Are You Sick and Tired Of Counting Characters?

    Are You Sick and Tired Of Counting Characters?

    Lately I’ve been realizing that small and insignificant, but necessary, items eat up a significant portion of my worktime. For example – counting the amount of characters or words I’m using when composing something. Character limits are all the rage these days.  For example:

    Pinterest gives you 500 characters for a description

    • Twitter 140 for a tweet

    • Title tags have no limit but only display 70 characters

    • Meta descriptions have no limit but only first 155 characters are displayed in Google search results

    • Description tags on LinkedIn longer than 225 characters will be truncated (oouch)

    • Facebook only displays the first 300 characters of a description

    • Online contact information is often limited to a certain amount of characters or words

    While I recognize the necessity of limiting would be Leo Tolstoy’s from trying to turn their Pinterest profile into War and Peace, it can be very annoying to craft the perfect tweet only to discover it’s 6 characters over the limit.  

     

    wordcount
     

    So if you’re tired of cutting and pasting or checking your word/character count every ten seconds to insure that you stay within the prescribed limit, check out one of the these many free services on the web. Just type in your text, click and there you have it, your total word or character count.  Here are a few to check out:

    www.lettercount.com/ A bonus with this site is they provide a whole how to on writing with fewer letter including a recommended reading list of great authors who wrote short.

    www.mylettercounter.com/

    www.charcounter.com/ This site lets you count with or without white spaces.

    Whichever of these sites you use, to tighten your text do the following:

     • Substitute longer words with something shorter. For example instead of saying using beneficial say useful – a savings of  4 characters.

     • Remember to take into account any hashtags or URL’s you plan on including, so you don’t use up all your characters on the message itself.

     • Shorten your sentences, but make them complete. That’s the challenge, to sound smart and snappy all at the same time. 

     • Remain keyword rich. A limit on words or characters is no excuse to just throw keywords to the wind. Pick at least one and place it in your text.

    Believe it or not, just using a simple tool such as a character counter can shave minutes off of the time it takes to compose a tweet or write a Pinterest description.

    And in a world where 140 characters can make or break a news story, every minute counts.  

    For more time management tips check out my book Time Management In An Instant.

    For more tips on using Pinterest  check out my new book  Entrepreneur Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to Pinterest for Business

    Karen Leland is the best-selling author of eight business books and president of Sterling Marketing Group , where she works with executives, high-end entrepreneurs, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies to build their personal, team and business brands.

    How to Craft a Small Business Sound Bite

    How to Craft a Small Business Sound Bite

    If you think sound bites are just for movie stars, politicians and the pundits on TV, think again. In today’s get-to-the-point-centric world, your small business spin has power.

    I was reminded of the importance of this during a coaching session I had last week with a group of women entrepreneurs.

    As each business owner was going around the table telling us what their companies did, I noticed that some of the stories just went “clunk” — in a good way. I got an instant idea of the business these people were in and how it might help me or someone else. Others, however, were more vague and rambling in their descriptions — or just plain boring and run of the mill.

    Being able to distill who you are and what your business offers down to a single scintillating sentence (or two) — in other words, a sound bite — has practical applications, not just at a cocktail party but in the online universe.

    For more enlightenment on this topic, I interviewed sound bite expert and media coach Susan Harrow. “The problem that most small businesses have isn’t that they don’t have enough to say about what they do,” says Harrow. “It’s that they have too much to say.”

    Harrow says that well-crafted small business sound bites are nothing like normal conversation and are in fact a whole different kind of speaking process. She likens them to the way language is used in novels and film.

    “What makes great dialogue in movies and books is that it’s a highly condensed version of conversation that resonates. In just a few words, the language has more meaning than simply what is being said. There are layers beneath that show a bigger story,” says Harrow.

    Harrow suggests creating small business sound bites that connect with your ideal audience by crafting a variety that cover the following areas:

    Story: Kristen Scheurlein left a multi-million-dollar business as a graphic designer to become what she calls The Blanket Lady.

    “I didn’t want to become an entrepreneur, but it’s in my blood. My grandfather was a shoemaker. In the Depression, he saw that many people couldn’t afford shoes. He traded chickens for shoes to make sure that none of the children in the village went shoeless. I didn’t realize that I was following in his footsteps when I began my business, which will become a complete non-profit in five years, but I am. We give away blankets to churches, charities, homeless. In essence, I’m trading chickens for shoes.”

    Statistic: In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors.

    Fact: “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes; I had one thousand and sixty.” Imelda Marcos

    Vignette: Laura Bell Bundy, who is starring in the musical “Legally Blonde,” said in an interview, “There’s some really hilarious things that happen on stage with the cast. I lost my shoe once in the middle of a number. It flew out into the audience, and I kicked the other one off and ended the show in bare feet. I love when things like that happen. I love when things go wrong.”

