Dos and Don’ts for your Profile Photo

    Dos and Don’ts for your Profile Photo

    If you’re one of those people who thinks that the new year is a good time to post an updated profile picture to your Pinterest page and other social media sites, I would agree. Visuals are a key component of many social networks. Let’s face it: We have all shaken our heads those unfortunate profile photos of people doing tequila shots in their bathrobe. Don’t let this be you.

    This is a short excerpt from a blog post written for Entrepreneur.com. Read the rest of the article.

    Pinterest Boards to Boost Your Brand

    Pinterest Boards to Boost Your Brand

    As a growing number of consumers jump on the Pinterest bandwagon, the opportunities to use the social-media site for business have grown exponentially.  What is Pinterest? The bulletin-board-style social image sharing website is a relatively new social-media phenomenon, created just two years ago and rapidly became one of the largest online social networks.

    This is a short excerpt from a blog post written for Entrepreneur.com. Read the rest of the article here.

    Reporter Services Can Be Key To Media Coverage

    Reporter Services Can Be Key To Media Coverage

    In a survey, the Society of New Communications Research, explored how media and journalism are evolving. In the study, journalists reported using more social media in their reporting including:

    • 78% of the journalists surveyed said they use company websites in their reporting
    • 75% use Facebook
    • 69% use Twitter
    • 54% use online video
    • 31% use LinkedIn

    In addition, 68% of journalists said that their reliance on social media has increased significantly, and 58% sometimes quote bloggers in stories.

    So what does all this mean to the small business owner? It means that effective use of social media is key and critical to being found and written about by the press. But to score these PR points and get reporters to respond to you in the first place, it pays to be proactive by signing up for reporter services such as HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and ProfNet.

    At least three times a day, I diligently check my email for queries from these sites showcasing serious reporters looking for qualified sources. I comb through the postings journalists have placed and respond with my best pitch — promoting myself, or one of my clients, as the perfect person to fit the bill.

    While services such as ProfNet and HARO can provide you with the opportunity to connect with reporters from top-tier media outlets, the chances of a writer using you as a source increase when you respond in the right ways, including:

    Go straight to the point and give the reporter what they ask for up front. If they request your two best tips, send them. Don’t tell the reporter to call you or email you for them.

    Make your bio short and specific. Avoid submitting endless paragraphs on all your fabulous achievements since grade school — reporters don’t have the time to sort through it all. To get their attention, write a few short sentences that show the journalist exactly why you would be a good source for their story and what, specifically, makes you an authority on the topic.

    Respond right away. Whenever possible, respond to a posted inquiry within two hours. Yes, I know you’re busy, and you have a life, but most reporters get hundreds of responses to a single request and are usually on a tight deadline. After a certain point, they stop looking. So if you want to be seen, be among the first to respond.

    While a well-written response to a reporter’s query can’t guarantee you a call back every time, just keeping these few small things in mind when you do reply can help you score big more often.

    Have you used reporter services? What results have you had? What has worked best? We would love to hear your comments.

    Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

    Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

    A few weeks ago, I was off site at a client’s office facilitating a strategy session. At the start, everyone in the room was constantly checking their cell phones for email messages, texting and attempting to be both in the meeting and working — at the same time.

    When I suggested we would get further in a shorter amount of time by focusing on the agenda in front of us and putting away the electronics for a few hours, I received looks that screamed everything from, “Surely you must be joking,” to, “Heretic!”

    “I need to check my email,” stammered one participant.

    “I’m on deadline for a project,” said another, barely looking up from his keyboard to make the point.

    “But we always answer our phones, even in meetings,” said another.

    I’ll spare you the ugly details, but what ensued was a discussion about how the constant use of technology impacts our focus (hence productivity) and even our sanity.

    Things have gotten so out of hand, in fact, that a June 2011 survey by Qumu conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that the majority of those surveyed (62 percent) believe that during work meetings, their co-workers are sneaking a peek at their mobile devices. The most common ways people believe others are stealing a glance at their handhelds include:
    47% – Hiding their mobile device under the table
    42% – Excusing themselves to go to the restroom
    35% – Hiding their mobile device in their folders/notebooks/papers
    9% – Pretending to tie their shoes
    8% – Creating a distraction

    Interestingly, 37 percent of the respondents didn’t think “sneaking a peek” was necessary — they thought people would just look at their mobile devices in plain view. It’s a slippery slope, and it seems the embarrassment of not paying full attention in a meeting has been trumped by the self-justified importance of being wired in.

    The real problem with all this mobile madness is that it can take a heavy toll on our relationships with others at work and has been proven to dramatically reduce our productivity.

    In one study, the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that when workers are constantly juggling emails, phone calls and text messages, their IQs fall 10 points.

    Another study by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans found that when people switched back and forth between tasks, there was a substantial loss of efficiency and accuracy, in some cases up to as much as 50 percent.

