What Role Should Religious Values Play in Business?

The decision by the Supreme Court earlier this week to hear an appeal to Obamacare forcing companies to provide contraceptive insurance coverage, over objections of owners who resist such coverage as a matter of their faith, will once again bring up a subject of much debate among business owners: Are the for-profit companies they have founded, own and manage extensions of themselves and eligible for Constitutional rights?

It is one of the thorniest of judicial issues today. Known in the legal world as “corporate personhood,” the concept says that companies are like people in the eyes of the law, and therefore have rights bestowed on them by the Founders.

For decades, courts rejected the idea. People have Constitutional rights. Companies don’t. But then came the famous Citizens Union decision from the Supreme Court in 2010, which said companies could spend what they wanted on political campaigns, because curtailing that would violate companies’ First Amendment rights to free speech.

So, if companies have a First Amendment right for speech, shouldn’t they have the same right to religious expression?

That is what the court will decide, but, for business owners today, the issue continues to be a tricky one. For one thing, many entrepreneurs see the companies they have created as extensions of themselves. In fact, their personal values and belief systems are often part of their company’s values.

Related: In Taking Aim at 23andMe, Regulators Missed the Mark

Sometimes, those are overtly religious values. Take Hobby Lobby, the retail chain that successfully fought Obamacare on religious grounds and whose case is one of three that the Supreme Court has agreed to consider. Christian values are so strong at the company that the stores are closed on Sunday and religious music plays for shoppers. The company’s founders took their deeply held religious beliefs and made them part of the corporation’s culture. Personal and corporate values became one.

It actually happens more than one would think on a smaller scale. Here in New York, the go-to place for technology products is a local business called B&H [http://www.bhphotovideo.com/]. But don’t try to go there on Friday afternoons or Saturdays. The store is closed, because the owners are Orthodox Jews. The store theoretically could be open, staffed by gentiles, but the values of the owners’ religion call for honoring the Jewish Sabbath, so much so that the company doesn’t even take orders online from Friday evening to Saturday evening.

Of course, corporate personhood goes beyond store hours, and can run counter to the beliefs of the employees that work there, as in the case with mandatory contraceptive coverage. The fear for opponents of corporate personhood is that the individual rights of employees are more likely to be trampled by the Constitutional rights of employers.
But we are not talking about discrimination here. Companies given Obamacare exemptions can’t all of a sudden decide that they can violate employment laws and not hire women or racial minorities. It is the time-tried and tired tendency to assume that, in capitalism, companies always are itching to do wrong by their own employees, in blind pursuit of profit. (It is interesting that opponents of capitalism often apply the word “evil,” so imbued with religious overtones, as the favorite adjective for “corporations” when discussing the companies they want to atheize.)

Related: The Ridiculous Thing One Congressman Said About Self-Driving Cars

In fact, the market serves as a pretty good regulator to limit corporate behavior if companies are afforded personhood. Say Hobby Lobby and companies like it prevail and are exempt from paying for contraceptive coverage. The company can be upfront about that issue in its hiring process. If you want to work our registers, you have to pay for your own contraception. At the same time, competitors could use lack of contraceptive coverage as a selling point in attracting the best employees, conceivably stealing them away from Hobby Lobby.

And there is an additional market dynamic. Ultimately, the Supreme Court is deciding whether corporations can choose to deny certain care on religious grounds. That doesn’t mean companies will automatically deny such care. Again, it seems short-sighted from a market perspective to hold back on some coverages if you are in competition for employees. (That competition isn’t as fierce now, because of relatively high unemployment, but it will be once the jobless rate is normalized.) Also, consumers aware of these policies may choose to take their custom elsewhere, because the owners’ decisions may run counter to their own beliefs. Workers and customers can vote with their feet – and their wallets.

Most companies won’t take advantage of a religious exemption because they will see it as bad business. After all, the good book of many boards leans more toward balance sheet than Bible. So, at its heart, the Supreme Court decision will be about choice. It will be about the freedom of corporations to choose what they offer in insurance coverage, and freedom to make those decisions based on corporate religious values, born from the shared values of the founders and owners and often codified in the very culture of those companies.

Is having a choice, with transparency and evaluative knowledge about the consequences for employees and consumers, really that bad? We’ll find out soon enough.

Related: GoldieBlox Removes Popular Video After Legal Fight With the Beastie Boys

Ray Hennessey is Editorial Director of Entrepreneur.com.

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3-D Printed Holiday Ornaments? Why Not.

A submission in the MakerBot ornament competition.

It’s not every year that advanced manufacturing geeks can get jazzed about decorating for the holidays.

But MakerBot is bringing together the world of 3D printers and interior decorating. The New York City-based 3D printer manufacturer has launched a contest for designs of 3D-printed holiday ornaments.

The contest is co-sponsored by Studio 360, a public radio show hosted by Kurt Anderson. If the winner of the ornament contest is in the U.S., he or she will get a $1000 voucher to travel to New York City and participate in a live Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson event on Dec. 17 with the CEO of MakerBot, Bre Pettis. If the winner is located outside the U.S., then the winner will participate in the Dec. 17 event through Skype.

Related: Need a Prototype? 3-D Printers Coming to UPS Stores

“Ornaments are always fun to create and often have special meaning to individuals and families, so it will be awesome to create some favorite holiday ornaments or design new ones that can be shared on Thingiverse and 3D printed to give to family and friends,” Pettis said in a statement.

A winner will be selected based on the originality of the design, the appropriateness of the holiday theme and the viability for the design to be made with a 3D printer.

Submit your design and see other ornaments on the MakerBot website here.

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

Catherine Clifford is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Illustration of a Turkey

The Copyblogger Media crew are taking advantage of today’s U.S. holiday to eat way too much pie, watch sports, and navigate complicated conversations with family (thank goodness for this pro tip from Tim Siedell on twitter yesterday):

Moving car, Thanksgiving table, same procedure. To quickly end an awkward conversation, tuck your arms and roll out the door.

— Tim Siedell (@badbanana) November 27, 2013

Whether or not you celebrate, enjoy a quiet day on the web … and consider entering our essay contest for fun and some very cool prizes. Here’s how:

How to Enter Copyblogger’s First-Ever Essay Contest

See you next Monday!

About the author

Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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Only One Week Left to Enter Copyblogger’s Essay Contest (and Compete for Insanely Useful Prizes)

Image of The Copyblogger Essay Contest Poster

You are a serious copywriter or content marketer (or both).

You must be.

Otherwise, why would you be here on the day before Thanksgiving? You surely have traveling to do or a turkey to prep.

So, given your commitment to the craft, I have no doubt that you are capable of stringing together 250 words that provide a compelling answer to the following question: “Why is it essential to be an online authority?”

The only question may be motivation. Do you really want to spend a portion of your Thanksgiving weekend writing?

Yes, you do. Since being an online authority means something to you. And motivation won’t be a problem once you see the crazy content marketing prizes that your short, sweet, and smart 250-word essay will give you a chance to win.

The prizes

As Demian explained last week when the contest launched, these are the prizes:

  • Grand prize (1): Ticket to Authority Intensive (in Denver, CO on May 7-9, 2014) and lifetime* access to Authority (approximate value $3,931).
  • First place prize (1): Lifetime* access to Authority (retail value $2,436).
  • Second place prizes (3): One-year membership to Authority (retail value $348).

*Lifetime access means as long as Authority exists. We have absolutely no plans to stop any time soon, given that there are over 5,000 Authority members who wouldn’t like that very much ;-)

Plus, we will publish all winning essays on Copyblogger as guest posts, and all winners will also receive a website badge designed by Copyblogger’s renowned Lead Designer Rafal Tomal.

So you receive “authority” in more ways than one.

The process

Here is the key date and time to remember: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 5:00 P.M. PST.

That is the deadline for submitting your essay. So if you procrastinate over Thanksgiving weekend, no worries, you’ll have a few days next week to get your submission in.

Important: there will be no exceptions, not for the deadline or for the 250-word limit.

Other important tips and stipulations to keep in mind:

  • Write with a unique style, voice, hook
  • Edit and proofread your essay before you submit
  • Make a logical argument

Also, do us a favor and take a rain check this time around if people already consider you something of a big deal in the content marketing space. Kudos on your success, but this contest is geared more toward the little guy and gal. We want to provide opportunity for the new kids on the block.

On Friday, December 13, 2013, we will announce the winners, as well as the dates that the winning posts will be published on Copyblogger.

Ready?

Here’s the easy 5-step submission process:

  1. Create or upload a document in Google Drive.
  2. Include your first and last name, email address, and a phone number on the document in the top left-hand corner (we will use this information ONLY for the purposes of this essay contest — no spam, ever).
  3. Share the document with us using the Google Drive share function to essays [at] copyblogger [dot] com.
  4. Hit done.
  5. This one is optional, but encouraged: add the “I entered Copyblogger’s Essay Contest” badge to your site. To do so, copy and paste this code into your blog post or web page:

(And if you don’t have a Google account, now is the perfect time to create one and also start using Google+ to build your online authority.)

The promotion

As mentioned, rock stars are not allowed to participate in this contest … but that doesn’t mean you can’t position yourself as an emerging rock star to your audience.

Let your audience and social media contacts know about your participation in Copyblogger’s first-ever essay contest, all while encouraging them to take part as well. You would appreciate such a heads up. So will your audience.

And, thanks to Rafal, we’ve made it easy and stylish to do so:

Simply copy and paste this code to embed the poster below on your site. Or link directly to the poster here.

That’s it.

Demian and I look forward to your submissions, and we wish you a happy and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend of food, friends, and family.

About the author

Jerod Morris

Jerod Morris is the Director of Content for Copyblogger Media and a founding member of the Synthesis Managed WordPress Hosting team. Get more from Jerod on Twitter and .

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Men’s Wearhouse to Jos A. Bank: We’re Suited for Each Other, and Here’s $1.5 Billion to Prove It

Clothing retailer Men’s Wearhouse made an offer of about $1.5 billion today to acquire competing men’s outlet Jos A. Bank, less than two months after rejecting an offer from Jos A. Bank to buy Men’s Wearhouse.

All’s fair in love, war and acquisition offers, including a move called the Pac-Man defense, which is what Men’s Wearhouse is using here. First seen in the 1980s, the tactic involves offering to buy a company that has attempted to buy you in a hostile takeover. Competing takeover attempts can make for contentious negotiations, to say the least.

In this case, the Men’s Wearhouse offer is the only potential deal on the table, since the retailer rejected Jos A. Bank’s $2.3 billion acquisition bid last month without entering discussions, according to published reports. At the time, it said the offer was too low.

Now Men’s Wearhouse is seeking to tie the knot with its former suitor for $55 a share. But while that was a nice premium on Jos A. Bank’s stock as of Monday’s market closing, it’s now below the stock price of more than $56 a share. Both companies have seen their stocks rise in recent weeks as a result of the offers, reflecting market confidence that a deal can be reached. Eminence Capital, the largest shareholder of Men’s Wearhouse with a nearly 10-percent stake, is reportedly pushing for a deal.

Related: Compete With the Big Guys on Black Friday

The resulting company would be the fourth-largest men’s apparel retailer in the U.S., with more than 1,700 stores and expected sales of more than $3.5 billion. “Together, we can create the premier men’s apparel retailer, with enhanced scale and a broader best-in-class offering for our valued customers, which we expect to drive significant shareholder value,” Doug Ewert, the president and chief executive of Men’s Wearhouse, said in a statement.

One man who won’t have a say in the proceedings is former chairman George Zimmer, who founded Men’s Wearhouse in 1973 and grew it into a multi-billion-dollar company in the decades that followed. Men’s Wearhouse unceremoniously booted Zimmer this past June despite climbing profits and stock price. In a statement, the board of directors accused him of having “difficulty accepting the fact that Men’s Wearhouse is a public company” and said he “expected veto power over significant corporate decisions.”

In turn, Zimmer wrote a public letter accusing the board of “eroding the principles and values that have made The Men’s Wearhouse so successful for all stakeholders.” Since his ouster, however, the company’s stock has continued to climb — despite a temporary dip in September — and is now trading above $51.50 a share, its highest price in more than five years.

Related: Online Lifestyle Retailers Are Turning Into Magazines

Brian Patrick Eha is an assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com.

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Pencils of Promise Is Giving Nonprofits a Hard-Nosed Entrepreneurial Facelift

Adam Braun with students in Laos outside of a school built by Pencils of Promise.

Adam Braun remembers a night a few years back when he was at a fancy, New York City rooftop soiree having an extended chat with a venture capitalist. About 20 minutes into the conversation, the investor asked Braun about his profession. Braun told him he ran a nonprofit organization.

“Immediately, his tone changed. The way that he looked at me changed,” said Braun. The venture capitalist then asked Braun whether the nonprofit “project” was a full-time endeavor, and when Braun responded in the affirmative, the man became aloof and disinterested in further conversation.

“I went home and I realized, that was happening a lot in various conversations and rooms that I was in,” says Braun. “I realized the phrase nonprofit does a massive disservice to the broader industry. It’s the only industry that introduces itself with the word non.” Instead, Braun prefers to introduce his organization as for-purpose.

Which is not to say that Braun is against the idea of working to make a profit. Quite the contrary; Braun staunchly believes in capitalism and the power of markets.

Related: Zipcar Founder: Entrepreneurs Have to Build a Collaborative Economy, or Else

Pencils of Promise Is Giving Nonprofits a Hard-Nosed Entrepreneurial Facelift

Adam Braun with a student in Guatemala.

Image credit: Nick Onken/Pencils of Promise

Before he launched Pencils of Promise — a philanthropic organization that builds schools in Latin America, Africa and Asia — Braun worked for management consultancy Bain & Company and before that, he worked in finance. His experience guided the way he set up his nonprofit. “I saw this level of business efficiency and accountability that often times does not translate into the nonprofit space, because people don’t hold nonprofits accountable to those same standards,” says Braun. “I wanted to run an organization that was run with business efficiency at the core.”

Braun’s nonprofit has, on many levels, been succeeding not only at the mission-level, but also according to rigorous business standards.

Now in its fifth year, Pencils of Promise is turning growth numbers that would please even the most competitive venture capitalist. In 2008, Braun launched Pencils of Promise with $25 and brought in $30,000 worth of donations. In 2009, he brought in $80,000 and in 2010, the organization raised $1 million. In 2011, donations doubled to $2 million, and last year, they topped $5 million.

When you are building schools in rural parts of developing countries, that’s enough money to build a lot of schools.

A Pencils of Promise classroom costs approximately $10,000 and a school costs $25,000. Since its inception, Pencils of Promise has built more than 150 schools enabling 13,000 children to receive an education. The goal, says Braun, is to build more than 500 schools, train 1,000 teachers and have 10,000 students in the program’s scholarship program.

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

One way that Pencils of Promise runs like a Fortune 500 company is that its financials are transparent, available for public viewing. You can pull the each year’s financial documents up on the Pencils of Promise website.

Those financials show that 85 percent of dollars brought into the organization go directly to programmatic uses, defined as building schools, training teachers and providing students scholarships. Further, 100 percent of the money donated online also goes directly into programmatic functions.

Pencils of Promise Is Giving Nonprofits a Hard-Nosed Entrepreneurial Facelift

Students learning in a school built by Pencils of Promise in Laos.

Image credit: Nick Onken/Pencils of Promise

Any administrative expenses that Pencils of Promise has, which Braun prides himself on keeping very slim, come from corporate donations. Individuals making donations often want to be guaranteed that their dollars go directly to helping children. Companies making donations typically have fewer restrictions on where the money can go and how it can be used, says Braun.

Also, Pencils of Promise has expertly leveraged business partnerships to help it grow. Braun has worked with a small army of corporate partners, including the likes of Warby Parker, Google, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, AOL, Vogue, AEG Live, and Birchbox. For businesses that work with Pencils of Promise, the relationship is mutually beneficial. Not only does Pencils of Promise get money and the business gets to write off the donation (Pencils of Promise is a 501(c)(3) organization), but corporate partners also gain a social mission that tends to unite and motivates employees of that corporation.

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

Pencils of Promise started from a drive to help children get access to quality education, no matter where they were born or what socioeconomic status they were born into. When backpacking through India in his early 20s, Braun asked a small boy he encountered who was begging what he would most want in the world. The boy’s response was, “a pencil.” In that moment, the idea for Pencils of Promise was conceived.

Braun has no misconceptions that despite his hard-nosed business acumen, Pencils of Promise is a mission-driven organization. But it’s a results-driven, outcome-driven, mission-driven organization. “In order for you to become successful in achieving your mission, the business has to be sound, and the stronger the business is, the more it should complement you achieving your mission and goals,” says Braun.

That combination – and Pencil of Promise’s ensuing success — has made Braun something of a rock star in the entrepreneur and nonprofit space. At the ripe old age of 30, Braun has already been named one of the first 10 World Economic Forum Global Shapers and honored at the United Nations by the Clinton Global Initiative. He has also spoken at the Google Zeitgeist conference and been named to Wired Magazine’s 2012 Smart List of 50 People Changing the World.

At the end of the day, Braun credits his company’s success to its emphasis on principles that work. “We speak a language that doesn’t just appeal to nonprofits and academics and traditional NGOs. We speak a broader language that sits at the intersection of nonprofits and for-profits and invites both of them to become supportive of the work we do and adopt some of these principles that we found have allowed us to become a high-growth organization,” he says. “I look at myself as an entrepreneur. Not a nonprofit, for-profit person. It’s just that I like starting things.” 

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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Are You Too Lazy to Write Less?

Image of Carpenter's Pencil

How long should an article or a blog post be?

How about a landing page?

The answer is, of course: “As long as necessary. And no longer.

Obvious, right?

Most writers know that brevity is crucial. In writing, like many things in life, “less is more.”

But in writing and in Texas BBQ, we tend to over-indulge. We don’t need the extra words any more than we need those surplus calories, delicious though they are.

Why does brevity matter?

In your content marketing, you might want to inform or you might want to entertain.

If your audience is mentally screaming “Get to the point!” you’ve done neither.

And no one will share your work if they don’t understand it, or if it bores them into a coma.

For sales copy, brevity is even more important. Yes, long copy sells. But “long” means you cover all of the important facts your prospect needs to know. It does not mean you indulge your desire to natter.

If you have ever silently waited, cash in hand, while a windbag salesperson droned on, you will recognize the issue here.

It actually takes more work to write a short post. You may find you spend twice as much time editing as you do writing.

But you owe it to your readers to cut the fat from your content.

Bottom line: If you want your words to have impact, get to the point — then get out of the way!

About the author

Chris Garrett

Chris Garrett is Chief Digital Officer at Copyblogger Media. He helps run Copyblogger’s educational programs like Authority, where he develops guides and tutorials to support Copyblogger customers in growing their businesses. Connect with Chris on Twitter.

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Content is a Verb: A Challenge for Freelance Writers

image of Morpheus from The Matrix

“Can you content my website?”

Here’s the thing you need to know when clients ask you to create content for their websites.

They don’t just need this asset called “content.” Because content marketing is more than a collection of text documents to be cut and pasted into WordPress or an email program.

It would be delightful if we could just write a whole bunch of words and call the job done. But (with the glorious exception of the email autoresponder) the real world doesn’t work that way.

Content is a noun — a set of files you send the client. But it’s also a verb — a collection of actions you deliver over time.

Here are some of the pieces.

Do you even Authorship?

When you’re creating content for clients, what matters most is the quality of the content. Is it readable, does it serve your client’s customers and potential customers, is it well-written and thoughtfully optimized?

But increasingly, it also matters who wrote it. Has the author established a high degree of credibility with the topic? Do other well-regarded experts respect this author’s work?

Google Authorship is just one element in a larger trend: your value as a writer doesn’t only lie in the great content you create today. Your clients also benefit from all the great content you’ve already published on their topic.

Becoming a recognized authority in your topic — and bringing some of that luster to your clients’ sites — carries any number of benefits, from improved click-throughs on SERPS to better social sharing via the network of people who know and respect you.

Go do this:

If you haven’t already, set up your Google+ account and claim your authorship markup. Start claiming authorship now now on the content you publish.

Because strategy

Some of your clients are going to be stuck in the pre-Panda world of “write me 100 keyword-stuffed articles so we can rank in the google engines.”

These are the clients you need to educate, or to fire.

Since they’re going to try to pay you two cents a word anyway, it won’t do your business any harm when you tell them you’re no longer available for their spammy projects.

Grown-up content marketing isn’t about creating undifferentiated buckets of keyword-stuffed crap. It’s about systematically creating a publishing program that includes:

  • Intelligent search optimization
  • Social media strategy
  • Lead-building attraction strategy
  • Prospect nurturing
  • Tested conversion content
  • Ongoing customer retention and referral strategy
  • … all focused on paving the way to a sale by benefiting the customer.

    Go do this:

    Go snag our free Content Strategy ebook, along with 14 other valuable free books and a 20-part course in email on how to become a stronger content marketer. You’ll learn all kinds of useful techniques and strategy that will benefit both your own business and your clients.

    Why u care about this?

    image of babyContent marketing isn’t tricky just because it relies on good writers. (Although that’s a factor.)

    Content marketing is tricky because you need to keep overarching business objectives in mind — while executing on the fine points and details that make for superior content.

    And the reason I’m torturing you with questionable English usage and silly internet memes is that I want you to remember that as a talented content creator and a student of marketing strategy, you have more to offer your clients than just pretty words.

    • You understand how SEO, social media, and content work together.
    • You understand how content can build enduring relationships with customers.
    • You don’t make silly guru mistakes like forgetting to actually sell the product.

