for some excitement, fun, or distraction, make sure you are the first person that springs to mind. Do this by simply staying in touch through your list and through social media.
  11. Even better, become their only viable option. A marketing strategy advises entrepreneurs to give fans tons of value so that they feel subtly obligated to buy from you when the time comes. This tactic works, and it works well. But to make the effect even stronger, prove that you care about your fans, more than anyone else. Build that relationship. Become their friend or mentor.
  12. Fill your schedule. Prioritize sharing updates with your adoring fans by making appointments on your calendar and posting updates on those days.

Monitor the conditions, and scan the environment

Sunny or cloudy, high winds, rain — these situations all affect your approach on the big day. Know what’s going on around you and have your strategy in place for each contingency.

  1. Acknowledge your competition, but don’t be intimidated. Understand that competition is a good thing; it means there is a need and a market. People are paying for what you offer. When audiences already appreciate the value of your work, you don’t have to work very hard to sell it. All you have to do is get in front of them with a great product.
  2. Deal with and then ignore your competition. This is about you, your performance, and your fans. Don’t get too hung up on the competition and what or how they are doing. Address how you are better, and how you care more. Focus on your uniqueness and passion. Don’t fall into a comparison trap, because every time you do, you’ll end up feeling crummy and inadequate.
  3. Graciously accept and respond to the applause. Constantly check in with your fans and supporters. Acknowledge their praise (humbly) and thank them. When you get a good reaction, review, or email, give them more of the same.
  4. Strive for night after night of standing ovations. Constantly reinvent yourself and perfect your craft. Make people crazy for more.

Prepare your safety gear: helmet, goggles, and parachute (or full body armor)

You don’t want to crash and burn, right? So put as many safety precautions in place as you can.

  1. Hand-pick your pit crew. Just as a racing team’s crew keeps the car all in one piece and running smoothly, your team will do the same for you. Find experienced people you can call on as soon as you need them — don’t lose time spinning your wheels. Put together a formal or informal advisory board of people who have strengths, knowledge and connections you don’t.
  2. Choose top-notch crew chiefs. You want no doubt in your mind that your mentors and advisors can get you exactly where you need to go. Don’t have a mentor? Choose someone you admire and whose outlook and values are similar to yours. They’ll share their hard-earned wisdom and help keep you from making expensive and time-consuming mistakes. As you grow, your circle of trusted advisors will grow too.
  3. Turn spy. Keep on top of the latest marketing trends. Study. Read industry blogs, journals, books, etc. Lurk on — and engage with — competitors and related artists. (Caution: do your best reconnaissance to make sure they are truly doing well and not just putting up a good front.) All these places are great sources of fresh ideas. Study how to write effective ads.
  4. Steal. Don’t plagiarize or end up in real trouble of course. But look to other industries for different perspectives, inspiration, and opportunities for collaboration. Figure out how you can tweak another’s approach so that it will work well for you. Example: a photographer might team up with a musician to pair art shows with concerts and leverage both audiences.
  5. Become a master of persuasion. Learn how to write great and irresistible copy for your web sites and all your marketing materials. If writing is absolutely not your strong point, hire someone to spruce up your webpage and other online and offline marketing materials.
  6. Form an exclusive insider club. Test reactions to your new offerings with small focus groups. Do private shows by invite only for people on your list. You could make these online or offline events.
  7. Build high-tech prototypes. Test new materials and artistic direction with as little initial monetary outlay as possible. For example, make an acoustic demo of new songs, make a website preview of a photo book before printing, and write several blog posts or articles before an e-book. Find out what resonates best with people before investing a lot of money in producing a product.
  8. Use a tether so you don’t plunge to your death. Determine how much money you can reasonably afford to spend on marketing. This is one time when you can assume the worst — that you’ll get no response. Can you stand to throw away that money? Then stick to your budget. You can easily lose money on paid advertising. I lost a lot in my early years. Be cautious, small scale, and flexible.
  9. Train with safety as a top priority. Test your ads (paid or not), and change the wording and calls to action frequently until you find a formula that works for you. You can announce shows and events in free publications like Craigslist, on Facebook or Twitter, and in local event calendars. Resist salespeople who try to persuade you to spend large sums at once to reach general, non-targeted audiences.
  10. Join Cirque De Soleil. Collaborate with other artists on events as much as possible to leverage all your fan bases and put on an unforgettable spectacle.
  11. Drive a million laps. Commit to mastering marketing by spending some time on marketing activities every day no matter how busy you are. Make communication and relationship building part of who you are. Being consistent about your marketing efforts is your best business insurance against slow times.
  12. Create lots of work. Hone your craft and build your catalog. I once heard that the best marketing for a first music CD is your second CD, and this makes perfect sense. Your true fans will want to support you by buying everything they can from you.
  13. Become a master of illusion. Learn how to write engaging stories and solid press releases and use them as often as possible, both on your own websites and marketing materials, and in local publications.
  14. Weave a strong safety net. Don’t get stuck in one strategy, especially if you are not getting results. Try several things and measure their effectiveness. The easiest way to do this is to ask people how they found you. If you are getting good results, congratulations! Stick with what works. I have three to four of my best strategies for local marketing and I do them all the time. Then I experiment with new outlets.
  15. Weigh in and get regular checkups. Know where you are. Be brutally honest with yourself. If your work isn’t generating at least some excitement, consider going back to the drawing board to work more on your craft. If you want to get to the next level, take your work to the next level. Find people to help you with this. And learn to deal with unfair criticism.

