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Theme Week: How To Find New Readers and Create Community on Your Blog

FINDING READERS

If you’ve been around this year, you will have seen that we are running a themed week each month, focusing on a specific blogging topic. It is our aim that you will get a great deal of useful tips and info that will arm you with all the things you’ll need to stand out in that field.

Our first foray was in creating content, we moved into a week chock-full of info for new bloggers just starting out, and last month Shayne and I delved deep into creating products – an in-depth, step-by-step set of posts that aimed to answer all the questions you have about creating, launching, and selling products and services on your blog.

This week we have reached out to ProBlogger readers from various niches to share their success stories on how they found readers for their blog, and how they encouraged engagement: comments, shares, and a creating a thriving community.

Stay tuned for tips from the fashion, personal, social media, and blogging-about-blogging genres. No doubt there will be some fantastic information you can action that day that will help you on your journey.

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter about this week’s theme.

The posts:

Corinne Talks Commenting, Engagement, and Are Forums Right for Your Blog?

Dustin Outlines the 5 Crucial Elements for Growing Readership

Mrs Woog’s Tips to Create Conversations on Your Blog

From Seed to Sequoia: Growing your Blog one Reader at a Time

6 Tips for Hosting an Interview Series on Your Blog

shutterstock_125091749This is a guest contribution from Kerry Jones of CopyPress Community.

Interviews have become popular features on many blogs, and for good reason.  In addition to being fresh content, interviews can help you build relationships with other experts in your niche, provide your audience with different perspectives, and encourage influencers to promote your blog. Recently, Darren even shared a few tips on how to get high-profile bloggers to agree to be interviewed for your site.

If you’d like to start incorporating interviews into your editorial calendar, take a look at these tips for creating an interview series that benefits both your subject and audience.

Six Tips for Hosting an Interview Series

Choose the Right Format

When you think of conducting an interview, an on-screen video format probably comes to mind. Video interviews can be an intimidating place to start since there’s a need for technical skills like lighting, audio, and post-editing. You can invest in the right equipment if on-air interviews will become a regular feature on your blog or hire a video pro to help with one-off interviews.

But still, not everyone wants to appear on camera (this might include you) and geography may prevent you from conducting in-person video interviews. Fortunately, technology allows for many alternate interview formats.

Phone

This is a smart choice for busy interviewees since it’s quick, can be done while they’re on the go, and it doesn’t require a huge commitment. To record the interview, use a recording app or make your call with Skype where you’ll have plenty of  recording options. And always get someone’s consent before recording a call (it’s illegal not to in many places).

Virtual Video

Conducting a virtual video interview may be the best option if you like the thought of an on-screen interview but don’t have fancy equipment or your interview subject lives far from you. Again, Skype makes this easy since you have plenty of ways to record it. Google Hangouts are another simple way to record a video interview. Plus, you can interview several people at once this way (great for a roundtable discussion).

Email

Traditionalists may scoff at this, but using email to conduct interviews has become commonplace. You have a few options with this format. Either send a list of questions for the interviewee to fill out all at once, or ask one question at a time and respond with a new questions after receiving an answer. Keeping the questions short and few in number mean you have a better chance of getting them answered.

Face-to-face

Yes, you can still interview people the old-fashioned way. If it’s convenient to meet up with your subject, it’s worth doing since an in person chat may yield the most natural answers. Don’t forget a recording device to capture the conversation and a notepad for taking notes.

Interactive/Crowdsourced

Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ can all be used as public interview forums. Use social media to crowdsource questions or host a live Q & A session with the interviewee. From there, you can turn the questions and answers into a blog post.

Do Your Homework

People who are interviewed frequently get tired of answering the same questions. Avoid regurgitating information that’s already out there — don’t ask a question if a quick Google search about the person can yield the answer (especially when interviewing someone well-known). You can always include the easy-to-find information as a blurb about the subject as an intro to the interview.

Your questions should align with the person’s background, area of expertise, and interests. You don’t need to learn their life story in advance, but gathering biographical and professional information will help you craft questions. Here are a few places to look them up:

  • LinkedIn — to see their professional background. Look for the unexpected, like an interesting career change or an unusual skill set for someone in their field. Additionally, their recommendations from others can give insight into their work ethic and personality traits.

  • Twitter — to see what interests them. What topics do they frequently talk about? What types of people do they engage with? Even a Twitter bio can provide clues about someone’s passions in 140 characters.

  • Google — to see where they’ve been mentioned or published. Also look for any previous interviews.

Consider Using an Interview Template

Believe it or not, you don’t need to ask unique questions. Rather, you should focus on asking questions that will yield unique answers. Using a list of template questions can save you time and also provide structure to your interviews. This consistency in the interview format works especially well if you’re planning on an ongoing series.

Asking everyone the same questions works best if your subjects have something in common. For example, if you will only be interviewing writers, there are enough universal questions for this group that will also result in a variety of responses.

Some of the best blog interview series use a template:

  • Copyblogger’sWriter Files” series also uses a template but since they ask questions that will get different answers for each interviewee, it works. They also write a brief introduction about each featured writer, which helps give some context to the interview.

  • Lifehacker’sThis is How I Work” series uses a mostly templated approach but the questions are so good and differ so much from person to person that every interview is unique (for example, they ask everyone to share a picture of their workspace).

workspace

Ask  Open Questions That Solicit Detailed Answers

A skilled interviewer always digs for specific examples, asks questions that will produce detailed answers, and lets the subject do most of the talking. No one wants to read an interview full of “yes” and “no” responses.

Only ask questions that solicit a specific response. Questions beginning with “how” or the 4 Ws (what, when, why, where) accomplish this. Your subject shouldn’t be able to answer with “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” or “I don’t know.”

You still may receive vague responses despite asking probing questions. When you do get a broad answer from your subject, use a follow up question, like “Can you give me examples?” to steer them into giving a more specific answer.

Lead the Subject into Sharing Anecdotes

The true gems of interviews often hide within anecdotes, which can set apart a great interview from a bland one. But getting someone to open up about their personal experiences can be one of the toughest parts of conducting an interview.