    Anecdote: “When a man says ‘no,’ it is the end of a conversation. When a woman says ‘no,’ it is the beginning of a negotiation.” Gavin De Becker

    Analogy: Speaking in sound bite is like taking the novel “War and Peace” and turning it into haiku poetry.

    Aphorism: “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” Warren Buffett

    Acronym: F.A.S.T. equals Fix American Schools Today

    The trick is to pepper these into the conversations you have with potential clients, media or anyone else you want to have a powerful experience of your business. This can happen at meetings, conferences, interviews, lunches, online and just about anywhere you talk about what you do.

    “I have one client who was standing in line waiting to buy an iPad 2 when she spoke about her small business in sound bites to the person in front of her in line,” says Harrow. “As a result, she sold over 200 books and closed a speaking engagement.”

    What is your small business sound bite? We would love to hear your comments.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    Use An eBook To Build Your Brand

    Use An eBook To Build Your Brand

    Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old current indie queen of eBooks, was rejected by so many New York publishing houses that she decided to go the entrepreneurial route and put out an eBook instead. To date, she’s sold more than 500,000 books and made more than $1 million dollars. The movie rights to her popular “Trylle Trilogy” series have been acquired and, a few weeks ago, she closed a US$2 million deal for her four-book “Watersong” series with (yes, you guessed it) St. Martin’s Press — a traditional publishing house.

    While Hocking’s paranormal romance novels are probably not what the typical entrepreneur is looking to publish, the best-practice business point is that eBooks are now a viable way of building your brand and getting word out about your company and expertise.

    Here are the basics: An eBook (electronic book) is an electronic document that can contain text, images, audio and video. They can be viewed on a personal computer, smart phone, PDA and eBook reader, such as a Kindle, and are sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and dozens of other outlets.

    Depending on the length and content of the eBook, they sell from between 99 cents and $99. But the current rage is pricing eBooks at the lower end of the spectrum for around $2.99, or even giving them away for free as a promotion.

    The five best reasons why you should be writing an eBook, beyond the immediate financial return of book sales, include:

    • Increases name recognition for your company and personal brand, as well as drives traffic to your Web site via links from book excerpts, free samples, reviews, newsletter distribution and blog mentions.

    • Introduces you to potential customers looking for what you offer via press releases about the book, an Amazon listing and book reviews from bloggers.

    • Provides a perfect free, downloadable giveaway on your blog to entice visitors to sign up and give you their contact information.

    • Makes a great calling card to send before you meet with a potential client to show your knowledge, expertise and point of view.

    • Forces you to develop content you can then repurpose for marketing collateral and turn into podcasts and Webcasts.

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

    Still not convinced? Consider this: According to the Association of American Publishers, Americans spent US$440 million dollars on eBooks in the first quarter of 2011, and the Book Industry Study Group found that one in four Americans reads eBooks — and that’s a whole lota brand to be built.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    6 Ways To Keep Your Computer Healthy

    6 Ways To Keep Your Computer Healthy

    I’ve experienced a week that can only be described as computer hell. A Malware invasion that crashed my WordPress site – yup. An Email program snafu that banished over 200 of my messages to never, never land – you bet. A freaky bug that wouldn’t let me delete an errant email – of course. Top this all off with the fact that my last back up was over a week ago (I know, I know) and you have a recipe for technology turmoil. It seems like everyone from small business owners to multinational moguls to working moms, spend as much time fixing issues on their computer as they do working on them.

    “Malware, viruses, identity theft and spyware account for about 80% of all computer issues resulting in downtime,” reveals IT expert Chip Reaves. “It is estimated that the lost-productivity cost due to these alone is around $50 billion, and the associated IT costs of dealing with it has skyrocketed from $20 billion to $198 billion in the last five years.”

    Depending on the degree to which you rely on your computer, an interruption of service can be a mere inconvenience, or can add up to thousands of dollars in lost downtime or data.

    Although the mere thought of trying to ‘fix’ a computer can cause most of us to break out in a cold sweat, Reaves, the National Director of Computer Troubleshooters, says there are some simple tips everyone can use to keep their computers in tip-top shape.

    1. Old Hardware. Studies have shown that the likelihood of physical problems with computer equipment goes up significantly after 24 to 36 months,” says Reaves. Consider replacing computer systems every three years – considering how inexpensive computers have become, one major repair bill could easily cost more than purchasing an entire new system.

    2. Power Protection. Surges and power drops can cause data loss and are always damaging to sensitive components, reducing their lifespan. Most people do use surge protectors, but what many don’t realize is that surge protection wears off over time. For the best protection make sure that the surge protectors for all your computer equipment are replaced every 2 to 3 years.

    3. Training. Having to spend money training your staff might sound like a waste, but most employees understand less than 20% of the software packages they use. The gain in productivity far outweighs the training costs.