Make the leap across the canyon

It’s the big day! You’re ready to start reaping the benefits of all the great work you’ve put out into the world. Make sure your relationship building continues throughout the entire process and into the future. You want these fans for a long time, right?

Keep delighting them …

  1. Lead the throngs. Tell your fans clearly what steps they have to take next. Do you want them to take your free gift? Buy your book, print, or DVD? Tell their friends?
  2. Head off disasters and execute contingency plans. Know your potential buyers’ likely objections and have your responses already prepared verbally and in an FAQ page.
  3. Give them front row seats. Create a low-cost or pay-what-you-like offering so that everyone who wants to support you can afford something that you do. Adjust these options and make several of them. For example, people who already have my latest CD often want an earlier one. People who have all my music want to buy harmonica necklaces and t-shirts.
  4. Sell luxury suites. Laugh in the face of fear. Raise your prices and create a premium offering for people who want to work closely with you. Let them pay to commission a personalized work, host an event in their home, or be a part of your creative process.
  5. Promote and thank your sponsors. These can be commercial or charitable. If you think you’re too small for sponsors, think again. Someone wants to reach your audience. I know of a local coffee shop that was happy to sponsor an outdoor concert series for $60 per month during summers, which covered the outdoor gazebo rental. Charities like Holt International sponsor performers who do at least 25 shows per year.
  6. Create strategic partnerships. Display your art in a local bistro or community center. Work with local businesses to create art and craft shows, music series, film festivals and more. Don’t be afraid to combine any or all of the above.
  7. Train apprentices. Contribute to the growth of your field by training the next generation. Your students will be a natural addition to your own fan base. Again, never think that you are too small or don’t know enough to start teaching. You know more than you think you do, and all you really have to know is one more thing than a beginner. Teaching is the best way to learn.
  8. Host clinics. Help other daring people get to their own next level of development through special-topic clinics. These are a great way to attract longer-term students and clients. Recruit partners to help if you are new to teaching.
  9. Rock your merch table. Sell related merchandise. Let’s say you’re a photographer with a series of studies of coffee cups or wine glasses or spring flowers. You could sell the mugs or wine glasses or flowers as well as your prints. A band who had a huge percussion number in their show sold drum sticks and they flew off the merch table.
  10. Ride the momentum. Right after fans buy and are happy, ask for shares and referrals. Don’t be afraid to do this more than once. Offer incentives and tokens of appreciation. Related to #17 above, have fans submit pics or videos of themselves enjoying or displaying your stuff to post on your website, and share on social media and in blog posts. It’s a great way to build engagement.
  11. Throw a huge after-party. Create super-cool bonuses or gifts to show your fans you appreciate their support. Throw an actual party for local fans.
  12. Return the applause. Thank fans again throughout the year. Ask them for their birthdays (could be just month and year) for the purpose of sending them a gift. Then create customized happy birthday message for fans — a song, photo, cartoon, poem, or short story.

Shatter all the current records

Go down in history as a game-changer.

