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Honest Marketing

Marketing is the science of tricking people into buying your products. 

The above is the marketing definition that I have used for a very long time. 

I would like to believe that I am an honest person, and I do not trick people into anything, so I stayed away from learning or using marketing. 

My customers, peers, and connections would appreciate and like my products simply because they are so good and relevant. Or so I thought.

Reality Check 

Even though I do excellent work and have good ideas, I have never made the impact that I imagined I could. I wondered why for a long time. For sure, people would appreciate that I am not a sleazy marketer. 

The data does not support my theory at all. 

I looked around at what others were doing, and the only difference I could see was “better marketing.” I did not know what that meant, so I set the intention to “master marketing” and use it in a way that is in line with my values. 

Shortly after stating this intent, I stumbled into people like Chris Do, Blair Enns, Jonathan Stark, and Seth Godin. And the way they talk about marketing blew my mind. 

Here is a different definition of marketing from Seth Godin:

Marketing is a way to create change.

This statement immediately shifts your focus from “getting more money” to what kind of change you want to create and for whom. And what is the best way to make that change?

You begin to think about effective ways to communicate with people and to build an audience. 

You think of ways in which your fans can contribute and support you on the journey to manifesting this change. 

You realize that the way you write copy, present your offer, and the kind of products you create can be a generous act if it results in an experience of transformation for those who choose to come on the journey with you. 

The tactics of marketing stay the same, but the intent and energy behind them are entirely different. 

Here is an example. 

You have created a workshop that allows people to transform and transcend their fears to live their lives with confidence and joy. 

How much should you charge for it? 

Let’s look at two scenarios:

1. You make it available for free, so it is accessible to everyone.

2. You charge $2,500 for each participant.

Which one is better? 

You might say that the free model is better because it has the most impact. After all, it has the highest reach, right? 

However, the data contradicts that. Human psychology is such that we value more things that are more expensive. Yes, more people will “get” the free workshop, but they will not be invested in it, so they will not be likely to do the hard work required to transform your fears. And information hoarded does not create any impact.

In the second scenario, maybe a few will buy, but they will work hard to get their money’s worth. The participants are very invested, and they will make sure they get the transformation they paid for. And in turn, you will get funding to further your creation of change. 

So which one is creating the bigger impact? Do you see how you are also helping the customers, not just yourself, by pricing your products correctly?

From this perspective, we can use marketing tools to create engagement, increase the likelihood of personal transformation, and not just be a ploy to make people part with their money only for your benefit. 

Buying Time

There is always a chance for you to make back the money you lost, but lost time is lost forever.

I often talk about our time as a non-renewable resource, and while you cannot buy more time, you can always save time. 

You do this by buying the time that other people have spent learning to do what you want to do today. 

And it compounds: the sooner your start, the faster you will go. The later you start, the harder it is to catch up. 

There are two parts to our life: the part when you have more time than money and the part when you have more money than time. 

I am talking to those in part two because while you are in part one, you trick yourself into thinking there will always be more time.

Invest in Yourself

Use some of the money you have to buy the information that will put you in the fast lane. Hire a consultant, do a strategy call. 

Our egos will trick us into thinking that we know what we are doing and we don’t need someone else drafting a plan for us or reviewing the one we have created. So we end up making mistakes that we could have easily avoided. 

I believe in learning from mistakes, but it’s best to learn from new mistakes instead of rehashing the same territory. 

Ask yourself: has anyone else done this before? What can I learn from them? How can I take that and go farther? 

Use tools like Udemy or Skillshare. Get to know who is word-class in your field and follow their content. Hire them if you can afford it. 

Most people are willing to spend thousands of dollars building a website, but they would not spend $300 to hire a consultant first. What do you do if you realize it is the wrong audience, the wrong tech, or that you are too late at the end of building your website? At that point, you realize how cheap and effective it would have been to get on that strategy call.

What I do today I could have done ten years ago. Instead, I chose to poke around in the dark instead of asking for directions. Yes, I learned what I learned deeply and profoundly, but is it worth ten years of my life? My older self says “no.” I can only imagine where I would be today if I had a ten-year headstart. 