    And remember — if you need some ongoing education as a writer and a content producer, we’ve got your back.

    Get started with MyCopyblogger (it’s free)

    Make sure you’re signed up for our complete library of marketing education. It will give you the advice, tactics, and underlying strategies you need to deliver a knockout content marketing program — today, tomorrow, and for the long haul.

    About the author

    Sonia Simone

    Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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Making Gratitude Part of Your Company Culture

Making Gratitude Part of Your Company Culture

Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to reflect on all that we’re grateful for, but for some companies, gratitude is not a once-a-year occasion, but is a value embedded in their company culture.

Bristol Mountain, a ski resort in upper New York State, began its “Snow Angel” program last year. Guests and staff who are witnessed performing an act of kindness — such as brushing the snow off their neighbor’s car windshield in the parking lot, helping a new skier up off the ground, giving up their spot in line or picking up a lost pole — are rewarded with a translucent card containing an image of a Snow Angel as a token of thanks. 

“[Both staff and guests] love the idea of getting the card,” says Drew Broderick, Bristol’s director of sales and marketing. “It’s almost like a medal.”

The snow angel program not only gives reason for guests and staff to be kind to one another, but is good for business, she says. “It instils this warm feeling throughout the entire organization,” says Broderick.

Related: Is Generosity Hurting Your Bottom Line?

Steve Butcher, CEO of Seattle-based fair-trade ticketing company Brown Paper Tickets, encourages his 85 employees to give back to the community through “paid time on.” Each year, employees are given 40 volunteer hours at normal salary. Last year, more than 250 hours were cashed in. Butcher says instilling a culture of volunteerism helps employees become more fulfilled as individuals, and in turn, perform better.

“They’re better to work with,” he says. “They’re more cooperative. [They] make better decisions on the job, and they’re more empathetic to our customers.”

Related: Why Milton Friedman Could Love Social Entrepreneurship

Creating an organizational culture of generosity is healthy for business, says Patricia Thompson, an Atlanta-based corporate psychologist and president of Silver Lining Psychology. Here, she offers the top three reasons to create a culture of generosity in your business:

1. Enhances mood. “Research shows that engaging in acts of kindness is associated with greater happiness,” says Thompson. While being stressed and in a negative mood puts our bodies into fight-or-flight mode and limits our range of thoughts, making us less effective as problem solvers, positive emotions can improve productivity and inspire innovation. “Having positive emotion broadens your perspective and allows you to be more creative and curious,” says Thompson.

2. Encourages teamwork. A culture of generosity encourages employees to work collaboratively. In the case of Brown Paper Tickets, Butcher says employees often corral others to participate in their volunteer projects, creating bonding opportunities that translate into creating a more cooperative environment in the workplace.

3. Employee retention. Thompson says more and more the newest generation of employees are looking for more meaning from their work. A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center found 21 percent of millenials place a higher priority on helping people in need while only 15 percent placed priority on having a high-paying career. “Having opportunities to feel they’re getting fulfilment through their work and not just a paycheck is increasingly important,” says Thompson. Fulfilled employees are more loyal and committed to the company, giving businesses that embrace a culture of generosity a competitive advantage.
 

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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Be An Instant Expert With Google Helpouts (Video)

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Not every question can be fully answered by typing words into a search engine. Entrepreneurs now have a new tool in their digital utility belts: Google Helpouts. These paid, live video chats can connect you with gurus and specialists who can get you up to speed on whatever it is you need to know, when you need to know it.

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A Content Marketing Experience Designed to Take Your Business to the Next Level

It’s a frightfully familiar scenario.

Smart, motivated people attend an online marketing conference, and get overwhelmed with fascinating facts, figures, and tactics. They then get back home and realize they have no comprehensive framework to implement these otherwise valuable tips.

That’s because most conferences are packaged as a “big box of awesome.” A whole bunch of great stuff, but no assembly instructions to put it all together in a meaningful way.

Authority Intensive is different.

It’s been carefully designed from inception to provide a complete content marketing strategy broken into four integrated “bundles” of tactics. This approach provides you with exactly what you need to take your business to the next level with effective online marketing.

And let’s not forget the secret sauce: real-world relationships. At Authority Intensive, you’ll mingle with some of the smartest online marketers on the planet, and meet like-minded people to trade ideas, forge partnerships, and maybe even create new companies.

Let’s start with the speakers. You’ll be enlightened by the likes of Seth Godin, Ann Handley, Darren Rowse, Bryan Eisenberg, Lee Odden, and Sonia Simone. Plus more of the finest handpicked online marketing experts who are not only at the top of their game — they can teach it as well (a rare combination).

We’re also known for throwing great parties, and Authority Intensive will be no exception. In addition to comprehensive education and meaningful networking, you’ll enjoy the fantastic food, excellent ambience, and creative cocktails that ensure a remarkable event.

I’m looking forward to seeing you in May. Spring in Colorado is spectacular, and it provides the perfect setting for an exceptional business-building experience.

Get all the details and save $500 off your ticket here.

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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Fewer Americans Thankful for U.S. Economic Situation Than in the ’80s. But They All Love Their Leftovers.

In comparison to many countries around the world, the U.S. economy is stable. But as Americans gather around their turkey dinners next week, not many of them will be giving thanks for the state of the economy.

A new poll from market research firm Harris Interactive finds that 17 percent of adults are thankful for the nation’s economic situation in 2013, up slightly from 14 percent in 2011 but down from 23 percent in 2010. Data from 2012 was not immediately available.

The percentage of adults thankful for the economic situation in the U.S. is about a fifth of what it was in 1984, when 78 percent of adults said they were thankful for the state of the U.S. economy. It’s important to note that, in 1984, the U.S. had just emerged from a painful recession that had begun in 1980.

Related: In Weak Shopping Environment, Cyber Monday Is Where It’s At

Harris polled almost 2,400 adults between Oct. 16 and 21 for the report, which was released this week.

While not many adults are thankful for the state of the national economy this year, a much greater portion of Americans are thankful for their own financial state. More than six in 10 adults say they are thankful for their own personal economic situation, down from eight in 10 in 1980.

While Americans are pretty bummed out about the economy this Thanksgiving, they are excited to fill up on turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Four in 10 survey respondents get the most excited for turkey, two crave stuffing the most and a bit more than one in 10 hanker for pumpkin pie more than any other Thanksgiving treat.

While excitement is fairly split about what is the best, most exciting dish at the main dinner event, there is a healthy consensus that leftovers are where the magic happens. Two-thirds of survey respondents say leftovers are more important than Thanksgiving dinner.

Related: Startup Entrepreneurship Growing at an Exponential Rate

Catherine Clifford is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com.

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Cell Phone Calls During Flights: Best Idea or Worst Idea Ever?

Love it or hate it, chatting on your cell phone during a flight could soon become a reality. 

The Federal Communications Commission is considering new rules that would allow passengers to make calls on their cell phones during flights.

“Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement on Thursday. “I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”

Related: Mobile Carriers Say No to Proposed ‘Kill Switch’ to Deter Smartphone Theft

The proposal is already getting some pushback. The Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing flight attendants, issued a statement Thursday expressing concerns that in-flight calls would not only be disruptive to passengers, but unsafe.

“In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating negative effects on aviation safety and security that are great and far too risky,” the union said. “Besides potential passenger conflicts, flight attendants also are concerned that in emergencies, cell phone use would drown out announcements and distract from life-saving instructions from the crew.”

Someone in Richmond, Va., has already launched a petition on a White House website against the proposed changes. The petition on the “We the People” site calls the proposal “the worst idea the FCC has come up with to date.”

“This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse, and as a frequent flier and concerned citizen, I think the administration needs to nip this in the bud. Just because we CAN use our phones at 30,000 feet doesn’t mean that we SHOULD be able to.”

An online petition needs 100,000 signatures in order for the White House to issue a public response. As of late Friday morning, 734 people had signed.

The news comes on the heels of several other important moves concerning device use on airplanes. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration announced plans to permit airlines in the U.S. to allow passengers to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight. The European Commission followed suit with similar news and gave the green light to the use of 3G and LTE networks in flight.

Related: A Realistic Digital Detox in 5 Easy Steps

Tell Us: Are you happy about the FCC’s proposal to allow cell phone calls on flights? Let us know in the comments below.

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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David Ogilvy’s Prophetic “Secret Weapon” of Selling

Almost forty years ago, storied ad man David Ogilvy sat down in an office somewhere in India and recorded a little film confessing the — as he put it — “secret weapon” of advertising that actually works.

It was a hot day, so he took off his jacket, exposing his infamous red suspenders. Ogilvy spoke simply and directly to his audience on the other side of the camera.

The prophecy he uttered in that grainy 7-minute film all those years ago has come to pass, with a bullet.

Though visionary, Ogilvy could not have imagined just how powerful his “secret weapon” would become in the age of the Internet, or how it would ultimately be wielded by individuals building media companies with nothing more than a laptop and sufficient quantities of research and sweat.

Watch the grand old man below. Make the connection between Ogilvy’s 80-year-old secret and the principles we talk about around here week in and week out.

There is nothing new under the sun, we only need the humility and intelligence to correctly apply the proven wisdom and strategy that has come before us …

Ladies and Gentlemen, I envy you. For forty years, I’ve been a voice crying in the wilderness. Today, my first love is coming to its own. You face a golden future. ~ David Ogilvy

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About the author

Robert Bruce

Robert Bruce is VP of Marketing for Copyblogger Media, as well as its Resident Recluse.

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What This Female CEO Learned About Gender Bias After Pitching 200 VCs

There’s no denying that female CEOs are still a rarity. We account for only about seven percent of CEOs in the start-up world. Female VCs are equally scarce, which means a female CEO is usually pitching to a male investor who is used to hearing pitches from other men.

So if the guys create the benchmark for a successful venture pitch, which they do by shear volume alone, what does that mean for how women are perceived by venture capitalists? Does that affect the fundraising process?

Many of the male CEOs I know pitch their startups with a “Billion Dollars or Bust” story and the successful ones are masterful storytellers.

I remember being amazed at the ease with which one CEO painted a picture of the massive value that his company would create. He peppered his story with just enough metrics to pre-emptively neutralize any doubts that might arise. He made his vision seem inevitable.

But listening closely, trying to hook into the tangibles that would make his vision come true, I found that those tangibles weren’t really there. They couldn’t be. The reality is that startups must navigate so many unknowns. It’s impossible to map out the route from seed to IPO. That mapping has to happen on the road.

And yet, that storytelling ability is critical in raising capital.

I think there’s an inherent challenge for women telling the “Billion Dollars or Bust” story, or at least there was for me.

Related: Why It’s Harder For Women to Raise VC Funds

Don’t get me wrong. I want nothing less than to reinvent online video to make it richly interactive. And I want Rapt Media to lead that billion-dollar expedition.

But the process of building a company is iterative and I focus on the next set of milestones and the next risks to be mitigated. If the guys are great at describing the view from the top of the mountain, then I’m the one focused on putting one foot in front of the other to get to the next ridge.

This is not uncommon for female CEOs. Mauria Finley, CEO and founder of Citrus Lane, has written about lessons-learned in fundraising. She says that too often, women “pitch based on their skills and competence, and they undersell their vision.”

So should female CEOs adapt to a more masculine style of pitching? I don’t think so. There is still subtle gender bias when it comes to how women are perceived that might actually make the Billion-Dollar story ineffective.

I first understood this from one of Rapt Media’s investors, Adam Quinton, who is an active early-stage investor and a professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.

“When it comes to leadership behaviors,” says Quinton, “there is plenty of evidence that women suffer the double-bind, a sort of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario.” Because typical male behaviors are more commonly associated with leadership, women are often perceived as great team players, but not leaders. And yet taking on male leadership traits is often actually counter-productive,” says Quinton.

“Women who step outside of the recognized feminine behavior patterns are typically tagged by both men and women as unlikable,” he says. “You’re really only going to be successful if you are authentic. People need to see you for what you are. You can flex things at the margins, but you can’t make yourself into a macho bullshitting guy if you aren’t one!”

Related: 9 Women in Tech Building Apps That Make a Difference

Rapt Media has raised $3 million and in that time, I’ve probably given more than 200 pitches. I’ve tried pitching big vision. I’ve tried pitching demonstrated progress over time.

Ultimately, building relationships with investors who I like and respect, and who understand me as a leader worked best. This relationship building is a slower method for closing capital, but over the long run, it’s better for the company and our investors.

The good news is that, according to PitchBook, the number of venture deals going to female-lead companies has more than tripled, from four percent to 13 percent since 2004. This may be driven, in part, by the growing body of research that has shown companies with gender-diverse executive teams outperform those that are homogenous.

I think this will become a virtuous cycle. The more women that found and lead good companies, the more open VCs will be to different leadership styles, and that benchmark for what a successful pitch should look like will shift to include approaches that may be less stereotypically male.

But until we have more female CEOs, just remember: Be authentic. But be sensitive to what your audience wants to hear. Know that women founders do get funded. And recognize that fundraising is hard no matter who you are because ultimately, shrewd tenacity may be even more important than selling the dream.

Related: 10 Highest-Earning Female CEOs
 

Erika Trautman founded Rapt Media, a Boulder, Colo.-based creative platform for interactive enterprise video. Before Rapt Media, she founded and ran an Emmy Award Winning Production company, Outlier Films, and worked as a documentary filmmaker.

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How to Design Your Way into Customers’ Hearts

The following is the fourth in the series “Live Your Brand” in which branding expert Melanie Spring takes us along on her three-week road trip across the country to meet innovative entrepreneurs whose experiences offer lessons learned to businesses big and small.

Landscape architect, Ernest “Ernie” Wong, is the son of Chinese immigrant and well-known Chicago building architect, Y.C. Wong. With a father of such prominence in a city known for its architecture, Ernie was uninspired to figure out a career direction as a child. His youth, affectionately called his thug years, was spent rebelling against everything his family stood for until Ernie’s life took a simple, yet drastic turn.

Ernie was asked to join the Student Conservation Association, which places children in National Parks to rebuild trails and bridges. “As I stood on top of a mountain overlooking one of the National Parks, I realized the world was bigger than me,” Ernie recalls. “I knew then that I wanted to create parks people remembered.”

Not long after this inspired moment, Site Design Group, Inc. was created. For more than 20 years, the landscape architecture firm has been transforming empty spaces across Chicago into beautiful parks.

Site Design Group lives by two core values — taking care of others and living in harmony. These principles drive how they work with each other and how they work with clients. These core values have helped the firm build a strong and established reputation in Chicago.

From the open office plan and big windows to the stocked kitchen, Site Design Group’s 6,000 square foot office is set up to keep its employees connected. They create big projects with just a few people and because they have a family environment, employees stay to see projects through to completion. Ernie rewards employees for their potential. For example, he recently promoted a 26-year-old in the company to Principal for his work ethic and promise.

The firm’s projects include parks in urban and suburban areas. One of Ernie’s favorite spaces was created in place of a landfill. His team removed the landfill and created quiet areas that provided refuge from the loud urban neighborhood. Taking the human element an extra step, they recycled sidewalk pieces to make the steps to the pond, made the whole park sustainable by creating a fountain that feeds the wetlands below in the warmer months and built walkways made of grated metal so the park never had to be cleaned.

One of the most thoughtful aspects of Site Design Group is their ability to create parks that look beautiful in all seasons. All of their portfolio pictures are done in black and white because they design for light and reflection, not color.

And Ernie is most interested in how to improve the user experience. “People interact with the space differently than you imagined while designing,” he says. “You realize what you could have added or changed by watching them use the space and take that into your next project.”

Learning from each project and experience helps shape the company and Ernie’s approach moving forward. “Although there is never a perfect project, it’s how we keep learning and growing,” he says. “When I stop learning, I’ll quit being an architect.”
 

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

As the Chief Inspiration Officer of Sisarina, a D.C.-based branding firm, Spring built her business with a strong content marketing strategy. With an innate sense for social media, connecting with her customers, and building a culture around her brand, she teaches businesses and non-profits how to rock their brand. She also recently toured the U.S. on the Live Your Brand Tour collecting stories from businesses living their brand.

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6 Proven Ways to Boost the Conversion Rates of Your Call-to-Action Buttons

Editor’s Note: We are very pleased to announce that Joanna Wiebe will be speaking at Authority Intensive — Copyblogger’s first large-scale live event in May 2014. Get all the details (and your tickets) right here.

Visitors who don’t click don’t convert.

As marketers, we know this to be true.

Your visitors can’t get through your checkout process or signup form without clicking at least one button. And that one button — like all of your buttons — can be improved on.

But we fail to optimize calls to action for pretty simple reasons, all of which are complete BS.

We need to stop ignoring the so-called “small things,” especially when conversions depend on them.

Instead, apply a few of the following click-boosting techniques in this post, which A/B tests have proven can generate conversion boosts ranging from 20 to 95 percent.

No more excuses

See if you can relate to any of these excuses for failing to optimize calls to action:

  • It’s hard to get creative when you’ve only got room for two or three words on a button
  • Everything seems best summarized as “Learn More,” “Sign Up,” or “Buy Now”
  • If people really want my stuff, the button isn’t going to make or break a conversion
  • Buttons are small — we’ve got bigger fish to fry than that!

Those excuses are like a ceiling blocking your conversion rate from lifting. Your call to action isn’t supposed to summarize … it’s supposed to get people to act.

You shouldn’t limit your button copy to a three-word maximum. A button that fits the standards of every one-percent-converting site should not be the button you expose to your hard-won visitors.

You’re not writing copy for visitors who would walk over hot coals to get your stuff. You are most often writing for people who are on the fence and who can be pulled over to your patch of grass with great messages.

So let’s cut the excuses and start using techniques we know will work, like the six data-backed methods for improving conversions explained below.

1. Entertain the lizard brain

Here, here and in the must-read Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain, we learn that the amygdala — aka our “lizard brain” — is the part of our brain that has been around for 450 million years and still powers our actions:

The old brain is a primitive organ, a direct result of the basic evolutionary process. It is our ‘fight or flight’ brain — our survival brain — and is also called the reptilian brain because it is still present in reptiles today.
~ Renvoise & Morin, 2007

Part of our survival instinct is the tendency to notice differences in our environment. We’re hard-wired to.

Valid reasoning and the written word haven’t had even a fraction of the time necessary to be part of an ‘instinctive’ response in us. For this reason, we need to rely on more than “If X, then Y” reasoning and written messages to make a sale or get a signup.

Consider these buttons, which were, until recently, on the Plans & Pricing page for AcuityScheduling.com:

consider-buttons

Of those three buttons, which one stands out the most?

The different one does — the third and final one in the row. It uses different copy than the first two, and it’s the only button supported by a second line of copy.

Because the third one here stands out, our lizard brain is most entertained by it. So we’re most likely to zero in on it and make a decision that considers it. For Acuity Scheduling, that meant the third button, which is for their $0 plan, was getting the most clicks.

Not great for paid conversions.

So we tested two different button treatments against it.

Variation B, shown below, incorporated a second line of copy below each button. It also used a different color on the button of the middle-of-the-road plan.

wiebe-planVariation C, shown below, repeats what we did in Variation B, but the new button color is orange.

wiebe-orange-variation-c

Importantly, in both treatments the button copy for the two paid plans was identical and, at first glance, only the button color seemed different. This is by design.

It leverages the insights of Dan Ariely’s “Ugly Tom / Ugly Jerry” experiment (Auto-Play Video), where subjects were first asked to choose who was more attractive, Tom or Jerry. Here’s what they saw:

wiebe-tom-jerry

Ariely also presented the following sets of options to groups of subjects:

wiebe-tom-jerry-group

Ariely found that, for those who saw Form A, attractive Jerry was most popular; for those who saw Form B, attractive Tom was most popular. This illustrates how people tend to compare the two most similar options in a set — eliminating the radically different option — and from the two similar options choose the more attractive one.

This Acuity Scheduling button test isn’t an identical duplication of Ariely’s test. But it does force similarities between the first two options and then make one of those two more attractive to the lizard brain by making it a standout color.

Let’s see the treatments again:

Control

wiebe-control

Variation B

wiebe-variation-b

Variation C

wiebe-variation-c

These very minor changes resulted in big improvements in account starts. Variation B (the green button) saw an 81 percent lift over the control, and Variation C (the orange button) saw a 95 percent lift over the control.

Beyond the Ugly Tom / Ugly Jerry effect, this test also highlights a reptilian tendency to look for color: the orange button was outside the green-grey-black color scheme of the page, drawing more eyes than the green.

It’s human nature to appreciate contrast. Bet you didn’t know that the greater the contrast between a flower and its background, the more likely a bee is to prefer it.

2. Focus visitors on simple calls to action

You’ve read about the paradox of choice and analysis paralysis. So you know that people generally (but not always) have a hard time making a decision — and feeling good about that decision — when they are presented with a lot of options.

Can adding more buttons to a busy page help reduce the crippling effects of choice overload? And is choice overload a real thing?

In this popular Jam Experiment, Columbia’s Sheena Iyengar presented some patrons of a high-end grocery store with six jams to sample and other patrons of that same store with 24 jams to sample.

The 24-jam display attracted more people than the six-jam display, but it converted far fewer into paying customers.

wiebe-jamsPhoto credit: sheenaiyengar.com

The takeaway? People think they want a lot, but having fewer options makes it easier to arrive at a choice confidently.

Additionally, fewer choices can improve how satisfied we are with our decisions.

