Collecting the Data

Beginnings are exciting. The fire of a new idea courses through your veins, your imagination builds perfectly constructed, beautiful castles. It’s true whether you are beginning a new job, outlining a new business, writing a new story–it’s exciting to START.

Endings often mean relief. You feel as if a weight rises from your chest, your stomach unknots, and you realize you’ve had your jaw clenched for awhile. Even if the ending presents new challenges and new worries, it’s normal to feel relieved when something that doesn’t feel quite right ends. The feeling that accompanies the end of a successful project can be elation and relief together, or maybe a vague sadness or nostalgia laced with relief.

There’s not even a word for what happens between the beginnings and endings, though. Middles? Middles are tough. That’s the slog, the grind, the hard part. Ask any writer and they will tell you the middle of a story is the hard part. After the excitement of getting started at a new job dies down, and the newness wears off, you are left with just…doing the work. In a sociology class I hated in college, I learned that the middle years of most marriages are also the least happy.

It’s easy to give up in the middle. It was about the middle of my first half marathon that I started wondering what in hell I was doing on that trail. Once you’ve outlined a business idea and it’s time to implement it, the real work begins, and it might not be quite as appealing in the execution as it was as a plan. Right now I’m in the middle of completing a certain number of cold calls, and everyday it’s a little harder to convince myself to pick up the phone.

The middle has something to teach you, though. It’s where you collect the data to test your theory, and where you learn if you enjoy doing the work. Without getting through the middle, you cannot feel the relief of the end.  You can’t experience the pride of a job well done if you don’t do the work. The idea stays an imaginary castle in the air if you don’t force yourself to actually hammer the nails.

What I’m trying to say here is…I have to go make some phone calls!

Do you struggle with middles? Do you have any tricks or tips on how to make yourself see projects through? 

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Embracing Change

Growing up, my family moved frequently. No one was in the military, it just took my folks awhile to decide where they wanted to settle down. By the eighth grade, I’d gone to something like 10 different schools. I learned to adapt, and adaptability has served me well.

Photo on 5-10-13 at 4.57 PM

dava – ready for new things!

In my professional life, I’ve adapted to many different working environments, from the classroom to retail establishments to office settings. Working from my living room for the last three years has been by far the most comfortable workplace! But, it is time for a change. Beginning on May 28, 2013, I will begin working full time as a writer for  Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology. Not many jobs would be worth exchanging my pajama pants for more traditional office garb, but I did not hesitate to take this one! In addition to writing articles, and editing some student-submitted articles, I will have some input on the social media policies and activities of Psi Chi.

So, what will become of Smiling Tree Writing, both the blog and the business?

As for the business, I will continue to serve the majority of my current clients, but become very selective about taking on new ones. The blog will continue very much as it always has – that is to say, sporadically and unpredictably. There is a strong likelihood the Independent Writing Series will be expanded, simply because the business of self-publishing fascinates me. I still firmly believe that we are witnessing a shift in how books are written and distributed that is as important as the invention of the printing press.

It seems that people all over are undertaking big changes recently. Friends in Phoenix, Boston, and Northern California have found jobs; new cars and new babies and new relationships seem to fill my Facebook feed. Maybe it’s just that I’m experiencing a change so notice these things more, or maybe there is a bigger shift going on. What do you think? Are you taking on new challenges lately?

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Enough with the Navel Gazing

From Friday evening until Monday afternoon, the modem that makes the phone and internet service in my house work stopped working. At first, I was annoyed because I wanted to see what was happening on Twitter and Facebook. Then, I was worried because, “What if client’s were trying to get in touch with me?” So, throughout the day Monday, I was anxious, but also secretly a little excited that by the time I finally checked my email, there

Not my navel…

would be a couple of requests for work, or at least requests for more information in there.

Stop laughing. I can hope.

Of course my inbox was full of LinkedIn updates (I’ve got to turn those emails off somehow!) and spam from Amazon.

So then I started thinking about what I would have done all day Monday if I hadn’t been chasing a new modem. The answer has me re-thinking the whole idea of focus.

When you need clients (as I do) you need to spend a fair amount of time marketing. It’s awfully easy to put things under the heading “marketing” that probably shouldn’t be there. For example, reading through the discussion threads on LinkedIn daily is not really marketing. Posting updates to Facebook five or six times a day does not increase sales. Reading news stories, following election coverage, looking at photos of hurricane damage…well, you get the idea. I spend too much time doing all of those things.

This week, I am going to spend some time sharpening my focus. Here are a few important things, just off the top of my head:

Spend more time writing. Instead of checking Facebook, write a paragraph or two of this blog, on some of my personal projects, or guest posts. Those are better marketing projects than reading discussions on LinkedIn, or using any other type of social media networking. Social media has its place, but it is a limited place and should not take up much time during the work day.

Send more emails. Since my specialty is email marketing, you might imagine I’m right on top of clicking “send.” Remember the story about the cobbler and his barefoot children? Well, my own email list is sadly small because I have neglected it. When things are slow, I should focus on building that list, writing interesting stuff to send to the people on it, and otherwise following the excellent advice I give clients. (By the way, if you would like to receive my newsletter, go ahead and sign up.)