Even if your subject is open to telling personal stories, they may need you to help jog their memory. Focus on asking questions that will trigger the interviewee to remember certain events and then recall those stories.

One word that’s sure to inspire anecdotes: when.

“When did you know this was the right career path for you?”

“When did you feel you were truly a professional writer?”

But you don’t need to limit yourself to wording everything as a question. Phrases like “Tell me how…” or “Describe a time…” are also effective for leading the subject to share anecdotes.

Include Text for Video and Audio Interview Content

When doing video or audio interviews, write up some highlights or transcribe the conversation. This can “tease” your audience into tuning in and also gives the search engines some text to crawl.

In the Travel Blogger Academy interview series, they take the audio recording from an interview and turn it into a video using simple text and graphics. In the blog post, they use bulleted lists to tease readers with interview content. Any resources/tools mentioned in the interview are linked to in the post as well as links to the subject’s blog and social profiles.

Travel-Blogger-Academy

Lastly, make sure to keep in touch after the interview. Give a timeframe or exact date for when the interview will be published. If you need an answer clarified, reach out to get a more in depth explanation.

Always send them a link to the interview once it’s published. And don’t be afraid to ask them to share it on their social networks — one of the biggest benefits of hosting an interview series is the potential to attract the subjects’ audiences to your blog.

Have you had success with hosting interviews on your blog? What do you think makes a compelling interview? Let me know in the comments below.

Kerry Jones is Tampa-based blogger and the Assistant Community Manager for CopyPress Community — a networking site, training portal and job board for freelance creatives. You can connect with her on Twitter and Google+

Weigh In: Are Personal Blogs and Business Blogs Really That Different?

Image via Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

Image via Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

This is a guest contribution from Sabina Stoiciu.

Do you remember how it was back in the 90s, when most of us didn’t have a clue about blogs and blogging? Today we can hardly imagine a world without them. And if the first blogs from mid-90s had a personal character and resembled an online diary, business blogging has taken quite a different track. Or have they?

What do personal and business blogging have in common?

At first, I would say it’s the need to have a blog to write for (just joking, I’m sure this is something that can’t be skipped).

Personal blogging means having your own little corner of the web, where you express everything from your personal beliefs, ideas, tips for spending free time, preferences, hobbies; to relating personal stories from your everyday life.

Business blogging works following a similar principle – the one of having an own place on the web where to present yourself as a company, to be more human, show what you’re like, and  engage with your followers, just like you do on a personal blog.

For both types of blogs you need to have a well-contoured idea of what you want to write about, although the business blog requires even higher levels of structure. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) start a blog just for the sake of following a trend, if you don’t have any hint on what your blog’s purpose should be.

A second common point is: keeping your audience in mind when you write. For whom do write? Do you write for tech savvy people? Don’t be afraid to use some technical jargon, then. Do you write for your grandma’s generation? Use language that isn’t too tech-heavy. An useful measure for knowing for whom you are writing is to undertake audience research. Personas can help you imagine how your typical reader looks and behaves. It’s then easier to craft content for someone you already have in mind.

The whole purpose of a blog is to have a more personal touch. Hence, the writer’s personality will come to the surface through their style of writing on both types of blogs. The personal one, however, allows its owner to express their thoughts in a more intimate manner than on a business blog, where communication has to respect some basic guidelines.

Another common characteristic of both blog types is the need to engage with followers. Whether it is a personal blog or a business blog, your articles shouldn’t take the shape of a monologue. On the contrary – you should encourage readers to comment and share their ideas and thoughts. Besides developing your discussion and making it more interactive, visitors can provide you with new ideas on what they’d like to read, which then informs your content.

Now tell me what you think of blogs that don’t have a contact method. I personally tend to ignore them, because I can’t explain to myself why you wouldn’t want to get in touch with your readers. It bothers me not to have any way of sending the blog owner a message, especially because it’s very easy to include a contact form on your blog. There are plugins for WordPress that let you build and publish a contact form in no time.

One more thing you can do on both personal and business blogs is have guest posts. This can be a good way to offer some variation in content and writing style, which your readers might appreciate. Though, the topics and the most appropriate guest authors depend on your blog type. Business blogs can benefit of featuring well known industry speakers, fellow business owners, or product/service partners. Personal blogs might have a smaller chance to feature opinion leaders, but they are still useful.

Last but not least, you have to be careful what you write about and what you make public. It’s true that blogs should express honest opinions, but that doesn’t mean you can wake up one day and begin to denigrate everybody in your life.

How are personal and business blogs different?

Apart from sharing a few common points, these two types of blogs can be poles apart. Here are the main traits that distinguish one from the other:

  1. In many cases, the audience of a business blog is more specialised. It’s more of a niche audience, which at some point might be more picky than the readers of your personal blog. For example, you can choose to write today about kittens on your personal blog. Tomorrow you shift the content direction and cover diet tips. And the day after tomorrow you feel like speaking of planes. Your followers might be indulgent when it comes to your personal blog, but business articles should stay quite focused.
  2. For a business blog, I would say that it’s more difficult to write compelling content that keeps readers coming back. Your blog has to speak about your business, but be of a more general interest at the same time. As for the personal blog, you have a higher freedom in choosing what to write about.
  3. The previous point leads to mentioning one more difference: business blogs offer valuable, useful content, engage and advertise at the same time. Perhaps ‘advertise’ is not the most appropriate term, but business blogs do provide information on the product or service behind the business. Common sense asks for this information not to be overly promotional, but to present additional advice on how to make the most out of the product, how to benefit of the product’s partnerships and others.
  4. Moreover, there are several points to keep in mind when crafting your business blog content – how to write headlines, not having a clear posting strategy, being all too promotional, using images incorrectly. or being too SEO-crazy.
  5. The content on a business blog should be even more engaging than on a personal blog, meaning that it should be accompanied by strong calls-to-action that make the visitor convert. After all, the final purpose of a business blog is to convince the visitor that your product is the best choice, something that you do through presenting its extended features, advantages, use cases and so on.
  6. Besides strong calls-to-action, your business blog can benefit from including lead generation methods, such as lead generation forms. This type of form can include various sub-types like the contact form, the request a quote form, the newsletter subscription form, the freebie form and others which can fulfill the lead generation requirement.
  7. Because we’re talking of the business sector, where every resource allocation has to be justified, your business blog also needs to be analyzed. Engagement, ROI, conversions, requests for more information about your business – they all have to be tracked closely to see how your blog strategy is working out. Unlike your personal blog, the business one has to drive clear results.
  8. We’ve established before that you are responsible for what you post on the web for both personal and business blogs. Nevertheless, posting on a business blog requires you to be even more careful. How do you perceive a typo on a personal blog and how do you do it when it comes to a business blog? When writing about and for your company, you are associated with the company image. The slightest mistake you make can have a huge impact on the brand you’re representing.