In another study by Iyengar, participants who were given six chocolates from which to choose one were happier with their selection than those who selected one chocolate out of 30 possibilities.

wiebe-regret

Fewer choices may make your visitor feel happier. And happiness is an extraordinarily powerful emotion for converting people, getting them to talk about you, and keeping them loyal to your brand.

Think about your home page — how many options do you give your visitors?

We tested simplifying options on the TGStore.eu homepage, which presents visitors with loads of information and options largely because they have so many SKUs.

Many ecommerce sites experience the same problem when trying to figure out what goes on the home page — they end up throwing everything on there, like TG did:

wiebe-tg-store

This is a page filled with visual stimuli: images of men, images of women, landscape shots, bicycles blurred in motion, runners running, water beading on fabric. And nearly every image on the page has copy overlaid on it or positioned just below it.

With so much info and so many distractions, could visitors be burdened by too much choice when landing here, and could that be negatively impacting clicks deeper into the site?

To find out, our treatment presented half of TG Store’s visitors with a home page that looked like this (above the fold):

wiebe-tg-store-2

Can you spot what we did? We added in four new calls to action. Yep, in a page filled with places to go and things to do, we gave people four more things to do.

wiebe-tg-cta

So how might offering more choices help minimize choice overload? Answer: by focusing visitors on clear, unmistakable calls to action that simplify their decisions.

For the part we added in, we kept the background neutral to eliminate visual distractions and simplified options into manageable sets of decisions a visitor can painlessly make:

  • Decision 1: Identify yourself as a man or woman
  • Decision 2: Choose between cycling or running (the two most popular category pages on the site)

The buttons are the same on both the men’s and the women’s — same coloring, same copy — to avoid competition and distraction.

With these new calls to action, TG Store saw 96.6 percent more visitors go to Shop Cycling (Men) and 104.5 percent more go to Shop Running (Men), both with 100 percent confidence. The women’s buttons also trended above the control but didn’t reach confidence.

Now, this might feel like one of those tests where you think, “Well, that goes without saying. When you give people new options that weren’t there before, you’re going to get more clicks to those pages.” But that’s our job as online marketers.

We’re supposed to see where visitors most like to go on our sites — by using analytics and keywords — and help them get to those destinations without interruption.

3. Make buttons look like buttons

The subject of signifiers (sometimes called affordances) is a big one in the user experience (UX) world, and in conversion.

When we’re talking about signifiers in web design, we’re generally talking about making elements on a page look like what they’re meant to be used for.

In other words: A button needs to look like a button.

Users need to identify it quickly as an element to click in order to initiate an act.

So, would a first time visitor coming to your page absolutely know which elements are clickable? Or would they be like Ariel when she found a fork, naively guessing at what to do:

wiebe-ariel

Buttons are easier to click when we know they’re clickable.

This is why grey buttons are generally poor for conversion — they look disabled, so a lot of visitors won’t know they’re even allowed to click them.

The home page of CreateDebate.com is filled with calls to action to join various debates in progress. And above their fold, they were burdening visitors with what appeared to be even more calls to action in the form of four huge buttons:

wiebe-create-debate

In fact, the largest blue ‘button’ isn’t a button at all. But it sure looks like one, doesn’t it? All those buttons weren’t helping visitors understand what they should click on.

We tested a single, obvious call to action – one that had all the signifiers of a button, including the image of a cursor on it — against the control.

The following treatment created a 45% boost in account starts:

wiebe-create-debate-2

While you may not have body copy in something that appears like a button, you may have the inverse on your site: buttons that do not signify “Click Me.”

Can people easily identify the primary call to action on each page of your site? Is that call to action easy to acquire (e.g., large enough)? Does it bear signs suggesting clickability?

Consider the following:

  • A 3D effect
  • A contrasting, non-grey color
  • Feedback on hover (e.g., different color)
  • Whitespace around it
  • An arrow pointing to it with instructional copy

Your designer might really want a flat-design button. But before you hop on the flat-design trend … test.

4. Write button copy in the first person

A great rule of thumb when writing a call to action is to make your button copy complete this sentence:

I want to ________________

That little trick is how we get buttons like Find Out How to Ride a Bike and Make Sense of My Finances Fast. It’s also how we avoid buttons like Register to Learn More … because no one wants to register to learn more.

That formula leads us down the path of writing calls to action in the first person.

Writing this way feels pretty uncomfortable when you first start doing it. But time and again we see it work in split-tests, which reinforces — at least for me — that the more uncomfortable your copy makes you, the more likely you’re doing it right.

Michael Aagard of Content Verve shared two tests in which he saw a 25 percent increase and a 90 percent increase in clicks on buttons that were written in the first person. Note that in both cases the control was in the second person, by which I mean it used the word “your” instead of “my.”

Here’s the one that brought in 90 percent more clicks:

wiebe-content-verve(Source: Unbounce)

The only difference between this high-converting button and the lower-converting button was whom it seemed the button was built for.

Taking this idea, we tested the following two buttons on a Schedulicity.com landing page:

CONTROL

wiebe-control-2

TREATMENT B

wiebe-treatment-b-2

Treatment B, which is in the first person, generated a lift of 24 percent with 98 percent confidence. Of course, Treatment B also eliminated the phone number (without negative impact on the business) and introduced more benefits-focused language.

If you’re unsure if the first person approach here really worked, see how it helped in the next button test …

5. Boost your buttons with “click triggers”

In this book, I introduce the term “click triggers”, which are essentially the extra boosts you put around a button to convince more people to click it.

The way I see it, there is a wall standing between your prospect and a conversion. Our job as marketers and copywriters is to get people over the wall by:

  1. Knocking bricks down, virtually eliminating the wall
  2. Sliding boosters under our prospects’ feet until they are high enough to step down from the wall

To knock bricks down, we overcome objections and reduce anxieties. To slide boosters underfoot, we delight.

Click triggers do this work at the point of conversion and can include:

  • A testimonial, review, or tweet
  • A data point
  • Star ratings
  • Low-price messaging
  • Guarantees
  • Free or two-way shipping messaging
  • Payment-option messaging and/or icons
  • Security messaging and/or icons
  • Privacy messaging
  • Risk-minimizing messaging (e.g., a snippet about what happens after clicking)
  • Your value proposition

The challenge is not simply using a click trigger near a button — most of us are already doing that. The challenge is to use the right click-trigger near a button.

On the signup page of FriendBuy.com, this is the call to action to submit a three-field form:

wiebe-free-trial

It has no click triggers around it. Here’s how it looks in the context of the page:

wiebe-friend-buy

We tested two variations against this, both of which incorporated a click trigger.

Variation B used a testimonial:

wiebe-trial-variation-b

Variation C used two objection-reducing bullets:

wiebe-variation-c-bullets

Which one won? Variation C beat the control by 34 percent with 99 percent confidence.

Simply by adding two click triggers — one an anxiety-reducer about credit cards, the other a key benefit of the solution — FriendBuy now sees 134 signups for every 100 it used to see.

Variation B didn’t reach confidence, but it did trend above the control by approximately 15% throughout the test.

Moral of the story? Click triggers are good. And you should test to find the right ones for the right points in your conversion funnel.

A click trigger that will get someone to click from a home page is very different from the one that will boost conversions on a checkout page.

6. When visitors are ready, unleash the awesome

Your calls to action in your checkout process — whether you’ve got an ecommerce or SaaS business — are definitely not the time to start hesitating or playing it cool.

It is in your checkout that you most need to pull out all the stops to get that button clicked and transform a visitor into a customer.

If you’re only going to run one A/B test this year, make it a test of your Cart call to action.

Among the checkout and signup button tests I’ve run or studied in recent years, the best wins have come from:

  • Increasing the size of the primary button
  • Using a higher-contrast color for the primary button
  • Greying out or visually ‘cooling’ secondary calls to action (e.g., “Update cart”)
  • Moving the position of the primary button above the fold
  • Removing competing calls to action, like email opt-ins
  • Removing the global navigation
  • Adding influential testimonials
  • Adding risk-reducing messaging near the button (e.g., “Next, you’ll review your order”)
  • Offering multiple payment options, including adding PayPal

Security icons can often help too, but that’s especially tricky and worth a test. The reason is that, for some visitors, security icons can introduce anxiety where none existed. To be sure you’re doing right by your visitors, test it.

In this test for Gumballs.com, we got a paid lift of 20 percent by, above all, focusing visitors’ attention as much as possible on the button instead of on distractions.

Here’s the control:

wiebe-gumballs

And here’s the treatment that generated 20% more paid conversions, with the changed area highlighted for you (i.e., within the orange box):

wiebe-gumballs-2

Using nearly everything covered earlier in this article, we did the following in the winning treatment:

  • Drew the eye away from the bright coloring of Coupon Code (which can increase cart abandonment) and Estimate Shipping by adding a thicker green-and-glowing box around the primary call to action. (Note that we couldn’t change that bright red font color for this test.)
  • Changed the button copy to the first person: “I’m Ready to Check Out”
  • Made the button slightly bigger
  • Used testimonial click triggers to boost clicks while separating the primary call to action from the distraction of the opt-in call to action

We also replaced the instructional “Estimate Shipping” copy with the benefits-focused “Fast, Affordable Shipping.”

With just a few simple tests …

These are quick, simple changes that are insanely easy to test. And they resulted in a statistically significant increase that effectively grew the Gumballs.com business by 20 percent.

Now imagine if you optimized your checkout button as well as the other buttons on your site, thus driving more people into your cart only to get more of them to convert.

How much could your web business grow with just a few tweaks to a few tiny, insignificant buttons?

About the Author: Joanna Wiebe is a conversion copywriter and the founder of Copy Hackers, where startup marketers learn to convert like mofos. You should get a free 4-part course on copywriting fundamentals by signing up here and follow her on Twitter to stay in constant supply of conversion-boosting copywriting techniques.

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Enter Copyblogger’s First-Ever Essay Contest For a Chance to Win $7,000 in Content Marketing Prizes

Image of The Copyblogger Essay Contest Poster

Great content creators demand attention. They grow audiences and influence thousands.

They become high-priced mentors, run popular membership programs, build successful businesses, and get the pick of top marketing jobs for some of the best companies.

They are the Seth Godins of the world. The Darren Rowses. The Ann Handleys, Sonia Simones, and Brian Clarks.

See, content makes the Internet work — and when a content creator makes great content, it’s just a matter of time before their name becomes synonymous with their field of expertise.

Fortunately, achieving that status isn’t out of your reach.

This is why we rolled out our content marketing training program Authority, and our upcoming live event Authority Intensive. Our goal with these training resources is to help you become an online publisher people cannot ignore.

And you now have a new and unique way of getting involved …

If you decide to enter our 2013 essay contest, that is.

Your mission:

Write a 250-word essay on “Why It’s Essential to Be an Online Authority” and submit it (see below) no later than 5:00 P.M. PST, Wednesday, December 4, 2013.

Here are the criteria:

  • Unique style, voice, hook. You don’t have to use the headline we offered — you can (and should) come up with your own version of unique, useful, and ultra-specific. Don’t forget to do your research.
  • Proper grammar and correct spelling. You must edit and proofread your essay before you submit. Mistakes could very well will land your essay in the trash bin.
  • Sound argument. Use of sources, solid lines of reasoning. We will ask “Is it logical? Does it make sense?”
  • No rock stars. I understand this one is a bit more subjective, but the point is to discourage hot shots who get it and have got it, and instead encourage the folks who aren’t quite as well known. (Yet.) So if people consider you somewhere on the rock star spectrum, please take a rain check this time around.

Now, let’s take a look at the prizes, shall we?

The loot:

  • Grand prize: The grand prize winner will win a ticket to Authority Intensive (in Denver, CO on May 7-9, 2014) AND lifetime* access to Authority (approximate value $3,931).
  • First place prize: One person will get lifetime* access to Authority (retail value $2,436).
  • Second place prizes: Three people will receive a one-year membership to Authority (retail value $348).

We will publish all winning essays on Copyblogger as guest posts. So there’s that, too.

On Friday, December 13, 2013, we’ll announce all winners, as well as the dates that we’ll be publishing the winning posts on Copyblogger (one per week for five weeks).

All winners will receive email notification at least one day prior to the public announcement. That announcement will include the name, website, and brief bio of each of the winners. Winners will also receive a handsome badge crafted by our legendary Lead Designer Rafal Tomal to proudly display on their sites.

*Lifetime access means as long as Authority exists. We have absolutely no plans to stop any time soon, given that there are over 5,000 Authority members who wouldn’t like that very much ;-)

Copyblogger Essay Contest BadgeHow to submit your essay:

  1. Create or upload a document in Google Drive.
  2. Include your first and last name, email address, and a phone number on the document in the top left-hand corner (we will use this information ONLY for the purposes of this essay contest — no spam, ever).
  3. Share the document with us using the Google Drive share function to essays [at] copyblogger [dot] com.
  4. Hit done.
  5. This one is optional, but encouraged: add the “I entered Copyblogger’s Essay Contest” badge to your site. To do so, copy and paste this code into your blog post or web page:

That’s it.

(And if you don’t have a Google account, now is the perfect time to create one and also start using Google+ to build your online authority.)

We will close submissions promptly at 5:00 pm PST on December 4, 2013.

Tell us why becoming an online authority is so important … and you just might win some intense prizes that will help you become one.

Let your audience know

If you plan on participating (or even if you don’t), why not let your audience members in on the great opportunity too?

Encourage them to compete for the five great prizes and a byline at Copyblogger by sharing this poster on your site and on your social networks.

To share on your site, simply copy and paste the code below:

Good luck, and get those submissions in soon. A lifetime of authority is at stake … in more ways than one.

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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How to Build Great Credit for Your Fledgling Startup

How to Build Great Credit for Your Fledgling Startup

Image credit: Shutterstock

Young entrepreneurs must overcome significant hurdles to achieve success — from managing investor perceptions to handling the egos of older employees. This is particularly true when it comes to funding.

Depending on your age, you may not have much credit history, which will make it difficult to get a significant line of credit or small-business loan. Since you probably don’t have the work experience needed to spur investments from wealthy individuals or venture capital firms, your potential sources of capital stand to be rather limited.

Your approach at this point in time should therefore be twofold. First, open a credit card in order to get positive information flowing into your credit reports on a monthly basis. Secondly, seek assistance from friends and family. Close friends and family members may be able to provide seed money or co-sign an application. Banks put more stock into your personal credit standing than that of your business when underwriting small-business credit cards and loans.

Piggybacking on that last point, you will definitely need help establishing credit if you are under the age of 18, as federal law prohibits minors from having their own credit card accounts. You can, however, become an authorized user on a parent’s account in order to build out your credit reports before you qualify for a student credit card.

Regardless of your ultimate ability to garner funding through school grants, crowdsourcing or other alternatives, you will likely have to get your business rolling with minimal capital until you can demonstrate viable potential or build enough credit standing to warrant large-scale borrowing.

Once you have above-average credit, it will be time to overhaul your company credit card strategy in order to get the best possible collection of terms and reduce financing costs. The best approach is to open a business credit card with lucrative rewards on your biggest everyday expense categories as well as a 0% general-consumer credit card to use for any purchase that you won’t be able to pay off in-full by the end of the respective billing period. 

This method of credit card segmentation, known as the Island Approach, enables you to get the best of both business and general-consumer credit cards: unique expense tracking features and business-oriented rewards from the former and debt stability from the latter. While consumer cards are governed by the CARD Act, which prevents issuers from increasing interest rates on existing debt unless an accountholder is at least 60 days delinquent, issuers can arbitrarily jack up business card rates whenever the mood strikes them. Separating revolving debt from ongoing purchases will also reduce your interest-accruing average daily balance, thereby giving you reduced costs to go along with debt stability.

At the end of the day, business success is about minimizing risks, maximizing rewards and setting yourself up for the best possible outcomes. That’s why establishing credit and making do with minimal capital early on are both so important. The former fosters funding options as you get older, enabling you to ultimately garner better terms, while the latter forces you to prioritize and think outside the box — habits that will pay dividends in the long run.
 

Odysseas Papadimitriou is the founder and CEO of Evolution Finance, the parent of CardHub.com, a gift-card exchange and credit- and prepaid-card comparison service, and WalletHub.com, a social network for personal finance offering comparisons, ratings and reviews of financial products and services.

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Should You Fire an Employee Who Lies?

Should You Fire an Employee Who Lies?

Image credit: Shutterstock

Your trusted assistant exaggerated the experience section of his resume. Your top sales producer lied to you about a client’s order status to cover her butt. The most obvious solution is to fire the liar, but is that always the best course of action?

Not necessarily, says Chicago human resources attorney Charles A. Krugel. There may be a difference between an employee who fudges the truth and one who puts your business in jeopardy or exposes you to liability. Firing a longtime employee because she said she had a college degree when, in reality, she was a few credits short might needlessly incur costs after she’s proven herself to be a trusted member of the team.

“It’s not a scientific type of process,” Krugel says. “I don’t see anything wrong with an employer taking a broad, down-the-line approach, saying, ‘If anybody lies to us, it’s likely to happen again,’ [and firing that employee.] But some employers, take the approach that, ‘We’ve seen [lying] happen in worse cases, or worse instances, with worse results, and we think this person still might be a safe bet.’”

If you’re on the fence about how to deal with a lying employee, think about these five questions to help you make up your mind.

Why did the person lie?
If the person was under duress or made a bad decision, it might be forgivable. Krugel advises meeting with the employee and finding out the rationale for the lie. For example, if your salesperson fibbed about the order status because she was afraid of getting in hot water, explaining your expectations to her might be the simple correction needed to end that behavior.

Is the lying part of a pattern or was it a one-time error in judgment?
A first offense is more likely to be forgivable than repeated untruths. If you explain that lying is unacceptable in your firm and the employee still won’t tell the truth, it’s probably time to take more serious action.

How serious was the lie?
If the lie exposed your company to possible prosecution or risk, the situation can be serious. In such cases, keeping the employee could be considered negligent. For example, if a team member lies about things like taking action required for industry regulatory compliance or employee harassment, it’s best to consult your attorney about how to best protect your firm from risk rather than overlooking the lie.

Can you trust him or her again?
Krugel says this is usually pure gut check. Do you feel like you can trust the employee again? If so, you may be able to work it out.

What impact will your decision have on other employees?
It’s important not to set a precedent that it’s okay to lie, Krugel says. If you decide to keep the employee, some sort of apology or mea culpa either to all of the employees or the people directly affected by the lie might be a good idea. Krugel has worked on cases where a lying employee was demoted or otherwise disciplined, which sent a strong message to other people in the office.

“A company is always has to balance being a good employer to one person with how it’s going to impact the rest of the workforce, and the perception the other person’s coworkers will have,” he says.

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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Headlines That Work: Has Science Finally Settled the Geek/Nerd Debate?

Image of a 'Headlines That Work' logo

Welcome to Headlines That Work, a new regular feature here at Copyblogger where we will nerd out about writing headlines.

Headlines, as you know are “the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective reader.” This is why your headlines need to be magnetic.

And it is why nerding out about headlines — studying them in-depth to analyze why they work — is such a worthwhile endeavor.

But wait … are we really nerding out about headlines … or are we geeking out about them? Is there even a difference?

Yes! And finally science has stepped up to settle the debate.

Here is a headline that works

A post at CNet.com announcing an all-important scientific breakthrough features a splendid headline that works on a number of levels.

Here is the headline:

At last! Science draws a line between geeks and nerds

So why does this work?

In our ebook Magnetic Headlines, one of the hundreds of essential bits of knowledge you learn is that people who consistently produce winning headlines understand that “all compelling headlines make an intriguing promise that makes it almost irresistible to the target audience.

Key word: “irresistible.”

Key phrase: “target audience.”

The “At last!” beginning is important, because it grabs attention and suggests that some longstanding debate or controversy is finally coming to an end. It makes reading the rest of the headline, and the post, irresistible.

This notion of finality is then backed up by invoking science immediately — “Science draws a line…” — suggesting that the reader will no longer have to guess about where they fall along the geek/nerd spectrum. The answers can be found right here!

Whether it be on CNet’s homepage or in a social media channel like Twitter, that headline is going to be clicked by CNet’s audience as well as casual observers.

Context and credibility matter

A headline cannot be written nor analyzed in a vacuum. The audience it is targeting matters*, as does its context. This is why CNet’s headline for this story is so spot-on.

* – Hence why you cannot just take any proven headline template and use it on any post, expecting it to deliver results. You must choose the right one for the right audience. It’s not easy, especially at first, but you build your “headline intuition” over time with practice.

CNet is an online publication for geeks and nerds (and probably dorks too). It is about technology and electronics and all kinds of different gadgets. The target audience of CNet consists largely of people who, it is safe to assume, appreciate and respect science and empiricism, and who have probably pondered at some point in their lives whether they are a geek or a nerd.

The headline plays perfectly on this knowledge and does so, importantly, in a straightforward manner.

As we also explain in Magnetic Headlines, credibility is key. Invoking science lends credibility to the promise this headline is making to readers: that a real, evidence-backed line has been drawn between geeks and nerds, and clicking to read the post will unveil it.

But what do the numbers say?

Theory is all well and good, but data needs to be a driver in decision-making. And looking at data over time will help you hone your instincts for what works and what doesn’t.

The geek/nerd post has 4,400 Likes on Facebook right now, as well as hundreds of tweets and +1s. But these numbers only mean something in relation to a typical CNet story.

For comparison’s sake, the “Most Popular” story on CNet on November 7th was about a Photoshopped movie poster for Thor found in China. It had only 2,100 Likes on Facebook 36 hours after being posted.

So we can reasonably surmise that 4,400 Likes is a pretty good haul for a CNet post. And I bet that its headline is a major reason why.

