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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

How to Publish a Successful Book - Learning From the Experts

A little over a month ago I explained why I had decided to go to the Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors (How To Write a Successful Book - Learning From the Experts ).  For three days I listened to people talking about writing and publishing and self-promotion.  Some of the speakers were excellent, among them Rick McMunn, Armand Morin, Christine Clayfield and Simon Coulson.  A couple were not good, but out of a line-up of some 13 speakers, that's not bad going.  I particularly liked the way that each speaker approached the subject from his or her own angle, so each had something unique to offer.

Many of the speakers shared useful strategies with us, showing what had helped them to become successful.  And there were lots of little nuggets of information and advice, such as:
  • Authors never get rich (unless they're very lucky) - it's the publishers who make the money - Armand Morin
  • Money shouldn't be your sole motivation.  You need to have something valuable to share and to want to make a significant difference.  Think big, have courage, goals and audacious dreams - Marsha Wright
  • Top authors don’t rest on their laurels; they're very disciplined; they set targets and bounce back from setbacks; they have humility & are always ready to learn - Stephanie Hale
  •  Books are the fastest selling products online.  People are too busy to find all the information they need on the web - they want it packaged up and presented to them - Christine Clayfield
  •  People no longer look for specific authors - they look for specific content - Christine Clayfield
  •  It’s not about the book, it’s about the marketing.  The internet is not the marketing, its just the route - Mark Donnan
  •  We have to learn how to become rich: rich in relationships (including with ourselves), income we deserve, confidence, health & happiness - Janet Jones
  •  If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion because it will lead directly to your purpose - Janet Jones
  •  74% of the decision to buy a book is based on the cover and title.  The title is vital to online sales because the cover will tend to be seen as a thumbnail - Stephanie Hale
  •  Find out which are the markets where people are ready to spend money, then write a book or information product about it - Simon Coulson
 Of course, all of the speakers were promoting their own courses or mentoring, ranging in cost from around £1500 to around £6000.  And there were takers for each one. Before the three days were up, I had signed up for a course on self-publishing from Christine Clayfield, and the friend who went to the Bootcamp with me had signed up to work with Marie-Claire Carlyle, an author who mentors writers who want to publish with Hay House.

I think, in the long term, I may find that I'm more comfortable in the world of writing and publishing than I am in the world of internet marketing and affiliate marketing - simply because it's something I've been involved in for a long time and the learning curve is not as steep.  But I have no doubt that the internet marketing knowledge that I've gleaned over the past few years will be extremely valuable.  So, although I'm going into this publishing venture with slight trepidation, I'm also excited about it.  I'll let you know how I get on!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Is This Freebie a Step Too Far?


Over the last two or three years I have, on several occasions, heard Armand Morin speak about internet marketing.  One thing that he always stresses is the importance of giving value for money.  In fact, not just value but more than value.

Recently I attended his webcamp on residual income.  At one point he was talking about membership sites and he said that if you're charging $97 a month for membership, then that membership should have a perceived worth (by the customer) of two to three times that amount. 

And Armand practises what he preaches.  For 18 hours of teaching, the price of the residual income webcamp was only $27.  I have in the past paid far more to hear other internet 'gurus' - and have got far less from their teaching.  As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a great fan of Armand Morin!

But now I wonder if he's gone a step too far?  He's just announced that future webcamps (three days of live streaming online) are going to be free!  The only charge will be if you want to buy the recordings.  There will, of course, be some people who will want to do this - those who don't like writing notes or those who can't attend the whole event.  But, since the webcamps will be transmitted from North Carolina, they'll be available if not during daylight hours at least during waking hours to a large part of the English-speaking world.  So I imagine a lot of people will be happy to watch the live event and forgo the recordings. 

Which brings me to the question I started with - is this a step too far?   Is it clever from the marketing point of view?  Has Armand finally overstepped the line in his quest to give good value?  Well, no, I don't think so.  I think it's a win-win situation.

What Armand will get out of it is that a lot of people who have never attended his events before will sign up and thus make their way onto his mailing list.  And at some time in the future they may buy one of his courses or a piece of software.  And, of course, some people will buy the webcamp recordings.  But I also suspect that there is another advantage as far as Armand is concerned.  He loves teaching and it was mentioned at the last webcamp that he gets really excited by the numbers of people who come to listen to him and the feedback he gets from them.  It's a reminder that, if we love what we do, we can get far more from it than just an income.

What the attendees will get out of it is 18 hours of intensive, practical training from an extremely engaging and entertaining speaker who (having made millions on the internet) teaches from his own experience and freely shares his knowledge. At the next webcamp (which runs from December 6th-9th) he's going to be speaking on the subject that everyone wants to know more about - how to drive traffic to your website.  Even if it wasn't free to attend, this would be worth going to.  You can find more details here.


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Why Does Twitter Think My Account Has Been Hacked?

I got a nasty shock the other day.  I logged into Hootsuite and, instead of the normal streams of tweets and messages, I saw a pink message saying "The supplied Twitter network credentials are not valid. If you have changed your Twitter password recently, you may need to update it in HootSuite."  What was really worrying was that it appeared on three of my four accounts.

Last time I saw a pink message on Twitter it was because my account had been suspended, so I immediately assumed that this was what had happened.  I clicked on the 'update' link in the pink message and was taken to Twitter where I requested a password update.  I was told that an email was being sent to the gmail account I use for Twitter information.

When I logged into gmail, I found three emails from Twitter, sent the previous day, each relating to one of my accounts and saying "Twitter believes that your account may have been compromised by a website or service not associated with Twitter. We've reset your password to prevent others from accessing your account. You'll need to create a new password for your Twitter account"

OK, panic over.  I hadn't done anything wrong.  I reset the passwords for the three accounts, making sure that I used lower and upper case letters, plus numbers and permitted symbols.  Twitter told me that all three passwords were very strong.

And that should have been that.  But it wasn't.  The original notifications (and resetting) had happened on October 8th.  On the 9th, one of the passwords was reset again.  A second was reset again on the 11th.  And the third was reset again on the 12th. 