Having said outlined these differences, some could argue that personal blogs, particularly personal blogs that create income and are brands unto themselves, also benefit from such “business-blogging” strategies. Where do you stand on the issue?

Sabina Stoiciu enjoys blogging, photography, traveling and finding ways of gathering and sharing relevant business knowledge. You can follow her on Twitter. She also writes for 123ContactForm, the online form and survey builder – try it for free.

In a Blog Slump? Here’s What to Do

Image via Flickr user Toni Birrer

Image via Flickr user Toni Birrer

“Do you ever want to chuck blogging in sometimes?” came the question at the end of an email recently.

“Yep”, I answered. “At least twice, pretty seriously.”

It’s a situation I think many of us find ourselves in at some point in our blogging journey: we’re not quite sure, but we think we might want to throw in the towel. We’ve given it our best shot, but we’re just not feeling it any more. Time to hang up our keyboards and call it a day.

Right?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

As I’ve chatted to other bloggers over the years, it’s become apparent that almost everyone goes through a bit of a slump. Some of us bow out quietly, having enjoyed the fun while it lasted. Others leave blogs to stagnate, not knowing what to do so they don’t do anything at all. The rest of us find our groove again somewhere further down the line and are grateful we didn’t quite hit that “delete” button, tempting as it was. You can read how fellow blogger Naomi found herself at a crossroads at the ProBlogger conference last year and how it helped her inspiration again.

There are several reasons I believe bloggers feel like it’s time to move on – do any of these resonate with you?

  • You’ve tried to monetize, but it hasn’t happened as fast as you’d hoped. In fact – you feel like you’re not really getting anywhere with it.
  • You’ve run out of things to write about.
  • You’ve spent a ton of time on other people’s sites, commenting and being involved, and the bloggers have never responded.They don’t come to read your blog either, like you’d hoped.
  • You don’t feel as though you’re a very good writer.
  • You feel as though everyone else is succeeding but you.
  • You can’t fit it in around all the other family, work, and life obligations that you have – especially if you’re not getting paid to blog.
  • Linky parties and participating in memes never really earned you any legitimate readers.
  • You don’t take very good photographs.
  • Brands and PR people don’t seem to be noticing you, or you have found it hard to get on their radar.
  • You don’t really want to have to be everywhere on all social media channels just so people will read your blog.
  • You think anything you could possibly say has already been said by someone else – and they’ve said it better.
  • You’ve spent a lot of time and energy and love on your blog, but you’re just not seeing the traffic you hoped you would after a while.
  • It’s not as much fun as you thought it would be.
  • You’ve realised how much work it actually is.

I don’t know about you, but in my four-plus years of blogging, there have been times when I’ve felt a bit “blah” about it all, and times when I’ve felt I can really make it if I just work hard, be kind to people, and make the most of opportunities as they arise. There was a time after about a year and a half that I genuinely believed I’d enjoyed blogging, but I was done. That I could walk away from all I had created with nary a backward glance.

While I don’t think now I would ever give it up (especially since I now do it full-time), I certainly do still feel those periods of low motivation – where my mojo up and walks out, flies to Mexico and does some tequila shots. I have slumps where I feel like I should be further than where I am, that it shouldn’t be so hard to find advertising, that it takes more effort than I have to give, and that other people are funnier, cuter, and have better blogs than I do. I don’t have the time to be and do all that I need to be and do to be successful. But rather than quit, I coast along knowing that my mojo will eventually return, slightly drunk and suntanned, and I’ll have ideas coming out my ears and words coming out my fingertips again.

And so I say: Go with the flow.

Get in that slump when it arrives. Roll around there for a bit. Recognize you’re not bursting with blogger buzz, and accept that. For what goes down must come up – and you WILL blog again! Especially if you:

Rest. A creative mind craves downtime in order to fully function.

Don’t force it. Breaks are totally necessary to avoid blogger burnout and to ensure you’re in tip-top shape. If you’re worried about a dip in traffic, you might like to have a look at my other post about taking a blog break without losing momentum. But don’t write just to fill space. As Tsh Oxenreider said recently: you’ve got to actually be out there living life in order to write about it.

Read. Read something for fun, read a newspaper, finally have a crack at War and Peace. I guarantee that at some point you will read something that will spark that love of writing again, and wild horses couldn’t hold you back.

Be inspired. Without judgement or vanity, read the blogs you sincerely love as a reader. Not as a blogger. Don’t overthink it, just read and feel the good feelings you have when you consume for no other reason than you enjoy it. Your inspiration for your own creation will return.

Forget about your competition. If the “why aren’t I… ?”s getting you down, then it’s time to turf them. If you’re no longer being motivated by the success of others and instead, you’re starting to feel disappointed and left out, it’s time to turn inwards. Take a break to regroup and come back with an eye on your own prize. Don’t compare yourself to others: aim for your own goals and give yourself a pat on the back when you reach them. But for now, try and let comparison go.

Do what you love. Blogging can get very old very quickly if you’re not writing about the things that light a fire inside you. If you’ve pared back “your” voice in the hopes of being more marketable to brands, then you’re going to sound like a shopping catalogue, not a unique snowflake. And dammit, you are a unique snowflake! People read blogs for the human connection, for the quirky you who writes it. Be yourself and write what you love. It’s hard to be bored with that.

There’s plenty of advice around to whip you out of writer’s block, and what to do when a blog slump hits. You can kick your apathy to the kerb here, and we even have an entire week devoted to the best ways of creating content here. But none of the tips are going to be very useful if you’re not coming at them from the perspective of someone who loves what they do and aren’t afraid to blog their way.