What say you?

What do you like about this headline? Or, what do you dislike about it? Venture into the comments with your opinion.

I think this headline works, and the data suggests it works, but you may disagree.

That is the beauty, and occasionally the frustration, of headlines: there is never a single right answer. Which is what makes writing killer headlines both art and science.

And finally … what are we?

So, the only reason why I stumbled upon this headline in the first place is that I was trying to decide what we are here at Copyblogger.

We are passionate goonies. We are misfits doing meaningful work. And we’re clearly nerds and geeks … but which one more than the other?

I originally thought geek worked better. A colleague of mine, however, cast his vote for nerd. So I wanted to see what the differences between the two are.

It turns out, the characteristics I had been associating with the term geek are more generally associated with nerds. For example:

Geeks are fans, and fans collect stuff; nerds are practitioners, and practitioners play with ideas.

Or, as Chris Pirillo put it:

Nerds love knowledge for the sake of knowledge; geeks love knowledge for the sake of unapologetically making you feel stupid for not having the same level of knowledge as they do.

We love knowledge. And we especially love knowledge as essential to copywriting and content marketing as writing headlines. But we don’t ever want to make you feel stupid for not having the same level of knowledge as us. We want to transfer our knowledge to you.

So … “nerds” it is!

An we invite you to keep nerding out with us moving forward here at Headlines That Work to see examples of the best headlines published on the web with in-depth breakdowns of why they work.

And, of course, download our Magnetic Headlines ebook and keep it handy every time you need to write a headline.

I open this ebook up, literally, every single time I write a headline. It is filled with not just theory, but also templates that have been proven to work over time. You just have to figure out how to apply them.

Remember: good headline writers are not born; headline writing is a skill that can only be learned.

Stick with us. We’ll teach you.

And don’t worry, yes, at some point we will analyze this controversial doozy of a headline

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What Business Schools Don’t Teach Students But Should

With finals around the corner, some college students are preparing to graduate and begin their careers.

Whether they are deciding to pursue an entrepreneurial venture, join a startup or take a path in the corporate world, cramming for those finals aren’t the only thing they should be concerned about, at least for real-world purposes.

For years, some business schools have gotten away with just providing a textbook education but companies are looking for more than facts and figures. They want to see practical competence in the practice of business, like teamwork skills, along with character strength.

Related: Why Your College Student Should Start a Business

For college students looking to get a head start, here are a few skills to brush up on:

Dress the part.
At Wake Forest School of Business, where I’m a professor, we have a dress policy: business casual Monday through Thursday, smart casual on Friday and business professional when we have guest speakers. Why? Because that’s what companies expect.

Depending on the career path you choose to pursue, make sure what you wear to class reflects the industry standard. By doing so, you come off as more professional to your professor and peers.

Know when technology is appropriate.
Many of our students fall into the millennial generation and have grown up in a digital world. They are adept at texting and tweeting, pros at posting selfies and addicted to being in constant, instantaneous contact with their environment.

The business world is different. You actually have to sit through an hour-long meeting without checking your cell phone, Facebook or instant-message platform.

Get into the habit at school. Learn to turn off your phones and pay attention. Not only will you show respect for your professor and classmates, but you will be more focused on what is happening in class. Hey, you might even learn something.

It’s still about people and relationships.
Our digital world has replaced many things, including face-to-face interaction. But in the business environment, people still communicate with each other in-person.

To make it in the real world, developing communication skills is key. Learn how make small talk, network, get to know people and exercise humility and appreciation.

Be open to feedback.
No one likes criticism but being critiqued is something that is constantly occurring in workplace.

Just like companies, our business school has 360-degree assessments, or performance reviews. These assessments, done as a team and with faculty and staff input, provide feedback to let each student know what areas he or she needs to work on. While this practice isn’t implemented in every college, it is starting to become more common.

Understandably, some feedback may sting, but it only makes people better. So if you are receiving an assessment, be receptive. Ask questions and be open to different perspectives.

What other tips do you have college students to prepare for the real world? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Keep Your Promises and Other Must-Read Business Tips

Keep Your Promises and Other Must-Read Business Tips

A roundup of the best tips of the week from Entrepreneur.com.

Entrepreneurs are known for making grand statements and inspiring other people with their visions of what is possible. But it’s one thing to be a visionary and another to be someone who makes empty promises. “Poor leaders motivate those following them with false promises of promotions, success and a great tomorrow, but rarely deliver on those promises,” says marketing and business-development expert Lewis Howes.

If you catch yourself doing this, and especially if it’s a habit, you need to reassess your leadership tactics. A manipulative leader will dangle the goals and aspirations of his employees like a carrot to get them to do what he wants. But eventually employees will get fed up and most likely find somewhere else to work. Even if you don’t intend to be manipulative, says Howes, “if you commit to something but don’t follow through, it can send the wrong message to your employees, who you are pushing to deliver the best results.” More: Signs You Might Be a Terrible Leader (Yes, You)

Make your message as simple and efficient as possible.
Getting a potential customer or client to take action isn’t easy, but it’s easier if you communicate as efficiently as possible. “Don’t presume the audience has any interest in what your message is,” says Tom Haley, a creative director at Chicago-based Jellyvision Lab, a company that provides personalized multimedia content for its clients. While you may eat, sleep and breathe your business, your customers don’t. Give them what they need to make their decision — nothing less, nothing more. More: 5 Simple Ways to Get Your Customers to Listen to You

Think about the space your employees are in.
One element of keeping employees is providing an environment in which they will enjoy working. Peace, Love & Little Donuts, located in Pittsburgh, sets itself apart from other doughnut shops partly with its unusual flavors, such as maple-and-bacon, and partly by providing such an environment for its staff. The psychedelic décor and 1970s music fit with the shop’s “Feed Your Inner Hippie” slogan and provide a fun atmosphere that its workers, many of whom are young college students, won’t mind spending a shift in. More: Why Happy Employees Are Your Key to Successful Branding

Debrief yourself every Thursday.
It’s all too easy to let your time dribble away in emails, small talk and other distractions rather than being productive. To stay on track, sit down and give yourself a debrief every week, preferably on Thursday. That means assessing how you have spent your time and how you have improved (or slackened) your focus and productivity over the past week. “Doing this kind of debrief on Thursday, instead of Friday gives you a sense of achievement from reviewing that week’s work, which provides extra energy to carry on before the weekend,” says Jason Womack, the founder of The Womack Company, an Ojai, Calif.-based productivity-training firm. “This also gives you time to organize anything that needs to be done before you leave the office for the weekend.” More: What You Can Do Today to Make Tomorrow More Productive

Make disciplinary conversations objective, not subjective.
When one of your employees is behaving unprofessionally — perhaps making inappropriate jokes or dressing in a way that isn’t suitable for the workplace — it’s obvious that you need to sit the employee down for a serious talk. But it’s important not to rely on vague words, like “professionalism,” that can be interpreted subjectively. Refer instead to your company guidelines. That will make the substance of the conversation objective rather than subjective, says Susan Strayer LaMotte, founder of exaqueo, a workplace consulting firm. If you don’t already have clear company guidelines for workplace attire and behavior, now is the time to create some, so that your employees will know what is expected. More: Difficult Conversations: What Not to Say

Brian Patrick Eha is an assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com.

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Get this Marketing Cornerstone Right … Or Go Home

image of valentine heart candies

If you’re marketing a product or service, there’s one thing you absolutely need to get right.

Your writing voice might not be that awesome. Your call to action might need some help. Your big idea might be … not so big.

But if you can get this one down, you’ll do all right. You may not thrive, but you’ll live to sell another day.

On the other hand, if you get it wrong, no amount of brilliant marketing can help you.

What is this terrifyingly important factor?

It’s the offer you make your customers — the thing (or package of things) you offer in exchange for money.

And it’s critical because in the real world, you can’t sell a product or service that your customers just don’t want to buy. There’s no “hypnotic” marketing that can trick people into buying something they have no desire or need for.

But that’s not to say “just be awesome and your business will sell itself.” Great copywriting offers rarely happen by accident — they’re crafted.

So here are some resources to help you out with that.

First things first: is this something they want?

Around here, we call this the “broccoli ice cream” problem.

You may have something that people would benefit from. That would help them. That they might even need.

If they don’t want it, you’re going to have a ferociously tough time selling it.

Sometimes getting from “need” to “want, and also need” is a simple matter of re-framing your offer. Take a look at this post for some ideas:

Does Your Customer Want What You’ve Got to Offer?

Formulating the irresistible offer

There are pretty-good offers … and then there are irresistible ones.

You want to go for the latter, as often as you possibly can.

Take a look at this classic post from Brian Clark on what goes into an irresistible offer:

“Kids Eat Free” and Other Irresistible Offers

And 58 more formulations for you to try

Finally, don’t miss expert copywriter Dean Rieck’s four-part “cheat sheet” on 58 different ways to frame an offer to make it stronger, better, faster … positively bionic.

In-demand copywriters like Dean use lists like these to review key copywriting elements (like offers) and make them as superhumanly strong as possible. So think like an expert, review these possibilities — and ask yourself, is the offer you’re making today strong enough to build your business on?

If not, you have work to do.

Flickr Creative Commons image by Sister72

About the author

Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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5 Ways to Write a Damn Good Sentence

Image of a newspaper ad

Average copywriters write average sentences. You, I’m guessing, don’t want to be average.

You want to be great. You believe you can be remarkable.

That means you need to write damn good sentences … without even thinking about it … day in and day out.

Do that and you’ll become an unstoppable writing machine. You’ll become a killer copywriter.

See, everything you write … every blog post, every landing page, every email, short story, or Google+ post … begins and ends with a sentence. Bone up on your sentence-writing skills and those pieces of content will only get better and be more widely shared.

Want to learn how? Follow me …

More than mastering freshman English

“The skill it takes to produce a sentence,” Stanley Fish said, “the skill of lining events, actions, and objects in a strict logic — is also the skill of creating a world.” In other words, sentences are the engines of creativity.

Take this sentence for instance: “Moses fed his muffuletta to the woolly mammoth.”

There is a mountain of meaning buried in those eight words. Sure, change the sequence and you change the meaning, but as long as you don’t screw with that framework, people will stay with you (unlike the misguided James Joyce).

But as a copywriter it’s not just about mastering freshman English. There’s more to it. Eugene Schwartz has the answer:

No sentence can be effective if it contains facts alone. It must also contain emotion, image, logic, and promise.

Here’s a great example: “Baby shoes: for sale, never worn.”

That’s Ernest Hemingway, and that little six-word story is possibly his best (his own estimation, not mine). Why? It’s a story selling a pair of shoes … shoes with an intense emotional connotation.

See, your sentences don’t have to say much. They just have to say the right things. Our imaginations will fill in the blanks.

So, when you are trying to get people to respond to your requests, subscribe to your email newsletter, or donate to your cause … you need to write seductive sentences, and you need to do it naturally.

Here’s how it’s done.

1. Insert facts

This is nothing more than basic subject and verb agreement: “Moses ate a muffaletta.” Logical and consistent. The building blocks of a story.

You insert facts by thinking through the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why. Think specific and concrete, but how you say it matters, too.

Compare “On the first day of winter Moses fed his muffuletta to the woolly mammoth” to “On the last day of winter Moses fed his muffuletta to the woolly mammoth.” The significance is heightened in the first sentence, minimized in the second. All by one word.

And notice how your sympathies change when I write, “On the first day of winter, Moses fed his muffuletta to the three-day old woolly mammoth.”

Those new facts heighten the emotional appeal of that simple story. It’s the same sort of feeling you get when you read “Baby shoes: for sale, never used.”

2. Create images

It’s not a coincidence that the root of “imagination” is “image.”

Imagination is the capacity for people to see the world you are trying to paint. Intelligent people like to use their imagination. Don’t insult their intelligence by over-explaining, but also don’t abuse their intelligence by starving it.

Use active verbs and concrete nouns and you will naturally create images. “The buzzard bled.” Introduce one, two, or all of the five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound), and you’ll enhance those images: “The screaming buzzard bled.”

Use phrases like “imagine this” or “picture this” to signal to your reader you are about to paint a picture. That’s how I opened up the 10 Productivity Tips from a Blue-Collar Genius:

Imagine a fifty-something man in a blue long-sleeve shirt, the cuffs unbuttoned, his knuckles thick and coarse. He’s on the side of the road, quibbling over a stack of used cinder blocks with a merchant.

In those two sentences you learn the color of the shirt, the state of the cuffs, the condition of his knuckles. I tell you where he is and what he is doing in concrete language.

I use very precise language to tell you what he was doing: he wasn’t talking, he was “quibbling.” Something entirely different than chatting.

3. Evoke emotion

You can naturally get mood into your sentences if you follow the two steps above, but as a copywriter you don’t want emotion to be an afterthought. You must carefully plan and manufacture emotion.

This starts by asking: what is the dominant mood of your reader or customer? What problem is he or she trying to solve? Is it fear over losing a job? A spouse? A scholarship? Pride of donating to a good cause? Joy for finally getting muscular definition in his calves?

You must know what keeps your ideal customer up at night. What makes him get up early? What are his hopes, dreams, and fears? And then you must insert that emotion into your sentences.

In a post introducing the benefits of our Authority membership site, I wrote:

How often are these little tragedies repeated in your life?

  • You write something clever, but everyone ignores it.
  • You hear about a new opportunity, but don’t pursue it because you don’t have the skills or confidence to attempt it.
  • You get overlooked by everybody – including your boss – because the guy in the next cubicle seems to know everything about SEO, email marketing, or copywriting.
  • You hear about all the new clients your peers are picking up … but none are showing up at your door.

I identified the relevant pain and agitated it so the solution was a no-brainer. In other words, if you can identify with those conditions, then the solution is probably a good thing for you.

But notice those four conditions are all about rejection. Yet I didn’t use the word “reject,” or a derivative, once. I didn’t tell you the emotion you should feel. I simply showed it to you. Big difference in the quality of writing.

4. Make Promises

But as a copywriter you aren’t merely interested in heightening people’s emotions for the sake of heightening emotions, otherwise you’d be a novelist or screenwriter. Entertainment is not a copywriter’s bread and butter.

Getting action is.

So, you need people to see hope in your sentences:

  • What promises are you making to the reader in this sentence?
  • What advantages will the reader gain?
  • What pain will they avoid if they obey you?

In the opening to The Dirty Little Secret to Seducing Readers I wrote:

I’m guessing you want to write copy that sells. You want to write copy so irresistible it makes your readers scramble down the page — begging to do whatever it is you want when they’re done reading — whether it’s to make a purchase, send a donation, or join your newsletter.

The promise is that you can learn how to write in such a way people can’t resist your words. And that’s compelling for the right people.

5. Practice, practice, practice

Writing great sentences takes work.

At first it may feel mechanical, wooden. That’s okay. The goal is to get to a point where you unconsciously blend these elements so they feel natural in the sentence and can’t be pulled apart.

Sort of like when a golf instructor stops your swing to adjust your mechanics. That may feel mechanical and unnatural, but eventually your swing becomes natural and he stops interrupting you.

Here are some exercises to help you improve your sentence writing:

  • Copy great sentences: Hand-write 100 great first sentences. Memorize portions of great sales letters. Dissect killer lines.
  • Opening and closing paragraphs: It’s arduous to consciously think about each and every sentence you write in a 500-hundred word article. However, you can pour energy into every sentence inside the opening and closing paragraphs.
  • Headlines: Your headlines won’t be complete sentences, but they offer you an opportunity to focus closely on what you are writing.
  • Subject lines: Unlike headlines you can use your subject line in an unconventional way. Write complete, robust sentences. “Thought of you while I was at the steam bath.” Who’s not going to open that email up? Measure responses, adjust, and test more ideas.
  • Tweets: Twitter is the perfect mechanism for perfecting your sentences. You are forced to say a lot in 140 characters. And you get feedback. People either respond — or they don’t. Check for retweets, favorites, and replies. And if you don’t get a response, try sharing it again.

Your turn …

Each sentence in a 500-word landing page may not be great, but the more you pay attention to the fundamentals above and practice the techniques, the closer you are going to get with each draft.

Don’t give up. Keep plugging away.

Image via id-iom

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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How to Run a Productive Internship Program and Stay Out of Legal Trouble

A student internship program can greatly benefit a company’s productivity, but if not run properly, it can jeopardize the wellbeing of the entire business. Just look at publishing powerhouse Condé Nast, which recently dissolved its internship program following a highly publicized lawsuit from two former interns.

For companies seeking to set up an internship program, it’s important to play by the rules. The Department of Labor requires six pieces of criteria be met for an internship to be considered legal – a task that’s easier said than done. “While some of the requirements are a simple matter of checking the box and can be fulfilled through a well-drafted internship agreement, the majority are subjective,” says Peter Minton, founder and president of Minton Law Group in New York City.

Related: The Case for Paying Interns (Infographic)

To help clarify, here’s some expert advice on running a productive – and legal – internship program at your startup:

1. Offer what can’t be learned in class. “Internships should serve as educational experiences that train young adults for their careers,” says Heather Huhman, founder of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and employers. Be sure the internship includes mentorship opportunities and training that builds real skills.

2. Pay them or don’t, but don’t give them meaningless work. Money can’t buy the happiness of an intern who’s stuck with wasteful busywork for months at a time. “Just because you pay your interns doesn’t mean you should only provide them with basic administrative duties and nonessential activities, like making copies or fetching coffee,” says Nathan Parcells, co-founder and CMO of InternMatch, an online platform that helps students find internships and companies hire talented students.

3. Don’t try to trim the payroll. When brainstorming intern tasks, don’t simply assign what needs to get done around the office – especially if those tasks are usually carried out by a full-time employee or expert contractor, says Huhman. Sure, your website may need a redesign, but rather than exploiting the intern’s low cost of labor, hire a professional instead to avoid the legal headache.

Related: What My Corporate Internship Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

4. Invest in valuable hires. Not only can stellar interns support your current operations, but they can help push your company forward as hired employees in the future. “Providing anything less than the best educational experience for your interns doesn’t just damage your future hiring potential, but also that of other companies within your industry,” says Parcells. Look ahead toward whether you can add full-time employees to your team in the next year, and scout for interns looking for long-term growth.

5. Consider the costs. Even unpaid internships cost the company, as it takes time to hire, train and supervise them for an entire term, sometimes solely by a dedicated manager in-house. Perks and professional opportunities also help attract more qualified candidates. Don’t start a new program without looking at your company budget and employee schedules to see whether the endeavor is something your startup can afford at this time, says Parcells.

6. Get the right second opinion. “If you’re truly weighing the option of unpaid internships at your company, it’s important to consult legal advice to ensure that you’re making the correct decision based on your business and internship program,” says Parcells. Minton echoes that entrepreneurs should seek counsel if former interns feel unsatisfied and threaten legal action.

Related: Are the Days of Hiring Unpaid Interns Numbered?
 

Ashley Lee is an entertainment, business and culture reporter in New York City.

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Hiring: Why the Most Skilled Candidate Isn’t Always the Right Candidate

Hiring: Why the Most Skilled Candidate Isn’t Always the Right Candidate

Hiring a new employee is a leap of faith. It’s more alchemy than science, based on a combination of skill-matching, research and gut feel. When you begin the process, you consider the work that needs to get done and the skills required to do it. So, when it comes to making the hiring decision, should you focus on technical expertise? Well, no. Too often, founders pay more attention than they should to skills alone. Later, they’re surprised when someone who’s perfect on paper turns out to be disruptive, less than productive, or simply not as good at their job as managers might hope.

Not long ago, I hired a contractor who fit the bill perfectly. She was smart, assertive, kept me informed and met her deadlines. Unfortunately, her vision of each project differed from mine, and when I revised her work the resulting arguments were long and maddening, the kind that leave you with the need for 10 minutes of deep breathing once you’ve hung up the phone. Finally, I decided I was better off living with the hole in my team than continuing what had become a vicious and frustrating cycle.

In hindsight, I could have avoided all that heartache if only I’d stepped back and asked myself whether our styles meshed. I’d ignored an important rule: You don’t hire based on skills alone.

By the time you’ve asked a candidate in for an interview, you’ve already decided that they can do the work. While you still want to vet their talents when you get together, now is the time to get a sense of whether this person can meet your needs in a way that fits with your approach. How do you do that? Here’s four bits of advice.

  • Ask open-ended questions. Find out how they’ve handled tensions with co-workers and managers. If their examples are all about being the smartest guy in the room, or their determination to advocate a “better approach” even after a project’s well underway, they may not fit well with a team that’s respectful of each other’s expertise and follows a well-tested approach to their work.
     
  • Ask other people to interview them. You’re not the only person who’ll be working with the new employee, so getting a sense of how others react to his or her style is equally important. Plus, others on your team have been removed from the hiring process. They’ll look at the candidate with fresh eyes, and may notice traits that you didn’t.
     
  • When checking references, ask about “soft skills.” While talking to past employers and colleagues about candidates, you’ll undoubtedly learn about their skills and productivity. Don’t forget to ask about their ability to get along with others, work through problems and get things done even during periods of tension.
     
  • Debate them. Politely disagree with the candidates’ approaches to a problem and make them defend it. You can bet that people who become frustrated and defensive in the interview will display those traits on the job. People who are confident but not overbearing, who listen to your points and at least try to incorporate them into their thinking, will probably be more valuable than those who insist their way is always the right way, or even those who quickly give up and say, “You’re the boss.”