According to Twitter's help page, signs of an account having been hacked are:
  • unexpected Tweets by your account
  • unintended direct messages (DMs) sent from your account
  • other account behaviors you didn't make or approve (like following, unfollowing, or blocking)
  • Receiving a notification from us stating that "You recently changed the email address associated with your Twitter account." (even though you haven't changed your email address)
None of these had happened on any of these accounts.  So what on earth was going on?  I tried to find some information on  the help pages, but when I entered "account reset", I got nothing relevant.  So yesterday I sent this tweet: "@Support You keep resetting my password but I'm using very strong passwords & there's no sign of my account being hacked. What's going on?"

As yet, I've not had a reply.  I'm hoping that's because they're investigating it and that I will receive an answer in due course.  Have you had something like this happen to your Twitter account?  And were you able to resolve it?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

How To Write a Successful Book - Learning From the Experts

Over the years, I've met an awful lot of people who have had thoughts about writing a book.  For most of them, it's just an idea rather than something they will ever do.  And this is sad in one respect because it's possible that one or two of them would produce something that's really worth reading.

On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a book published, particularly novels.  Mainstream publishers want novels that will fit into their genres, so anything that's a bit unusual and doesn't fit neatly is likely to be rejected, no matter how well written.  And, even if you're lucky enough to find a publisher, the chances are that a failure to promote the book once it's in print will result in very low sales.

I read yesterday that the average book sells under 250 copies per year, and less than 3000 over its lifetime.  That's certainly what happened to two of my books, which were published by Penguin.  Despite glowing reviews, the book was neither well distributed nor promoted.  I live on the outskirts of a town with a population of a quarter of a million people.  At the time my second book was published there were four or five large bookshops in the town.  I went round all of them - and found two copies in one shop and none in any of the others.  When it came to the third book, there wasn't a single copy in any of the shops.  Friends living in other parts of the country, who had read reviews and had tried to get a copy of the book, had also been unable to find it.  Looking at the list of all the books that Penguin published that month, I found that it was huge, which might have explained it.  But I was never able to figure out why a publisher would invest in a book and then fail to promote it.

With Is Acupuncture Right For You?  (originally entitled Acupuncture for Everyone), I was more fortunate.  Published first by Penguin, it sold very few copies (for the same reason as the other two) but it was then taken up by an American publisher and in the last 13 years has sold over 13,000 copies.  However, in case you're thinking that's made me rich, think again.  The standard royalty on a copy is six per cent on the selling price.  My literary agent then takes her commission.  My total income from the book, over thirteen years, is about £5000.

Fed up with the whole thing, I published my most recent book Say Goodbye to Sleepless Nights as a Kindle.  It's sold a few hundred copies but at least I get to keep most of the proceeds.  But how do some people manage to write books that become best-sellers?  I read quite a few novels and, to be honest, some of them are really badly written and have fairly awful plots (but I have fun writing criticisms in the margins!).  Certainly, a good percentage of these fall into popular genres (such as Da Vinci Code clones) but, even taken with a large dollop of good luck, that can't be the whole story.

Overall, I was becoming pretty disillusioned with the world of publishing and, although I've got a number of ideas for new books, had got to the stage of thinking that it really wasn't worth investing the time necessary to write them.  Until yesterday.  That was when someone told me about the Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors.

Organised by Stephanie Hale - former Assistant Director of creative writing at Oxford University, former adviser to The Arts Council of England, and founder of Oxford Literary Consultancy - she's been through the writing mill herself.  After publishing two books that earned her peanuts, her third sold out within eight weeks and earned her over £1 million.  And now she's passionate about helping other writers.  Because, as she says, "I can't bear to see the waste of talent and effort."

Over the course of three days, twelve best-selling authors are going to be talking about what has helped them to be successful, sharing tips and techniques and 'know-how' - stuff that 97% of authors don't know about.  I read the details of the bootcamp with increasing enthusiasm and, when I got to the bottom was astounded to discover that, for a limited time, the ticket price has been reduced from £297 to just £37.  No wonder they're expecting to sell out quickly.

If you're in the UK and you're thinking of writing a book - or you've written one that you can't get published - I strongly recommend that you have a look at what this three day course is offering.  I've booked my ticket already!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Importance of Good Customer Service


There's been a lot written about customer service recently (and, in particular, about those companies that have dealt badly with customers via Twitter).  And this led me to think about my own experience of customer service in the past two weeks, with two separate companies.

 The first is a clothes manufacturer - Viyella.  I have been wearing Viyella clothes since my early twenties.  I have bought numerous skirts, blouses, suits and jumpers with the Viyella label and I've loved them all - until recently when I bought a skirt from their website.  Now, my experience of Viyella has always been that the clothes fit well, look good and are hard-wearing.  Not so this new one! 

I discovered that not only did the skirt crease very easily but it was well-nigh impossible to get those creases out on the iron setting suggested.  What's more, the skirt marked at the slightest thing.  With other skirts, a splash of something or other can usually be wiped off or sponged out easily.  This skirt had to be put in the washing machine.  On one occasion I hand washed it and, since there was a mark on it, I gave it a gentle rub.  Once it was dry, I was horrified to see that the section I'd rubbed had lost some of its surface and looked different from the surrounding area.

I emailed the Viyella helpdesk, saying how disappointed I was with the skirt.  The reply was somewhat perfunctory and said "I am sorry to hear of your disappointment with your Tencel Skirt.  Thank you for notifying us of this issue.  I would recommend taking the Skirt into your local Viyella Store along with any purchase information you can supply so they can advise you further."  (Tencel is the name of the fabric, but what 'skirt' had done to merit a capital letter I have no idea!)

I was less than pleased with this.  The reason I buy online is because I don't have a local Viyella store.  I therefore had to make a special journey to the nearest store, which is some twenty miles away.  I was interested, however, in what sort of 'advice' they might give me.  Throw it in the bin, perhaps?

The manager of the store looked at the skirt and listened to my complaint.  Well, she said, Tencel does crease - it's similar to viscose.  Now, viscose is a favourite fabric of mine and, yes, it does crease - but it's also very easy to get those creases out with light ironing.  So I wasn't impressed by that.  Then she told me that the skirt could be sent off for examination but that would take about a month after which I might receive a refund - or I might just be told that I'd washed it on the wrong setting (which I hadn't) or done something else wrong.  The alternative was to take the value of the skirt in gift tokens which I could spend on something else.  This seemed to be the lesser of two evils and I agreed to it.  