Have you ever been tempted to chuck it all in?

Stacey Roberts is the Managing Editor at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found writing, making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

5 Ways to Nail Social Media Branding

This is a guest contribution from Miranda Burford of Swiftly.

Social media marketing is one of the best ways to attract visitors to your blog. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube are among the hottest components in the modern marketer’s toolkit. But how do you make sure the branding you’ve built on your blog translates to all these other platforms? Here are five tips you can action right now to ensure you’re consistent across the board.

1. Develop a unique look and feel 

You always want to ensure that your social profiles are instantly recognizable as your own. Bring the logo, fonts, styles and imagery that define your brand (and your blog) to all of your communication outlets. Your profile pics and background images should be eye-catching and refreshed regularly — there’s really no option for staying stale on social media! If you’re not a designer, seek out some help. At Swiftly, for example, bloggers can quickly get a custom profile pic or background image for just $15.

2. Post fresh content regularly

Keep cranking out unique, engaging content on all of your social media channels by creating a varied publishing schedule and sticking to it. Posting regularly at peak times is extremely important (there are apps that can help pinpoint your audience’s best times), especially on Facebook and Twitter. Along with sharing your latest blog posts, try posting relevant news, photos, links and interviews you see around the web.

3. Be human to connect with your audience  

Blogs and social media outlets are not always the place for a hard sell. Be natural and have some fun. Create a consistent and well-defined voice that accurately reflects the tone on your blog. Don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself! You’ll build a network by continually showing your personality to the world.

4. Engage with your community

Always focus on ways to develop an active online community. Encourage participation by fueling discussions, showcasing stories, sharing thoughts and running competitions. Remember to invite comments, questions, and suggestions from your audience, and be sure to reply to criticism right away. Being transparent will win over your audience.

5. Embrace your pro status

Be a top influencer in your industry by continuously sharing awesome content. It doesn’t all have to be original. Repurpose content whenever you can. Create partnerships with relevant businesses or other bloggers and work on a content sharing strategy together. Keep blogging and curating content to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

Miranda Burford is the Marketing Manager for Swiftly. Swiftly, a new service by 99designs, can get your small design jobs done in under an hour for just $19.

How to Take a10-Day Vacation, a 5-Day Business Trip, Get Food Poisoning, and Still Be Able to Write 42 Posts In a Month

This is a guest contribution by Karol K of newInternetOrder.com

Just to set things straight… I’m not talking about writing 42 300-word posts. In September last year, I did write 42 web articles in total. Some of them were 2,800 words long. Some just 500. On the average, each article was about 1000 words. How do I know so precisely? Well, I keep a complete record of everything I write.

Having this little disclaimer out of the way, I can tell you the whole story of how I did it, why I’m so proud, and how you can do the same.

The story

Those 42 posts were meant for 3 clients and 2 blogs of my own. Regarding the work for my own blogs, I could just take it easy and not set any stone-written deadlines (I did anyway). On the other hand, the client work is always time-sensitive and needs to be delivered on a specific day no matter what.

There are some elements that add to the difficulty of this whole thing. You can see most of them in the title of this post, but here they are again:

  • 10-day vacation. I stayed in Barcelona for 6 weeks (whole August and half of September). And even though I did keep the normal work schedule, at some point, I decided to take a 10 day vacation and enjoy Barcelona to the fullest. In that time, I did no work whatsoever.

  • 5-day business trip to Turkey. This was another obstacle. Considering that it was a business trip, this meant that I had to take care of a lot of other things apart from writing articles. So, I needed to find a different approach to get it all done somehow.

  • Food poisoning. Oh yes, here’s what reminds me of Turkey the most. As it turns out, Turkish food isn’t good for me at all. That’s about 3-4 days (kind of) out of my schedule again. I’m saying kind of because I did manage to do some work then, but not much. Actually, even less than during my business trip.

So in total, this makes 10 days completely out of the calendar. Another 5 days of half-time working (or even 1/3), and the final 4 days of quarter-time (is that a phrase?) working. In total, 19 days.

But isn’t September just 30 days? Yes, it is.

Oh, and one more thing that’s not making my life easier, I’m a non-native English writer. This means that I have to proofread the hell out of my articles, which obviously takes a lot of additional time.

Here’s how I did it.

Plan first

Everything starts with a precise plan or at least, it should start with one. At the beginning of the month, I knew exactly how much time I will spend on vacation and on the business trip, the food poisoning was the only surprise.

I also knew how many posts I should write (roughly). Now, why is that number not exact? First of all, I had much freedom regarding my own blogs. Secondly, I told one of my clients that I will write around 20-25 posts for him.

Of course, you can’t always make that happen. But if you inform your clients that you’re going to be out on vacation, most of the time, it’s no problem as long as you can deliver the work shortly afterwards (it’s simple freelance marketing 101 if you’re into freelance blogging and not only publishing for yourself).

But let’s go back to the plan itself. So how was I able to create it and even make some room for any “unfortunate” event?

The way I do my planning when it comes to writing is something I’ve developed over time. I basically use one tool – a spreadsheet (a log) of my writing efficiency – fancy name, ain’t it? Every month, I jot down the exact number of words I’ve managed to write each day. So at the end of a given month, I have the total number of words written.

After doing this for a while, I know exactly what’s the comfortable number of words for me per month (and therefore the number of articles as well). And once I have the per month value, I can easily tell the per day value.

So, when creating my plan for September, I made an educated guess about the number of days I’d be able to work and then set the maximum number of words I was capable of writing. As a result, I estimated that 40-45 is indeed a possible total number of articles.

In short, it’s pure math, nothing else. Here’s the action plan if you want to replicate this for yourself:

  1. Start a writing log and record each article/chapter/post you write. It’s best to focus on the number of words, rather than on the number of articles.

  2. Gather data for 2-3 months.

  3. Now you have your personal writing efficiency score, which lets you estimate your performance going forward.

Get the tools and the hardware

At home, I do most of my work on a standard desktop computer. I have a standing desk, and an environment I find really great for focusing my attention and maintaining my productivity.