And it is not only about you. The longer it takes you to get your act together, the longer we miss your contribution. 

Buy a map, get a compass, hire a guide, and then go where no one has gone before. 

Fences and Websites

Building a fence and building a website

When you hire a team to build a fence around your property, what are your expectations around the process and the results? 

Do you expect to constantly monitor the work to make sure the lines are straight and that workers are not cutting any corners? Do you expect to provide the tools and replace them or do maintenance for those that get broken? Do you expect to manage each worker and tell them what to do, when they should do it and how? 

And for the end result, do you expect to have to do fixes after the work is finished and do lots of maintenance as time passes? 

On the flip side, do you expect to simply show them the property line and describe what the fence should do: keep out wild animals, large and small, and be sturdy enough to require very little maintenance in the future? 

Here is the thing: there is no correct answer to these questions. Different people have different expectations. Some love to get their hands dirty and get very involved in the process, while others need the results, and they would rather do something else while the fence is being built. The problems appear when these expectations are not discussed upfront and are assumed. 

We also need to consider risk and price

When you do get your hands dirty, provide all the tools, and give all the directions, you are taking on all the risk of making sure the result is a good fence. The people you hire just do as they are told and shoulder no risk. So the price they can command is not that great. You pay them less money, but give more of your own time. 

When you buy the results: a fence that meets the specifications, the construction team needs to shoulder all the risk. You don’t care how they do it, how many tools they break in the process, if they need to fire someone along the way, or if they use your fence to train a junior team member. This construction team can command a higher price, and you pay more with money but with much less of your own time. 

Both are valid options, but you need to make a conscious choice and get clarity: is the team who asks for a ton of money willing to take on all the risk? On the flip side, when the price is “too good to be true,” are you ready to pay with your time and with taking on the risk of failure because it turns out the price was way too low to allow for a good job? 

The same applies when building a website. When you want to do it as cheaply as possible, you need to understand that you are taking on the full risk of failure, full maintenance, and a big chunk of the building process. But if you want a hands-off approach where you’re just interested in the business results, expect to pay a premium price for that experience and peace of mind (aka insurance against risk.) 

A cautionary note about the premium price 

Pricing is a signal. And someone reading this may be tempted to think that all I have to do now is raise my prices to a premium level to bring in the clients who want the “hands-off experience.” That is exactly what you should do IF you can deliver! And the price needs to be a lot higher to account for all of your mistakes and all of the things that will go wrong with the project. If you just charge more but don’t deliver, you are running a scam, and you will be found out. 

From the customer side: if someone is offering a premium hands-off experience at a very low price, you need to be cautious. How can they deliver without cutting corners? How can they afford high-quality tools and qualified people? Are they just boasting off to get their foot in the door? 

You need to get crystal clear if you’re shopping for price or value and then make sure the hired team can deliver on their promise.

Design is Not Everything

When building a website, you may think that all you need is the web design, which is all you may be willing to buy.  

And this is understandable because it is what you see and what your customers see. 

It is also why page builders like Divi and Elementor are so popular with WordPress. You can quickly and visually set up how your website will look. 

But once traffic this your site and the business takes off, you realize other things are just as important if not more important than design:

  1. Is the site functional? Does it do what it is supposed to do for the user? Is the sales process working smoothly? Does the contact form send you all the messages? 
  2. Is it fast? With the Google update in May 2021, site speed is a factor in their ranking system, which means that slow sites will get a penalty and fast sites will get a boost. But that is not all. From a user experience point of view, if they have to wait 10 seconds for the cart page to load, they will abandon the purchase process. 
  3. Is it clear? This item is where design can shine when it focuses on clarity first and aesthetics seconds. It doesn’t matter if your site is beautiful if your users have no clue how to navigate it or what they should do on the page that just loaded. 
  4. Is it responsive? Does it work perfectly on mobile? Today’s data suggest that you should develop the site on a mobile view first and then check the desktop view. 
  5. Does it handle well spikes in traffic? You don’t want to have your site crash in the middle of a successful marketing campaign. 
  6. Is it secure? Is your customers’ data safe? Is your site well insulated against hacking attempts? Are you using the best security practices?
  7. Do you have a recovery plan in place? What happens in case of a hardware failure? Or if you get kicked out by the hosting company?