So I now have Viyella gift tokens which I discovered later I can't spend online, meaning that I have to wait until I'm in the vicinity of a Viyella store with the time to browse.  And I'm left feeling rather jaded.  Because I've bought Viyella for so many years, it will not stop me buying Viyella in the future, but I think I'll be rather more careful and perhaps will not buy as much.  If I'd been a new customer, I think this experience would have put me off buying Viyella entirely.

Compare this experience with what happened when I returned an Avon product.  I buy Avon from time to time from a local representative and, some months ago, had bought some skin cream which, I discovered, made my eyes sting when I used it.  I mentioned this to the Avon rep and, immediately, she arranged to send it back and get me a refund.  It didn't matter that I'd had it for a couple of months and there was no suggestion that I might not be using it 'properly'.  Avon wanted me to be happy . . . and I was.  This month I've ordered quite a lot from the catalogue, secure in the knowledge that if anything's not right, I can return it.

So, from clothes and makeup to internet marketing.  Whatever product we're selling, I believe it's vital to ensure that the customer is happy.  Because a happy customer will return and buy again.  And that's why I like the 'no quibble guarantee' that a lot of people offer.  It results in my buying (and keeping) a lot more than I might otherwise do.  I never buy anything without a guarantee, following an experience a couple of years ago when I spent £60 on an ebook that purported to contain a successful marketing system that 'you have never come across before'.  It turned out to be no such thing and was simply an introduction to joint ventures.  I emailed to complain and ask for a refund but didn't even receive a reply.

Of course, there will always be people who will buy our products, read them or watch them, and then ask for a refund.  Some of them will be genuine - the product truly doesn't meet their needs - and some won't.  But if we offer a no-quibble guarantee, the chances are that the first group will buy from us again - and no one will be left with a feeling of dissatisfaction.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

How to Get More People to Read Your Emails


I don't know about you, but I have an aversion to books with small print.  I read a lot - and I buy a lot of books.  But, not infrequently, I'll open a book to have a look through and put it back on the shelf because its format is so unappealing.

The same, it seems, is true of emails.  People who read their emails on mobile devices like the type to be clear and readable.  They don't want to have to be scrolling all over the place to get an idea of what the email is about.  If the email looks as though it's going to be hard to read, 70% of recipients will click 'delete'.

So, in the same way that I must have missed out on reading some very interesting books because they were printed in such dense type, there are many people who may be missing out on interesting emails because of the format in which they've been sent. 

 Nowadays our emails not only have to read well, in terms of content, but they have to look good too.  And, with over half the adult population using smartphones - and well over 80% of these using  their smartphones to read and send emails - it's essential that our emails show up well on all mobile devices.  Responsive website design has been around for a while.  Now it's the turn of responsive email design to be in the limelight.

There is some confusion, however, between the terms 'responsive' and 'mobile ready'.  From the names, one would suppose that they were one and the same thing.  But they're not.  If you have constructed an email which looks like this:


 
'mobile ready' will simply deliver the identical format - but smaller to fit the screen size.  This, of course, may mean that the typeface is now too small to read without a magnifying glass, so the recipient is likely to click 'delete' straight away.

A responsive design, however, will change the format to:


Now the typeface remains clear and all the recipient has to do to read the entire email is to scroll down.

A few days ago, the autoresponder service GetResponse announced that all the emails sent via its service will, from now on, be in responsive format.  Apparently it's the first service to offer this, although I daresay that the others (such as Aweber) will not be far behind.

I've been using GetResponse for a couple of years and, although it has a few quirks that annoy me, on the whole it has proved to be very satisfactory.  I chose it in the first place because, of the well known autoresponder services, it was the cheapest.  It took a little time to fathom out how to use all its bells and whistles but, having done so, I'm pleased with the design of my weekly newsletter and of all the emails I send to my list.  In addition, it provides some useful and insightful analytics on all the emails I send.  I know, for example, that the great majority of the people who open my newsletter do so on a pc.  It's possible that GetResponse's new format will mean that people who have been receiving it on mobile devices will find it easier to read so that the overall number of people reading my newsletter - and my emails - will increase.

Friday, 30 August 2013

How to Increase Your Productivity

Reading a blog post the other day, I found a link to a site called RescueTime which advertises itself as "A personal-analytics service that shows you how you spend your time & provides tools to help you be more productive".  Now, I spend a LOT of time at the computer and, yes, for a large proportion of that time, I'm working. But I also catch up on TV and radio programmes online and . . . (confession coming up) . . . I play solitaire and Mahjong.

And I have to admit that, from time to time, I worry about how much time I spend playing games.  I'll only play for ten minutes or so at a time . . . but it can mount up over a day.  So I signed up for  RescueTime, intending to give myself a short sharp shock that will (perhaps) stop me playing games . . . or, at least, stop me from playing games quite as much.

But, actually, it wasn't as bad as I thought.  Overall I spend something over four hours a week on games but, considering that most of that is in coffee breaks or after I've finished work, I'm not displeased.  And I'm a lot more productive than I thought!

Like most of us, I suppose, I can get distracted by an interesting (but irrelevant) website, when I should be working.  And RescueTime shows you exactly how you divide your time between productive and distracting activities.  To begin with, however, I didn't think this would be useful because the charts were showing all the time I spent working (on social media) as 'very distracting'.  However, I then found the link which enabled me to grade all the sites I visit and activities I engage in, so now Twitter and Facebook and writing my blog all appear as 'very productive'.

I do wonder, though, how the default was set up.  During this week, I visited some 20 internet marketing blogs.  RescueTime graded five of them as 'very productive', ten as 'neutral' and the remaining five as 'very distracting'.  Admittedly, this is balanced but I'm intrigued to know what it is that separated the supposed 'very productive' from the 'very distracting'.  Now I've regraded them, they're all showing as 'very productive'.

I was amused, however, to find that a certain fashion site, where I'd spent twenty minutes or so browsing through the end of season sale, was graded on the default as 'very productive'.  I was tempted not to change it!

All the results on RescueTime are charted out very clearly


and are then broken down into lists so that you can see exactly how much time you've spent doing what, and on which days.