Make more marketing calls. I have always had good luck with just picking up the phone and calling people. It’s one of those things, like washing the dishes, that I dread for hours or even days before just biting the bullet. If you hate making calls, try only calling companies you have researched carefully. If you see something that indicates they might have a need for your service, it’s usually a pretty easy conversation. Making one or two calls instead of reading about the latest outrage committed by a politician is better for your business, and probably your spirit, too.

Keep a backup list handy. Your daily list probably consists of things that must be done right now. It’s really easy to waste time after everything on that must-do-now list is done. It is far more productive to keep a backup list of things that you want to work on but think you don’t have time to work on handy. I want to write fiction, but trick myself into believing I don’t have time to dedicate to it. If I limited the time I spend clicking links my smart friends on Twitter share there, I’d have more time for writing fiction.

What are your best focusing tips? How can I make sure that my time is spent doing things that will result in a higher number in my bank account?

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There Is No Right Answer

Yesterday, I spoke to a potential client on the phone. We had already met in person, exchanged emails, and talked in detail about the work he’s considering paying me to do. His main question yesterday: What’s the difference in a blog and a newsletter?

It was an interesting conversation for lots of reasons. On the surface, the answer to his question seems pretty simple. But his real question, the one he didn’t know how to ask, was different. What he really wanted to know was how to use his blog posts and he email list differently for marketing. He couldn’t quite grasp the difference between subscribing to a blog so that you get an email when there is a new post, and a newsletter. I’m not sure he understood it any better when we hung up.

We have more marketing tools than ever before. Most are easy to access, and many are either free or very low-cost. How do you choose which ones to use? What is going to make the biggest impact in the least amount of

Which of the blooms is the best?

time? (Note: I didn’t say for the least amount of money. These days an investment of time is often more costly than an investment of dollars.)

It depends” is generally not what business people trained during a different era and comfortable with a different set of rules want to hear. They want me to sell them something. They want me to list all the reasons they should use email marketing, or social media, or whatever they are thinking about doing, and make them feel good about it the way someone selling ad space might have done at a different time.

But blog posts are not ads and email newsletters are not direct mail, and social media is not the same as Chamber of Commerce networking events – and ad space is still relevant. The digital marketing tools at your disposal can be used successfully in lots of different ways. Yourpersonality, or your brand depending on the size of your organization, plays a huge role in how you should approach marketing. If you prefer a suit and tie, you are probably going to be more comfortable using LinkedIn than Twitter. That’s a broad generalization, but sometimes those are useful.

The individuals who are most successful in digital marketing are not afraid to be who they are, warts and all. If who you are is buttoned-up, perfectly coifed, and pulled together all of the time, then you should choose a niche that celebrates rigidity and formality. Everyone else will most likely find you a little boring. Sorry to be brutal, but it’s true. Humans who make mistakes, laugh, cry, and succeed despite struggles are interesting. They have stories to tell and people like stories.

I’m still struggling with how to explain clearly, simply, and accurately why my potential client should generate different content for his blog and his newsletter because what he really needs to do is share his story – with an audience likely to find it interesting.

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The Secret Formula

Trying to lose weight? Find more customers? Manage your time better? Get your finances in order? Find a job?

If you have been pursuing any of those goals for awhile, you might feel like there is a secret formula that you just can’t figure out. If you could just tweak your resume and cover letter, find the right combination of words to go on the page that will automatically unlock the good-job door…If you could just balance your calories and nutrients in the right way, take the right exercise class, run the right number of miles each week, then you

The beginning…

would look like a fitness celebrity…If you could just figure out which bill to pay first, how much of your income to save, what the best, most profitable investments are, you would never feel financial stress again…

There are plenty of books, training classes, and expert-led seminars that promise to teach whatever it is you want to know – the thing that you feel pretty sure will make your life a stressless paradise of ease, compared to what it is right now. You may have already spent hundreds of dollars on those products. But the secret formula is very simple.

Don’t stop trying.

That’s the key to success in whatever endeavor you are wholeheartedly pursuing. Keep going. If you give up, you will never figure it out. But if you keep trying, your chances are much better.

There are plenty of quotes from successful people that are more eloquent than “don’t stop trying.” Here’s a old one from Ovid: “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

And another, this one from Vince Lombardi: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather, a lack of will.”

The problem is that the short-term gratification of poking around on Facebook gives us a nicer feeling than taking the risk of being rejected while making cold calls. It’s easier to watch movies on the couch than volunteer, even though volunteer work will expand your network, give you a good feeling and maybe help you find your dream job. Eating pizza and drinking beer is much easier than going for a run and cooking dinner, but it sure won’t help your weight loss efforts.

I have been teetering on the brink of giving up on several of my personal endeavors, but here are a few things that are helping me continue toward my goals:

1. Talk to friends – My friends tell me that I need to keep going. They remind me of what I have accomplished before, of plans I have laid out, of things I said to them when they were down, of the fact that giving up is not a good option, of other people who have walked my path and reached their goals. They make me laugh when I need it, they tell me it’s okay when I’m sad. If you feel like giving up spend some times with your friends.