However, working abroad requires some additional arrangements…

As for the computer, I use a standard laptop. I find working on it way easier than on an iPad, which I also took for other purposes. (iPads are still great for some situations, more on that in a minute).

When it comes to tools, I didn’t even install anything new on the laptop. Whenever I realized that I need a specific tool, I just downloaded it, so there was no extra hassle (most of the tools I use are either free or online).

The only app I made sure I had installed was SugarSync. This really is invaluable. (When I got back home, my work was already waiting for me on my desktop computer automatically.)

The most important point here is to make your work (your posts/content) available remotely. So, double check if everything you need is inside your SugarSync (or Dropbox) account. You can be in much trouble if you’ve forgotten something and don’t have a way to get it.

You probably know this already, but using Gmail is helpful here as well. Gmail allows you to hook up any other email account (even those based on external domains), so you can have everything managed in one remotely available place.

Finally, if you’re doing active marketing while being abroad, Bidsketch is a nice way of handling client proposals (wink!). The tool will help you craft those proposals and make sure that every prospective client receives an offer.

Set the habits

Everything is under control at home. But when you’re abroad, you tend to get easily distracted by all the stuff that’s going on around you.

If you want to remain focused, you have to set some habits and dedicate yourself to keeping them in mind.

For instance, the main habit I keep mentioning in many of my publications is writing first thing in the morning. There’s really no better way to start the day off than by having your work done by 11AM. With this habit alone, you’ll make massive progress no matter what emergency the rest of the day brings.

There’s a really good reason why this approach works. Our brain or our personal processing power, if you will, runs out during the day. We simply get tired quickly. So if you want to get anything important done in a given day, you must take care of it as early as possible. In a sentence, do the important stuff first.

Not surprisingly, for a blogger or a writer, the important stuff usually revolves around writing itself. Hence, write first thing in the morning and then use the rest of the day for other tasks.

The other habit is using your NET – No Extra Time. Your NET is every moment when you’re doing a specific thing, yet you can successfully do something else at the same time.

Now, the most important distinction is that NET does not equal multitasking! Multitasking is the biggest enemy of productivity!

Multitasking is where you devote yourself to doing a number of things at the same time consciously. For instance, when you’re trying to write, answer email, and listen to a podcast all at the same time.

Utilizing your NET is when you’re doing a number of things during a time that is already lost, or time when you can harness different areas of your brain to do the work.

Let me give you two examples of NET:

  • Example #1 (time already lost): You’re on an airplane or at the airport (this obviously goes for any other mean of transportation as well). You’re there anyway, so why not do some writing? This is where an iPad comes really handy.

  • Example #2 (harnessing different areas of your brain ): At the gym. You could listen to an audiobook or an interview, either as part of your research prior to writing an article or just for fun. In essence, when you’re working out, you’re not using the creative part of your brain. You’re just using the simple impulses that tell you to exercise, so there’s still room for some intellectual activity.

And again, because I really want to emphasize this, utilizing your NET is not multitasking. Don’t. Ever. Multitask. Human beings are not meant to multitask.

Noticing your NET throughout the day, on the other hand, and using it to your benefit will allow you to get significantly more things done. I estimate that around 1/3 of my work in September was done during my NET.

Use a project management system

A system sounds like a big deal, but I actually don’t have any better way to call it.

Of course, in some cases, especially if you’re doing a lot of work collaborating with other people, and have to take care of a number of clients, getting an account at Teambox or Basecamp might be a good idea. But just to manage your own work, you don’t need much.

What I use for my own project management is Google Drive (formally Google Docs) and Remember The Milk. I find these tools easy to use, not to mention that they have all the functionalities I require. For a blogger, there’s not much you need… just a way of recording every post you write, task management, keeping up with the deadlines and with the people you’re sending those posts to (e.g. guest posts, posts for your clients).

For some of you, this sounds really basic, but you’d be amazed at how many people manage their work through an email account/software (meaning, tagging certain emails, and then going back to them at random occasions).

The main lesson here is that any system is still better than no system at all. You should at least sign up to Google Drive (available through your standard Google account).

Create the mindset of a winner

This sounds corny, but please bear with me here. When you have difficulty meeting a deadline or some other emergency strikes (like the food poisoning) then the only thing that can save you is your mindset.

And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m any better than you. A mindset is not something we’re born with. It’s something we can learn with time.

For me, the things that work best is imagining the goals that are in front of me and the things I’m set out to achieve. In comparison to all this, a puny food poisoning is simply not enough to shoot me down.

Also, by having your goal in mind, you can get the job done even if you’re not at your full abilities for 19 days in a month.

So this is how I did it. I’m positive that you can achieve similar results, or be even better, especially if you’re a native English writer.

Just to summarize the advice here in 5 simple steps:

  1. Plan first.

  2. Get the tools and software in place.

  3. Set the habits.

  4. Use a project management system.

  5. Create the mindset!

What’s your take on this? What’s your secret of remaining productive even if you know that you won’t be available for a number of days? I’m really curious to get your input on this one.

Karol K. is founder of newInternetOrder.com and a team member at Bidsketch (proposal software). Whenever he’s not working, he likes to spend time training Capoeira and enjoying life.

Want to Market Better? Think Like a Consumer

Image via Newton Free Library on Flickr

Image via Newton Free Library on Flickr

This is a guest contribution from Moazzam Kamran.

Consumer centricity is a hot topic in marketing circles. Organizations across the globe are trying to “get in touch” with the consumer through multiple methodologies. We employ consumer audits, focus groups, in-house visits, in-depth interviews, and various other techniques to try and understand the consumer’s mind. But in doing all of that, we as organizations are dehumanizing ourselves. We focus so much on getting to know the customer that we slowly and surely distance ourselves away from him.

So where does this all come from? 

The problem actually lies with people being risk-averse. Why I say people and not marketers or organizations is again to humanize the problem. The issue is the word “failure”: we as humans have been taught that failure is the ultimate sin. This indoctrination has led to us becoming risk averse as individuals, which is very unhealthy. Think of any great mind – be it Edison, Ford, Jobs – they all embraced their failures and learned from them.