For me, RescueTime offers the great benefits of reassuring me when I'm working well (currently it tells me that I'm more productive than 61% of people) and of alerting me if I start to be less efficient.  Although, in the back of my mind, I can't help wondering whether it could, in itself, become a distraction because the charts and the details are so good!  However, it does record how much time you spend on its own site (which, naturally, the default shows as 'very productive'), so time will tell!

I should add that the link I've given for the site at the head of this post is an affiliate link, because I believe it's a good site and worth promoting.  There's a free version, but the pro version (at $6 a month) offers a lot more data.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Content Curation - or Cloning? What Price Originality?

Content curation is all the rage.  Just recently the process was described by Carrie Morgan in an article on Business2Community.com:

You provide value by identifying a specific target audience, filtering through relevant online content, then sharing only what you find most interesting, trendy or applicable to that audience. Nothing else, just what you feel is most meaningful to that particular audience, then adding in your own expertise and opinions as you share what you’ve curated.
Read more at http://www.business2community.com/social-media/understanding-content-curation-how-it-applies-to-social-media-0575832#0KD3K43cC8wrd43H.99
"You provide value by identifying a specific target audience, filtering through relevant online content, then sharing only what you find most interesting, trendy or applicable to that audience . . . then adding in your own expertise and opinions as you share what you’ve curated."

And, put like that, it does seem to have a purpose and a value.  And, certainly, I use my weekly newsletter to tell people on my list about the best articles on aspects of internet marketing that I've come across in the previous week.

But, in trawling through numerous blogs to find those articles, I am all too frequently coming across what I can only describe as clones.  Someone will bring out an infographic - and suddenly there are six or eight articles by different authors, using the infographic as the core, with an added paragraph or two of comment.

Or there will be a sudden glut of articles on one subject.  This may occur when there has been a recent change that affects internet marketing - for example, the recent introduction of 'tabs' by gmail.  A lot of people have been writing about whether it will affect email marketing (some say yes, others say no) and, if it does, what marketers can do about it.  And a few days ago, after changes to the Facebook news feed were announced, one multi-contributor blog carried four articles on the subject, by different authors, in quick succession.  Sometimes, though, a clutch of articles seems unrelated to any changes and, here, I suspect that one good article has led to a load of copycats.

When I left school, and before I went to medical school, I trained as a journalist.  This was in the pre-internet era when news was provided in large part by newspapers.  And the thing that every journalist wanted was a scoop.  Because if you were writing about something completely different from your competitors, you were likely to sell more copies.  But if your stories were just a variation on those of everyone else, then readers had no incentive to buy one paper rather than another.

And, of course, newspapers (unlike blogs and the internet itself) have finite space.  They can't afford to fill that space up with run of the mill articles.  As a journalist, you can't keep writing about the same thing or copying the rest.  You've got to be original.  And originality is something we seem to be seeing less and less of online.  Unfortunately, this is inevitable if we follow the frequently-given advice that we should blog every day in order to keep our audience.

As you will have realised, I don't blog every day.  I write only when there's something I want to write about and something that I think may interest you, my reader.  I don't want to be a bore!

So, to anyone who is thinking of starting a blog, I would say:

  • write only about those things that interest you
  • write only about those things that will interest the audience that you are aiming for
  • don't worry if your opinions differ from those of other people writing online - your opinions are what people will come to your blog for
  • keep up to date with what is going on in your niche but don't write about a subject just because everyone else seems to be writing about it
  • be original - express your own thoughts, not thoughts regurgitated from other people
  • and don't try to write every day if you haven't any original thoughts to write about.  Of  course, you don't want to leave it too long between posts but I believe that you are far less likely to lose readers because you only post once a week or once a fortnight than because you're constantly writing about the same thing as everyone else.
You provide value by identifying a specific target audience, filtering through relevant online content, then sharing only what you find most interesting, trendy or applicable to that audience. Nothing else, just what you feel is most meaningful to that particular audience, then adding in your own expertise and opinions as you share what you’ve curated.
Read more at http://www.business2community.com/social-media/understanding-content-curation-how-it-applies-to-social-media-0575832#0KD3K43cC8wrd43H.99
You provide value by identifying a specific target audience, filtering through relevant online content, then sharing only what you find most interesting, trendy or applicable to that audience. Nothing else, just what you feel is most meaningful to that particular audience, then adding in your own expertise and opinions as you share what you’ve curated.
Read more at http://www.business2community.com/social-media/understanding-content-curation-how-it-applies-to-social-media-0575832#0KD3K43cC8wrd43H.99
You provide value by identifying a specific target audience, filtering through relevant online content, then sharing only what you find most interesting, trendy or applicable to that audience. Nothing else, just what you feel is most meaningful to that particular audience, then adding in your own expertise and opinions as you share what you’ve curated.
Read more at http://www.business2community.com/social-media/understanding-content-curation-how-it-applies-to-social-media-0575832#0KD3K43cC8wrd43H.99
You provide value by identifying a specific target audience, filtering through relevant online content, then sharing only what you find most interesting, trendy or applicable to that audience. Nothing else, just what you feel is most meaningful to that particular audience, then adding in your own expertise and opinions as you share what you’ve curated.
Read more at http://www.business2community.com/social-media/understanding-content-curation-how-it-applies-to-social-media-0575832#0KD3K43cC8wrd43H.99
You provide value by identifying a specific target audience, filtering through relevant online content, then sharing only what you find most interesting, trendy or applicable to that audience. Nothing else, just what you feel is most meaningful to that particular audience, then adding in your own expertise and opinions as you share what you’ve curated.
Read more at http://www.business2community.com/social-media/understanding-content-curation-how-it-applies-to-social-media-0575832#0KD3K43cC8wrd43H.99

Friday, 19 July 2013

8 Great WordPress Plugins - part II


In my last post I talked about the WordPress plugins that I had found essential to have on my new website.  Now I want to tell you about the other four.

5.  Blogger Importer
Once I've got my website up and running, it's going to make sense to transfer my blog there, too.  In one way, I'll be sad - I've been on Blogger for a long time and it's always suited me - but, on the other hand, it does make sense to have website and blog integrated.  I had thought that I would have to start the blog afresh but then I found this great plugin which enabled me, very easily to import all the posts from this blog, complete with comments. 

