Creative living: making space for your genius

It’s easy to fill every spare moment of your life with items on your to-do list, yet never really accomplish anything at all.

The reason this happens is that most of the tasks we engage in on a daily basis provide only a temporary relief. For instance, checking your email and responding to all of your social media notifications may help you to achieve that all-powerful inbox zero status for a few minutes, but once the next ping comes in on your phone you have to start the process all over again. You will never ‘finish’ email or social media.

Your personal life is also full of the same types of recurring tasks, from laundry to grocery shopping to mowing the lawn. Cars will need regular fill-ups and oil changes, cell phone bills will always need to be paid again next month. No matter how accomplished you may feel when you check off a number of boxes on your list, you’re really just treading water until that checkbox returns to be completed once again.

Even client work, which allows you to provide value to a business or individual with ever-changing goals, only temporarily gives you satisfaction and pads your bank account. Next week or next month, new client work will need to take its place on your to-do list.

Would it be nice if you could hire some of these tasks out or find systems to make them easier to accomplish? Of course. This post is not about productivity hacks, but please do try some should you feel the desire. You should be warned, however, that chances are you will fill all that saved time back up with new busy work.

Instead, I propose making space in your life for a different type of task. The kind of work that will allow you to create a legacy that outlives this week, this year, and perhaps even this decade.

You need to make space for your genius.

Scared yet?

The idea of having to produce something genius-worthy is certainly daunting. Especially when you know all of the other projects and tasks you need to work on just to keep your life from imploding.

For those of you saying you couldn’t possibly make the time, I challenge you to start with something minor – like mowing your grass every two weeks instead of every weekend or checking social media twice a day instead of four times – and commit those precious saved minutes and hours toward your genius-level work.

You might be wondering what to do with this time when you’ve carved it out in your schedule. How exactly can you find the important work, the projects that you can’t wait to get back to… in essence, find your passion? The answer is surprisingly simple. It is nothing.

Whether you have found an hour a day or just 20 minutes a week, sit still and create nothing. Be disciplined in your nothingness. Do not do ANYTHING. Do not do ‘research’. Do not read blog posts or watch videos for inspiration. Please, for all that you hold dear, do not attend a webinar that will teach you how to find your next big idea. Sit in the slightly uncomfortable blank space you’ve made for yourself and think until the magic of an idea arrives.

Truth be told, you’ll probably either have too many ideas or none at all. The real challenge is not allowing yourself to take action until you’ve found an idea that won’t leave you alone. No checklists or brainstorms. No pros and cons. Just white space until something worth creating comes along.

The idea may be something small and easy, like writing a blog post. It may be complex, like creating a new niche in your industry. You never know what will show up or when, but when it hits you want to act fast. Never sit on your idea for too long.

Use your blank space for that one idea and that one idea alone until you complete the project or decide it’s not worth your time any longer, at which point you go back to the quiet space and wait for a new idea to come along. Do not allow your blank space become the time that you use to produce recurring work (like your weekly newsletter). If you get a newsletter idea that won’t leave you alone, go for it! But make sure you have other time in your schedule for ongoing tasks. The newsletter you write during genius time should be outstanding. If it’s not, put the idea aside for later and keep waiting for a better idea to come along.

The point of this space in your calendar is not to create a large body of work, although over time you probably will. The point is to give yourself space to be completely and uninhibitedly creative – something sorely lacking in most people’s world after they graduate from preschool.

What have you really got to lose? Even if you sit without an idea for a few weeks, or spend a few months creating something you decide not to take to market, your life will mostly be the same (aside from the grass blades being a little taller than normal). But just imagine for a moment that you find an idea for a book or a software application that you decide to pursue. What if you re-imagine the way your service is delivered? Picture finding the driving force to learn a new skill set because you just HAVE to produce this idea. Would that be worth the sacrifice?