  1. Push the limits. Do one critical thing better than your competition. Find something that’s needed in the market but often lacking and figure out how you can provide that. It could simply be a more personalized approach or taking your service one step further.
  2. Break new ground. Try something that’s never been done before. A new method, using unusual media or a novel delivery method.
  3. Be a fierce competitor. Even if you are a solo act, or if you consider yourself more cooperative than competitive, always be improving on your former self.
  4. Raise the bar for the future; set a new standard for others to follow. Jumping three cars isn’t very exciting when jumping twenty is commonplace. List all the ways people tell you that your work makes their lives just a little bit better. Consistently do more of these things, so that they become expected in the marketplace.
  5. Do the impossible. It’s like shattering a world record for the longest time trapped under water. List all the ways you can care more. Passion, dedication, and a real desire to give your fans what they want create crazy loyalty.
  6. Wear your emblem on your chest. Like Superman, create your character, persona, and your brand. Proudly display them everywhere.
  7. Be a valiant warrior. What will you courageously fight for? What causes and principles do you stand for and believe in? Don’t be afraid to talk about them. While it’s true you could turn some people off, you will also be attracting many more who agree with you.
  8. Be hungry. Don’t be content to rest on former accomplishments or awards. Celebrate, yes ó then set your sights higher and prepare for your next challenge.
  9. Be a champion. What things about life and art do you value? What will you go to any lengths to defend? Friendship? Stress the relationships you build with people, and treat all your fans as friends. Charity work? Spread the word. Supporting indie music? Mutual interests create a bond. Don’t be afraid to stand for something.
  10. Be exclusive. You don’t have to let everyone into your club. In the words of Derek Sivers, “Proudly exclude.” You might only want real hardcore metal fans, not sissy wannabes. You might appeal to young parents wanting to capture sweet baby memories. Maybe no one can possibly understand your work except granola-munching hippies.
  11. Be discriminating. Once you decide who your ideal fans are, go where they hang out. Don’t waste time and energy in dive bars looking for people with sophisticated neo-jazz-fusion musical tastes. Hang your art in a winery or upscale bistro, not in a take-out pizza joint (unless your pop-art style really fits there). Be everywhere, yes ó but be everywhere that you fit.
  12. Be controversial. If you try to appeal to everyone, you will appeal to no one. But, if you turn off some people, you will win the loyalty of others. As popular blogger Jon Morrow says, “Whatever you gotta do in your own head to be ok with people not liking you ó Do It.”

Watch your popularity skyrocket

It’s not all about fame and fortune. The more people you reach, the more you can improve their lives. This is how your work starts to change the world, with your corner of it.

The more impact you have, the more your work starts to grow up and take care of you in your old age.

  1. Become a PR machine. Produce and share lots of entertaining, educational, and informational content online. Keep your fans updated regularly through email, your blog, and social media. Deepen the experience and don’t let them forget about you.
  2. Get on the bill for larger and larger shows. Learn how to guest post — writing for other people’s blogs as a way to grow your own fan base. Yes, artists can leverage these opportunities to their great benefit, and many do. Cartoonist and author Hugh MacLeod, writers Johnny B. Truant and Jeff Goins, and actor Josh Pais are great examples to emulate.
  3. Be ready when the press comes knocking. Finish or spruce up your physical and online press kits and portfolios.
  4. Read all your fan mail. What do people like about you? What are you doing that they respond well to? How are you inspiring them? Respond as much as you can and build those relationships.
  5. Sign autographs. How do your fans get to meet you? How do they develop a personal connection with you? People relate to real people much more than brands or companies. Hold an annual fan appreciation barbeque, bowling night, or rafting trip. Host chats and webinars, and respond to your blog comments.
  6. Earn a permanent place in their hearts. Get on their A-List ó become the email message sender they never miss and always read first. Think about what steps you must take to build that kind of intimacy, likeability and trust with your fans.
  7. Make fans a part of the family. Inclusion, being a part of something great, is priceless and exciting. Tell your biggest fans about your movement, and how you are changing the world. Let them know how they can join and make it easy for them to do so.
  8. Find out what’s working. Get in the habit of asking customers how they heard about you. Track this information. If you use registration forms or email signups for events, shows, or workshops, you have a perfect opportunity to gather this data. You can also ask as part of wrapping up a sale, or when you get phone or email inquiries.
  9. Be seen everywhere. Learn about tools for sharing content between social media platforms. Start using them. Claim your free listings on Google Places, Bing, Yahoo and the like.
  10. Become a household word. Craft your pitch so that it’s clear what you do and for whom. Use a form similar to these examples: “I create [this] for [these people],” “I think it’s wrong that [situation exists], so I’m on a mission to [thing you're changing].”
  11. Hire or become your own publicist. Get a strong bio. This is not a recitation of your resume. It’s about your compelling story, what drives you, and most importantly how this helps you relate to your fans and make their lives better.
  12. Hire or become your own spin doctor. Take a close look at your About page. Make sure it’s not really all about you, but instead what your work does for people, what experiences they will have, and what they can expect from you.

Stake your claim on the mountaintop

You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Own it!