    Just remember, interviews aren’t the place for you to show off your own skills. The interview is about the candidates and what that individuals can bring to your team. If you’re talking to the right people, you’ll likely be learning something along the way.

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

Mark Feffer is the Managing Editor of Dice News, which provides news and advice for job seekers on the technology career site Dice.com. As a journalist he has written for Dow Jones and Bloomberg, and ran his own startup, Tramp Steamer Media, which provided editorial services to small business and corporate clients including AT&T, Marsh & McLennan, KPMG and Thomas Edison State College. The views he expresses here are his own. 

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On a Blog or In the Boardroom, This is Still the Most Powerful Way to Persuade

Image of a Storyteller

He’d been on the job just two short weeks.

Two weeks at the most prestigious publication in his industry, and he was already on the brink of bringing The Entire Machine to a halt. With a thud, not a screech.

With a Wednesday deadline looming, on Monday morning he had nothing but the few beads of sweat forming on his brow. Those were something at least, so he didn’t wipe them away.

He procrastinated. He hopped from link to link, half-reading in between his worries … a mere 29 minutes from the conference call where he’d be asked by the top brass about the obviously gaping hole in this week’s schedule. Wednesday. Damn Wednesday.

His number was up. He was about to be found out.

Then a headline caught his eye. And he knew it was the inspiration he’d been looking for …

The most indispensable lesson he’d ever learned about persuasion would save the day.

Stories persuade

Stories about dying, mothers, and fighting for your ideas.

Stories about snowboarding, subdural hematomas, and the secret of life.

Hell, even made-up stories about CEOs on ether trips shooting social media darlings with elephant tranquilizers.

They persuade in different ways and for different goals. But they persuade.

And the storytelling doesn’t even have to be so blatant.

You don’t need to narrate your own neurotic work worries in the third person to grab an audience’s attention. (Though you can, like I just did.) You don’t need to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets.

No, you just need to “find ways to connect with your audience on an emotional level.”

These are the words of Cliff Atkinson, author and communications consultant, as quoted recently in the Wall Street Journal. Yes, even a publication known for numbers and news knows that when it comes to persuasion, stories succeed.

But not just any story.

So how do you tell a good story?

You make sure that you have the five elements that every great marketing story needs:

  1. A hero
  2. A goal
  3. An obstacle
  4. A mentor
  5. A moral

Number 4 is where you come in.

As Sonia Simone wrote, “You are the wise mentor who can provide essential information and tools that allow the hero to attain his goal.”

So weave yourself into your story as such. How? By demonstrating authority. Take your audience on a journey that solves their problems and satisfies their desires.

You can do this by relating with your audience how you overcame an issue they might be facing, like the guy who hates Copyblogger.

You can do this by sharing special anecdotes from your own experience that teach people universal lessons they feel warm and fuzzy learning and re-learning, like this ode to a blue-collar genius.

And you can share the stories of others, like the man who rescued the family furniture business with nothing but a book and a killer work ethic.

And if you want to tell not just a story, but a remarkable story, add the following:

  • Know your audience
  • Select your frame
  • Choose your premise

That means understanding the worldview of who you are talking to, then framing your story in a way that makes it resonate with your audience, and finally delivering the story — and its message — in the best way possible.

Stories have been retold over and over throughout the ages — some are just better told than others.
~ Brian Clark

When you tell a good story, when you tell it better to an audience than anyone else, you earn the privilege of persuading them.

Tell it with confidence and …

Facts, figures, and PowerPoint presentations can’t do what a narrative can do. Narrative conveys. It relates. It distills. Most importantly, narrative promotes understanding and cultivates connection.

Paul Smith, an associate director for P&G’s market research, learned all about the power of storytelling …

As Dennis Nishi retells it in the WSJ, Smith spent three weeks assembling a PowerPoint presentation he was to give to P&G CEO A.G. Lafley. But on the day of the presentation, Mr. Lafley never once looked at the slides. He just watched Smith speak.

The CEO of a multinational corporation didn’t care about slides. He cared about stories.

Which is why Mr. Smith now uses far more anecdotes in his presentations. Which is why Mr. Smith now has far more success selling his ideas.

So take it from him:

Confidence and authority help to sell the idea to your audience.

To develop your confidence, learn how to feel great naked.

To develop your authority, learn the time-tested methods that work from the people you trust.

And then the next time you inevitably get in a pinch — like I was this past Monday — needing something to say but not just anything … something good, something persuasive, something worthy of your audience’s time … tell a story.

Not your facts and figures. Not your ideas. But your facts, figures, and ideas woven into a story that connects, solves, and satisfies.

Yes, after all these centuries, stories are still the most powerful way to persuade.

It’s a lesson that rescued me.

And it might one day make you a hero.

Image credit: Albert Anker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Why I Hate Copyblogger

Image of a 'No Copyblogger' Sign

I’ve been learning about content marketing from Copyblogger since the days when its only writer was Brian Clark, and the phrase “content marketing” didn’t yet exist.

Yep, that was a long time ago.

At first I was seduced by Copyblogger. It lured me in with useful content marketing and copywriting advice, and all the lovely instruction that a young publisher needed to learn.

But now I know the truth … I actually hate Copyblogger.

And I’m going to tell you why …

Copyblogger stole all of my readers

Why does Copyblogger have something like 190,000 subscribers while I’m stuck at a measly 10 or 15 thousand?

It’s because all of the people who would have signed up to my mailing list already found Copyblogger! And let’s face it, what do I have to offer them that they’re not already getting here?

You see, at a time when blogging was taking off in a really big way, the Copyblogger team was creating content and information that solved so many damn problems that they cemented themselves as an ever-relevant authority.

And they just went from strength to strength.

Once you get that many readers it’s not hard to make your stuff go massively viral. Your existing readers help spread your work to new people and eventually you’ve “stolen” everyone’s future readers.

Have you seen how many “likes” this silly grammar graphic got?

Yeah, that says 32,000!

Copyblogger took my ideas before I had them

I’ve come up with some pretty cracking ideas for the blogging and digital publishing niches lately.

Oh wait … they’re already taken. UGH!

I remember when premium WordPress themes started to become a big thing. Before I even knew how to properly install one, these guys had created a WordPress theme marketplace.

Or how about when Google first announced that site speed was going to be an important factor for rankings? Yeah, Clark already had a note in his sidebar about his new, blazing-fast WordPress hosting service.

How about when bloggers wanted to move away from just selling ebooks to doing something a little bit more comprehensive? Yep — they launched easy-to-use membership site software that lets you build one without needing to spend a fortune hiring a coder.

And don’t get me started on responsive design for mobile devices

Copyblogger can’t possibly be beaten

How can I possibly go viral when this site is on the scene?

Should I just wait it out?

Surely a time will come when they slip up — maybe they’ll somehow lose the respect and adoration of the entire mailing list. It happens … right?

Well, that’s not happening here.

This site continually produces high quality content, training courses, and products. And although it does keep up with the times, Copyblogger never seems to deviate from the fundamentals that made it famous in the first place.

It’s absolutely bloody infuriating.

Really, it seems pointless to even try.

Well, not really …

You know what?

There is always going to be someone better than you.

There is always going to be a website, blog, or business that was doing it before you.

And it doesn’t matter. You can still build a minimum viable audience of 10,000+ troops that allows you to build a great business and live the life of your dreams.

Here are some facts:

  • There are a crap-load of people online
    You think just because some site is massive and powerful that you don’t have room to grow in the same market? That’s crazy. Not only are populations growing around the world, but more people are getting access to the internet every day. There are literally five people online in my house as I write this.
  • People aren’t loyal to just one website
    Sure, people who subscribe to Copyblogger might really love them and their content, but I bet a lot of them also subscribe to my site. Even if every single person in the world was subscribed to your competitor’s mailing list, you’re still going to get subscribers. You might even become the new powerhouse. Haven’t you seen Game of Thrones? Kingdoms rise and fall all the time.
  • You don’t need to be first
    Can you imagine if Subway decided not to go in business just because McDonald’s was already around? I guess they wouldn’t have grown to the point of having more stores than the big guys. Whoops.
  • You don’t need to be original
    I’ve never plagiarized an article in my entire life, but I highly doubt that any of them are 100% original. I’m not the Beatles. What I have done is absorb ideas from other websites, copied theories from offline businesses, and, as such, my blog is an awesome mixture of hybrid un-originalities. And it’s still successful.
  • The big guys will teach you a lot
    Yes, it sucks to always sort of be in someone’s shadow. But you know what? These people have a lot to teach us. I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be working from home, starting WordPress blogs, and traveling the world if Brian Clark hadn’t built this site first. I owe him a lot.

The takeaway …

So the next time you get a little bit depressed about the fact that your blog is not the biggest or the best or the first … it would be good to remember these three simple things:

1. No need to be first. Be different.

2. No need to be the biggest. Be effective.

3. No need to hate your competitors. Make friends and learn from them.

Who knows … they might even let you write an article on their website.

About the Author: Ramsay Taplin is known as The Blog Tyrant, a 25-year-old guy from Australia who has sold several websites for large sums of money and now shares his methods for growing your blog and dominating your niche. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or sign up for his email updates.

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5 Hiring Practices to Keep You Out of Hot Water With the IRS

5 Hiring Practices to Keep You Out of Hot Water With the IRS

Image credit: John R. Coughlin/CNN Money

If you need more help for your business, should you hire new employees or engage independent contractors? The decision will be based on the nature of the work, your business culture, what you can afford and perhaps, most importantly, government rules.

For the IRS, the question of worker classification — as an employee or independent contractor — is high on its audit list. States also scrutinize worker classification when claims are made by workers for unemployment compensation and workers’ compensation. If you decide that independent contractors better suit your needs than employees, make sure your treatment of these workers will be respected by the government.

1. Check both IRS and state rules.
You can’t arbitrarily put the label of independent contractor on a worker and make it stick. It has to be appropriate, based on the degree of control you exercise over the worker. Boiling this down, if you have the right to say when, where and how the work gets done, likely the worker is your employee.

No one factor is determinative. The IRS uses 20 factors that fall into three categories — behavioral control, financial control and the relationship of the parties — to determine this. Familiarize yourself with them.

To complicate things, states don’t necessarily agree with IRS classification. A worker may be treated as an independent contractor for federal employment tax purposes but an employee for purposes of state unemployment benefits or workers’ compensation. Check with your state to learn its rules.

2. Use a written agreement.
One of the factors used by the IRS for determining worker classification is the intention of the parties. You can spell this out by using a written agreement with an independent contractor. The agreement can state that the worker understands he or she is not an employee and is personally responsible for taxes, insurance and other expenses. The fact that there may be reimbursement to the worker for certain expenses, such as travel, won’t nix the relationship spelled out in the agreement.

But understand that while this agreement is certainly helpful, it is not binding on the IRS or other government agencies. The government does not have to follow the classification created by the agreement because it is not a party to the agreement.

3. Issue Form 1099-MISC.
If you pay $600 or more to an independent contractor during the year (not necessarily all at one time), you should send IRS Form 1099-MISC to report the annual payments. When doing this, one copy goes to the worker and another to the IRS. Doing this is another indication that you view the worker as an independent contractor. It is also essential for obtaining penalty relief, which I detail below, if it is ultimately determined that the worker is really an employee.

4. Know your industry practices.
If there is a long-standing practice in your industry in treating certain workers as independent contractors, you probably can follow suit. The practice exists if at least 25 percent of your industry follows it.

If you follow long-standing industry practices (and issued a 1099 where required), even if the IRS successfully reclassifies your worker as an employee, you can minimize employment tax penalties by using Sec. 350 relief. This relief is not a section in the Tax Code; it’s the section in a 1978 law that created it.

5. Be consistent.
You should treat workers who are performing the same work in the same way. You can’t treat some as employees and others as independent contractors. And you can’t change treatment from year to year. Stay consistent.

Again, consistency will help you in securing Sec. 530 relief if you need it.

If you still have questions, talk with a tax advisor or employment law expert. Don’t wait until the government challenges you. Get your worker classification right from the start so you can secure independent contractor status for workers if that’s your aim.
 

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SoulCycle’s Secret to Turning Customers into Die-Hard Fans

When I first heard about SoulCycle — famous for their full-body indoor cycling workouts — I swore I was never going to pay $30+ to be tortured in a 45-minute spin class. I could think of a million far more relaxing ways to spend the money.

But years later, when it became apparent that SoulCycle was far more than the latest celebrity fad, I was curious to see what the hype was really about. The reality is you can walk down the street and pay half the price for a spin class. So, why exactly is SoulCycle so addicting? I went in wanting to hate it, but after the first song, I knew I was hooked. I drank the SoulCycle Kool-Aid, and there was no going back.

SoulCycle offers an experience: the classes are 40 percent the hardest workout ever, 30 percent therapy session with motivational mantras and 30 percent the euphoric feeling you get from dancing the night away at the hottest club with your best girlfriends — minus the alcohol, which means no painful hangover.

All of these things coming together was not an accident. It was a perfect branding storm created by SoulCycle founders, Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice.

Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from Cutler and Rice’s highly effective branding techniques. Here are four things that make SoulCycle a branding success story:

1. Customers always know what to expect. If your brand is offering mixed messaging, customers tend to get confused, and it prevents them from relating. Everything you put out there should have a consistent personality, design and aesthetic.

Whether you are taking a class in New York or Los Angeles, you will have the same experience. We are creatures of habit, so we love brands we can rely on, despite location. This is the same kind of mentality that allows Starbucks to sell us $4 coffees whether we are in Dallas or London.

SoulCycle fans know what to expect the second they walk into any one of the 20 locations. As Cutler puts it: “From the grapefruit smell, to the mantras on the wall, and the upbeat positive energy you feel when you walk in,” everything is uniformed.

2. Growth is careful and calculated to keep customers intrigued. Unlike their competitors, SoulCycle’s growth has been relatively slow, which makes their offerings feel more exclusive. This adds demand to each class. There are only so many locations, and within each class, there are only so many bikes. When you score a bike, you feel like you are in for a special treat.

While their strategy hasn’t been to open the most locations in the shortest amount of time, their plans have changed over time. When Cutler and Rice opened the first studio in 2006, their goal was to only have three studios. Now they have 20, and plan to have 60 by 2015. The brand is currently focusing on expanding in their existing markets — New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with plans to expand to Washington, Boston and London in 2014.

They have slowly molded a strategy that works, and gained buzz before massively expanding.

3. Customers are the best advertising. Even in our digital world, nothing comes close to word-of-mouth recommendations. One customer telling a group of girlfriends how much she loved a SoulCycle class is far more valuable than any advertising money can buy. We trust our friends’ recommendations. SoulCycle’s focus is continuing to maintain their quality and consistency, so people keep talking about it.

What’s more, when SoulCycle introduced their branded line of gear, their fans also became walking advertisements. Their logo, a yellow bike wheel that almost looks like a sun, can easily be printed on all kinds of merchandise.

When creating a new brand, it is important have a simple logo that can re-purpose in various ways as you grow. Whether it is word-of-month praise or people sporting the SoulCycle gear around town, this devotion keeps propelling the brand forward.

4. Employees have pride in the company and show it. It is hard to get your employees to care as much you do. SoulCycle seems to have found the solution by allowing their instructors to be mini-celebrities in their own rights. At SoulCycle, during the 12-week instructor training program, instructors are taught “how to be themselves while teaching the SoulCycle method,” says Cutler.

This freedom get instructors excited about the brand, which translates to the students. SoulCycle customers don’t pick a class based on location or time; they pick based on instructor. If your employees who are in direct contact with your customers love the brand as much as you do, it can become infectious.

There are tons of brands out there that all provide quality services and products. Branding is that little something extra that takes a company from being decent to being amazing and memorable.
 

Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, an agency that works exclusively with PR firms to streamline media relations in a digital era. She specializes in business, lifestyle, fashion and beauty.

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Who Has Time for Black Friday? Save Big Right Now!

Image of Copyblogger's Black Monday to Monday 2013 Sale

We’ve been doing this Black Friday / Cyber Monday thing since 2008, if my poor 46-year-old brain recalls correctly. And it’s become a bit of a circus (unlike back in my day).

This may be another sign that I’m getting older and crankier, but it just seems no fun anymore. Too much noise, pushing, shoving … oh look, an assault in aisle four by a mother of three.

So, just like older folks enjoy a nice meal a tad earlier than the young’uns, we thought we’d have an earlier sale. You know — get the stuff you want, avoid the crowds, maybe watch some Matlock and turn in early.

Sound good? Here’s what we’ve got for Black Monday-to-Monday, November 11-18, 2013 (catchy!):

Bundles and Discounts for Savings, Oh My!

This year, we’re not only changing the date. We’re also offering you more options. Some are amazingly-priced bundles o’ awesome, and others are just those straight up discounts we know you love.

Bundles:

Buy StudioPress Pro Pack, get a year of Authority for free.

Get all 59 of our premium WordPress themes, plus the Genesis 2.0 framework, PLUS every theme we make in the future. If that’s not enough, you also get an entire year’s worth of content marketing education and networking in our acclaimed Authority program, with instant access to over 130 hours of training.

Save over $900 on the individual price of the themes, and save another $348 by getting access to Authority for free.

Click here to get the deal.

Invest in Authority, get Premise for free.

Join thousands of smart online marketers inside Authority, our content marketing education and networking community, and get instant access to over 130 hours of training. To make the experience even sweeter, get Premise for WordPress — our landing page, membership site, and conversion optimization software — for free.

You get all the training you need, and save $165 off the WordPress software you need to put that training to use.

Grab this deal here.

Discounts:

Buy StudioPress Pro Pack and save $100.

Get all 59 of our premium WordPress themes, plus the Genesis 2.0 framework, PLUS every theme we make in the future. Save over $900 on the individual price of the themes, AND save an extra $100 off the already low regular price.

Get the goods here.

Buy Premise and save $70.

Get Premise for WordPress — our landing page, membership site, and conversion optimization software — and save $70 off the regular price. You’ll also get included reports, webinars, seminars, free custom web graphics, and copywriting advice right from your WordPress interface.

Click to save.

Invest in Authority and save $100.

Join thousands of smart online marketers inside Authority, our content marketing education and networking community, and get instant access to over 130 hours of training. You’ll save $100 at checkout, your membership is good for one year, and you’re locked in at the discounted price going forward.

Get access here.

Sale Ends Monday, November 18, 2013

As mentioned earlier, we can’t carry on like this for too long at our ages. So the whole shindig ends on Monday, November 18th at 5 pm Pacific time.

Don’t be late, whippersnappers. Also, get off my lawn. ;)

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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How One Man Saved the Family Furniture Business, Then Built a Wildly Successful Online Fitness Company

Content Marketing Case Studies | copyblogger.com

Ryan Masters has done the heavy lifting a successful content marketing strategy demands, and it has enabled him to break into one of the Internet’s toughest markets: men’s fitness.

He’s made his mark by publishing short, insanely useful workout videos and sending daily emails to his loyal subscribers. He calls his community “his Spartans,” and he’s passionate about helping them achieve their best lives.

Ryan also runs an Internet marketing consulting firm that helps businesses achieve success through Google advertising and analytics. His smart tactics and strategic Adwords management have generated over $4.2 million in revenue for his clients.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Ryan and ask him some questions about how he’s achieved his amazing success.

Turns out, he’s not just another pretty face.

What’s your business name, and what do you do?

My business is The Workout Corner, and I help men build a Spartan-like physique while increasing their strength, courage, and confidence.

Who are your readers and subscribers, and how do you serve them? Was there a pressing problem you were trying to solve with your site?

My audience is men around the globe who are interested in improving their overall levels of health and fitness in order to take better control of their lives.

One of the biggest problems with the “workout industry” is the overload and over-complication of training information. It ends up leaving honest guys confused as to what actually works, and they’re stuck spinning their wheels and getting frustrated from all the baloney out there.

I teach the simple Spartan approach to training: fast, effective, and purpose-driven.

As a busy guy — I own two businesses — I want to share with others around the world that it is possible to stay in great shape and have a normal life too.

I believe in using fitness and your business to enhance your life, not run it.

What kinds of content do you create to help you market your business?

I have two main sources of content: videos on my YouTube channel and an email marketing campaign that consists of daily emails to my list.

Yup, I email my guys every weekday. I tell them up front so they expect it, and I get very few SPAM or unsubscribe complaints.

Part of that comes from learning how to write e-mails in a fun, entertaining way — just like a TV show or talk show. When I first started doing it, they were probably a little rough, but I’ve been told they’re getting better. If I miss a day or two, I’ll get guys asking me where their daily email is.

I was scared to try this strategy at first because I was afraid everyone would unsubscribe, complain, and then hunt me down with pitchforks and burning torches. 

But I said to myself, “Hey, let’s try it for 30 days and see what happens. If it’s no bueno, I can stop.”

What happened? Sales more than doubled during those 30 days. So I keep emailing daily.

I also produce at least one YouTube video a week. Consistent content is important if you want to play the YouTube game. I would recommend shooting for one video a week, ideally on the same day and around the same time each week (just like a TV show).

And I always give calls to action in my videos such as subscribe, Like, “Go download this,” etc.

How do you use social networking in your business?

I don’t use a lot of social networking at the moment.

I have a Facebook page, but I focus mostly on YouTube and email. I’m a firm believer in mastering 1-2 forms of media rather than being mediocre with all of them.

What was your situation before you started this business? Were you always a business owner, or did you have a more traditional career?

I have another business, Squeeze Juice Marketing, which I started in 2008 to help clients establish a dominant web presence and acquire all the profitable clicks available to them in Google AdWords.