You have a choice here. No one will force you to find the time and discipline to create something new. You can continue on with life as usual and hope you find that spark along your way, or you can purposely make time for your genius to visit and experience the pure magic that is the excited passion of a creative pursuit. The planet will certainly survive without whatever you might have brought to life, but maybe, just maybe, the ideas that you see through will change someone’s world for the better.

 

How-to Create Categories and Tags for a Blog

You’re excited. You’re getting ready to launch your new blog, and you have some great ideas for your first posts. Then you get to the part where you need to create categories and tags. And you freeze.

What are categories? What are tags?

Categories and tags are really quite similar. They are tools that you use to categorize your blog posts and make it easier for your visitor to find related content. They can also be used to help search engines, such as Google, understand what your website and posts are about.

Is there a difference between categories and tags?

There are many different ways of distinguishing between categories and tags. In my own view, categories are broader topics and tags are descriptive words.

Category

A topic that you write about often, or a common theme that you can use to group blog posts.

If you think of a textbook, in the front you probably have a table of contents that gives a general idea of what topic each chapter is about. The table of contents is like a list of categories.

Tag

A specific word or phrase that describes what a blog post is about.

Back to our textbook analogy, at the back of the book, you might have an index with lists of words and what pages you’ll find them on. The index is like a list of tags.

A blog post might also fall into multiple categories, but you must always choose one that it fits in best.

One word in the index might show up in multiple chapters, just like one tag can be in as many categories as you’d like.

Are there any strategies you should use?

Categories

I like to set up categories on a blog ahead of time – right when you’re deciding what kinds of topics you’ll be writing about. What those categories are will depend entirely on your industry and what you are writing about. If you write about a general topic or industry, your categories might be a collection of loosely related topics. My own blog follows this structure, writing about a broad range of business, marketing, design and communications topics. If your entire blog is going to be about a very specific niche, your categories will be ways to help you break that topic down even further.

For example, you might choose broad categories such as travel, books, and food if you are writing about your life in general. If you were a food blogger, however, you might choose categories such as recipes, food books, and cooking tips

Sub-categories

You should keep your categories pretty broad because you can always narrow in with sub-categories. I like to suggest between 3-6 top-level categories. You’re probably not going to want to create sub-categories until you have at least 15 posts in a top-level category.

For example, the food blogger from the previous example might have a pretty big list of recipes. In this case, you would want to create sub-categories for the recipes such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers, dessert, and snacks.

Category longevity

Each of the categories should be a topic you plan to write about for the life of your blog. You really don’t want a category sitting around for months without having a new post added to it.

For example, a food blogger may not want to use trend diets as categories. You may create a paleo category, but that means you would need to keep writing about those topics on an ongoing basis. What happens if you choose to go from being paleo to being a vegetarian? Would you want to keep writing recipes that use meat when you’re not eating meat yourself? 

Business blogs

If it is a business blog or website, I highly suggest a News category so that you have a place to publish any news releases or interesting updates about your business. Blog posts in a news category don’t have to be overly formal – think of them as expanded Facebook page updates.

For example, you might want to inform your readers that you are expanding into a new market, have formed a new partnership, have won an award, or are hosting an event. 

Tags

When I use tags, I start by thinking of words someone might search Google for to find my post. A tag might also be a term you’d like to use as the sub-category for your blog, but you know you’re not going to write about it often enough or long-term enough to make it one of your categories.

For example, a food blogger might choose to use paleo and vegetarian as tags rather than categories. That way, anytime you write a recipe you can place it in one of your broader recipe categories, such as breakfast, and just tag it with the word gluten-free. Other optional tags for a food blogger might be crockpot or 5 ingredients or even seasonal tags such as Christmas.

You can use as many tags as you want, and create new ones for each post.

Because they are case-sensitive, I suggest keeping tags in lower-case to avoid confusion.

For example, raspberry and Raspberry are two different tags.

Can you change your categories and tags later?