But how does failure relate to the consumer?

It is simple: when you are fearful of failure, you tend to anticipate it as well. Like a person drowning, we will grab at sticks. We will surround ourselves with insight now for the sake of knowledge but as a fall back option, blame it all on bad consumer insight. Soon research becomes a monotonous ritual that we do just for the sake of paperwork, our own belief for the product is replaced by an overwhelming urge to stick to routine and do as we are told.

How do we fix it?

Over the years, I have worked with phenomenal people on exceptional brands. My CEOs were insatiable people who exhibited a thirst for knowledge and always wanted to learn. That kept me on my toes. I would pore though books, articles, case studies, regardless of FMCG, appliances or technology background, it was all exposure for me. That gave me enough insight to understand that when you do the same thing over and over again you get stuck in a rut, and that’s the worst place to be for a brand.

Another thing I learned is to not be a slave to focus groups. Letting the customer guide your every move is a fool’s strategy. As Steve Jobs said: “customers don’t know what they want until we have shown them”.  

Consumer empathy = insight + intuition 

Consumer research does work but what is missing is realizing that there is an equation. Replacing consumer centricity with consumer empathy does not mean that you are removing the consumer from the mix; it means you are going one step deeper. Your consumer centricity is your consumer insight now.

By all means any organization or marketer should have access to their consumer on formal forums; but he or she should also be able to engage them through informal forums as well.

When was the last time any of us actually talked to the consumer, not via a requirement or a guided interview, but just genuinely talked to them? You will be surprised by how willing they are to talk, how in-depth they would like to go. The digital age has made this even easier; we now have multiple consumer and technology blogs where people discuss our brands on a daily basis. It is these online forums where you can really connect with the consumer share your thoughts with them and ask them truly; if they liked the recent Coke commercial, if they liked the new Dairy Milk and if the new Samsung appealed to them.

Now comes consumer intuition

As marketers we also have to realize that there are certain areas where our belief in the product allows us to take decisions regarding its outcome. As marketers, we need to communicate our brand intuition clearly. We need to balance the equation, build products that we would love to sell to our consumers.

Organizations also need to learn to tolerate failure, build a culture of experimentation. Nourish their people by providing them opportunities to learn from the consumer.

Consumer centricity isn’t dead

I read somewhere that consumer centricity is dead. That is not true; consumer centricity is still there and an active part of the marketing and organizational process. Its importance cannot be denied.

Once we get rid of this constant fear of failure we move towards greater consumer centricity; we also realize that our own opinions are important. They matter because they come from our intuition which is a combination of our years spent with the consumer and our love for our brand.

So to all those people who are part of the marketing process; let’s build dreams, bring people new and innovative products and technologies, shape lives. Honestly it’s all we ever talk about.

Moazzam Kamran is a brand professional with a leading ISP and Cloud service provider, and a ‘Marchitect (Marketing Architect)’ who has provided consultation to local and international brands on brand building & development. You can get in touch with him on Google+ or  LinkedIn.

Kick-Start Your Blog With These Engaging Content Suggestions

This is a guest contribution from Jonathan Long of Market Domination Media.

Image via Flickr user mkhmarketing

Image via Flickr user mkhmarketing

There is not a specific content strategy that is set in stone for bloggers to follow. Every single blog has a specific target audience, requiring content that engages that blog’s particular audience. What works well for “Blog A” might not work as effectively for “Blog B,” requiring each blog owner to test different content approaches to determine what performs the best for his or her particular blog.

Here are some content suggestions that can be used to help spark some interest in your blog:

1. Free Giveaway

Want to build a loyal blog following quickly? Give something away for free! People love free giveaways, but don’t think that you will need to break the bank to attract attention to your giveaway.

Think of something that your target blog reader will see a value in, and this doesn’t mean monetary value. Sure, it could be a physical product such as a t-shirt or prize, but it can also be an eBook packed full of information that they will want to get their hands on.

Use your giveaway to gain an action such as an opt-in to your email list, a Facebook like, a follow on Twitter, or any other action that you deem to be beneficial for your blog’s growth (ensure it is done legally, however – you will find different states and countries require different specifications). You can create one-time giveaways or even weekly giveaways in order to gain traction.

When done successfully, it will snowball the blog’s growth. The first giveaway can be used to increase the blog’s social media following and subscriber list, making the audience for the second giveaway much larger. Now repeat this over and over and watch the growth occur.

Share Knowledge

Blogs are a great way to develop a special connection with your readers, and you will build up a loyal following if the audience feels that the information being shared with them is genuine. Use your knowledge and share it with your audience.

This applies to business blogs run by large corporations all the way to personal blogs started about a topic of interest. For example, if a super fan of the New York Yankees starts a baseball blog about the team then they should share as much knowledge about the team as possible. The readership and engagement will increase as the blogger presents knowledgeable information to the readers.

Avoid sounding like you are trying to sell them something. Your blog isn’t the place to pitch products or services. If the blog is an extension of a big brand, then post useful information. If the reader finds it valuable, they will naturally want to do business with the brand after making that connection.

Answer Common Questions Publicly

While this applies many to blogs run by a brand, this same approach can be used by virtually any blog out there. Keep track of customer service inquiries and develop a list of commonly-asked questions. Once it is determined that a particular question is asked frequently (like this one Darren spoke about recently), then address it via your blog.

There is a good chance that a large percentage of the audience has the very same questions but hasn’t taken the time to contact the blog with their question. You can even group these into your FAQ section and continue to add to it over time.

If you see an increase in a specific question due to a current event or something that is time-sensitive, then take a moment to address it on the blog. If you answer your readers’ questions before they have to ask, it makes your blog appear to be a great source of information in the eyes of the reader.

Data & Case Studies (Visual)

Many of us are visual learners by nature, hence why infographics have become such a popular and successful form of content marketing. If you have data that you feel your blog audience will enjoy and find useful, present in a visual manner and make sure you encourage them to share it.

