Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chocolate and the power of the personal in social media

Anyone who has vaguely glanced at my Facebook page or even just read my Twitter profile will have an inkling that I am rather a fan of chocolate, in its many forms, be it freshly-baked chocolate cake, a steaming hot chocolate or just a plain ol' block of chocolate. I even celebrated my travel blog's birthday a couple of years back with a chocolate cake!
Mentions of chocolate weren't an intentional social media strategy - I just found it hard to avoid talking about it! But looking back, I can see that introducing this personal element into my social media is not a bad thing at all. It might sound simple or even trivial, but enjoying chocolate is something a LOT of people can relate to, and provides a starting point for conversations that lead to something further, or at least encourage other people to join the discussion.

And of course there are a few perks. I made a presentation on social media at a Perth library once and one of the audience members came up to me before the talk started. She said she had googled me and discovered I loved chocolate, and she wanted to give me a gift of her favourite chocolate. Before she'd even heard me speak! And I have a few clients who are aware of my preferences and stock up on something chocolatey when they know I'm coming.

In fact, this tweet about hot chocolate was seen by the client I was meeting with the following day too, and he made sure to have a very tasty hot chocolate ready for me when I arrived!

But putting those personal taste bud bonuses to one (far) side, I really believe that introducing a personal element of something you love into your online persona is really important. I was thinking of examples of people who do and don't do this, and how differently I feel about them.

For example, I'm a big fan of Valerie Khoo who wears numerous hats but among them is founder/managing director of the Australian Writers Centre, author of the excellent "Power Stories" (a book that stays on my desk) and also a slightly mad cat AND dog woman. And that final bit is something I've picked up from her Twitter feed, from podcasts, from various bits and pieces, and it makes me really feel that she is human, it gives me a connection point (I have cats!) (and isn't she smart for having both? Nearly everyone is either a dog or a cat person!), and an extra reason to "know, like and trust" her, which is one of the big points of doing social media.

On the other hand, there is Facebook guru Amy Porterfield. I have followed her work for some time and I listen to her podcast, and I'm excited that I'll be able to hear her speak at the ProBlogger conference later this year, but I don't feel the same warmth and "trust" that I do with others - and, strangely perhaps, it's because she seems too professional. On her Facebook page or in her podcast, I've very rarely heard her mention anything outside of work, and I don't feel anything personally in common with her beyond our work. I still feel that she does her job very well, but that feeling that I "know" her just isn't there. (I hope I'll be able to meet her at ProBlogger and find out that she's totally lovely and friendly!**)

I'm not suggesting for a minute that we all need to divulge intimate details of our personal life through social media. I don't. But social media is all about being social, and to be social, you have to stop being 100% professional from time to time. For me, it's mentioning chocolate or cake, or occasionally the antics of my son, and mixing these ingredients in with my usual professional and work-based posts. For you, it might be a pet, or an obsession with tea or coffee, or your love of exercise, anything in fact that is a bit tangential or even quite removed from your actual work, but gives people another connection point with you. It might just naturally happen, like it did for me, or it might be something you need to think about first, but whichever way, I really think it helps the people who follow you online to connect, like and trust you, and when they feel that way, the bottom line is they're much more likely to buy your product or service, and that's not a bad thing, right?

**PS Sept, 2013: I can confirm that Amy Porterfield is, indeed, a totally lovely and friendly lady. And interestingly she has been sharing a lot more personal information on her podcasts recently. Good work Amy!

So, a question for you to answer: what's your quirk, or special like?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Location independence, digital nomads and what pretty much all my clients could learn from this

I'm having a mini-obsession with podcasts, blogs and people talking about location independence at the moment. It's a buzz word that actually makes me buzz! The notion of being "location independent" or a "digital nomad" basically means that you're doing work you can do from anywhere, which virtually always means you work online. Or even better, you don't work too much at all but have started an online business which keeps sending money your way. (Not that I mind a bit of hard work. But I don't have a whole lot of hours left in the each day, it seems.)

A random beach shot or ... no, this will have relevance later. Trust me.
Anyway ... while I'm listening to and reading people like Natalie Sisson from The Suitcase Entrepreneur and my lovely friend Nora from The Professional Hobo, I often think that although much of the discussion is about creating an online business so that you can travel a lot (as these ladies do), so many things that they say are also very relevant to people running a small business and promoting themselves online. In other words, the kind of people who are very often my clients, and of course, me as well.

There are so many ideas running around in my head about ways to help your business run with a bit less of your time, freeing you up to do other things which may mean travelling, but equally may mean spending time with your kids (I'm aiming for both of these), getting more involved in a hobby or a cause, or some other equally valid use of your spare time. To me it's not about location independence, it's more about freedom, and who doesn't want a bit more of that? So, here are some of the tips I keep hearing that I think can work for many of us, not just the location independents:

  • Outsource when it makes sense. Small businesses - and especially one-person businesses, the kind I'm often involved with - can't afford to hire staff. You can, however, afford to look into sites like oDesk or elance to find someone who can do a task for you at a low enough rate that it makes sense - you can go off and earn your normal rate and pay them to do a task (especially if (a) they're better at it or (b) you really hate it) that saves your time. (Also, I still love Fiverr for some quick jobs like graphics and stuff.)
  • Batch your work. If you have been to my Social Media Strategising and Scheduling workshop you will have heard me talk about batching: grouping like tasks together and getting them all done at once. That might mean you take one day a month to write every blog post you intend to post that month, or it may be that you decided 9am on Monday is the hour you'll spend scheduling your social media posts for the week. Whatever it is, the value of not having to "start" a similar task multiple times, plus that "in the groove" effect of doing the same thing for a while, makes you work so much more effectively. I'm writing this blog post on an evening when I've already written two others. It works!
  • Change your scenery. People who work for themselves need to be self-motivated and it's not going to be easy 100% of the time. Whether you do the extreme location independent version of this and move to another country for a few months or you just pack up your laptop and take it to a local cafe for an afternoon, it can really make a productivity difference. (I have even taken my laptop to the beach - well, to the carpark near the beach. Too much sand at the actual beach!)
  • Make the most of technology. Having all the latest whiz-bang gadgets can be a trap BUT it can also work out well if you're the one who's in control. I have a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, USB WiFi, a Kindle, you name it (after all, I do work in blogging and social media!) and on occasion I let them take over my life. Most of the time though I exploit them and fit work in around other equally important parts of life. I may schedule a lot of my social media posts during a batching session but of course I still need to check in and reply to comments or other interactions - that's something that's easily done on my smartphone while I'm cooking dinner or waiting at an appointment.
  • Switch off and do fun stuff. This is a point where being a world-wandering digital nomad probably makes it easier, because if you've just moved to a small coastal Croatian town you're very likely to want to abandon your computer at some stage and go exploring or at the very least have a quick dip in that glorious sea. If you're just working from home then always thinking "just one more task" is an easy trap to fall into but the whole point of being your own boss is that you are allowed to switch off from work whenever you want to (well, more or less).
  • Figure out a passive income stream. This is (depending on your industry, perhaps) the trickier part but the bit that really turns you from a worker into someone who sometimes works and sometimes does other cool stuff. I'm still figuring this out too but there are so many options in the online world now to generate an income independent of the hours you put in (you know, earn while you sleep - yes please!) and this is obviously a way to free up some of your time. More on this in the future, when I get it better worked out myself!
The way I figure it, the digital nomads can wander the world, and people like me can just try to get on top of things so that there is time for work, time for play, and hopefully time for a few more overseas trips as well! Blogging and social media is surely a part of getting this sorted out. I'm working on it: watch this space. 

What ways could you make your work style more "digital nomad-ish" - or do you even want to?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Managing your online presence when your name is Bob Smith

When I was younger, I was none too impressed by having a surname like "Kendle" because people were constantly misspelling it. Usually Kendal or Kendall but if they actually half-listened to me spelling it out (as I always did) then I'd get Kendale.

And then the internet came along. Having a relatively unique name turned into a real blessing! If you google "Amanda Kendle" it is a long, long time before you come across any result that's referring to someone other than me. (There do seem to be a couple of Amanda Kendles in the United States - one who played basketball, the other a graphic designer - but their presence online is low. Phew.)

If your name is a little more common, then you might find that there's some competition in the Google search results. Take Perth author Natasha Lester, for example: there is, unfortunately for her, a p*rn star of the same name! These days it takes a good three pages of Google results to find this other Natasha Lester, but I do remember when I first met the author Natasha (I've never met the other one!) that the situation was more serious. Thankfully she's been smart enough to get lots of stuff all over the web (be it guest blog posts and interviews, reviews of her books, and so on) to push down the other results. Although it's not all good - even the name of her blog While the kids are sleeping has been causing trouble of late:

I had a laugh, and Natasha has a strong enough online presence that it's not really a drama, but it could be worse. What if your name is Bob Jones or Jane Smith? You will really struggle to create an online presence just based on your name that will enable people to find you if they're looking. Just look at the stats: if I google "Amanda Kendle" there are 84,000 results; if I google "Jane Smith" this leaps to 157,000,000.

So what are your options if you really are Jane Smith? Or even if there's just one other person out there with the same name as you who already has a substantial online presence?

What I advise my tricky-named clients is that there are really two options. The first one is (in all seriousness) to change their name - or at least change the name they use professionally. Whether that means using a middle name instead or perhaps using an initial from a middle name if that helps solve the problem (I'd say that's much more common in the States than here - but it could work) or if you feel up to it, actually inventing an entirely new one - a pseudonym of sorts. Or branding yourself entirely under a business name instead of your actual name, which will work for some industries but not others.

The other option is just to work really hard at associating your real name with the important key words which describe the business that you're in. For example, I have a client named Clare Harris, and as you'd guess, the general Google results for Clare Harris throw up a long list of different women named Clare Harris around the world. However, Clare is in the ESL industry and if you search for Clare Harris ESL then pretty much all the results are about her - and some of her important handles like Twitter and her Facebook page use ESL or ESL writer as part of her username. Sure, it's not quite as ideal as having a unique name that can't be confused with anyone else, but it's a close second, and just takes a judicious use of a keyword in your usernames and lots of uses of that keyword on your website and blog posts and you're all set.

And the one thing that kind of bugs me about names and the internet age? All those parents who've been giving their children really bizarre names, the ones who I admit to having scoffed at, well, they've got it right, because those kids won't have to compete with someone else for online space. I might have to retrospectively give my son a truly odd name, just for the sake of his Googlaability.

What kind of people do you find when you Google your name?

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