In 2012, I managed $371,000 across all accounts and brought in a return of $4.26 million (579%). Analytics is part of that secret sauce.

Right before I started Squeeze Juice Marketing, I built an ecommerce website from scratch to help the family furniture business, which was tanking at the time due to the economy and competition from China. All we had was $500 and Perry Marshall’s AdWords book, so it was truly sink or swim.

After five years of 12-14+ hour days, we had turned the business around and sold it. Phew!

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started with content marketing?

If you are considering YouTube (or video marketing), Steve Stockman’s book, How to Shoot Video that Doesn’t Suck is an absolute goldmine. 

Please do yourself a favor and read it before diving into shooting videos. It’s helped me so much.

I also took Ben Settle’s “Email Players” program and Matt Furey’s course to help me write more entertaining and engaging emails.

I use Infusionsoft to automate my content marketing and CRM, but depending on where you are in your entrepreneurial journey it may not be a good fit.

Before jumping to Infusionsoft, I used AWeber. Thanks to Jack Born’s AWPROTools, you can get Infusionsoft-like benefits such list segmentation (which is very important) out of AWeber. So I’d start there first, then jump to Infusionsoft when your business is ready for it.

I use WordPress for my blogging and website platform.

What were some of the main tipping points or “a-ha!” moments when you were building the business? How did they come about?

It may sound silly, but reaching out and establishing relationships with other like-minded content creators has been invaluable. I think it’s easy to get trapped in our own little bubble and get way too comfortable behind the computer screen.

Coming up for air by sharing ideas and conversation with others can really help recharge you and take your business in directions you would not have figured out on your own.

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned in your business so far?

For The Workout Corner, one of the biggest things I’ve learned is this: don’t be a cheese pizza.

Cheese is plain and boring. Sure, everyone likes it, but no one loves it. You need readers to love you. In order to do that, you’re gonna need some haters. Meat Lover’s Pizza has lovers and haters. So does veggie pizza.

The more emotionally charged your content, and the more you take a stand, the bigger following you’ll attract.

Of course, you don’t have to purposely try to make people mad or anything like that. Just be yourself and don’t hold back when you write and produce content.

Be fearless.

But whatever you do, do not attach your personal worth or value to your content or the responses you get to it. There is zero correlation.

And remember, everyone commenting on the Internet considers himself an “expert.” :-)

What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

I took far too long to create products, and I also created products nobody wanted but that I would have sworn they needed.

It’s a double whammy because you invest all that time … but then no one buys. So you feel really frustrated and upset, and it’s easy to feel personally rejected. But it’s simply the market telling you to try a different approach!

I also found that trying to make anything perfect –- be it a video, email, image, etc. — is a huge waste of time. 80 percent of perfect is often good enough, and you can always go back to update or upgrade it later.

Get it done first, then make it right.

What does your business look like today?

I’m very, very thankful. Right now, The Workout Corner has over 4 million views and 39,000+ subscribers on YouTube. I have a large email following, and there are many more rising Spartans in training.

In my niche, those numbers are actually small potatoes. But I feel it’s all about taking it one day at a time and being appreciative for what you have.

What’s next for you?

I made the cheese pizza mistake, so I’m currently working on the content antidote with Spartan training. I am really excited for what’s coming next. The early feedback has been very positive.

Why do you think you became an online business owner, when most people just stick with the career they have (even if it’s unsatisfying)? What’s different about you?

I believe in designing and using your business(es) to enhance your life.

I think too many people get too attached to one specific business, when sometimes the best solution is to let go and head in a new direction. Watching Shark Tank gives you plenty of examples of this.

I wanted the freedom to travel, so that was a big motivator for me when I ventured into the online business world. I love the journey of personal growth and discovery that we all go through as business owners. The never-ending learning, the inevitable frustrations, the successes — I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

I think many people stick with a career that is unsatisfying because they’re (understandably) afraid. Will I be able to provide for myself and my family? What will my friends and loved ones think? What if I totally, utterly, and completely fail in front of everyone?

These are serious and legitimate concerns. But for things to change, you have to change.

Whether that means moving to a new career, finally launching your own business on the side, or something entirely different … you are the leverage point.

Not the economy, not the job, not the timing — YOU.

What advice would you give to website owners and entrepreneurs who are trying to build an online audience?

1. ACTION

Get your content out there. Don’t try to make it perfect, just get it out.

Create a schedule and stick to it. Your audience will let you know what resonates with them, so you can adjust as you go.

Think of it like a bicycle … if you’re not moving, you’re falling over.

2. BE YOURSELF

Write the way you talk. Write about what generates strong feelings for you. That will shine through and attract people.

View everything you produce as part of the process instead of thinking of each piece as an event. The process is this: you becoming a better content producer. That’s what you’re going through.

3. EMBRACE THE FEAR

It’s scary putting stuff out there. Remember that your personal worth and value are in no way tied to your content or the reaction to it.

Not to get too morbid, but this is what helped me get over my fears for being on YouTube: in 500 years, we’ll all be gone; in 5,000 years, we’ll all be long gone; and in 50,000 years, there will be virtually no trace … so in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if somebody rips on you or your content, if you make a mistake or do it all wrong?

As I tell my Spartans … Never Retreat & Never Surrender!

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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The Accident That Changed My Priorities: One Entrepreneur’s Story

After reading Getting Things Done, an influential time-management guide, I was equipped with strategies for tackling tasks and ready to conquer the world.

I’d pile my plate high with projects, combining caffeine and sleep deprivation to stay ahead and leverage the GTD system. I traded all my time for work, thinking that the road to happiness was paved in accomplishments.

But somehow I felt unfulfilled. Caffeine, my focus-inducing friend, made me increasingly anxious. Sleep deprivation led to constant negative thoughts. To top it off, I became overly affected by the drama and negative energy I’d receive from customers, friends, family and employees. In short, I could no longer think straight. I went from doing creative work and leading a team to just busy work and rushing around.

It took getting hit by a van in in London, almost two years ago, to make me realize I had prioritized productivity over being present in the moment.

That day, my mind was elsewhere, caught up with worries about my business and life. I’d ignored my dear friend Sophie who’d warned me for 3 days straight, “Always look both ways before crossing!” I didn’t heed her advice. When the van appeared, I didn’t see it coming until it was too late.

Its tire caught my left leg. I was wedged under it and all I could think was, “Am I really going to lose my leg right now? Why didn’t I listen to Sophie!”

A crowd of people came immediately, directing the driver to move slowly. The weight of the van’s tire could have crushed my leg permanently, but I was fortunate, I walked away with just deep muscle bruising.

I sat in the emergency room for half a day while concerned family members and employees called to check in. I was touched by their concern, and wished that I had been as kind to myself as they had been to me. Sitting in the ER, I realized I had just received a warning. This incident was a lesson: I needed to learn how to slow down. While I still had dreams and goals for my life and business, I decided I needed to let go of the aggressive deadlines and change my timeline.

GTD had served me well, but I was neglecting my physical and emotional well-being. I still needed to manage my own personal energy in order to accomplish my goals. I decided to make the following changes:

1. I make sleep a priority. For the last year, I’ve forced myself to get at least 7 hours of sleep and parted ways with coffee. The combination of the two has boosted my creativity, reduced my waistline, and alleviated feelings of stress and anxiety.

2. I don’t leave home without doing 20 minutes of yoga in the morning. This has helped me to quiet the negative thoughts circling my mind, and start my day with a positive outlook. If I experience tough moments throughout the day, I get through them with deep breathing techniques I’ve learned in yoga.

3. I detach from drama. It’s too easy to get consumed in other people’s drama, complaints and negative energy. I’ve learned to stay empathetic but to create some mental distance for myself. I’ve done this by continuing to work with and help others, but not letting their negative energy and comments get me down or distract me, and by reinforcing the good things that are present in my life.

4. I give myself time off. I give myself a mandatory day off from the business once a week. No emails, texts or check-ins. When I first started, I tricked myself by taking day trips to places where I knew there’d be no data coverage. Once I return, my mind is refreshed and I’m able to tackle the hard tasks that require mental effort. I’ve also learned to delegate and automate as many menial tasks as possible, so that I’m not sucked into doing busy work.

5. I stay on my path. It’s easy to see and hear of other’s people’s success and feel like you’re moving too slowly. I’ve learned to manage these feelings by reviewing my goals quarterly, and showing myself how my business is making progress. I’ve also stopped being hard on myself and comparing my progress to others. Instead, I remind myself that I’ve chosen to lead a healthy lifestyle where I prioritize health and emotional well-being.

Profits and progress are important, but I’ve realized that shouldn’t come at the price of my physical well-being and mental peace.

Poornima Vijayashanker is the founder of Femgineer, an education services company dedicated to helping tech professionals and entrepreneurs better themselves in product development, communication, and leadership.

What You Need to Do on LinkedIn, Even if You’re Not Looking for a Job (Infographic)

When was the last time you revamped you LinkedIn profile? If you’re like most people, probably the last time you applied for a job. However, your LinkedIn can be more than an online résumé—it can be a powerful career tool.

The infographic below, which features advice from self-proclaimed “LinkedIn Queen” Eve Mayer and social-marketing platform UberVU, offers tips on what LinkedIn users need to do to keep their profiles in shape. Check it out for advice on everything from how to choose a professional profile photo to how much time you spend maintaining your LinkedIn account each day.

Related: 5 Tips to Master Pinterest for Business 

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What You Need to Do on LinkedIn, Even if You're Not Looking for a Job (Infographic)

Kate Taylor is a staff writer for Entrepreneur.com.

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How to Nail an Introduction

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The Accident That Changed My Priorities: One Entrepreneur's Story

The Accident That Changed My Priorities: One Entrepreneur’s Story

5 Time Management Techniques Worth Using

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7 Ways to Get the Press Coverage You Want

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Twitter IPO Deserves the Hype, If Not the Investment

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4 Easy Ways Non-Coders Can Add Personality to a WordPress Theme

Image of golden brick

It wasn’t easy, but you finally settled on a premium theme for your self-hosted WordPress website.

You bought it, installed it, and watched all of your content magically reorganize itself inside the pages and sidebars of your new site. Your content is served up with new fonts, colors, and beautiful white space. It looks great.

As a matter of fact, it looks just like the example theme that inspired you to choose it. Exactly like it.

At this point, it might dawn on you that your site now looks identical to hundreds of other websites out there. Oh sure, it’s gorgeous, but it’s not unique.

You might think you’re stuck with the style you’ve chosen and destined to have a site that’s identical to lots of others on the web.

The good news is that there are four easy ways to add personality to your premium theme site … and they don’t involve writing code or messing with your core theme files.

Making these changes will give your site just the right amount of visual style so that it stands out and is remembered.

1. Give custom fonts a try

There’s nothing like a new font to give your website an instant makeover. And these days you don’t even need to pay extra to get custom fonts served up on your website.

First, the back story: until recently, we were stuck using a dozen or so “web standard” fonts. All websites used these fonts, and we became collectively tired of seeing them.

About five years ago, font-serving technology become feasible. Third-party websites “serve up” custom fonts when requested from your website. This means your site visitors see custom fonts when they visit your site, even if they don’t have those fonts installed on their machines.

So it’s easy to add custom fonts to your site.

If you are using the Genesis Framework and don’t mind copy/pasting some lines of code, you can use the method outlined here by Brian Gardner: How to Use Google Web Fonts With Your Genesis-Powered Website.

If you’d rather avoid ever seeing a line of code, use the well-regarded WP Google Fonts plugin to add custom fonts to your site.

2. Use compelling images

High-quality premium themes put the emphasis on your content. They use well-crafted white space, visual hierarchy, and layout styles to shine a light on your words.

But that’s not all they’re good for.

These beautifully designed themes also serve as perfect platforms for thoughtfully chosen images that add nuance and meaning to the words on your pages.

You can’t use just any old images though. If you really want to add personality to your site, you have to choose images strategically. Some tips:

  • Experiment with using conceptual images. Conceptual images add shades of meaning and create curiosity without directly representing the topic at hand. It’s the difference between representing love with a photo of a heart, or a photo of a couple walking into the distance arm in arm.
  • Remember to position images to highlight your words. Many images “face” in one direction or another. If a person or an object is facing in a specific direction, make sure it’s “looking” toward your copy, not off the edge of your website. (For example, notice where David Ogilvy is directing his gaze in yesterday’s post.) If the original image direction doesn’t work, either flip it using image editing software or find a different image.
  • Establish an image style and use it consistently. You may decide that you’d like all your images to use a grunge effect, or to look washed out and antiqued. Apply filters to all your photos to give them this “look” and use them on all your pages and posts.

Our brains process images faster than words and have more resources available for interpreting them, so use images whenever you can.

Take the time to learn more with the free 12 Days of Visual Buzz course I created with Kelly Kingman.

3. Grab attention with an accent color

One of the best characteristics of a well-designed premium theme is that all the color choices are made for you. Subtle changes in color and tone highlight various areas of your site and draw your visitors through your information. It’s a beautiful thing.

But what if you want to stop your site visitor in her tracks?

If you want to grab attention and keep it, you should try an accent color.

Accent colors work best if they’re dramatically different from the most prominent colors on your site.

For example, if your site features cool blues, choose a warm orange or red accent color so it stands out. If your site uses rusty orange, find a bright blue accent color that will “pop” wherever you use it.

Accent colors should be used in small doses.

Feature them on your “submit” buttons, or create content box styles that use your accent colors when you want to make a special announcement. If you use an image-based header, your accent color can be featured there, too.

Brian Gardner comes to the rescue again for all Genesis Framework users with this post: Spruce Up Your Genesis-Powered Website with Content Boxes and Color Buttons.

If you’d rather not copy/paste code, try the Standout Color Boxes and Buttons plugin.

Having trouble figuring out what color to choose for your accent? Grab the replay for my Big Brand System Color Clinic and discover how to choose colors that work for your site.

4. Format your text so it’s easy to skim

Once your theme, fonts, images, and accent color have made your site visitor stop and pay attention, they’re going to dive in to your words.

Here’s how to keep them engaged once they do:

  • Break your paragraphs up into digestible chunks. Don’t turn your site visitors off because you’ve presented your information in one unbroken wall of text. The return key is your friend! Start a new paragraph any time a thought takes a turn or you need to add emphasis.
  • Sprinkle subheads liberally. Before your reader digs into your first paragraph, they’ll often glance down your page to see what it’s about. Your subheads give them clues about what’s ahead and help pique their interest for what they’re about to learn. Use subheads throughout your pages and posts to help entice your reader to consume your words.
  • Use bulleted lists. If you find yourself writing a sentence that uses comma, after comma, after comma … the alarm bells should start ringing in your head. It’s a bulleted list, waiting to be born! Bulleted lists break up your information and make it easy to read. Use them to add personality and skim-ability to your writing.

Get more on formatting your pages for maximum readability in this post:
8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content.

Now, over to you

I want to hear from premium theme owners: what have you done to the beautiful structure you installed to add extra personality to your site? What techniques do you use to make it memorable?

Share your tips in the comments, and let others learn from your experience …

About the Author: About the Author: Pamela Wilson founded Big Brand System to help people like you combine strategic marketing and great design to create memorable brands. Have you grabbed her free Marketing Toolkit yet?

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7 Things the Great Copywriters Wish You Knew

image of advertising legend David Ogilvy

We sometimes talk about web copy and content like they’re the same, but they aren’t — they complement each other, but they also serve two distinct purposes.

Copy, traditionally, is what we use to make the sale. To use Albert Lasker’s phrase, it’s salesmanship in print (or pixels). Its aim is to persuade.

Content does everything else. It attracts an audience, engages their sustained attention, demonstrates your ability to solve their problems, and paves the way for an eventual purchase.

Content marketing is the new cool kid in advertising– because the web lets us use content to accomplish so much with relatively limited resources.

But really smart content marketers know enough to steal from their more traditional copywriting brothers and sisters. Because those old school elements of persuasion will make everything in your content work better.

Here are 7 strategies you’ll want to swipe from the rich tradition of direct response copywriting:

#1: Headlines, headlines, headlines

Copywriters know that if the headline is weak, the ad will never get read.

The same is true of your content. Put a vague, waffly, or obscure headline on the best piece of content the world has ever seen, and it still won’t get read. Even if you have a decent-sized audience, you still need to persuade them, day in and day out, to continue giving you their attention. Great headlines help with that.

Now the best headlines can’t help content that’s consistently thin and weak. But it will do a lot to increase audience engagement for quality content, as well as shares and links.

Smart content marketers will go grab our free Ebook on writing headlines and start mining it right away for tips on creating terrific headlines.

#2: Quit being so clever

Look, I get it. You wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t have a secret love of clever wordplay.

Puns and in-jokes and linguistic play are the writer’s delight. Just realize … they may not be your audience’s delight.

Writerly craft is a good thing. Thinking carefully about language will make it clearer and more powerful, and that’s what you want. But great copywriters know that cleverness too often leads directly to audience confusion.

A dash of cleverness here and there can add seasoning, so if you do use it, use it sparingly — and never in a headline.

#3: Develop your big idea

As a content marketer, you’re not (I hope) writing endless pages of dry, factual information that merely answers questions.

You’re publishing information that both entertains and educates your reader — and you’re doing it in the framework of a Big Idea.

Think “1000 Songs in Your Pocket.” You’re looking for the instant communication of a desirable benefit, compressed into a memorable statement. It’s not always easy to find, but if you keep looking, it’s there.

For those of you who are members of our premium marketing community, Authority, Brian Clark and I did a workshop recently on the Big Idea — go and grab the replay for that, and study it. We also did a tagline clinic last week that takes the Big Idea and shows how it works on your site.

Don’t just be another writing or design or fashion or parenting blogger. Frame your content with a compelling Big Idea.

#4: Do your research

The best copywriters are the most tenacious researchers. Like miners, they dig, drill, dynamite, and chip until they have carloads of valuable ore. John Caples advised me once to gather seven times more interesting information than I could possibly use. ~ legendary copywriter Gary Bencivenga

If you’re writing authoritative content, it only follows that you’re also an obsessive student of your topic.

Dig deeper. Scour sites like Abe for valued out-of-print books on your topic. Get beyond the “big blogs” everyone in your topic reads — go to the rare, obscure resources, especially if they’re chewy and difficult for the average reader.

Dig, drill, dynamite, and chip. Don’t just be an expert — be a dork about your topic. The depth and richness you’ll gain will show.

(Incidentally, the best Big Ideas usually come out of compulsive research — combined with some creativity and enough time to think carefully about the problem.)

#5: Find your starving crowd (then listen to them)

Notorious copywriting genius Gary Halbert liked to tell his students that the key to a successful restaurant was not location, great food, or low prices — it was the presence of a starving crowd that needed and wanted what your restaurant had to offer.

And of course, the same is true for any kind of business.

When it comes to direct marketing, the most profitable habit you can cultivate is the habit of constantly being on the lookout for groups of people (markets) who have demonstrated that they are starving (or, at least hungry) for some particular product or service. ~ Gary Halbert

Your “starving crowd” is your audience — the people who are hungry for what you have to say, in the way that you say it.

The terrific thing about building a hungry audience is you can then turn around and ask (or observe) them to find out what, specifically, they’re hungry for.

Traditional direct marketers used expensive response lists to find this out. In the online content world, we can gain a lot of that knowledge through listening to what our audiences have to say, both on our own sites and in forums or other social media.

When you know what your audience wants, you can create the perfect product or service to meet that desire. As famed ad man Bill Bernbach said:

Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it…. No matter how skillful you are, you can’t invent a product advantage that doesn’t exist.

Getting the product or service right is great marketing — and when you pair it with solid persuasion skills, you’ll be unstoppable.

#6. Know where you’re going

Writing direct response copy always serves a specific purpose. You’re writing to stimulate a specific behavior. If you get that behavior, you win. If you fail to get it, you lose.

The economics of content marketing allow us to experiment more, but you still want to develop an idea of what, specifically, each piece of content you create is intended to accomplish.

You might be looking to widen your audience, get more email subscriptions, educate your market about an upcoming product … there are lots of goals you can accomplish with content.

But drifting around and publishing “to see what happens” should be kept to a minimum.

Our Content Marketing Strategy Ebook will give you a deeper look at the goals behind different types of content. (That and 14 other useful marketing books are part of your free membership in MyCopyblogger.)

#7: Don’t be boring

Tell the truth but make truth fascinating. You know, you can’t bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it. ~ David Ogilvy

We’re fans of David Ogilvy around here, as D.O. was a longtime champion of education-based marketing.

But he knew very well that in order to make it work, you have to make that education fascinating.

Not to clownishly grab attention, but to make your good advice and useful content more interesting and readable.

How about you?

Here at Copyblogger, we have literally hundreds of traditional copywriting tips that we like to apply to content marketing. It’s what the blog was founded on.

Do you have a favorite old-style copy tip that works brilliantly in the new world of content and social media? Let us know about it in the comments …

About the author

Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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7 Super Tips for Creating Powerful Infographics

With the rise of the “visual web,” content marketing is becoming more image-centric. As we embrace this trend of marketing without words and communicating visually, infographics have become one of the most effective ways to share your message, establish authority and drive traffic and shares across social platforms.

Not merely restricted to Pinterest, infographics are proving to be a powerhouse form of content marketing for businesses across a range of industries, with the most popular infographic topics being technology, business, social media, economics and health

But what makes for a knockout infographic? What elements need to come together in order for it to get shared, and drive quality traffic back to your website?

This infographic from Socially Sorted highlights seven elements, or “superpowers,” to consider when planning, creating and sharing infographics that get shared and drive traffic on the visual web.