The same applies to case studies; if you have interesting information, then share it. Virtually every blog out there, regardless of the topic, can gather some interesting data for their readers. Taking the same baseball blog we used as an example above, that blog could post interesting statistics about upcoming opponents, previous games, or stats in specific categories. Presenting them visually will attract more interest and result in more social sharing love.

“How-To” Posts

You will find “How-To” posts on almost every blog out there, and for a good reason: they are very well received. These types of informative posts are a great way to spark conversation and they do not necessarily have to be straight-up text posts. You can create “How To” posts using infographics, video, images, or even slide shows (or even a combination of these).

It all comes down to providing useful content that creates an action from the reader, whether that is a comment, a social share, a follow or like, or even an email list opt-in. Over time you will understand what types of content your audience responds to the best and can create informative “How-To” posts based around your most popular blog topics.

Are you currently utilizing a content engagement strategy that is producing amazing results for your blog? Feel free to share what is working for you in the comments below.

Jonathan Long is the President/CEO of Market Domination Media, a web design and online marketing firm that specializes in creative outside the box marketing with a focus on ROI.

How To: Customize HTML of New Getty Images for Your WordPress Blog

This is a guest contribution from Bhagwad Park of hostoople.com.

As we discussed last week, Getty Images recently opened up millions of its images for free usage. Coming from a professional stock photo website, this is a phenomenal step and one that will be greatly appreciated by thousands of bloggers all over the world. Most of us have been in the position where we have found a really appropriate picture to use only to find that it is copyrighted and requires a license fee to display. Now we can have access to the best photographs on a dazzling variety of subjects for free. By default, Getty Images provides you with a stock I-frame that displays the image as well as the credits link. What we want is to find a way to properly incorporate it into our WordPress post so that it fits in nicely with our theme and aligns properly.

Getting the Embed Code

The first step is to find an image that is embeddable. Getty Images hasn’t opened all of its pictures to the public – just a large fraction of them. So for example if I have initiated a search using the term “blogging”, I will get a number of results and I need to figure out which once I can use. To do this, hover your mouse over each of the icons and you will get a pop-up. The ones we’re looking for have an “embed” button along the bottom of the picture to the right of all the other icons as shown in the screenshot below.

embeddable

Clicking this icon will bring up the code to display it on your website. It takes the form of an I-frame that you need to insert into the HTML of your document. It comes with a default height and width and you will probably need to change to adjust it to fit your site. Below it, is a checkbox to toggle the image preview on and off. Enabling it will show you how the picture will look.

paste code

Aligning and Resizing the Image

Let’s say we want to embed this image in the top left corner of our post. Go to your WordPress visual editor, and enter the HTML editing mode by clicking the “Text” tab on the right-hand side. This will allow you to edit the raw HTML in your content. Paste the copied i-frame code right at the very top as shown in the screenshot below. If you preview your post now, you will see that the image is the very first thing displayed with all of the text underneath it.

code and preview

But what if we want it left aligned so that our text “flows” around the image? To do this, we need to add the following code to our I-frame as an attribute:

align=”left”

Place this immediately after the I-frame tag as shown below:

align left

Now when you preview the image, it will be left aligned with your text appearing to the right of it. But what if we need to reduce the width so that it more easily fits in with the dimensions of our blog post? Let’s say we want to reduce it to 300 pixels instead of the default 515. To do this, simply change the “width” attribute in the HTML to the pixel size you require. In our case, we change it to:

width=”300″

This reduces the width but leaves the height intact which is a problem. As shown in the screenshot below, reducing the width without changing the related height attribute will leave a lot of whitespace below the image.

whitespace problem

Changing the height is a matter of trial and error. The Chrome developer tools do a great job of allowing you to experiment with the right height. In my case, I found that 268 is the optimal height. So I changed the related attribute to:

height=”268″

This gives me a left aligned image with perfect dimensions on my blog. Using these simple instructions, you can have the very best pictures suited to your content for free – thank you Getty Images!

Bhagwad Park is a writer for hostoople.com, specializing in WordPress. You can follow him on Google+ here.

Five Quick Grammar Tips to Improve Your Writing – Plus Free Cheat Sheet

someecards.com - Punctuation is important. It is the difference between
This is a guest contribution from Jim Butcher of Mr and Mrs Romance.

There’s never really such a thing as a perfect blog post, is there? There’s always something else you could have done, something more you could have added. Another, better way you could have phrased a sentence.

And then there’s grammar and punctuation. I was never taught grammar at school further than ‘a verb is a doing word. A noun is a naming word, etc’. It’s no wonder native English speakers make so many simple mistakes.

Spotting these mistakes after you’ve hit ‘publish’ or – even worse – having a reader tell you about them, isn’t a nice thing. In fact it’s downright embarrassing.

The good news is these mistakes are pretty easy to avoid.

Here are my top five grammar focus points for mastering – or at least controlling – the written word!

Apostrophes.

These little things can turn a man’s hair white with fear, but they’re not that bad once you get to know them.

They have a couple of different uses: for contractions, and to show possession.

Contractions

These are the easier ones that most of us know pretty well. If you’re cutting down a word – like we are, you can just say we’re. Easy.

However, I did see this in an application letter for a job teaching English once: learn’t. This candidate was unsuccessful in their application. By the way, you can either use learned or learnt. It’s up to you – just be consistent. Choose one and stick to it.

More commonly, people get confused between you’re and your. And they’re, their and there, and things like that. Make sure you know the difference between these:

You’re = you are: You’re a wonderful person.

Your = something that belongs to someone: I want to hold your hand.

They’re = they are: They’re wonderful people.

Their = something that belongs to them: I want to meet their friends.

There = refers to a place: I dream about walking on the Moon but I don’t think I’ll ever get there.

We can also contract years with apostrophes. For the 1960s it’s always the ‘60s never the 60’s or the 60s.

The same goes for people’s ages. You don’t need an apostrophe to say someone is in his 20s.

Possessive apostrophes

These are the ones that get people confused, but once you get the hang of them, they’re actually quite satisfying to use.

Possessive apostrophes come in two types: singular and plural, but they both do the same thing; they tell the reader who or what owns the object.

Eg: This is Brian’s turkey sub. We know this turkey sub is owned by Brian. Lucky Brian.