    4. Firewall and Security. The internet is full of hackers who regularly try to access computers for nefarious purposes. If they get in (either directly, or with the help of exploits from malware or viruses) the list of problems they can cause is pretty big; including stealing files or customer records, and deleting important data. It’s important to be sure that all computers in your organization are updated with the latest security patches from Microsoft or Apple, and that firewalls are installed and maintained properly.

    5. Backup Data. It sounds so obvious but most companies fail to keep 100% of their important data backed up 100% of the time – there are often gaps in what’s being backed up which are only discovered when it’s too late. The consequences of lost data can put a company out of business on the spot, and data retrieval is frighteningly expensive.

    6. Spam, Viruses and Spyware.
    80% of all Computer Troubleshooters’ service calls worldwide are from people with problems directly linked to these issues. You should consider good virus protection, spam filters and anti-spyware programs as mandatory if you want a trouble-free computer.

    With a small amount of common sense and a minimum weekly maintenance (much of which you can do yourself), you can look forward to more trouble-free workdays.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

    I’m All A Twitter: 7 Tips To Manage Your Twime

    I’m All A Twitter: 7 Tips To Manage Your Twime

    Gosh, my thumbs are tired. All that texting, typing and tweeting has given my digits an Olympic-size work out.

    With the past few weeks bringing on a torrent of Twitters about Michael Jackson, Iran and Sarah Palin, there can be no doubt that social media has left its mark on mainstream media. When CNN starts showing the URL to its Twitter stream — the world as we know it has changed.

    But revolutions, celebrity passings and political head-scratchers aside, left unchecked, social media can become a big, huge gaping black hole worthy of a scene in the latest “Start Trek” movie. “Step away from the iPhone, Mr. Spock; just step away.”

    The down, dark side to all this Twitter activity — all the time — is that it can really bring out one’s obsessive-compulsive personality tendencies. And I speak from experience here. Twitter-aholics, Facebook fanatics and LinkedIn mainliners — not a pretty story, but one that must be told.

    If you want to get the Twitter monkey off your back, but still buy an e-ticket to the social media wild ride, try these seven smart strategies:

    1. “I save time by syndicating my content automatically to all my social networking profiles: Twitterfeed.com sends my posts to my Twitter stream; the Notes application on Facebook feeds my Facebook profile; the Blog Link app on LinkedIn updates that site. I also use Ping.fm to update my status on multiple social networking sites as well.” Denise Wakeman, www.BizTipsBlog.com

    2. “I practice batch tweeting — setting aside certain batches of time for Twitter, rather than just dropping into it at random times during the day. Ten intentional minutes on Twitter can help a lot.” Darren Rowse, www.problogger.net

    3. “Look for timesaving tools and applications, but don’t waste time playing with ‘gee whiz’ applications that don’t improve your productivity,” says Dana Lynn Smith, author of Get Connected: Build Your Business With Online Networking. “Some useful productivity tools include applications such as TweetDeck.com and twitterfeed.com that make Twitter easier to use.”

    4. “HootSuite.com has a toolbar button that makes it easy to tweet a link. When you run across an interesting blog post or other resource, you can send it out to your followers with a couple of clicks. You can also schedule it to appear at a later time.” Cathy Stucker, www.BloggerLinkUp.com

    5. “Saving time on social media is not only about tools, but more importantly, it’s about knowing whom you want to connect with (your ideal audiences) and connecting with them instantly when they visit your profile,” says George Kao, social media expert. Make sure your one-line bio on Twitter resonates with that audience instantly by (a) telling them who they are, and (b) stating what results you can deliver for them or why you’re someone they’d want to follow.

    6. “I am easily distracted by various social media sites, and will lose track of time quickly! So, I’ve scheduled times during the day to go on the sites and make posts and respond. I even put these times on my calendar to remind me. When I get on, I have a set time limit; then I get off! If you have trouble getting off, set a timer to remind you.” Gladys Strickland, GS Business Resources

    7. “You want to follow and be followed by people who are following less than 100 people themselves. Otherwise it becomes a ‘follow-fest,’ and nobody is listening. But … the people who are following less than 100 Twitterers are the people who are being very selective … and are the people who are listening. So, here’s the lesson … don’t build for quantity, build for quality … follow and be followed by people who care, not by people trying to build a list.” Mike Michalowicz, blogger and Author of “The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.”

    Bonus Tip: And here’s my hot tip… If I have a topic I’m hot to write about and want to do a series of tweets on it, I use http://www.tweetlater.com/ I find that by picking a topic and focusing on it for ten minutes or so, I am able to come up with a series of tweets that link together and build on one another. I usually schd. them to be tweeted once an hour or one a day for a period of days, set them up in tweetlater and move onto the next item! Karen Leland, author Time Management In An Instant:60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.