There were only a couple of problems that I found, and those were minor ones.  The 'labels' on Blogger were interpreted as 'categories' on WordPress and I had to demote them to 'tags'.  And all my draft posts were imported as though published and I had to change them back to drafts.  But other than that, transition was very easy.

I'm going to continue posting here until I'm really ready to go on the website, and then I'll let you know - and hope that you'll be kind enough to join me there.

6.  Column Shortcodes
The theme that I'm using does, I believe, have a template that offers columns - but no instructions as to how to find it or use it.  I was getting rather frustrated because I wanted columns - and then I found this great plugin.  It installs a button on your screen which, when clicked, offers you a choice of column widths.  It will only give you two columns but you can either divide the page in half, or into one third plus two thirds, one quarter plus three quarters and so on up to sixths.  And the narrower column can be on either the left or the right.

The joy of this plugin is that it's so simple - and I suspect that anyone with a little knowledge of coding could adapt it to do even more than it already does.  The 18 people who have reviewed it on the WordPress site have scored it a solid five out of five.

7.  Fonts
Having sorted out the columns, I then turned my attention to my text.  Try as I might, I could not get the size of font that I wanted.  Here again, the theme offered different font options but I could find no way of overriding the default setting when I wanted to.  And once more I was fortunate enough to find a really simple plugin which does exactly what I want it to.

Fonts installs a drop down menu from which you can choose the font style and the font size you want.  Easy.  I can't help wondering why something of that sort is not basic to every WordPress theme.  We've all been using MSWord and WordPress for so long that surely we now expect to be able to choose our fonts at the click of a button.  And, I would have thought, this was even more important when creating a web page than when writing a letter.

8. Standout Color Boxes and Buttons
I had a picture in my head of how I wanted to display some of my text but was having great difficulty working out how to do it.  I'm going to have several pages on the site which will be reviewing or recommending books, courses and the like.   And I wanted to be able to delineate each one clearly from the next.  Standout Color Boxes has solved my problem - and is rather fun, besides.  You can show your text in a box with either round or square corners, with a choice of several colours for the background.  It makes the page look attractive as well as producing the effect - well, almost the effect - that I was looking for.  Since I could find nothing else that did anything remotely like this, 'almost' getting the effect is pretty good.

It took me a while to find all these plugins (not least because it took me some time to realise that a plugin would probably solve my problem).  But the time spent browsing, downloading and testing (and I did reject quite a few) was, I feel well spent.  For a WordPress novice like me, plugins are proving to be worth their weight in gold.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

8 Great WordPress Plugins


For the past few weeks I've been battling with my new website.  I'm new to WordPress and it's been a steep learning curve.  I have always used SiteSpinner to create websites in the past, but these were relatively simple affairs.  Persuaded that WordPress might be quicker and more versatile and, above all, might look more professional, I decided to give it a try.

I started off with a basic free theme and set up a website for my counselling practice.  Helped by an ebook - The WP Starter Guide - it took me a couple of days and I was really proud of the results.  So then I decided to set up a new website for my company, Sphinx House. 

Now one of the things that everyone seems to be emphasising these days is the importance of having a responsive theme.  In other words, it needs to have been formulated so that it looks good no matter how you're viewing the site - PC, mobile, tablet, whatever.  At first, I thought this meant having to pay for a theme but then discovered that there are loads of free responsive themes on the WordPress site.  (Something else that I'd picked up was that it's unwise to use free themes unless they're from WordPress or a well-established theme provider because as Alex Moss recently pointed out on Search Engine Watch "the code could contain anything, and could be harmful to your site both in terms of performance and security.")

After quite a lot of research and trial and error, I opted for the Suffusion theme which seemed to be very versatile.  Well . . . it may be, but at my level of knowledge, I'm finding it hard to implement a lot of the features which, apparently, are incorporated in the theme.  And I've found myself getting frustrated by not being able to achieve the effect that I want - either because it's not there or I can't work it out.  But - hallelujah - I've discovered that, if I look hard enough,  I can usually find a plugin to do what I want.  So I thought I'd share with you my top eight plugins.  And I'll start with four which, actually, have nothing to do with design but which seemed essential.

1.  Google Sitemap Plugin
Google states that "creating and submitting a Sitemap helps make sure that Google knows about all the pages on your site, including URLs that may not be discoverable by Google's normal crawling process".  So it makes sense to have one.  And the plugin makes it easy to construct.  This particular plugin has been downloaded over 200,000 times and has an approval rating of 4.5 out of 5 from those people who have reviewed it.

2.  404 to Start Plugin
I don't know about you, but I'm not too keen on 404 pages that just tell you 'page not found'.  Far nicer are those that offer a little apology or make a suggestion as to how you might find the page you're looking for.  This plugin allows you to divert all 404 errors to a page you have created specially.  It's been downloaded nearly 60,000 times and has an approval rating of 4 out of 5.

3.  Cookie Warning Plugin
 This is absolutely essential if you live in the EU and want to keep track of your site statistics.  Since May 2012 it's been illegal (if you're in the EU) to collect statistics on your website by using cookies - unless you get the site visitor's consent first.  Now, way back in April of last year, I wrote about how I preferred StatCounter to Google Analytics, on the grounds that it was much more accurate.  (Incidentally, it was only last week that I came across a post on Social Media Today which was looking at the inaccuracy of Google Analytics.)  But, whichever analytics system you use, if you're in the EU, you've got to ask permission.  When the Cookie Directive first came out, I wrote about this and mentioned that someone had brought out an 'EU Cookie Directive Plugin'.  However, the one I have chosen to use on my new site (the Cookie Warning Plugin) is a lot more popular (22,000 downloads) and has an approval rating of 4.9 out of 5.

4.  UpdraftPlus Backup Plugin
I'd only being working on my website a short time when a message appeared to say that a new version of WordPress was available to download.  Having read that it's important for site security to have the latest version, I clicked the button and was reminded to back everything up before upgrading.  How was I to do that?  I found instructions and was delighted to read that I could do it via a plugin.  There was one that sounded good but (as I always do) I read the reviews before downloading.  All the reviewers liked the plugin but (fortunately) one commented on the fact that this was just a backup and not a backup and restore facility.  So I looked further and discovered Updraft.  This excellent plugin not only backs up the site very quickly but, if necessary, will also restore it to its previous state.  With 175,000 downloads and an approval rating of 4.8 out of 5, I suspect that it's the best backup plugin around.

