Monthly Archives: December 2007

When do you Listen to the Experts?

I’ve consulted a number of business “experts” about issues in my business. Some of them have been very helpful about general things. The rare one has been helpful about specific things. An alarming number were no help at all, for one primary reason:

  • They did not understand what my business is, and they did not “hear” when I tried to explain. They wanted to make my business conform to their idea of what it should be, rather than seeing what I wanted it to become and then stepping outside their box to help me make it into that vision.

One expert told me, “Your business is just like every other small business website design company. How are you going to differentiate yourself?” This, after I had just explained how we were different, and what made our business so revolutionary. They didn’t have enough of an understanding of the web development world to even have a clue what we were saying.

Another told me to choose the line that was the most profitable and forget the other two. I tried to explain that was precisely what made our business revolutionary and gave it the potential to be something more than just “another web firm”. If I focus on web development without the rest, we are just another company. If I focus on teaching, I lose the ability to teach anything new because I have no experience in which to develop the strategies that make my teaching effective (a primary problem with most web development training is that it is taught by teachers who have little real-life experience, and NO microbusiness experience). If I focus solely on the trade association, I lose the ability to benefit the members with training, and I lose the edge of day to day experience with clients – the very thing that makes the trade association work. All three, together, can reshape an industry and have HUGE potential. One, by itself, is just another in a long line of ineffective attempts to make something great. The expert didn’t get it, because he didn’t want to listen.

  • Any time an expert hands out canned information that is not applicable to your situation, you need to have the confidence to disregard it.
  • If an expert hands out information that could be adapted to apply, you need to have the confidence to adapt it – and keep asking until you learn how.
  • If you explain something to an expert, and they still hand you the same thing they handed you before you explained, then find another expert because this one isn’t listening.

Business counsel is not a “one size fits all” solution to every business problem. This is especially true if you are developing a revolutionary concept. You need to work with people who are willing to see the “ah-ha” moment in your concept, who are willing to catch the potential, who can get excited about it and then use their skills to help you develop the potential that is there.

Training, consultation, and coaching can be a huge help in getting over a hurdle in your business. But only if the expert is willing to listen long enough to understand just what it is you are trying to achieve. Otherwise, their guidance is going to be useless, and potentially harmful to your ability to achieve.

The Delicate Art of Article Writing

I notice that I learn things, and never really realize that I’ve learned them until I see someone else who hasn’t.

After a disappointing meeting with a prospect yesterday, I did some research on their behalf. The meeting was disappointing not because I did not make a sale – hey, that happens, and I can live with that. It was disappointing because they did not understand what I was trying to tell them. This became painfully clear when I began researching the marketing that had been done for them in the last year.

They told me that article marketing had been done for them. I went digging. I was able to turn up only three mentions on Google of articles with their URL in them. I found a gaggle of them on Yahoo though. And I wish I hadn’t.

The articles were full of gramatical errors, childish statements, wandering sentences, awkward phrases, and worse. They gave no new information, had no appeal. Reading them was painful – I had to force myself to read more than a paragraph because it was hard to follow the convoluted sentences. It had all the feel of someone writing in a second language – one they were almost, but not quite, fluent in. These articles will never be picked up by anyone else and reprinted – no one cares for such poor stuff. Google didn’t bother with them, and no one else will either.

I wish those were the only problems though. It was just the beginning.

First, was the glaring one. The potential legal issues. One article made MORE than suggestive claims of a guarantee on a service that could not possibly be guaranteed. I know for a fact that the owners of the site would never wish such information to be published in their name. Yet they are the ones legally liable for the information in the article, and that article is grounds for a lawsuit by someone who has a bad outcome. Another article made a statement that screening eliminated risks – again, in a profession where risks can never be eliminated entirely. This writer not only stuck their foot in it and dragged the client with them, they set up a legal time bomb. One which may come back to harm the site owner years later.

Second, the articles were not written as article marketing. They were merely thrown together using keywords as a guide for what to write about. There was no effort to target the messages as marketing messages – in fact, some of them were repelling rather than encouraging. They had hyped titles, failed to make any kind of useful conclusion, and often talked more about the negatives than the positives. Not one single article addressed the one compelling reason why someone might choose the site owner’s service over the competition. Not one addressed the one major reason why someone might NOT choose the site owner’s service over the competition. Good marketing messages are a subtle, and often delicate thing to pin down. But they are absolutely ESSENTIAL to successful article marketing.