There is one caveat, though, and that is to make sure the people you look to really are your friends. Everyone has “friends.” People who you care about but who are not supportive of you and your efforts, who think that even trying is silly, and who encourage you to give up. Stay away from those folks when you’re down. In fact, you might want to consider staying away from them all of the time!

2. Do something – If you gave in and ate the pizza and drank the beer, take yourself for a walk. If you didn’t make your sales calls, send out a few emails. If you over-spent while shopping, find something to sell on

The destination.

craigslist. Even if you took two steps back, taking one forward will get you moving in the right direction again.

3. Forgive yourself – Sitting around beating yourself up because you are 39 years old and you have never come close to meeting your professional goals will never, ever help you get where you want to be. You have to let the mistakes go, and carry on. Just don’t sit around feeling sorry for, or berating, yourself.

4. Adjust – If your plan isn’t working, make a new plan. Think about fitness, and the zealots you have met. There are people who will tell you that Paleo is the only way to go, and just as many people who will tell you that vegan is the only way to go. No matter your destination, there are different routes to get there. Your path might be more circuitous and tortured than the paths of others, but so what? Isn’t getting there the thing?

Since this post is basically a letter to myself, can you add anything? What advice would you give to someone who is ready to throw in the towel and stop chasing a dream? 

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Expanding Horizons, Services, and (UH-OH) Waistlines

Somehow despite my best – okay, total lack of – effort, my waistline is 1.5 inches bigger this year than last year. Ugh.

A friend has convinced me to expand my business and begin sending letters of introduction and queries to trade publications. Hooray!

My dad got me chickens. Lots of baby chickens. The jury is still out on whether this falls into the ugh or hooray category, but it is definitely a learning experience and an expansion of my personal knowledge.

All of these things have the concept of expansion on my mind. Sometimes expanding is great, like when it means you might make more money or have more fun with your work. But other times it can be terrible. When the clutter in your junk drawer takes over the counter as well you are looking at a bad expansion. It’s not easy to know which will be good and which will be bad, either.

Clients often come to me when they are considering an expansion of some sort. They may want to expand their presence on the internet, or their services. Sometimes they just want to expand the number of brochures they have available to show prospective customers. Even though I usually want the work, sometimes I advise against the expansion.

When it comes to social media, especially, each expansion should be carefully considered. After all, time is valuable, and is the one real cost to using social media in your business. You cannot “maintain a presence” on any platform without actually spending time there. Being social cannot be automated. It would be like sending your resume to a party and saying you attended.

There are all kinds of promises to help you gain more followers, make more connections, get more likes, and on and on. Some experts promise they will teach you how to “do” social media in 10 minutes a day. It’s all true, too. You really can fairly easily get thousands of followers on Twitter, hundreds of likes on Facebook and hundreds of connections on Linkedin. The problem is, it will all be worthless unless you actually invest the time and do the work to find the right audiences on those platforms.

The same is true of a blog.

You can find all sorts of shortcuts to increase the number of people who come to your site and look, at least for a second or two, at your blog. But if they don’t care what you are writing about, they don’t interact with you, or they just plain aren’t buying what you are selling, what’s the point?

Before you decide to expand your social media use, think about why you want to, and what you hope to accomplish by doing so, and what the expansion will cost in terms of your time. If you want to make some new friends, Twitter is a great tool to do so. I’ve made several connections that became important real-life friendships using it. Some of those connections ended up generating some business, but not all of them, and that was never my end-goal in using Twitter.

Most people don’t start with a defined strategy. If you work at a big company and are launching a campaign, or a at a start-up, you might have the luxury of a clean slate on which to state goals and benchmarks and methods for reaching them. If you own a small business and have for years, it’s much more likely that you started a Facebook Page one day because it seemed like a good idea, or you tried blogging because someone told you it would help your Google rank. In other words, you are probably approaching online stuff in a piecemeal, haphazard kind of way, and each new thing getting some buzz gets a little bit of your attention. Or, maybe you are seeing results from one platform or another so you are thinking it might be good to expand those efforts.

The best thing to do is to choose one area for expansion. That way, you can measure your time investment and the results, and you are less likely to get overwhelmed. As always, the best place to start is your own web site because you own it. On other platforms, from Facebook to Tumblr to Google+ to Twitter, you are renting space and everything can be changed or gone in an instant. Even if you don’t write a regular blog, you should be spending some time driving traffic to your web site. You can comment on other posts or in forums. You can put links to other interesting and related things on your site somewhere – under a tab called “trends” or something. You can simply spend a little time each day learning howto use your web site. It’s a powerful tool!

Once you have your own backyard in order, you can move on to something else. There are lots of platforms to choose from and all of them have a different audience, and a different potential purpose. You might make learning about them your focus for a few months, then choose one to expand your presence. After you have it under control, and you know how much of your time it will take, and what kind of results to expect, you can choose the next one. Eventually you will hit a tipping point.

How do approach an expansion, either in your business or personal development? Do you study it first, or jump right in? Does ROI play any kind of role?

While I wait for your answers, I’m going to plan an expansion of my fitness activities…

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