To be continued . . .


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Advice From the Buddha On Setting Up a Business

At first glance, the title of this post may seem a bit bizarre.  After all, what can an Indian ascetic, who died 2500 years ago, tell us about business?  Yesterday, I would have asked that myself.

But I've been reading a book on transpersonal counselling, called "Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis".  It's a compilation of essays, one of which is by Buddhist teacher and author, Jack Kornfield.  And, in it, he describes what are known in Buddhism as the five hindrances.  The Buddha taught these in relation to meditation practice but, as I read, I realised that they apply just as well to business.

Kornfield writes: "The first is desire and wanting.  The second is its opposite, which is aversion - anger and dislike, judgement and fear . . . The next pair is sleepiness, dullness, and lethargy . . . and their opposite, which is agitation and restlessness of mind.  The fifth is doubt, the part of the mind that says, "I cannot do it. It is too hard . . . Morning is not a good time.  Maybe I should do something a little more entertaining . . ."

And I suspect that I'm not the only person who, trying to set up a business, has met all those hindrances time and time again.  We start with an idea and a desire to make something of that idea, to be successful, to make money.  We really want to get on and do it.  But, unless we're very lucky, there will be parts of the process that we don't enjoy . . . the long hours of work, perhaps, or the way it impinges on our family and social lives.  There's the anger that arises when something goes wrong - when Google bans us from adwords, or Twitter suspends our account, or we spend money on an advertising campaign that falls flat on its face.  And there's the fear of getting it wrong - of being banned, of getting suspended, of losing money.

So the enthusiasm wanes and the work becomes an effort, particularly the routine stuff that's so important (such as writing regular posts for our blogs and updating our social media accounts).  A whole day can go by and, at the end, there's the feeling of 'I haven't really done much today' which adds frustration into the mix and contributes to the dullness and the lethargy.  But at the same time, aware of the fact that we seem to be treading water, we can become agitated and restless.

And, finally, comes doubt.  Why did I ever start this in the first place?  I can't do it.  It's too hard.  I don't have the skills.  And I'm bored.

Of course, you may be wondering whether, in relation to business, desire is actually a hindrance.  When practising the Buddhist way of non-attachment, of course it is.  But in business?  And yet, I just wonder whether concentrating too much on that desire to succeed can be counterproductive.  Because if the desire is too strong, every little setback will become a major hurdle, rather than just part of the learning process.

The Buddha's answer to the hindrances when they arise during meditation practice is to recognise them for what they are and to 'let them go'.  If we get too caught up in the hindrance - be it desire or aversion, lethargy or restlessness, or doubt - it just compounds the problem.  So perhaps, here too, the answer is to recognise them as being a normal part of the process and to accept (again, as the Buddha taught) that everything changes.  I realise that it's not always the same tasks that I find boring. Because I'm frustrated today, it doesn't mean that I won't find a solution to the problem tomorrow.  And finding that solution may help me to find other solutions further down the path.

But perhaps the thing that I find most encouraging is to know that the frustration, anger, fear, restlessness, lethargy and doubt that seem to arise regularly as I plug away at building my business, are normal.  That these feelings and emotions are not mine alone but have been felt over the centuries by countless people trying to achieve their dreams.


Photo by hde2003 on http://www.sxc.hu

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Why Knowing Yourself Might Be the First Rule of Successful Business Building

For the past few months I have been busy.  Very busy.  As is my wont, I have been trying to do more than I can fit into the time available.    Eventually the penny dropped that I would just have to rationalise my work in some way or I'd never get it all done.  So I sat down and looked at what exactly I was doing with my time.  And it was enlightening.

I was spending a huge amount of time on social media - posting, scheduling tweets, replying to other people and, of course, finding stuff to post about and interesting links to post.  And I rather enjoyed this part of it.  But once I started looking at it, I realised that I could automate far more than I was doing.  So why had this not occurred to me before?  Reluctantly, I accepted that, firstly, it was because I'm a workaholic and, secondly, it was because I'm a perfectionist.

The way I was doing things, I was getting the satisfaction of working long hours and of making sure that everything was exactly the way I wanted it, down to the last full stop.  The result was that I was making very poor use of my time in terms of what I was achieving.  I needed to accept that perfection wasn't necessary.  There's a well-known saying in psychotherapy about parents - that they don't need to be perfect, just 'good enough'.  If I could persuade myself to be happy with 'good enough' for the less important work, I could do more - and, probably, the work that really mattered would be of a higher standard because I would have more time for it.

So I automated a few things . . . and (being a perfectionist) spent the first few days checking them frequently to ensure that they were all working well.  In fact, some of the things I'd automated seemed to work better that way than when I was doing them manually.  And when, last weekend, I came down with a bug and took a couple of days off work, it didn't take me forever to catch up with everything once I was better.

Now, as a counsellor, I am aware how much understanding themselves can help my clients.  But I'm only just realising how important it is in all aspects of our lives.  I suspect that the people who really get to the top in business are those who know themselves very well.  They know where their strengths lie - and also their weaknesses.  Perhaps it doesn't hurt, every now and again, to do a SWOT analysis on what we're doing - looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats affecting our businesses.  If I'd done that earlier, I might have got more done in the time available!


[Image by tzunghaor http://primandras.hu]

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

More Thoughts on Split Testing - or Why I Think Internet Marketing is an Art , Not a Science


A month or so ago I wrote about a split test that I'd conducted with my newsletter and how it had left me feeling rather confused.

I was talking about this recently with a friend and he told me a similar story.  This man, like me, is into internet marketing.  He has several Twitter accounts that he uses to try to get people onto his mailing list.  Like many internet marketers, when someone follows him on Twitter, he sends a direct message offering them some e-books.  The message gives a link to his website where the visitor is invited to give his or her name and email address in exchange for the books.

Because the website link is quite long, he uses Tiny.cc to shorten it.  A couple of months ago, it occurred to him that, if he were to use a different shortened link for each Twitter account, he could test different messages and see which got the most conversions.