Tags are created on the go, chosen for each blog post as you publish them. You can add or remove tags at a later date, although you might not remember to.

Don’t sweat your category choices too much. It’s important to pick categories that work for you, but blogs grow and change over time. If you need to change categories at a later date, you can do that. You just need to be aware of whether the category is listed in your blog post URLs, and create a redirect if that is the case.

It’s a good idea to spend a few minutes working out what you think your categories will be for at least the next few years to avoid the hassle of changing them in the future, but chances are your topics and ideas will shift over time anyway.

 

The three customer types you need to know

Instead of trying to sell to EVERYONE, think about simplifying your marketing messages to these three customer types. We’re not talking target markets, segmentation, or buyer personas. We’re talking broad strokes.

Customers who already buy from you.

That’s right, you need to keep on communicating and marketing to your existing customers. You may have heard the phrase “It’s easier to keep a customer than to get a new one.” Well, it’s not only easier, it’s cheaper too.

Here’s the thing: your competition is constantly trying to steal your market share away from you. They may be directly targeting your customers, or they might be more broadly targeting customer profiles that happen to include them. The truth is, your customers need help making the decision to keep buying from you. They need to feel connected and like your product or service is a better value for them.

Depending on what you sell, your existing clients may return to purchase from you regularly or they may just make one-time buys. What can you do to leverage that relationship and get them to buy additional products or services that they need?

Customers who buy a similar product or service from your competitors.

Now that you have a firm grasp on your own customers, it’s time to start thinking about getting some to switch from a competitor.

Here’s why: you know they want something you’re selling, and that they are already willing to pay for it.

Getting customers to switch can be tricky. You have to position your own product or service to be superior enough that they are willing to go through any pain or hassle involved in switching.

This means you have to understand what they currently believe about your business and your competitor. You need to understand and address any reservations they may have.

Potential customers who aren’t buying yet.

These are the people who have a pain that you can solve but haven’t taken the leap to buying from you yet. Generally, we call them leads. It’s important to remember that this is a specific group of people. We’re still not marketing to EVERYONE.

There is a specific process that people go through in making a purchase decision, so you may need to develop messages for people throughout this process:

  1. Needs recognition
  2. Information search
  3. Evaluations of alternatives
  4. Purchasing
  5. Post-purchase behaviours

Identify what you can do to help them through each of the stages.

Apply your customer avatars and target market segmentations to the three customer types.

If you’ve already defined your customers through creating an ideal customer profile or segmenting with demographics, you can sort those groups into one of the three customer types to decide what you need to say to those customers.

Three questions every marketing plan must answer

Marketing plans can be complex. Like, really, really complex. Depending on the number of products or services you’re selling, the size of your market, the strength of your competitors, and the amount of time and money you have to spend, a detailed plan could single-handedly destroy an entire forest.

It can also provide you with a lot of insights to base your strategy on.

Luckily, we can simplify the entire process by asking just three questions. You can build the answers out as much as you want, but make sure you have answered all three to have the essence of your plan and a quick reference anytime you’re evaluating a marketing opportunity on the fly.

Where are you now?

It’s important for any plan to acknowledge what is currently happening in your business. Are your sales just starting out? Growing? Stagnant? Declining? Why do you think that’s happening?

If you offer multiple products or services, you might want to note what ones are your top sellers.

What is your biggest challenge right now? What’s happening in your industry that you’re aware of? Are there any opportunities you see, or is there a threat looming?

You should also make a note of who your current customers and competitors are, and any noteworthy trends that are affecting them.

Where do you want to be?

It’s hard to build an effective plan without a goal. If its SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound), all the better.

You can base your goal around what you want to see change in your business. This might be more sales, more customers, or getting customers to spend more per transaction. You might be moving into a new market (either a new audience or a new product/service) or you might be focused on growing your online community through social media or email lists.

Not only can your goals be about moving toward something, they can also be about moving away from something. Looking at your biggest challenge, what is your resolution to that problem?