If you write about a topic for marketing purposes, you must do two things:

1. Provide value to the potential customer. This doesn’t mean writing what you want to write, or just researching a topic and writing about it. It means you have to think about what motivates the customer. What do they want, what are their fears, desires, and hopes? What questions do they have that you can provide an answer for? Provide THEIR value, and article marketing works. But to do that, it is essential that you understand the mind of the customer, and how to address their needs a little, before the sale.

2. Provide information that leads them to you. I’m not talking about the signature line. I’m talking about not giving away your business in your articles, while still providing value. Write about topics that they need to know about as a CUSTOMER, not as a Do-It-Yourselfer (unless your customers are do-it-yourselfers). Consider topics about how to choose service (and give it some teeth, not the usual drivel), how to check up on a hired professional, how to care for their purchases, how to evaluate the value of a product or service, changes in your industry, applied technologies in regard to your product or service (things that predict industry trends, or that enhance value). There are all kinds of topics you can write about which help the customer, but which don’t try to make the customer into the expert.

It is a delicate art. And it is something which requires experience and practice to get right. If you are in a business involving legal, medical, business, financial, or other professional information, then you also need to make sure that certain safeguards are observed to keep you from being held liable for careless statements.

So if you are hiring article marketing services, how do you know if you are getting full value?

1. Ask to review all articles before they are published. You will be legally responsible for every word printed at your request. Make certain that what goes out is worthy of having your name on it! Check to see if it is original, fun to read, informative. Think like your customers – will they appreciate this?

2. Ask for a listing of every place the article was published. This is valuable for two reasons – you can make sure the article was actually posted, and if you learn later that something in an article is inaccurate or that it has a serious problem, you know where to go to start the recall process.

3. Make sure you check out examples of writing before you hire. Sadly, the company that published the articles I was so distressed over had similar writing on their home page. Had the people who hired them read that page, and really thought about it, they’d have hired someone else.

4. Expect to be involved. Any professional who claims to write for your business CANNOT do a good job without involving you. They need to know what makes your business unique. They need you to check to ensure that articles are accurate according to YOUR position on the topic (they can research all they want, but they won’t write what you want if you don’t get involved). Expect to have to brainstorm with a writer for new topics every once in a while – expect to talk things over with them, suggest new directions to go, and work with them. A motivated writer will be giving as many ideas as they get from you, but together you’ll do much more. And a good writer will consider you to be their best resource, and will want to work with you to produce the best possible marketing for your business.

Quality costs more. But what is the use of paying for bad writing that harms your company? Like feathers on the wind, an article carelessly loosed on the web can never be fully taken back. Making sure it is good before it goes is your only means of ensuring that it will go on promoting you well for years to come, instead of giving you a black eye every time you turn around.

The delicate art is worth learning. Because the power of good writing truly is phenomenal.

10 Things for MicroBusiness Owners to Do Over the Holidays

An adaptation of an idea from Tech Republic.

Tech Republic Article

Their article lists things that are appropriate for corporations. But most microbusiness owners would look at that list and say, “What documentation?”, or “What network?”. But the idea of using any holiday downtime for catching up on things you might not think of doing when you are busier is a good one, and easily adaptable for a smaller work environment.

1. Evaluate your business for implementing new efficiency strategies. Look at the repetitive things you do, and think about how you can speed them up by preparing templates, reorganizing workspace, or other simple methods to speed up your work.

2. Backup your website and hard drive files. Something that is often overlooked. While you are at it, create a plan for regular backups, and figure out how to stick to it!

3. Look for equipment that is wasting your time. Consider the cost of replacement, and devise a plan to afford upgrading. Prioritize to figure out what will be most cost effective to upgrade.

4. If you plan on growth, begin to document policy, procedure, and training materials. If someone came into your company tomorrow as an associate or employee, what would you need them to know, and to be able to refer back to? What would you want them to agree to if they worked with you? Write these things down. They will not be consistently delivered unless you write them down. Laying groundwork for growth can help make it go more smoothly when it comes.