Click to Enlarge+

7 Super Tips for Creating Powerful Infographics

Source: Socially Sorted

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

Donna Moritz is the founder of Socially Sorted, a social media marketing consultancy in Queensland, Australia.

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A Business Plan for the Startup Economy

A Business Plan for the Startup Economy

Any small-business owner looking to start or grow will tell you that access to capital is the first thing they think about in the morning and the last thing on their mind before bed. Free-flowing capital allows small businesses to invest in the machinery, supplies, office space and people they need to turn a great idea into a job-creating enterprise. And, of course, the opposite is true: no matter how good an idea or how profitable a business, it’s impossible to grow without steady and predictable sources of funding.

Before leading the U.S. Small Business Administration, I spent my entire career in the private sector. Investing in and growing companies with many of America’s most successful entrepreneurs, I developed an appreciation for initiatives that leveraged public and private resources.

Related: Former SBA Chief on 3 Keys to a Better U.S. Entrepreneur Economy

One great example of this is the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program, a public-private partnership with no cost to taxpayers. With the vast majority of private investment capital tied up in just three states (California, New York and Massachusetts) and a fairly narrow group of industries, SBIC helped spread the wealth to a much broader portfolio of promising businesses. By expanding the focus of the SBIC program, the initiative encouraged investors to look at early stage companies and impact investing. In 2012, for example, nearly a third of all small businesses financed by SBIC were in low-income areas or run by female and/or minority entrepreneurs.

The federal government’s SBIC Impact Investing initiative is a public-private model that can be further developed at the state level. The first Impact Investment fund under this initiative brought together the federal government, the state of Michigan, The Dow Chemical Company and Credit Suisse.

Related: Why Now Is the Time to Seek Startup Funding

Michigan is an area that was hard hit by both the recession and the collapse of the auto industry, but it has great potential with a skilled workforce and history of manufacturing. The fund focuses on making an impact on the Michigan economy by providing capital to businesses that are headquartered in Michigan, have a significant presence in Michigan or are in the process of expanding their operations in Michigan so they can grow and create jobs. Public-private investing partnerships like this will help spread capital to great innovative entrepreneurs not only on the coasts, but at all points in between.

Another promising development is the growth of peer-to-peer lending, or crowd-sourcing, such as Lending Club, Prosper and Kickstarter. What started as a niche concept just a few years ago has become a large-scale and viable way for people to invest directly in promising ideas, which creates a new pool of funding while allowing small investors to reap the financial rewards of contributing to successful ventures.

A big take-away from my time at SBA is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Government and private-sector solutions both have benefits and blind spots. But creative partnerships that leverage the benefits of each are proven to be enormously effective. They should be expanded. And new approaches that further broaden the pool of capital will continue to change the game for America’s entrepreneurs.

Related: Successful Crowdfunding Is About More Than Money
 

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How to Make WordPress Sites Load 72.7% Faster

Image of going faster

You want to know the secret to a faster WordPress website?

You and everyone else.

But it’s not a secret. The problem is that there is a whole lot of misguidance out there that makes it hard for site owners like you and me to identify the solutions that really work.

Let’s cut the crap and turn down the hype.

If your house has foundation problems, you don’t treat your windows. You fix the foundation. If your car is idling rough, you don’t change your tires. You get under the hood and address the engine.

So if your WordPress website is slow, why on earth would you look to the edges first for a solution?

You don’t. Well, not if you want a real solution that can nearly double your load speed.

You look to the core

The core of your body is generally defined as the torso minus the appendages (arms, legs, and head).

Your WordPress website has a core too. Its “torso” includes hosting, theme, and plugins. This is the origin of every page your site serves. Speed and performance are determined here, at the web page’s origin, not at the edge where the page is viewed.

Sure, you might also have some appendages on your WordPress website. Your site’s “arms and legs” might include nebulous cloud solutions or dispensable content delivery networks. But edge services like these ultimately take their cues from the origin.

Think of it this way:

If you want total body strength, you see the most benefits by increasing the strength of the area in the body where almost all movement originates from: the core. Ripped biceps and pulsating calves are nice, but strength and flexibility in your abs and lower back are essential.

Your website is the same.

If you want supreme performance from your site, then look right to the core and strengthen — or, better said, optimize — the origin of your content.

Here is what an optimized core for a WordPress website includes:

  • Reliable DNS
  • Hosting configured specifically for WordPress with a smart origin caching strategy
  • A clean theme that is devoid of bloat (and preferably on a framework)
  • A plugin list trimmed of fat

Let’s break down these elements, and then I’ll show you how easy it is to increase WordPress performance by nearly 75 percent.

Don’t ignore DNS (even though you want to)

DNS is an annoying topic that makes little sense to most of us, but it can also determine whether your site sinks or swims.

You don’t need to know much about DNS (in fact, you don’t even need to know what the letters stand for), but you should know this: it is the first communication made when someone attempts to pull up one of your URLs in a web browser.

If the DNS for your site isn’t working, then the browser cannot find your site. If it can’t find your site, then it can’t find your page. The net result is that while everything else is working perfectly, your site is as good as down.

It would be like putting a letter in the mail with only an addressee name but no address. The letter isn’t getting there. Your web page isn’t either.

You may have no earthly idea whether you have a DNS problem or not. Find out. Don’t live in the dark. Get data.

Run a quick Pingdom test for your site and look at the first object in the waterfall to load, your domain name. Hover over the multi-colored bar representing its load time. The first number is for DNS, and it should be fast as a blink. Copyblogger’s is 7 milliseconds … even faster than a blink.

The point is this: if you’re serious about performance, get serious about DNS.

Go with a top-notch provider like Amazon’s Route 53. And if the thought of migrating your DNS alone scares you, get someone like our friends at Fantasktic to help.

Improving your WordPress efficiency by even 10 percent won’t matter if your DNS is not reliable.

Get your WordPress hosting and caching right

Once your DNS is squared away, you can turn toward your WordPress install. Start with hosting.

We’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: serious WordPress users need hosting that means business. If you choose generic, shared hosting then you’ll get generic, slow performance.

If you are serious about your site, and if you don’t want it crashing the first time you get a nice stream of traffic, then you need to host it on servers specifically configured for the complexities of hosting WordPress.

You see, WordPress generates pages dynamically. This can mean pulling from theme files, from the database, from image folders, and from third-party sites — just to get a single page generated.

The whole process becomes quicker and more reliable when NGINX is involved and when entire pages, or elements of pages, can be saved on the server and loaded pre-generated when called. This enables web pages to be served much faster to more potential users at once.

This latter process is called origin caching. You can see why having a smart origin caching strategy is so important.

When it comes to WordPress, origin caching doesn’t get much smarter or more efficient than the team at W3 EDGE and their plugin W3 Total Cache.

The latest Pro release of W3 Total Cache includes fragment caching support for specific theme frameworks (currently only the Genesis framework, as of this article being published). This allows for even more granular caching control and, most important, faster load times like the ones I’m about to illustrate.

When it comes to theme and plugins … clean, clean, clean

Speaking of Genesis, there is a reason why more than 100,000 people use it to power their WordPress websites. Even the best NGINX configuration with the smartest origin caching plan cannot compensate for a bloated theme.

This is the digital web, where ultimately everything we do online is really just the stacking and restacking of 1s and 0s. So everything goes back to code.

Bad code equals a bad site. Period. Whether it’s in your theme or in a plugin, bad code will sink your site and there is no magic hosting, caching, “cloud,” or CDN pill that will cure it.

Bad code makes your site a ticking time bomb that could explode and crash as soon as your next traffic bump.

This is why you need to choose a clean theme. The Genesis Framework and every single child theme from the StudioPress team are exactly that.

This is also why you need to keep your plugin folder as clean as possible.

Keep only the plugins that you need for essential functionality. And of those, keep only the ones with solid, proven code behind them that are actively supported.

WordPress is a strong piece of software. It can handle 40+ plugins if they are all the right ones. But it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. A single faulty plugin could make your site run 72.7 percent slower, which is the exact opposite of what we’re aiming for here.

Let’s break it on down …

The stark reality is that improving WordPress performance is more about removing crap from the core than it is about adding band-aids to the edge.

This may involve some investment, of both money and time, plus a few tough decisions.

Generic hosting, cheap themes, and running the wrong plugins will sink you. If you insist on any one of these, you aren’t serious about performance.

But for those of you who are serious, here is a real-world example of how easy it is to turbocharge a WordPress site.

How to improve WordPress performance by 72.7%

If you are a Synthesis customer, you know Julian Fernandes. Currently stationed in his native Brazil, Julian is one of the most knowledgeable and passionate members of the Synthesis support staff. I asked him to run a few tests for me in preparation for this article. He excitedly obliged.

Here is what Julian did:

He took a domain, julianfernand.es, and brought it up on Synthesis with a basic plan, which includes W3 Total Cache Pro and the latest version of WordPress by default. Then he started running Pingdom tests.

His first test was with the Twenty Thirteen theme running:

default-wordpress

His second test replaced the default WordPress theme with the Genesis Framework and the Sixteen Nine theme, which is also included with every Synthesis setup by default.

genesis-w3tcpro

Then Julian activated fragment caching from within W3 Total Cache Pro.

genesis-w3tcpro-frag

As you can see, with all else equal, just adding the Genesis framework improved the load time from 630 ms to 172 ms. Activating fragment caching on top of that dropped the load time further to 157 ms.

That is a 72.7% increase in speed for WordPress.

And if we had done an initial test on generic non-WordPress hosting, the difference would have been even more drastic.

(For the record, we also tested a random theme from ThemeForest as well as the Woo framework. Each performed well, 334 ms and 347 ms respectively, but not as well Genesis.)

Realize that these tests were not run on a bare bones install. There were actually five posts on the home page, each with featured images. There were even a few widgets, including Simple Social Icons. Yet the speeds were still that fast.

This is what an optimized core can do.

How to optimize your WordPress core today

Now you know what is possible with an optimized core.

Good DNS and hosting alone can get you to sub-second page load speeds. Optimize the core even further with a premium framework, efficient caching, and a no-bloat mindset, and you’re down to eye-blink speeds like 157 milliseconds.

That’s why inward, to your site’s core, is the first place you should look if you want to improve performance.

More often than not, you will find that you don’t need the fancy frills you are so often being sold. They are not the magical performance elixirs they are purported to be. There is a time and place for CDNs and the like, but get your origin optimized first and then let data drive your decisions.

If you want further guidance on that issue in particular, check out this whitepaper we wrote with the W3 EDGE team: “The Truth About WordPress Performance: Why You May Not Need What You’re Being Sold”

And if you want to go right ahead and get moving, then get started at Synthesis, which gives you literally everything outside of DNS that you need for an optimized core:

  • Hosting configurations designed for WordPress
  • The Genesis framework with Sixteen Nine included
  • W3 Total Cache Pro with support for fragment caching (if you run Genesis)

Plus it’s all ready to go out of the box, with friendly experts like Julian ready to answer questions if you have them.

To start optimizing your core today, sign up with Synthesis.

(And don’t forget to consider our new data center in Amsterdam to further optimize your core for your European traffic.)

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10 Productivity Tips from a Blue-Collar Genius

Image of old man working

Imagine a fifty-something man in a blue long-sleeve shirt, the cuffs unbuttoned, his knuckles thick and coarse. He’s on the side of the road, quibbling over a stack of used cinder blocks with a merchant.

This is my grandfather. And it’s 1980, roughly.

His brother, my great-uncle, shuffles the dirt with his boots beside the white 1953 Dodge van, the one with a hot 5.2 liter block engine in between the driver and passenger seat — an engine they fetched from the junkyard a few years ago and nursed back to life. A 24-pack of Stag warms on the engine case.

My grandfather was a magnificent man.

Father of twelve, husband to one. A carpenter, electrician, gardener, plumber, water skier, snow skier, welder … the builder of both of his houses, houses he built with recycled material, not paying a penny over value.

And there is something about looking at photographs of him, something otherworldly, marginally divine. Not quite the aura that comes with a photograph of Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, or Carl Sagan …

But a reverence and awe in its own right.

He was a blue-collar genius.

To say he had an influence on my life would be an understatement. In fact, a good part of how I work — how I get things done — I owe to him. Let me explain.

1. Teach yourself everything

My grandparents were staunch Roman Catholics. That meant a lot of things, but most visibly it meant they had a large family. Twelve kids to be exact. And it’s something that motivated my grandfather to no end.

Each time my grandmother told him that she was pregnant, he would go out and learn a new trade: how to operate a boiler, roof a house, frame a room, run plumbing, rebuild cars.

You name it, and that former city boy learned it.

For me this has meant to have the guts to discover how to write, negotiate, code, install WordPress, understand SEO, get usability, and so on.

Fortunately, the resources are out there to help you learn: the books, the blogs, the videos. Even hundreds of free online academies that can make you smarter in an afternoon.

2. Boil down your to-do list to two or three items

I can promise you that my grandfather never had a to-do list, the show piece of every productivity wonk worth his salt.

But boy, did he get stuff done.

His life was simple: work, build his house, eat, sleep, work, build his house. Throw in a baby here, a weekend down at the cabin on the lake with the boys there … and his life has a pretty simple and singular rhythm about it.

That lack of complexity meant he knew what he needed to do each and every day. There were few decisions to make about what to work on. Just get up and do it.

The same is true for a writer: write the blog post, work on the book, do the research. Keep it simple and focus on the most important things each day, day in and day out, 365 days a year.

3. Recycle everything

I spent several summers on my grandfather’s farm, painting everything that didn’t move: the goats’ fence, the railroad tie wall, the shutters … with a mix of paint left over from twenty different cans (think padded-room blue).

One summer my cousin and I dug a ditch forty feet long and four feet deep, then laid pipe for a septic line. Granddad picked up the pipe from a residential construction company who couldn’t use it because of a flaw.

Once a week I mowed three acres of grass with a push mower rescued from the side of the road.

No surprise, I lost my appetite for manual labor. What I didn’t lose was that appreciation for hard work … and the ability to be resourceful and recycle material. It was in my blood.

For a content marketer this can mean flipping a podcast into a blog series … or yanking that draft and pulling it into a white paper … or turning your best articles into a content library.

Waste nothing, and maximize everything.

4. Get up early and stay up late

As you can imagine, money was tight for my grandfather. Food was usually bland, clothing was cheap and handed down, and the house was crowded (my youngest uncle often slept in the bathtub or closet).

But they never starved, never went in debt, always had shelter, and always paid their bills on time.

How? My grandfather was a hard worker, honest, but also an early-to-rise and late-to-bed kind of guy. Unless he was sick, he didn’t linger in his bed or the couch. He maximized his awake time and got stuff done.

The lesson for a content creator is this: work when you are at your peak.

5. Watch television on a small screen

As he got older my grandfather naturally started to slow down. To relax he would often watch television.

However, he didn’t splurge watching an Andy Griffith marathon with a 52-inch flat screen with surround sound. He kept to his tiny black-and-white for years when he could easily afford a bigger one. He simply didn’t want the distraction.

In my own life I have tried to maintain this habit. Outside of professional football and Phineas and Ferb, I watch little to no television. I also limit the videos I watch online and the articles I read.

Of course that means I’m a cultural idiot. But that’s how you master the craft.

It goes back to knowing what has to be done — and getting that done before you reward yourself with the distractions of life.

6. Have fun

You would think that with how much he worked and the size of his family he would never have time to play. But that is wrong. My grandfather loved to play.

He taught every single one of his children how to snow and water ski. When he ran out of children to train, he taught my cousin and me how to snow and water ski. Not to mention he took tae kwon do with his youngest daughter, and he loved to fish.

He loved to work hard and play hard.

I must confess, this one is difficult for me because I have a hard time relaxing. And when I do relax, it’s usually behind a book. But when I can get out there and play ball with my boy, jump on the trampoline with the girl, or take a long hike with the little lady … it works wonders on me. It’s rejuvenating.

7. Be generous

My grandfather is probably rolling over in his grave as I say this, but I’m a selfish turd — stingy as all get out with my time. Ask me to help you clean up your yard after a thunderstorm has scattered debris everywhere and I’ll go limp.

“Sorry, I’ve got this rare disease where I go blind and can’t use my hands when I’m around a wheelbarrow. Or a chainsaw.”

My grandfather, on the other hand, wouldn’t hesitate to drop what he was doing to fix the AC unit for the widow across town.

I clearly have work to do in this area. But the lesson I learned from him is that when I do go out of my way to help someone, there is an indescribable emotional reward that follows. Whether it’s giving my time to a budding writer or aerating the lawn for a single mother, I learn that life is not about me … it’s about people.

Speaking of people …

8. Build and belong to a community

My grandfather bought seven acres on the backside of the city in an area teeming with trees and narrow two-lane roads. His plan was to give away an acre to each child who wanted to build a house. At its pinnacle he had six houses on those seven acres. All his children’s.

My grandfather loved family, his community, his tribe. And being part of that tribe is a magnificent privilege.

This is true online, too: when you find a culture and cause you can put your weight behind you feel less alone, you have purpose, and you become more optimistic about the future. This is definitely the vibe we’ve cultivated in our Authority forums.

9. Work on a small bit of a large project everyday

Here’s a question for you: when does a man find time to build a house when he has children everywhere and works 14 hours a day?

I really don’t know.

If it was me, I’m sure I would’ve just paid someone else. But not my grandfather.

It didn’t matter if it was only for 30 minutes, he worked on building his house. Installing a window here, pouring concrete there. Over time a house rose out of the earth. And he did that twice in his own lifetime.

For you, this could mean writing one blog post a week. Over time, an authoritative website will rise out of the Internet.

This holds true for any large project, like writing a book or building a business. Be patient, delay gratification, work on a small chunk every day … and in time you’ll have something majestic.

10. Learn to sleep anywhere

Perhaps this is less virtue and more survival strategy, but when you work 18 hours a day or more, you look for ways to get your rest. Here’s how granddad did it.

During breaks he would climb to the top of boilers and make a nest out of coats, then take a cat nap. Refreshed, he would return to his shift renewed and sharp.

After a long, humid morning of driving beams into the lake bottom to build a thirty-foot dock, granddad would get some shuteye on a lawn chair, his chin resting into his bare chest. Upon waking he was vigorous and feisty.

I’ve clearly inherited this trait. Around 2:00 p.m., I’m worn out. Circling the same task over and over again. Continuing to work is unproductive. I could boil up another pot of coffee, but I’ve found I’m sharper if I crash for five or ten minutes. After that short nap, I feel human again. And ready to go.

Sleep is essential. Get at least seven hours a day. And if you can, grab that nap. It’ll make you smarter.

Conclusion

My grandfather will never make it into a management book. He won’t appear on a list beside Benjamin Franklin as an efficiency hero. But that doesn’t mean he was any less successful.

He is a patriarch of a large family that I am blessed to be a part of. Every male and female from that family is a hard-working, productive human being. It’s a legacy that goes beyond my grandfather’s seventy years …

And it’s the sort of enduring legacy I wish to create. Not so much with wood, metal, and people. But with words, ideas, and stories. For the benefit of people. And I think that’s something that would make him proud.

What about you? Do you have a blue collar hero in your past?

Image used with permission from Sasa Roksandic of roksandic.net.

About the author

Demian Farnworth

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

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Building a Better Mobile Camera App

Camerarrific is now a “freemium” app, but its developer plans to earn revenue through the purchase of extra features such as additional filters.

Editor’s Note: The TrepLabs column puts little-known but notable apps and their makers in the spotlight each week. For more information on how to become a TrepLabs app, go to TrepLabs.com, and to contribute to the discussion surrounding these apps, tweet us @TrepLabs

While many have called Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement speech inspiring, Adam Roberts might instead use the words life changing.

After viewing footage of the speech a few years later — around the time of the Apple founder’s October 2011 death — Roberts gave up a 15-year career at Honeywell he designed security-camera software. He struck out on his own with his London-based startup smartphone app company Enigmatic Flare.

Building a Better Mobile Camera App

Adam Roberts gave up a 15-year career at Honeywell to launch smartphone-app company Enigmatic Flare, the maker of Camerarrific.

“You have to follow your instinct. You have to live your own life, basically,” said Roberts, who acknowledges the creative path to developing the smartphone camera app dubbed Camerarrific took as many twists and turns as his own sleeping habits.

“I’ll hit the pillow. I’ll drift off, and I’ll get an idea. And I’ll get up and prove the theory,” Roberts says. Working has “pretty much been every day, most hours.”

He started out designing an app for music sharing, but a desire to incorporate pictures caused him to start building a camera app that Roberts says will have the best image-quality around and the most filters and special effects too. The app’s design also plans for social-media functions that he thinks could eventually attract a new photo- and video-sharing community.

Market opportunity: Smartphone users are so addicted to snapping photos and video and sharing them online that Roberts thinks they are hungering for a smartphone camera app that far surpasses its competitors.

“It’s hard to come across an app you can take good quality pictures with,” Roberts said.

Roberts claims that Camerarrific is one of the only camera apps around that features photos at full resolution lossless compression — with so much color and detail that Roberts could recently pick out tiny dirt patches when he shot the grass in his lawn.

Roberts says the app has 10 times as many photo filters as its nearest competitor, Instagram, and the effects can be previewed live. There’s even the ability to do so-called “green screen” special effects with video. Starting in early 2014, users will be able to tag music to a picture, with the tag automatically linking to songs on iTunes.

The revenue model is to provide Camerarrific as a “freemium,” with money made off purchases of extra features such as additional filters. Enigmatic Flare is sticking to iPhone only at this stage, with Android coming after launch.