How do you plan to get there?

You have a point A and a point B. Now you need to find a way to connect them. What steps do you need to take? What has to happen before the changes occur?

How will you get in front of your audience, and what will you say to get them to make up their mind? What marketing channels do you own (website, storefront, signage, social media), and which ones will you need to pay for or earn (advertisements, events, media coverage)?

 

As I said, you could spend a lot of time getting into the details. A well thought out marketing plan that takes into account your limited resources and abilities is important to saving time and money, plus seeing real results when marketing your business. Even so, you should be able to share the core concepts of your plan with your team or outsourced help in about 30 seconds using the questions outlined above.

At its core, every marketing plan should boil down to the three essential questions: Where are you now, where are you going, and how do you plan to get there?

Editing Published Content

N.B. This post was originally posted in 2012. I’ve updated it slightly, but it continues to reflect my personal opinion on the topic. 

Let’s face it. The internet is a swamp of spelling and grammatical errors. Generally, when one is about to publish content (such as a tweet or blog post) they do a quick once over and send. Then it’s out in the universe, errors and all.

The problem is that this content represents you and your organization. Gone are the days of ‘breathing time’ before publication. Gone are the days of an editor who reads over every public message.

In a social media course I attended, an instructor said that the authenticity of online content relies on the fact that people do not go back and edit. As much as possible, he stated, you should leave things as they are. The reasoning behind this is that if someone visits your content twice and notices a change, they would feel the content is illegitimate.

I’m going to disagree.

I believe that although you should check everything you send out before you publish it, mistakes happen. Facts that content are based on change.

Instead, on any platform possible, I believe it is our responsibility to correct information as often as we can. We should collectively try to clear up the mess that is the internet for future generations. Blogs are perfect for this.

Schedule it in your calendar to read through your old posts and make notes or edits as necessary. Link to newer content, or explain why you’ve changed your previous opinion.

For those of you who happen to visit a blog post of mine a second time and notice something has changed: I do not apologize. I am simply fulfilling my duty as a contributor to the world wide web.

I hope that future generations will thank me.

This one is for my fellow social media wallflowers

It’s funny. For years, I ran social media accounts for different clients without a problem. Yet when it comes to publishing something on my personal brand accounts, I freeze up. When I don’t have the veil of a brand in front of me, I usually end up deleting whatever I had drafted and forgetting the whole thing. I think it has something to do with the permanence of our digital era.

Traditionally, publishing content took months – even years – from conception to public consumption. Artists and writers would compose outlines, draft, sketch, revise and share with a close circle of trusted advisors, all the while making incremental changes and improvements to whatever it was they were planning to share. If you were to try that on social media, not only would your message likely be outdated by the time it was shared, but you would also sound impersonal which kind of defeats the purpose of this whole thing. People go on to social media to interact in a casual way. There is this pull between crafting a unique message and sharing thoughts as they happen, and I guess I normally fall somewhere in between. Unable to commit to either.

I know I’m not alone. There are other silent participants in online circles, following the updates of the people around them. Noticing the connections between different interactions. Wanting to be a part of it all, but just not able to step out of the shadows.

I worry about how what I write or say will change the way people think about me. Because truthfully, it will.

There’s definitely a component of perfectionism in this whole thing. If it’s not perfect, I can’t put it out there. But if it’s not authentic, I can’t put it out there either.

I think for most of us, the problem isn’t just online. I’m actually one of those weird introverts who puts on a pretty good extroverted mask when in group settings or when speaking in public, but then needs to go sit in a quiet room alone for three days after. OK, that’s a bit dramatic. I’m fully functional for those three days, but I prefer as much time alone in my own head as I can get.

Most of my social media posts are photos of other people, things I’ve noticed out in the world, or something someone else said. They are not of me, something I’ve created in this world, and not something I want to say. When I look at this legacy I’m sharing with the people who want to know me – my friends and family, colleagues, clients – it’s bland and TOTALLY. NOT. ME.