    In my experience, small businesses suffer just as much as major corporations from their constant checking of cell phones in important meetings and even one-on-one conversations.

    And while big businesses have a much larger group of staff to cushion the impact, small businesses are by nature tight on people resources and need to get the most productivity out of those they do have.

    But most of us don’t need a study to tell us what we see in front of our eyes daily –that distraction is bad for business. So if you’re ready to take the leap and let go of your mobile device in meetings, here are some ways you can step away from the cell phone and come face-to-face with your focus.

    • Make it company policy to not use cell phones during business lunches, one-on-one meetings with staff and customers or in-group meetings.

    • Don’t bring your computer into meetings for note taking. Instead, use a recording device or take notes the old fashioned way — on paper with a pen. If you do need to use your computer to take notes, use a software program to lock yourself out of your email for the duration of the meeting.

    • Create a cell phone collection box and gather up all cell phones at the beginning of meetings and give them back at the end.

    If all of this isn’t enough to make you want to throw your cell phone out the window during your next meeting, consider this report just in from TeleNav.
    One third of us would rather give up sex than part — even briefly — with our phones.

    How has the use of cell phones during meetings impacted your productivity? We would love to hear your comments.

    How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

    How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

    I did a post for this column on identifying bad clients and knowing when to fire them. In the emails and comments that followed, many of you mentioned the flip side of the coin — building a business based on ideal clients.

    These are the clients we created our companies to serve. The ones who make it all worthwhile. They are the customers who, when they ring us up or ping us with an email, brighten our day. Interestingly enough, they are often also the best paying, most profitable and least pain in the (fill in the blank) clients we have.

    But how exactly does a small business secure this magical stable of superstar clients? It starts by defining what makes up your unique ideal client profile.

    “The ideal client profile is a clear description of the type of client you would love to have more of. It may be an exact replica of a client you’re working with today. Or it could be a combination of qualities you’ve seen in past and current clients,” says small business coach Maria Marsala.

    I asked a roundup of small business owners, experts and authors to give me their tips, take and wisdom on the ins and outs of small businesses and ideal clients. Here’s what they had to say.

    The concept of an ideal client profile can be revolutionary for small business owners who have assumed that all business is good business. If a business depends on referrals, finding the ideal customer profile will have a long-term impact. These customers spread the word, attracting more customers like them. Taking on customers that don’t fit the profile also generates referrals — but for less-desirable business. Time spent with customers outside the target profile takes business owners further from their goals, making success more elusive.
    –Joellyn Sargent, BrandSprout Marketing.

    Ideal clients must appreciate the value you bring to the table and have realistic expectations. They also need to be willing to do their part in whatever process or journey you go on together. When clients meet these criteria, you can do your best work, instead of spending time bickering or playing games.
    –Patti DeNucci, Author of The Intentional Networker

    The first challenge is to get your ideal clients to step out of the crowd so you can begin that conversation. This becomes easy only after you understand that it’s not about getting someone’s attention, it’s about getting his or her interest. Two things get our interest: When someone talks about a problem we have and don’t want and/or a result we want and don’t have. The best way to get more of your ideal clients to seek you out is to ask and answer these questions.

    • What problems can I solve through my products and services?
    • What changes, or results, can I help create?
    • Who has these problems?
    • Who wants these results?

    When you have these answers clear, they form the foundation for all your marketing.
    –Dov Gordon, The Alchemist Entrepreneur.

    The most important attribute to look for is trust. If a potential client or existing client trusts you completely, then you can be most effective in your role. Trust means fewer questions and disappointments. Clients who will never trust you take too much time challenging every recommendation you make, reducing efficiency and frustrating both parties.
    Dylan Valade, Web Designer.

    Whether you determine your ideal client profile by asking and answering a series of questions or graphing the greatest attributes of your best customers, taking the time to articulate who your A-list clients are is smart small business all around.

    What makes up your ideal client profile? We would love to hear your comments.

    Zen Habits and Simple Productivity

    Zen Habits and Simple Productivity

    Every night before I go to bed, I read a book. Depending on my mood, I may paw my way through a foodie memoir, a prize-winning novel, or a popular piece of fiction. Back in the days when a new Harry Potter book would come out – I used to stay awake until the wee hours, my mind filled with witches and warlocks.

    But it’s the rare non-fiction book that makes its way into my bedroom. I usually do my research (or self improvement reading) as I think of these things, during the daytime.

    So I was not exactly enthusiastic when my husband, passed Leo Babauta’s book The Power of Less: The fine art of limiting yourself to the essential…in business and in life, over to my side of the bed one night. That is, until I cracked open the cover and began to read it. Something about the no-nonsense, clear and concise way that he approached the subject of simplicity, calmed down my information crammed brain.