If you still think your site needs a stellar design to bring in revenue, look at Google.com or Amazon.com. Most designers would argue they can do a much better job. But how many can create a much better revenue stream? Or handle that level of traffic? 

I suggest you start your website by investing in a solid foundation, don’t just buy a “pretty picture” of a website.  

Using animations the wrong way

Website builders and new technology have made it super easy to add animations to your web pages. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

When I first learned how to animate page elements, I wanted to animate everything. Make things flow, pop, fade in, fade out, create a dance on my webpage. In my mind, slick animations would make for a luxuriant experience and showcase how edgy my design is and how smart I am.

That theory quickly falls apart when you need to load a page often, and you have to wait for animations to kick in or finish, and everything seems to fly in all directions.

For movement to look good and guide the user, it needs to be choreographed, have a flow, and purpose: it needs to guide the user into experiencing your site. Otherwise, it quickly turns into jarring distractions!

There are two main uses of animation that make sense:

  • evoke a feeling or emotion
  • help increase your conversion rate that will turn visitors into customers.

The first use is very subjective, and I believe it is more art than science, and it takes study and practice to get it right. Just because you now have a video recorder on your phone does not make you a master motion picture creator. In the same way, just because you can animate things, it does not mean it’s easy to create a coherent storytelling experience. 

The second use, which is to increase conversions, I have much more experience with, and it is easier to measure and get right.

Here are the rules of animation

  1. Do not animate anything unless you know it will bring you closer to your goals.
  2. The animation must have a purpose. E.g., a blinking notification icon that needs the user’s attention; a sliding in and out navigation panel to will subtly inform the user where to go if they need to find the navigation element; a page transition animation that will hide a slow loading time keeping the user engaged with the page. 
  3. The animation must make sense. E.g., text flying in will undoubtedly grab the attention, but it is impossible to read until the animation ends.
  4. All the animations on the page must work together. They need to feel choreographed. So not only it’s more pleasing to the eye, but if done well, it shows to the user where everything is and how to navigate the site best.
  5. If your user notices the animation instead of the story you are trying to convey, you are doing it wrong.

Some good examples:

  • Apple products are great examples of animation done well. Both the website and the user interfaces on their devices. (At the moment of writing, there is no animation of the home page. As I said above, just because they can do it doesn’t mean they should do it!)
  • Displaying live data in animated charts can use good animation that makes it easier for the brain to digest what is changing. 
  • Navigation hints: new elements (like dialog boxes) slide in from the right, and when you dismiss them, they slide out to the left. New pages fade in. Notifications pop up. Using a consistent system like this allows our brains to quickly figure out what we are looking at just by how it is animated. 

Keep performance in mind.

Animation requires more resources in both bandwidth and processing power. In addition, page speed affects conversion rates. Therefore, if you choose to animate, make sure it will not affect your loading times and works fast enough on older devices.

Resources

Audit your website animations and keep only those that get you closer to your goals.

Lack of Clarity leads to poor results

While it is common sense, it is not common practice to ask “WHY” when doing something. 

Building your new website, or revamping the old one, needs to have a strong “why” behind it. 

If you are doing it because everybody else is doing it, or because your competition is doing it, that is not good enough. 

Drilling deep with the “why-questions” can help you uncover clear, measurable goals. When you have clear, measurable goals, not only do you know what to ask from your vendors, but it is effortless to see where you are headed and when you have reached your destination. 

Clear, measurable goals also cut to the clutter of questions like: “what colors should I use?” “what size should the logo be?”, “what layout should my home page have?” The answer is very straightforward: choose the option that gets you closer to your goals

If you don’t know which one gets you closer, you can either default to what works in your space or A/B test it if you have a large enough audience. 