Challenges: There are plenty of photo-sharing smartphone camera apps out there, including established players such as Instagram, Path and SocialCam.

With giants like these, it perhaps goes without saying that Camerarrific had better be groundbreaking, even downright revolutionary, if it is to compete.

Roberts is confident that Camerarrific will make the cut: “There’s enough features for people to enjoy. …If you make a product that good, it will sell itself.”

Camerarrific recently debuted on the App Store by November. At launch, it will share on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Path, Instagram and more. Camerarrific’s own social network is coming in the first quarter of 2014, and will be hosted in Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

Strengths: Roberts, who developed a noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe) game for the Commodore 64 system when he was 10, is counting on his programming chops to carry him through with a smartphone camera app that is so amazing that millions of people will clamor for the free downloads.

He also hopes that the love he has put into his creation will rub off on the users. Ideally he says, the app will end up “driving innovation and people enjoying what we have created — you can’t put a price on the value of that.”

What do you think? Will Camerarrific topple existing camera apps’ dominance? Let us know with a comment.

Chris Newmarker is a professional journalist of more than 12 years. His focus in recent years has been business and technology. He is based in Minneapolis, Minn.

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Swap Seats, Change Your Company? Why Where You Sit Matters

Swap Seats, Change Your Company? Why Where You Sit Matters

Image credit: Shutterstock

Does it matter where your employees sit in the office? Actually, it matters quite a bit, says Ben Waber, president and CEO of Boston-based Sociometric Solutions, which studies workplace interaction using sensors and other methods.

Waber says that between 40 and 60 percent of all work interactions, including face-to-face, email, instant messages, phone calls and others include the people who sit near you at work. That insular existence can boost productivity, but it can also create an environment where people don’t make connections with others, fostering relationships that could spur efficiency and innovation. But there are steps you can take to overcome the challenges of static seating and keep your teams interacting.

1. Evaluate your culture.
Before you abolish assigned seating in favor of floating workstations, Waber warns that you need to make changes while keeping your company culture and work reality in mind. If every office is mired in paper files that would take two weeks to move, you’re not going to want to make regular workstation shifts because it would be too disruptive. If you have employees whose work requires privacy, such as a law or financial services firm, shifting to an all-open floor plan to encourage interaction could be counterproductive.

“Think about who your people are and how they work before you start making decisions about how to get them to interact with other employees. If you make changes without taking that into consideration, it could be a waste of time,” he says.

Related: To Boost Efficiency, Rethink Company Culture

2. Make logical connections.
Look at the teams that work together regularly and try to seat them near each other. Do marketing and product development teams need to interact? What would happen if your sales team sat near the finance department so they could better understand each other? Seek out the teams who work closely or those who could be more effective and efficient with proximity and work out office seating arrangements to accommodate those opportunities.

3. Understand seating significance.
Waber says company owners also need to understand office seating’s social order. While Millennial workers may be fine with an open floor plan where everyone’s workstation looks the same, GenX or Boomer generation employees may assign significance to where they sit. Being removed from a windowed office to sit at a uniform workstation may feel like a demotion in some ways, he says. When you’re designing new seating charts, consider how your employees feel about their workspaces and whether this type of differentiation matters, he says.

Related: The Most Common Bottlenecks Holding Your Business Back (Infographic)

4. Engineer serendipity.
When you can’t continually change workstations, create places where employees come together. Centralized coffee or snack areas, game rooms, or other places where employees can gather to work together or take a break will give them opportunities to interact. Encourage employees to get to know others in various departments and reward those who make an effort to reach out to other departments and work together more effectively and efficiently.

5. Experiment with short-term seating changes.
Whether it’s a one-day desk swap or a combined department work session in a conference room, look for ways to get your key employees to understand other departments and how they work. Those types of contacts and environment changes can help spur connections, new ideas, and efficiency that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, he says.

Related: 5 Insanely Simple Ways to Banish Your Messy Desk Forever
 

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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5 Ways Persistence Pays For Online Content Creators

Image of persistent tulips

No matter why you create online content, there is something to be said for being persistent.

Persistence is often touted as one of the vital ingredients behind success — no matter if you’re a hobby blogger or a full-time freelance writer.

In this post I’m going to explore five reasons why I believe every online content creator must be persistent.

1. You can make more money

When I first started blogging for clients, I didn’t know how much my service was worth.

The first job I ever completed for a client was something like 50 product reviews at 700 words each for $150. It took me a good two weeks to complete the job. I’d massively underestimated the task.

I took a good hard look at myself and decided to set firm rates.

My rates were fair. They ensured that I was working for a sum I was happy with, which in turn meant that the work I completed would be of the highest standard.

Naturally, people tried to barter with me. At first I went along with it, until I realized there was no need to compromise.

Today I enforce my rates with persistence.

No longer do I bow to demands from clients for X, Y, or Z rate. I work to my own rates.

Sure, work was slow at first when I started to be persistent (and insistent) about my rates, but over time it has allowed me to make more money.

2. Because Rome wasn’t built in a day

About a year ago a friend asked me to set up a blog for him. He wanted to blog about cars and motorbikes. A week or so after handing over the reins to him I asked him how it was all going.

Amazingly, he’d given up.

“I’m not getting any traffic,” he explained. “I’ve got no followers on Facebook or Twitter, and no one is reading what I’ve written.”

Naturally, I said, “Woah! Hang on a minute … your site has been online for a week, your first post only went up five days ago, and you’re downhearted because you haven’t seen traffic in the space of just a few days?”

It turns out he’d read some “make a million dollars overnight with your own blog” ebook. When he didn’t get any traffic in the first week, he decided it was a bit too much like hard work and threw in the towel.

I’m confident that if he had persisted his blog would have been very successful.

On the flip side, I know bloggers who write for their own sites in niches like stock trading and sports betting. Their persistence has driven them to revenues of $10,000+ per month in affiliate sales. Sure, it might have taken time to see their first decent pay check, but their belief in what they were doing paid dividends — literally.

A lack of persistence will shave off 99 percent of your competition. Make sure you’re an exception. Make sure you’re in the 1 percent that does persist.

3. You can impress clients

It’s not often that a client turns around and says, “Nick, I really don’t like what you’ve written for us.” But it does happen from time to time. When a client says something like that there are three ways to deal with it:

  • You can ignore them (not recommended).
  • You can be peeved with them but revise their work to a point where both parties are okay with it. The project comes to an end, but there is a slightly sour taste left in everyone’s mouth.
  • You can be persistent, salvaging what you can from the initial work you handed over and then starting fresh.

You may think you have better ways to spend your time than putting in unpaid overtime to complete a project twice, but it’s good business to make sure every last client is delighted with the work you produce.

Persistence has to prevail.

Now I’ll let you in on a little secret: two clients who were once unsatisfied are now two of my most loyal clients.

Persistence in satisfying clients often comes at a cost in terms of time, but when those people throw bucket loads more work your way, as well as referrals, it’s well worth it.

4. Without persistence, rejection is final.

Rejection is something we all fear as bloggers — and in life in general. (I particularly enjoyed this post on rejection from last week.)

Sometimes I think about where I’d be right now if I had stopped in my tracks every time someone said “No.” I still haven’t worked out the answer.

Every now and then certain posts that I write are rejected by the people who read them. Sometimes people just don’t agree with what I have to say. But this is absolutely fine because we’re all free to draw our own conclusions and formulate our own opinions.

When I see someone disagreeing with me or writing offensive comments about my ideas, I see that as a rejection. If I stopped blogging because people wrote nasty comments, then I wouldn’t be writing this post.

Unless you’re preaching hate, there is no reason at all why you should let the rejection from naysayers deter you from writing and publishing.

Be persistent.

At some point you will connect with an audience that does appreciate and identify with your views and ideas.

I can come up with many vivid examples of times when I’ve faced rejection. I have no doubt that you can too. It’s not something to get worked up about or something that should put you off your quest to be the best — it’s simply a case of turning rejection into something positive.

5. Persistence leads to self-fulfillment

It may sound a bit soppy, but I strongly believe in self-fulfillment.

There’s nothing worse than locking up the office door or closing your laptop and thinking, “What have I actually achieved today?” If no immediate thoughts are forthcoming, you’ve probably achieved very little and are not fulfilling your potential.

The greatest feeling for me as a writer is self-fulfillment. There are various ways in which writing helps to make me realize my own self-fulfillment:

  • I like that my writing helps people
  • I like that I’m putting my talent to good use
  • I like that I’m making a difference (and at the same time paying the bills)

There is no other feeling quite like that of self-fulfillment, and you’ll never achieve it if you’re not persistent.

But there’s a fine line …

Remember, persistence is an admirable trait that’s almost certain to lend you success … but there’s a fine line between being persistent and being a nuisance or a pest to clients.

With that in mind, now is the time to audit your persistence.

Do you flit from one idea to the next on a regular basis? Do you let negative energy from others put you off what you’re doing? If so, you, my friend, need to become more persistent.

It almost always pays off in the long run.

About the Author: Nick Whitmore is a published journalist, blogger, and Managing Director at ContentWriting.org. Read more from Nick on his blog and on Twitter.

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What the Best Halloween Costume of 2013 Can Teach You About Creativity

Edgar Allen Ho creative Halloween costume

Right now you are probably thinking, Wow … what a unique idea for a Halloween costume.

But is it really?

Edgar Allan Poe always gets plenty of play come Halloween time, thanks to his reputation for the macabre. And there is perhaps no greater Halloween tradition outside of the pumpkin itself than females donning the sexy nurse/cop/maid costume.

Two Halloween clichés. What’s so special about that?

The brilliance of this costume lies in the creative merging of two common but disparate ideas into a totally fresh, attention-grabbing combination.

And therein lies the simple but essential lesson about creativity that you can learn from Edgar Allan Ho.

What does it mean to be creative?

You cannot be successful in content marketing without being creative.

In a field crowded with competition, the reality is that there are only so many topics that can be written about … so the likelihood of you conjuring up a wholly new one is slim.

(Sorry to burst your bubble.)

Even if you do, one single totally-and-completely brand new idea is a post, or at most a series. It is not a content marketing strategy.

But what you can do, every single day if you like, is come up with creative ways to educate your readers about topics they are more than likely already familiar with.

Explain old advice in a new way.

Spin current events in a different direction.

Or as seen above, combine disparate topics into newly blended ideas.

Creativity is not conjuring up new dots — everything under the sun has been done, remember? No, creativity is making connections others do not see between the dots that already exist.

Edgar Allen Poe and sexy maids have been around for years and years and years. But it took creativity, and a bit of clever wordplay, to connect these dots. The result is a unique Halloween costume where the whole is far more entertaining than the sum of its parts.

Are you doing the same with your content?

How to be creative with content marketing

Look to Sonia’s post from yesterday for a lesson in content marketing creativity. A quick review of the post’s subheads shows that no single, brilliant, new idea is introduced in the post:

  • Give yourself space to create
  • Refine your strengths
  • Beware of social media …

These are all useful ideas, yes, but they are not new. Sonia did not create these ideas.

What she did create is a smart, relevant, new way to package them: as “ways to protect your entrepreneurial confidence.”

It’s a creative post comprised entirely of well-worn ideas.

Each idea on its own is something you’ve heard before. Ho hum.

But together, with their forces combined, they form a shield that protects entrepreneurial confidence … something to which we can say “Hell yeah!”

That’s creative content marketing, and you can do it, too. You just need to find new ways to connect the old information already in your head and the new information you learn every day.

And it’s not some magic ability that only a few have. It’s a skill.

Trick and treat?

The trick is simply training yourself to do it. Train yourself to not just think outside the box, but to actually create new boxes to think within, new boxes that you can put old thoughts into.

Mix them up. See how they interact.

The treat is when they click. Then you’ve got something creative to say, your content has a chance of standing out in the massively cluttered Internet crowd, and you’re on the path toward content marketing success.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go procure a black mustache, a scarf, some aviator sunglasses, and a pastel-colored Polo shirt with a collar I can pop — because …

Edgar Allan Bro is about to get his Halloween party on.

Image credit: Reddit

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In Google Glass Case, Laws Again Lag Innovations

Innovation and regulation are crashing on the highways of California.

A California woman was issued a summons for wearing Google Glass while driving. It was an added charge, since Cecilia Abadie, of Temecula, was pulled over on I-15 in San Diego County for speeding.

The California Highway Patrol officer said wearing Google Glass was akin to watching television while driving, which is a violation of state law. While California has a love affair with regulations, most other states prohibit watching a television screen while driving (with the exception of global positioning systems and mapping).

Under the California law cited by the CHP, drivers can’t use “a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other means of visually displaying a television broadcast or video signal that produces entertainment or business applications” which is “visible to the driver while driving the motor vehicle.”

Related: Why California Can’t Be Home to the Hyperloop

Abadie, who posted the ticket itself on Google+, claimed in the comments on her Google+ page that Glass wasn’t on at the time (though, in a spirit of subtle honestly, she said she “doesn’t use it much while driving”). Still, the officer interpreted it as a monitor which could distract or disrupt her view.

Abadie’s case bring up the age-old conflict that arises when new technology doesn’t fit into the narrow black and white of rules and regulations. Several innovations become common, and yet are technically against the law. In some states, earbuds, while allow people to stay compliant with the law while talking on a cellphone hands-free, actually run afoul of laws that prohibit the use of headphones while driving.

Related: Google May Have Violated Wiretap Laws

Google itself is clear that the laws are, well, unclear: “Most states have passed laws limiting the use of mobile devices while driving any motor vehicle, and most states post those rules on their department of motor vehicles websites,” the company says on its FAQ page. “Read up and follow the law!”

For her part, Abadie, 44, said she may fight the ticket.

Ray Hennessey is Editorial Director of Entrepreneur.com.

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Learn This Twitter Shortcut

When targeting a particular audience on Twitter, it’s likely that you’ll stumble across a user who has created a list that’s perfect for your project. Very few tools exist to help you take those lists and turn them into your own lists so you can target specific types of followers. We’ve tested dozens of tools and two of them stood out when it comes to “borrowing” lists from others – Tweepi and Tweetbe.at.

Here are a few steps to help you take advantage of this little-known way to supercharge your market segmentation on Twitter with Tweepi.

Step one: Log into with your Twitter account, and scroll until you find the “Follow list” button.

Learn This Twitter Shortcut

After reaching the “Follow list” page, enter the Twitter handle of the creator whose list you’re targeting. You’ll get a drop-down of the profiles available and you can select the one you want to curate. 

Learn This Twitter Shortcut

Next, filter the list by location, number of followers, Klout score and more. 

Learn This Twitter Shortcut

The results that are the best fit for your project can then be added to the list you are assembling. Just (1) check the boxes for the profiles you want, (2) click the “Lists” icon to open the lists options, and (3) select the list to which you’d like to add these profiles.

Learn This Twitter Shortcut

Depending on the tool you use, you’ll likely need a premium membership which can range between $7.50 and $14.99 a month on tweepi.com. Depending on your needs, you could subscribe just when you need it, though you should re-evaluate your segmented lists at least monthly.

Mana Ionescu is the President of Chicago Digital Marketing company Lightspan Digital.

5 Ways to Protect Your Entrepreneurial Confidence

image of domo as a luchador

I know I told you your audience was your most important business asset. And I stand by that — if we’re talking about something that exists outside of yourself.

But there’s an internal, mental asset that you need to develop and protect if you’re going to do all the rest of it. (Develop your audience, produce top-notch content that solves real problems, make compelling offers, grow and sustain a great business.)

Business coach Dan Sullivan has said that as business owners, our greatest duty is to protect our own confidence.

Because the reality is: the most successful rockstar ninja business badass you know — that one who seems fearless and unstoppable — has days when their confidence wobbles.

(If they don’t, by the way, they’re not playing their highest game.)

Confidence naturally ebbs and flows — but it’s a skill that you can improve.

The big distinction here is to see confidence as an ability that you keep getting better at. ~Dan Sullivan

Here are some ways I’ve found to protect my own confidence as a business owner.

#1: Make space to create

Confidence tends to come not from “pumping yourself up” with hypey self-motivation, but from actually doing something cool.

And in order to do something cool, you need “Doing Cool Stuff” time in your calendar. Ideally, every day for at least an hour.

If you don’t live in an ideal world, see how close to that you can get. If it’s 15 minutes, make those 15 epically focused minutes, and knock them out every day.

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules. ~ Anthony Trollope

#2: Spend as much time as possible on your bright spots

I happen to think there are real rewards that come from working on things you are not yet awesome at.

However.

Working on and refining your bright spots is the shortest path to doing and making cool stuff.

If it gives you juice and you have a passion for it, you’re probably pretty damned good at it. Do more of that.

#3: Hold a Q&A call

Think you don’t have much to offer? Hold a free Q&A call for your audience. (There are any number of free conference call services out there that will work well for this.) Post the details on your blog and to your email list. Drive traffic to the session with whatever social media channels you run in.

Shift the focus off of yourself and your own crisis of confidence, and onto the people you help. When you actually help other people get what they want, your confidence will strengthen in a way that is very hard to shake.

#4: Be careful about social media

Oh, you’re a blogger? What do you complain about? ~ Julien Smith

Back in the day, we thought that near-universal adoption of “virtual community” and social technology would bring about world peace, an end to hunger, and a permanent cure for social awkwardness.

Oops.

We human beings use social media just like we’ve used every other communication channel in history — we bitch. And whine. And blame. And snipe. And snark. And shame.

None of this is good fuel for confidence. When you’re in a confidence slump, consider a social media break for a few days while you focus on more positive activities.

#5: Measure yourself against yourself

This is another one from Dan Sullivan — when you’re measuring your accomplishments, don’t put them against an ideal or an idol.

You may in fact surpass everything your early idol ever accomplished. Will that make you feel awesome? No, because your focus will shift to something new that’s out of reach.

Compare yourself to where you’ve been. Compare what you did this year to what you did last year, or where you were five years ago.

Look at the growth and improvements that you’ve made, not at an image of perfection that you’ve projected onto someone else. (That image may have, by the way, nothing in the world to do with reality.)

How about you?

We all have habits and techniques to break us out of a confidence funk. What are your favorites?

I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Creative Commons post image by kennymatic

(p.s. Thanks to my Platypuses for the inspiration.)

About the author

Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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The Truth About Overnight Success (and What You Need to Do About It)


Image of hand laying bricks

Some people just get lucky.

They appear out of nowhere and rise fast. Their blogs shoot onto awards lists. They get mentioned by the A-listers. They land book deals.

Why can’t you have the same overnight success?

Because it doesn’t really exist.

Here’s what you don’t see

Every single blogger who seems to have hit the A-list from nowhere has worked for it.

A few weeks ago, I put together a post interviewing six writing and blogging experts. One of the questions I asked was whether their current blog was their first.

In almost all cases, it wasn’t.

In fact, one of the people I asked was my personal gold standard for “overnight” success: the lovely Jeff Goins.

To me, it seemed like Jeff came out of nowhere with his blog Jeff Goins, Writer. My writing blog’s been going longer than his, but his has way more attention. (He deserves it, too.)

But this is what he told me:

[Jeff Goins, Writer] was something like my ninth blog. I had at least eight terrible blogs before I started this halfway-good one. Apparently, I had to learn every way to NOT do it to find out the one way blogging could work for me.

And why did Jeff look like an overnight success to me?

Because I had no idea how hard he’d worked to get there. (If you think about it, it’s obvious: his eight “terrible” blogs didn’t get enough traction to reach me.)

Here’s what this means for you

First, you need to give up waiting for a lucky break.

That’s not how it works.

And that’s good news. It means the power is back in your hands.

Building a successful blog — and a successful business — isn’t just about working hard, though. It’s also about doing the right things.

(You could work long into the night reading tons of great advice on content marketing, but if you only publish one post a month and fail to promote it, you’re not going to get far.)

So, look at what those “overnight successes” are doing, and compare it to what you’re doing. There’s a good chance you’ll find a few clues about where best to focus your time and energy.

Maybe they are …

  • Using different traffic-generation tactics — like running webinars instead of writing guest posts.
  • Showing up more consistently than you, posting on a regular schedule, and answering comments quickly.
  • Putting more thought into design: their content isn’t necessarily any better written than yours, but their blog looks great and is easy to use.
  • Charging more than you. (Tip: raise your prices before you’re at the point of turning clients away.)
  • Always on top of the latest stories … when you’re struggling to catch up weeks later.
  • Smarter than you. They weren’t born that way: they worked for it. Need a bit of help getting there? Read 7 Ways to Get Smart(er).

Here’s what you need to do next

Today, choose five top blogs in your industry to learn from.

Spend some time really digging into each. Ask yourself:

  • How often do they post?
  • What topics do they cover?
  • Do they have video posts? Or a podcast?
  • When they launch or promote products, what techniques do they use?
  • Does their blog have useful features that yours lacks?
  • Who have they partnered with?

You might also want to search for any interviews with the blogger, as these can often be illuminating.

For each of the five blogs, write down three good things that they’re doing differently from you.

That’ll give you fifteen ideas — and you’re almost certain to find at least a handful of those that you can put into practice right away.

There are no overnight successes. Look at fast-rising bloggers in your niche for inspiration … but remember their success isn’t just a lucky fluke.

You can scale those heights too.

Did you come up with a really great new idea from your survey of five great blogs in your niche? Let us know your “Aha!” moments in the comments.

About the Author: Ali Luke runs Writers’ Huddle, a membership site for writers that’s packed with great content — and that has lovely, supportive members. If you’re a blogger, novelist, short-story writer, freelancer (or a bit of everything) then get all the details and read what members have said here.

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