    I admire Leo a lot. Time Magazine named his blog ZenHabits.net one of the top 25 blogs of 2009, he has over 100,000 subscribers to his site and to top it all off – he’s a nice guy. Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to know him a bit – via email and skype, I’ve followed his blog, and even been honored to guest post on it. In light of his release this week of the new ebook – The Essential Motivation Handbook, I thought it was a fitting time to interview him on his ideas about simple productivity.

    Q. Do you have a time of day when you are more productive than others?

    A. “I work at home and have six kids, four are home schooled, so I have a full house and it’s busy during the day. I work best when everyone else is asleep and it’s quiet. This means that depending on my energy, I will often work between 6-9 a.m., sometimes earlier.”

    Q. Do you think morning is the most productive time for most people?

    A. “I don’t think it’s the same for everyone, one friend of mine tried working after midnight. You need to find your zone by experimenting and seeing what times allow you to work with less distraction.”

    Q. The big emphasis these days seems to be on social media. How do you think it can be simplified?

    A. “There is a lot of noise out there about social media right now and while social media is useful, it can also be a time suck. You have to integrate marketing time into the rest of your life.”

    Q. How do you do that?

    A. “I’ve been experimenting with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others. Twiter is the one I really enjoy the most. I think you have to understand that each one you use on a regular basis requires a time commitment. So I set time limits. I don’t leave my Twitter open all the time, I check it twice a day and even then, I skim the messages. I also split my Twittering time into 20 minute sessions – a morning session, one after lunch and one towards the end of the day.”

    Q. You seem to have found something you are really passionate about writing, how easy was that to find?

    A. “It can take years to find that thing you are really passionate about. My 20’s were a decade of exploration and I did not stick with a lot of jobs for very long. When I started blogging a few years ago, I was working a full time job, but when I found blogging it clicked and I knew it was a perfect fit for my talents. I made a conscious effort to move my career in this direction. It took a year from the time I started, until the time I was able to earn my living as a blooger.”

    Q. It must have been hard to work essentially two jobs at a time – one, your full time day job, the other building a serious blog?

    A. “when you find something you are passionate about, you don’t mind being busy. But once it clicked for me that blogging was it, I put all my focus on that one goal. I made it happen, but I also enjoyed the journey along the way.”

    Q. Your new ebook is on how to stay motivated. How do you stay motivated?

    A. “I’m motivated because I pursue things I’m excited about, activities I enjoy. If I really enjoy the exercise, or the project I’m working on, I can keep doing it for much longer. I’ve learned to focus on the enjoyable aspects of whatever I’m doing, instead of how difficult it is or what a sacrifice I’m making.”

    Q. Do you ever face motivational challenges?

    A. “I face the same motivational challenges we all do — of how to keep going when my enthusiasm isn’t as strong, of being pulled in many directions by many different goals and projects, of how to persist despite obstacles and negativity from other people. But each of these challenges has been a learning opportunity for me, and as I’ve failed, I’ve learned to beat the obstacles. The right mindset is the most important thing: if you don’t look at failure as something negative, but as a way to learn to become better, and if you just keep going despite failures, you’ll get there in the end.”

    Q. What is one piece advice you would like to leave us with?

    A. “The most important tip: Enjoy the journey, and don’t be so focused on the destination. You’ll reach it eventually, but you’ll be much more likely to stay on the journey, and you’ll be happier, if you’re enjoying yourself along the way.”

    Please note that this article is copyrighted by Karen Leland. If you would like to reprint any or all of it on your blog or website you are welcome to do so, provided you give credit and a live link back to this post.

    Build Brand Awareness With A Survey

    Build Brand Awareness With A Survey

    In today’s crowded media landscape, businesses are continually on the lookout for ways to stand apart from their competitors. Enter surveys, a cost-effective method to promote brand awareness. A survey worthy of media attention is more than just a few questions randomly asked. Instead, it’s a carefully crafted instrument that, when done right, can make the media sit up and take notice. Here are a few suggestions for making your survey something a busy editor will want to pick up publish.

    Use a combination of questions: “A common belief among people who use PR for coverage is that they have to ask quirky and zany questions,” says Nathan Richter, a senior PR pollster at Wakefield. While a few creative questions that grab an editor’s initial attention are fine, they need to be balanced with credible ones, which compel an editor to cover a story. For example: when online discount travel service Travelzoo.com sponsored a survey, they asked people more creative questions, such as, “Would you be willing to stand on a cross-country flight in order to save 50% off the cost of the airline ticket?” But they also asked more traditional market research questions, such as, “Do you expect to be traveling more or less than last year for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday?”

    Avoid obvious commercial messaging: Many PR executives and business owners assume that it’s OK to make their pitch a commercial message, so long as they put survey data behind it. “Not so,” says Richter. “If company X wants to be branded as the ‘hip’ company, they don’t write a press release with a headline that reads, ‘Survey shows company X is the hippest.’”