So, the shop’s window displays – the window displays belongs to the shop.

In these instances, the apostrophe always goes before the s. That’s because there’s only one Brian and only one shop.

The confusion comes when there is more than one owner. Where does the apostrophe go?

If there are two or more shops, then the apostrophe goes after the s: the shops’ window displays.

These rules work on time periods too. I’ll still be working on my grammar in one year’s time. But I’ll be a grammar guru in two years’ time.

Notice the apostrophe moves to after the s when you’re talking about more than one year.

Sometimes the noun is automatically plural. Women for example already talks about more than one woman. The possessive apostrophe always goes before the s with this type of word. Women’s shoes, children’s books, mice’s food – they are all already plural.

The one exception is it. The only time we use an apostrophe with it is for contractions: it is or it has. It’s a bad day or it’s been a bad day. There is no plural form of it.

If we want to say this thing belongs to it, we simply write this is its thing. No apostrophe. I’ve seen this many times: its’. This makes my head ache trying to make sense of it but there’s no way this is ever possible.

My last point on misused apostrophes is with plurals of acronyms. For example, JB Hi-Fi regularly has signs advertising Cheap CD’s. This is wrong. Cheap CDs or DVDs or even CD-ROMs is what they’re looking for… unless they’re talking about a cheap CD’s case or if a cheap CD’s good.

Every day or everyday?

One of the most common mistakes I see is the confusion between every day and everyday. And I have an internal dialogue every time. It goes like this:

I read: I eat vegetables everyday. 

I mutter like a crazy person: No. No, you don’t. You eat vegetables every day. 

Everyday comes before the noun, and is used to describe something that is commonplace. These are my everyday clothes. I save my best outfits for weddings and funerals.

Every day comes after the noun, is much more common and describes how often you do something. I wear these clothes every day. Yes, I probably should expand my wardrobe.

Everyday comes before the noun you’re describing, every day comes after.

And if you’re still not sure which you should use, try replacing every with each. It’s pretty much the same meaning (though technically each is for two or more items, every is for three or more!).

If each fits just as well as every, you should use two words: every day.

Amazingly, companies have made this mistake. Big companies. Glad’s slogan on their Glad Wrap is ‘Seals in Freshness. Everyday.’ They’ve even trademarked it! The same goes with Officeworks. ‘Lowest prices everyday’ – and they’ve had huge signs with this on.

It’s an easy mistake to make, but it shouldn’t really happen.

Using that, which, and who

We use these words all the time (they’re called relative pronouns, by the way) and they’re very handy. But there are finer points that can make your writing more readable.

We know that which and that are used to talk about things – this is an apple tree, which my grandfather planted. Or, this is the apple tree that my grandfather planted.

If you are using ‘which’, it should come after a comma. You do not need a comma if you are using ‘that’.

When do you use ‘which’? – when you are including extra information. It becomes a non-restrictive clause, because you can leave it out and the sentence will still make sense (“This is an apple tree”). “Which my grandfather planted” is interesting extra information you’re adding, but not vital to the sentence.

You will also use ‘which’ when the clause is descriptive: “an apple tree”.

When do you use ‘that’? – when your piece of information is vital to the sentence. “This is the apple tree that my grandfather planted”. The fact your grandfather planted the tree is the most important part. The clause is also now defining: “the apple tree”, not just any old apple tree.

So who and that are used to talk about people – this is my brother who/that lives in Zimbabwe.

But sometimes, we only want to use these parts of a sentence as an aside – I passed my driving test first time, which was a relief. Or My other brother, who lives in a commune, is a bit strange.

Notice the comma in these last two sentences. They separate the sections that the which and the who command. Notice also that we can’t use that in these types of sentence. It’s just a grammar rule.

How do you know whether to use a comma or not? Read the sentence aloud. If you pause when you come to the which or who, you need commas.

The commas will give your sentence a rhythm that makes it that much friendlier to read.

Commas

When you’re writing directly to someone, don’t forget the commas. Compare these two sentences:

I know Mum. = I know and am aware of this person called Mum and I’m telling someone else this information.

I know, Mum. = I agree with you, my mother. I understand what you’re saying.

While we’re on commas, let’s talk about if sentences – also known as conditional sentences.

You need to separate conditional sentences with a comma if your sentence begins with if or whether or unless or when. Conditional sentences show a cause and an effect. The comma shows where these two elements are in a sentence.

If you don’t use a comma in a conditional sentence, I will release the hounds.

Unless you use a comma here, I’ll start crying.

When I see a conditional sentence without a comma, I dream of owning a nuclear warhead.

However, if you have the if, whether, unless or when words in the middle of the sentence, you don’t need a comma:

I’m so happy when I see a correct sentence like this one.

Capitalisation

In English, we use a capital letter for proper names. Like English. Surprisingly, mum can also be a proper name. This is my mum doesn’t need a capital m. How are you today, Mum? does need a capital.

This is because – in the second sentence – Mum becomes that person’s title. It’s that person’s name now. The first sentence is talking about mums in general. Notice it says my mum.

This rule also applies for things like university. If you’re just talking about studying at university, no capitals required. If you are talking about a specific uni by name, you need a capital letter.

I went to university when I was 14… I’m not a genius I just got lost.

I went to Cambridge University – dressed as Harry Potter. Security didn’t see the funny side of it. Expecto patronum!!

It’s amazing the difference in intimation a little comma can make, isn’t it?

Most of these grammar points will be picked up by Word’s grammar check – the blue squiggly lines. Pay attention to them – they’re not always exactly right, but sometimes they are.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing and want more information on it, I can’t recommend highly enough the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss. It’s quite sardonic at times but it’s a fun way to learn about punctuation and grammar.

To make it simple for you, I’ve also created a downloadable Grammar Cheat Sheet. Get yours: Grammar Cheat Sheet for ProBlogger.net.

Do you have any handy tips for getting tricky grammar points right? Are you a grammar pedant? What mistakes make you cranky?

Jim Butcher runs the lifestyle blog Mr and Mrs Romance with his wife, Christina (of Hair Romance fame). Jim is also an author, freelance journalist and copywriter, and an avid grammar enthusiast.