And you know what? I have something worth sharing with the world – or at least the people in the world who are interested in getting to know me. So do you. And the more we flex those sharing muscles, the stronger they will become.

I challenge myself (and the rest of you) to walk up to that group of strangers having a conversation and to contribute something to it. Don’t delete it. Don’t show up to the party, then hang out in the dark corner. Don’t sit on the sidelines of your life, watching the rest of the world live theirs.

Are you a social media wallflower, too? Let me know I’m not alone by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and posting in the comments.

How to plan your marketing campaigns for the new year

One of the most important things you can do to prepare your business for a new year is to plan your promotional calendar. When it comes to marketing, there are ongoing activities and short-term activities. Today, we’re focusing on the short-term promotions.

What are you selling?

The first thing to decide when building out your promotional strategy is what it is you want to sell. This might be individual products and services, or it might be larger groups of what your business sells. Of course, we’re not going to promote every single item or service you offer, but you should have a good idea of what your top sellers are. What items would you like to sell more of? Are planning to introduce a new product or service this year?

What problems do you solve?

What are the problems that your products and services solve? When are your customers facing them or noticing them the most? Some problems may be concrete like needing winter tires, while others may be psychological like providing comfort or the feeling of safety.

This pretty much falls under the ‘who are you selling to’ category. Remember that you likely have multiple customer segments with different needs and expectations.

Are there any seasonal tie-ins?

If your business is naturally seasonal, this part might seem obvious but I challenge you to think outside the box. A ski resort, for example, often sells early bird passes in the early summer even though they operate in the winter.

Your promotion may tie-in to one of the four seasons. Official holidays, such as Christmas, Labour Day, etc., are another great tie-in option. Restaurants campaign for holidays such as Valentine’s day or Mother’s day every year.

Annual events such as back-to-school, tax season. spring cleaning, ect., are also times when people are looking to solve a problem. List out any special dates you can think of, then try to decide if there are any logical connections between what you sell and what your customers are doing at those times of the year.

If you have products or services that don’t tie-in to any events, you may choose to create your own annual sale. You can also schedule the item in to be promoted during a blank space in your campaign calendar.

How big is the decision being made?

The length of each of your promotions will depend on how much time your customer needs to make a decision. Is your customer is aware of their problem and looking for a solution? If so, you probably just need to give them enough time to compare your offer to others. If you are informing your customers of a new problem, they will need more time to decide whether or not they need your solution.

Some of your campaigns may be a few days or a week, while others may be a month or longer.

How will you create urgency?

If people know they can buy something from you at any time, they will be more likely to put it off. Creating urgency is one of the ways that you can influence your customers to buy now. Generally, it is created by some type of scarcity.

Scarcity can come in the form of a limited time offer or a limited number of items available. Not all promotions will require this sort of incentive, and you have to be careful of damaging your brand with too many discounts, but it is an effective way to build urgency.

Pulling it all together

With the information from the questions above, you should be able to pull together a simple promotional calendar for 2017. You should know what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to and why they’re buying it, when you’re promoting it, how long you are promoting it for, and if/how you will be creating a sense of urgency.

Remember that you don’t want to overlap any of your campaigns or exhaust your audience by always selling to them. Narrow your campaign calendar down to the number of promotions that you can put the time and resources into promoting and advertising.

Using your promotional calendar

Don’t let your promotional calendar sit around collecting dust on your computer hard drive. Add the campaigns to your computer calendar and print them out in a physical calendar. Be sure to schedule some prep time to create content or book any advertisements.

You can build out the rest of your content strategy, social media strategy and newsletter strategy around your planned promotional campaigns. Use the content you create for those channels to prep your audience and support your sales activities.

Your up-front planning for the promotional calendar sets the stage for the rest of your marketing efforts next year. Knowing what you’re going to sell and when will put you ahead of most small businesses in the marketing department.