He arbitrarily divided his accounts into three groups and wrote three different messages.  After a few weeks, he checked how many direct messages he'd sent out with each link and how many clicks each one had received.  The results were interesting, but not in the way he had been hoping.

In the first group, account A had had a larger percentage of clicks than account B or account C and the difference was statistically significant.  Similarly, in the second group, there was a statistically significant difference between the results of two of the accounts.  And yet, comparing the top converters in each group with each other, the difference was not significant.  And this was the same for the lowest converters.

So what are we to conclude from this?  We could use the quotation frequently attributed to Mark Twain about 'lies, damn lies and statistics' and say that 'statistically significant' doesn't necessarily prove anything.  Or we could say - as is certainly the case - that every single person who was sent a direct message was an individual and, as such, could not logically be expected to act in the same way as anyone else.

All we know is that the people who clicked the links were interested in internet marketing.  And we have to assume that a fair proportion of the people to whom the messages were sent were also interested, because they had decided to follow my friend.  But here we run into the first difficulty.  My friend follows about 30 new people a day.  He tries to pick people with similar interests but it's impossible to be sure.  Some of the people who follow him may just be following back because that's what they do, rather than out of interest.  We can assume that anyone who decides to follow him (without first having been followed) must do so because of interest in his tweets.  But, even here, we cannot be sure that they would want the e-books.  They may, themselves, be established marketers or they may have downloaded a large number of e-books and not have time or energy to read any more.  Or, of course, they may not read their direct messages.

Looked at like this, it's little wonder that the results were confusing.  And it's the same - indeed, it must be the same - in any situation where individual choice is concerned.  If 100 people watch a movie, it's unlikely that all of them will enjoy it equally.  If 90 per cent love it, it will be a runaway success . . . but the other 10 per cent may hate it. 

What all this has proved to me is the vital importance of not losing sight of our target audience.  What is it that they (or, rather, most of them) want?  Can we understand their motivation?  If they're not buying our products is it necessarily because we've written a bad sales letter?  Or is it because they've already got a similar product, or can't see the need for the product - or even that they've not got the money available to spend on it?  Whether they open our emails and whether they buy our products depend on many factors and I think we need to keep this in mind.  What works one day may not work the next.  Obsessing overmuch about split testing may, in the end, be counterproductive. 



Photo:  Iconfinder.com, designer: http://ivancoyier.deviantart.com/

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Value of Images

I've been wondering why on earth I've never added images to this blog before now.  I suppose there are several reasons.  The first is that, when I started blogging, I didn't realise how easy it was to add a picture.  The second is uncertainty about what sort of pictures I could use to illustrate the subjects I'm writing about.  The third is just the problem of finding pictures that don't cost a fortune.

The lovely picture here is by someone whose screen name is Lurdeza and I downloaded it from Stock XChange to use on my recently-built counselling website.  For me, it evoked exactly what counselling is about - someone walking from the shadows into the light.  And, on the practical side, what made it even better was that the photo was free.

In the last few months I've discovered a number of sites offering free images - and the quality of many of them is outstanding.  As well as Stock XChange, there's Stock Free Images and Wikimedia Commons - and I've even found the odd useful image on Microsoft Office Imagery.

So, with all these great images around, why would anyone want to pay for photos?  Well, of course, even with the vast selection available, sometimes it's very difficult to find exactly what you want.  For example, when I was making a PowerPoint video to advertise my book Say Goodbye to Sleepless Nights, I had great difficulty finding a decent photo of someone looking tired.  Also, it has to be said, the top image websites (such as iStock Photo) demand very high quality and levels of expertise.  I was looking at the iStock Photo requirements the other day.  First of all, you have to read the manual (which is quite technical) then you have to answer questions on it and, finally, you have to submit three examples of your work.  I suspect that not everyone who applies is accepted!

So, as with everything else, I think it's horses for courses. If you have a project that needs high quality photography, it's worth paying for the best there is available.  But if you just want the odd photo for your website or your blog, there's plenty of good stuff out there. It's important, of course, to read the small print.  Some images are only free for non-commercial use.  Mostly, even if free, they require an attribution.  And, having read an article recently about the problems that arose when the copyright holder changed the licence on one of his photos, it seems worth keeping a record of when you downloaded each image.

Sometimes clipart is more appropriate than photos for what we're doing and, just recently, someone told me about two sites  - IconFinder and FindIcons - that offer neat little drawings of everything from calculators and piles of coins to fruit and flowers, plus buttons, arrows, ticks, crosses and the like.

The final question, of course, is whether it's all worth it.  Do images really make a difference?  Well a recent experiment showed that, if used on a sales page, images would increase the conversion rate by a hefty 62%.  And, to me, this suggests that, rather than being distracted by the images, people are more likely to be drawn into what is written.  So, from now on, I think you can expect to see more images here!




Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Following Your Passion

You're going to have to trust me on this one, because I can't remember where I read it or who said it, but a while back I read a quote from a respected internet marketer.  And he said that all the really successful internet marketers of his acquaintance had followed their passions.  They hadn't set out to find a way to make a great deal of money, they'd just done something they loved doing.  And, that way, the long hours of work involved in getting a successful business off the ground weren't a chore but simply a way for them to get more involved in the subjects that really interested them.

I've been thinking about this recently because I've started on a new project, quite unconnected with internet marketing.  I'm setting up a website around a subject that has been a hobby of mine for a good number of years and I'm finding all the research and the work involved quite exciting.

And one thing that I've become aware of is that it's much more fun than the work I've been doing (and am still doing) in the field of internet marketing and social media.  Now, don't get me wrong, I find internet marketing very interesting and challenging . . . but I'm not passionate about it the way I am about this hobby.  I wouldn't want my waking hours to be filled with internet marketing and nothing else . . . whereas the hobby?  Well, perhaps.

So is it a mistake to work in a niche that you're not passionate about?  No, I don't think so.  But I suspect that it makes it more difficult to stick with it.  On the other hand, there may be problems with working in a niche that one is passionate about.  I remember talking to a friend who is an antique dealer and she told me that the most difficult thing she found about the business was stopping herself from keeping everything she bought.  She had a fine collection of antiques herself but every time she bought something beautiful for her stock, she was tempted to add it to her collection rather than selling it.  So she had to keep reminding herself why she was buying a piece.  Similarly, if we're following our passion, we need to keep our eye on the ball - remember why we're doing what we're doing.  If it's just for our own entertainment then it's fine to spend hours reading interesting articles and researching stuff that doesn't really take us any further.  But if we're basing a business on it, passion isn't enough.  There's got to be discipline involved as well.