  1. Do photo ops in your tights and cape. Get a well-designed, attractive logo or photo that clearly communicates what you do. It doesn’t have to be expensive or custom-made, just the picture that says a thousand words.
  2. Wear your glam costume everywhere. Update all your social media profiles and delete any that you habitually neglect. Give yourself permission to really connect and engage in a few manageable sites that you enjoy. Remove unused profiles or snaz them up, and update the links and content occasionally to drive people to sites where you do interact.
  3. Polish your image till it shines. Occasionally check all your pages and links, and make sure they all work. Ask for help with this if you need to. Send new people to your highest converting page.
  4. Share the spoils. Celebrate with and thank the people who got you where you are. Generously share the lessons you’ve learned.
  5. Be truly humble. Be open about your past and current challenges. People don’t really connect with super-humans. They want to see real people who have tackled and won over the same obstacles they are facing now.

The art of marketing

Marketing is an art in itself.

Believe it or not, you already have a big part of the skillset. The rest can be learned through hard work and dedication.

You’ve learned to study, to practice, to be persistent, to grow a thick skin, to listen to your audiences and grow with them. Start thinking of marketing as an extension of your art instead of something opposed to it.

You can create in a vacuum and maybe become appreciated posthumously.

But I want better for you — if, of course, you also want more for yourself and your art, and you don’t want to look back on your life and wonder, “What if?”

So get out there, conquer your fears and misgivings, look that tiger in the eye, and claim what’s rightfully yours!

About the Author: Leanne Regalla teaches creative people how to pursue their art without going broke, living in their cars, or starving to death at her blog, Make Creativity Pay. Follow her on Twitter.

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Why We Overestimate Technology and Underestimate the Power of Words

Image of Victorian Machine

Many experts assume that Amazon’s social recommender system is its killer feature. But what exactly about this feature makes it a killer?

What — in fact — is the magic sauce of Amazon?

Sure, there is some predictive value in keeping track of many different variables. There always is. It’s probably Amazon’s best kept secret. But I am guessing it’s not only a secret for people outside of Amazon.

If you would ask me what the most persuasive ingredient is of the sauce, I would say it’s copy.

The smartest algorithms make sure you get to see products that you love (to buy). A recommendation engine knows what you really want, what you really really want. Computing thousands of variables is the key to predicting consumer behavior. Right?

Nah, I don’t buy it*. The black box probably does have an impact, but I know for sure that the copy does.

The power of a few simple words

The words “Customers who bought this also bought” are cues of social proof.

This is a very well known persuasive principle of social psychology. Offers that are accompanied by a social proof message will be more effective than those with a merely neutral message.

What if Amazon would use its recommender technology and label it with “You could also try”. That would be a neutral message. A/B test “You could also try” versus “Customers who bought this also bought” and you will get an idea of how much of Amazon’s sauce is technology and how much copy.

And while you are at it, also test “Our editors recommend” as copy with authority cues. I’d bet it will do better than the neutral version.

More and more scientists understand the essential part that psychology plays in what appears to be technological enhanced commerce. If technology gives you an unfair competitive advantage, it’s essential to know what is really at play. It’s not enough to say your black box is the secret sauce.

We shouldn’t spend millions of dollar on technology, just for the sake of technology. Or should we?

People who bought recommender systems also bought yachts.**

The rise of the machines? Not so fast …

I am not a technologist. That’s why I like bashing technology.

I do run a high-end software boutique though, and I am amazed by the number of companies that seem to have an undying hunger for more technology. Most of the time I don’t see much reason for it.

A small sidestep …

Why do you think people buy yachts? Is it because they need a reliable means of transportation? To get them from A to B? For most, probably not. Maybe because they need a place where they can host one of their bunga bunga parties?

Getting warmer …

I think it’s safe to say that showing off to peers is a big part of the reason why luxurious yachts are being bought. “Darling … Henry bought his wife a yacht, so I was thinking of getting one for ourselves as well …”

Is a recommender system (technology) the best investment if you want to go from A to B? If you want to persuade people to buy your products I wouldn’t recommend putting all your hopes in black box technology.

The true killer app

I would advise you to better understand the psychology of consumer behavior.

Knowing why people buy will get you that unfair advantage that technology so often promises.


Understanding other people’s behavior might even shed light on why we buy recommender systems, or throw bunga bunga parties for that matter.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

*A big thank you to Sinan AralDean Eckles and Mats Einarsen for pointing me in the direction of scientific papers on the topic.

**Quote from K Young of his 2013 #DataGotham talk.

About the Author: Arjan Haring is cofounder of Science Rockstars, creators of PersuasionAPI. Supercharge your content by matching it to the persuasive DNA of your target audience.

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