5. Organize your information – Improve your paper filing system, or download a free copy of Notesbrowser ( to keep those bits of information organized that you keep losing. I use Notesbrowser for task lists, instructions that I find online that I don’t want to have to keep looking up, to organize URLs when my Bookmarks list gets too cluttered, to keep notes about clients, and much more.

6. Make sure your firewall is on, your AV software is up-to-date, and that your Anti-Spyware software is working. Just check to make sure that the basic security measures are in place for your desktop computer. If you use a dynamic website (a shopping cart or a complex website with a login), make sure the software that runs it is up-to-date as well.

7. If you are feeling like you are fragmented, this is a good time to analyze your business and see what is profitable and what is not. Prune out the things that waste your time but don’t bring a return, and then focus your efforts on the things that do work, and the things that you most want to be doing.

8. If you are in that awkward stage of not having enough money to hire, but not having enough YOU to keep up, you can benefit from some analysis and planning here also. Consider the tasks that you might be able to save money on if you hired a sub-contractor to do them – less complicated than hiring an employee, and a sub-contractor can do bits of work here and there. Think about how you intend to grow, and begin laying the groundwork in how you handle higher workloads. Look for opportunities rather than limitations, and see if you can come up with some workable solutions to bridge the gap from overworked, to sustainable growth.

9. Get some training. Take the time to pick up a manual, practice using a new piece of software, testing out some new skills or technologies, or catching up on the latest industry news. Choose something enjoyable that still gives you something valuable, and you’ll emerge refreshed and enlightened.

10. If you know that you are in for a longer lull after the first of the year (many businesses slump during that time), then create a plan for how you will cope with the extended down-time. Determine which activities will enhance your business in the best way, and consider ways to implement alternative revenue generation that either remains stable, or which increases during the time in which your current business lines dip.

Of course, you may not have Holiday Downtime. Your slack may come at another time of year. If you are just hanging on till you can catch your breath, then it is a good time to make a list of the things that are the most annoying when you are rushed, so you can create a plan to work on a solution to those annoyances the next time you do have downtime.

Either way, don’t forget why you are in business, and find the time to enjoy your business, and your family.

Christmas Survival Strategy

I have an infallible strategy for surviving Christmas. Since I have lots of kids, and lots of extended family, and a business, Christmas survival is very important. If I tried to do it all, I’d crumple into the corner in a sobbing heap and not get back up! So here is my three part strategy:

1. Procrastinate as long as possible on gift buying. This frees me from worry until at least a week before Christmas!

2. I don’t. I don’t decorate, I don’t bake, I don’t dress in cute Christmassy Clothes, I don’t worry about being festive. I just try to be kind, try to get through what is most important each day, and don’t worry about what anyone else might think. My kids decorate the tree and cut out paper snowflakes, and do other festive stuff. I let them and feel grateful that I don’t have to fuss with it. I do sing carols, we sing in a production of the Messiah, and we have Christmas traditions. I just don’t overload myself with it.

3. I’m cheap. I don’t overload the credit cards or spend excessive amounts. $20 is the limit that we spend on ANYBODY at Christmas, unless we do something special for the family. Usually my limits are even lower than that. If I tried to do something extravagant for everyone on our list, I’d spend more than we earn in a month. So frugal is the order of the day. We do try to select things that are useful, appropriate, and that are selected for the individual in question.

Yes, I suppose I am sort of extreme about some of these things, but the alternative is getting out of my depth, getting warped every Christmas, and feeling overwhelmed. I refuse to do that, because frankly, all those things just AREN’T really important! Caring for my family, meeting the needs of our clients so our family can eat, and making sure that my marriage is strong are the priorities. When anything else cuts into those, out it goes! There just isn’t room in my life for all the trivialities.

Who is it that decides that you have to have your house decked out to the point of frenzy, the freezer full of hand-baked goods, and the tree loaded with thousands of dollars of gifts anyway? I’ll tell you who:


They don’t want you to do this to make you happy. They want you to do this to BUY THINGS. Decorations, gifts, ingredients. They don’t care if you are benefited by it or not.

You can have a perfectly happy Christmas with a few strands of decorations that your kids made, some gifts that you purchased from love instead of a desire to impress, and with a few carefully chosen items that you made just because they were the ones you thought were most important.

The key to it is to determine not which things are VISIBLE, but which things have the most MEANING. Keep them. Let the rest go.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.