But even then, we could run into trouble.  Another story from the antiques world springs to mind.  Some years ago I was watching the Antiques Roadshow on television.  A chap had brought along a huge copper item . . . I think it was a Victorian boiler or something of the sort.  He had a small collection of these and was hugely proud of this one.  The expert said he'd never seen one like it and had no idea what sort of value it had.  To which the owner replied "Of course, it's a collector's item, isn't it."  The expert smiled and said "Well I've only ever met one person who collects these - and that's you."  No matter how passionate we are about a subject, if we're the only person interested, there's no way we can make a business out of it.

So to anyone starting out and thinking about which niche to choose, I offer the advice that many have given before me: go with your passion, remember your goals, and check that you've got a potential audience.  If you do that, chances are that you'll have fun  . . . and you could well be successful too!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Linkedin, OpenNetworker & Referral Key - a Puzzling Triumvirate


In the past few months I've had a whole spate of emails from different people offering to refer new clients to me.  Now, in my online business I work only for myself, and the only clients I take on are clients for counselling.  So I dismissed the emails as spam because not only did I not know any of the senders but many of them seemed to live in other countries. 

But at the beginning of this month the subject line of these emails changed from "Are You Taking On New Clients?" to the name of a counselling agency I worked for until March this year.  I found this a bit worrying until I worked out that the senders must have got this information from my profile on Linkedin (I must remember to change it, since I no longer work for that agency!).

The earlier emails, I assume, also came from Linkedin - or possibly from OpenNetworker - contacts.  OpenNetworker claims to "help you build larger, more diverse and more valuable networks on the world's top social networking sites."  I joined it about a year ago and suspect that many of the people who send me invitations to connect on Linkedin find my details on ON.  It has resulted in my having a large number of contacts on Linkedin which was useful when I wanted to publicize the special promotion of my book "Say Goodbye to Sleepless Nights".  But whether people who are networking to find new business contacts find it of value, I don't know.

Having worked out how these people were getting my email address, I paid a little more attention to the message.  It seems to change about once every month or six weeks.  It always starts "Hi Ruth, If you're taking on new clients," ends with an invitation to click the link below and, between the two, the sender tells me that he or she would "like to send business your way" or would "like to include you in my private referral network".

I decided I'd take a chance (I have good antivirus and antimalware programs installed) and click the link because I was really curious to find out what this was about.  It led me to the website of something called "Referral Key".  The home page is pretty uninformative, saying only "Build valuable partnerships through live networking".  Remembering all the people from other countries who had sent me 'new client' emails, I wonder quite how valuable any partnership forged through this site would be.  But one can find out no more without signing up and, even though it's free, I didn't really want to do this.  So I Googled 'Referral Key' and found an excellent article by Claire Diaz-Ortiz.  Her description of what happened when she signed up to Referral Key is highly entertaining but leaves me (and her) still wondering what the site is all about.

I wonder whether we have all been told so many times that "the money is in the list" that we are blindly reaching out to people we don't know and with whom we have nothing in common in the hope that we will find customers, and whether these various sites are just feeding off that.



Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Useful Infographic on Content Marketing

I thought this was an interesting infographic - from the Content Plus website:


The anatomy of content marketing - the heart of online success

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Split Testing Has Left Me Feeling Confused!

We are constantly being told that we should split test.  Compare A against B and pick whichever is better to proceed with.  Then test the winner - either A or B - against C, and so on, constantly refining until we get the best headline, the best ad, the best email that we can possibly achieve.

But what do you do when the split test yields strange results?  This was a situation in which I found myself recently.  Let me explain.

As many of my readers know, I send out a weekly email newsletter detailing what I consider to have been the top articles on internet marketing and social media that have been published in the previous week.  Like any email marketer, I am constantly trying to think of ways to get more of the recipients to open the emails.  And I have written before on this blog about my thoughts as to what I should emphasise in the subject line.

Well, a week or two back, I decided to do a split test.  I divided my mailing list into three fairly equal sections, based on the first letter of each recipient's first name, and sent out my newsletter with a different heading to each section.

On the week I did the split test, two of the articles near the top of the newsletter were "102 Things I've Learned About Internet Marketing" by Rebecca Babicz, and "The 12-Month Path to Social Media Success".  So I gave the first newsletter the subject line "102 Things You Should Know About Internet Marketing" and the second the subject line "Your 12-Month Plan for Social Media Success".  The third newsletter had the subject line "Getting the Best Out of Facebook & Twitter; the Top SEO Apps; & Introducing Pheed" which was a compilation of a number of articles.  

My aim was to find out whether a specific subject would entice more people to open the email than a compilation. Now I long ago learned that numbers themselves can be misleading, so I found an excellent and easy to use little calculator to determine the statistical significance of my results.  And the outcome was that, although there were differences in the numbers of people who opened each version, these were not statistically significant.  So it seems that using a 'one story' subject line or a 'compilation' subject line is equally attractive.

But here's where we get to the strange part.  The subject line seemed to have no effect on which articles the recipients clicked on.  My thoughts had been that those who opened the '102' newsletter, for example, would have clicked on the '102' story.  But, in fact, there were far more who didn't than who did.  And that was the same for the '12 month' story.  In all three newsletters the most popular article was one about how to customize your Facebook page.  And the numbers who opened the '102' and the '12 month' stories were much the same for all three newsletters.

So this leaves me wondering what it was that drew people to open the newsletters?  Clearly the majority of the people who opened the '102' newsletter, for example, weren't interested in reading the '102' article.  And the same goes for the '12 month' article.  Which makes me think that there's a hard core of readers who regularly open the newsletter week after week because they've found it valuable - and who will open it regardless of the headline, while just a few open it because the subject line has caught their eye.

And, of course, this leaves me no nearer to discovering what sort of subject line is going to get more people to open the newsletter.  I'm sure split testing is a great idea - but sometimes it just doesn't give you the answers you want!