    Instead, make your release about the bigger picture of the survey and the story behind it. The idea is that by being the sponsor of a great story — not the star — you will achieve media coverage and visibility with your target market.

    Emphasize the scientific: As more businesspeople include surveys as part of their PR strategy, they are turning to do-it-yourself tools to accommodate their needs. But whether you conduct the survey yourself or hire a professional firm to conduct it on your behalf, to be credible, it needs to be conducted in a scientific manner. To emphasize to the media that the survey your company conducted is based in proper research protocols, Richter suggests it include:  

    • Name of the research vendor 
    • Margin of error
    • Dates the study was conducted
    • Sample size used
    • Methods used in conducting the survey

    Remember, the press and media are constantly on the lookout for relevant and timely surveys that they can “hook” a story around. Provide them with a well crafted, properly researched and interestingly reported study or survey and your company could find itself swimming in ink.

    eBooks: The New Darlings of Small-Business Branding

    eBooks: The New Darlings of Small-Business Branding

    In the world of small business marketing, it sometimes seems like there is a never-ending tension between the “what’s hot now” social media to do and the actual way to execute for maximum business benefit. Consider for example all the small businesses that have a Twitter account because they know they “should” but are really not using it effectively. The current darlings of small business branding — eBooks — are no exception.

    Despite their meteoric rise in popularity — American publishers reported that in February of 2011, eBooks ranked as the #1 format among all categories of trade publishing — I still find that many small business owners are confused about the part eBooks play in their overall marketing plan. Here are the four most common questions I get asked about using eBooks to build a small business’s brand.

    1. What exactly is an eBook?

    In short, an eBook (electronic book) is an electronic document that can contain text, images, audio and video. They can be viewed on a personal computer, smartphone and eBook reader, such as a Kindle, and are sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and dozens of other outlets.

    One important distinction to note, however, is that only eBooks that are created as PDF documents and downloaded as such retain their formatting and graphics. eBooks that are not downloaded as PDFs fall into the category of e-publishing, and when viewed on a Kindle, iPad or other device, they are simply a straight translation of the text only. Currently the Kindle and other such devices can only support the text from these documents, not graphics.

    Most of my small business clients find that because they are creating eBooks primarily for branding and marketing purposes, they use the PDF format — being able to include graphics, format, audio, video, etc is a distinct advantage.

    2. How could an eBook help my small business become better known?

    eBooks can be the perfect calling card for potential customers. Offering an eBook free on your website in exchange for a prospect’s email, providing a link to a free downloadable eBook via your newsletter, or even having a link to your eBook in your email signature line provides a much greater opportunity to show your client your knowledge, expertise and point of view.

    3. What’s the basic process for writing a small business eBook?

    Step #1 Choose a topic: Brainstorm ideas that that use your expertise, knowledge base or specific information and/or research. Consider smaller slices of bigger topics for eBooks. Books that can fit into the “how to” topic area are some of the most popular.

    Step #2 Create Your eBook Outline: Decide what five to ten basic topics you are going to address in your eBook, and then outline the three main points you are going to make under each of those topics.

    Step #3 Begin Writing Your eBook: Oddly enough, the easiest part of eBook publishing is getting the finished product up and running for distribution. Many can be uploaded with just a click of a few buttons. But where most entrepreneurs face a challenge is in finding the time, or having the writing chops, to craft the eBook in the first place. I get weekly calls from small business owners asking me to ghostwrite their eBooks because, although they have great content and ideas, they don’t have the writing skills.

    Even if that’s the case, it’s no excuse, since there are scads of eBook-savvy small businesses whose sole purpose is to ghostwrite, edit, design and publish your eBook.

    Step #4 Edit and design your eBook: A few things to keep in mind:

    Unless you were an English major, hire a proofreader to go through your manuscript to check spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    Unless you were a graphic design major, hire a designer to create the layout, cover and formatting of your book.

    Unless you are an illustrator, hire a graphic artist to add pictures or drawings to your eBook.

    Consider embedding video in the eBook.

    4. How do I get word out to my customers about my eBook?

    Like any other marketing effort, creating something stellar is just the first step. Once your eBook is ready, your next job is to tell everyone. Some of the best practices include: writing about your new small business eBook on your blog, providing excerpts of your eBook to other blogs with a link back to the full eBook download, issuing press releases about your eBook, promoting your eBook in your newsletter, and offering your eBook as a follow-up to any webinars or live presentations.

    If after reading this you are feeling like writing an eBook sounds like a whole lot of work, you’re right. A professional, well-written, content-rich eBook requires a fair amount of effort and energy. But think of it like this: As soon as that eBook baby is born, it’s done and out in the world, helping to build your small business brand.

    Have you used an eBook to build your business brand? What results did it produce? We would love to hear about your experience.