Getting clarity is hard but is the step that has the most impact on the project’s success. I’d rather delay something until I get crystal clear than building a solution that brings me to the wrong place. 

The Spiritual Software Engineer’s Guide to building your Online Presence

START HERE – Build an audience

Connect with people around you (online or offline) that share some of your values and interests. You need to build a bridge between “i/me/myself” and how it assists “we/us/ourselves.”

Contribute to what they post and share online. Build a conversation with them. First and foremost, try to understand them. You aim to create a community.

PAY ATTENTION

Pay attention and take notes:

– what do they ask?

– where do they need help?

– what inspires them?

– what is the problem they have?

Create content generously answering these questions: meaning for free and with the best quality you can (don’t try to be “perfect” that is just hiding from posting the work. Just do your best)

Save this content in a library (folder with documents in GDrive, Dropbox, local PC). You will thank yourself later!

GET’EM EMAILS

Once you get a feel of your audience, get them to subscribe to a newsletter. Use a free landing pages feature from AWeber, MailChimp, or some such.

By now, you should have a list of topics of interest that you can write about:

– full newsletters – best

– a weekly or monthly update where you send the best posts from Social Media – OK

– curated content – where you recommend other people’s work that relates to your audience – lazy, but it can save you in an emergency when you don’t have something scheduled.

WAIT FOR THE QUESTIONS

At some point, you should be getting inquiries about private consultations or help with a specific problem. The way to respond is to send them to the appropriate post or article that talks about possible solutions and, at the end, let them know that you are available for a one-on-one session for this price.

People will likely choose the free alternative initially, but eventually, some will pay for the “one-on-one.” Regardless, take important notes of these questions as they are ideas for valuable content or a potential product.

KEEP TALKING – KEEP CREATING

Continue the discussion with your audience.

When you have collected some 4-5 excellent questions to address, announce a free Zoom call where you will talk about those. Invite your audience to participate. At the end of the call, be sure to mention your one-on-one offering for those who need to get specific details. As a reward for giving you their attention so far, you can discount that price just for the live participants.

Be OK with the fact that this first call will not be so great. Things will not work; you will forget to mention something important. All that matters now is to practice. You cannot get to “mastery” by skipping over “beginner.”

LOOK FOR FRIENDS

Continue the conversation with your audience.

Look for collaboration opportunities.

The WRONG way to do this: “Hey, can you feature me on your blog/podcast/FB page?

The RIGHT way to do this: “Hey, your work is awesome! Do you mind if I feature you on my blog/FB page/newsletter?

Continue the conversation with your audience.

CAN YOU CREATE A PRODUCT/SERVICE

Based on your work so far and the community’s interaction, get an idea for a product or a premium service. Before you start working on it, ask your community what do they think? Are they interested? Would they pay for it? Bounce some numbers off of them. If you get a YES, then it’s great! If you get a NO, then also great! Ask what would need to change for the product to be more useful? (and it may not be the price!)

ONLY NOW YOU ARE READY TO BUILD A WEBSITE

– you have a much better idea of the name of the site – in some cases, it makes sense to use your own name, in some cases the name of the solution, in some cases the name of the problem.

– you have a massive content library

– you know what your audience wants, so you know how the home page should look like

– you know if you will sell a physical product, or if you will teach or if you will do coaching

If you will sell a physical product, check out Etsy or Shopify. (there is a difference between the two, but that’s a story for later)

If you sell teaching or coaching, have a look at Teachable.

If you don’t plan on selling anything, but you want to level up your blogging game: get a WordPress website (you can even start with free hosting at WordPress.com). This will build your brand and authority in your field, but you still need to have some offers to sustain the project.

BECOMING KNOWN

Continue the conversation with your audience.

You are much better at this now. Collaborations happen more often. You may be invited to podcasts, or live YouTube shows, or even get speaking engagements, if that’s your thing. Always be prepared to say in one line what do you do and who do you help.

YOU NOW HAVE A BUSINESS

At this point, you have some history with your audience:

– you know what works and how well

– you know how many people become customers

– you have a rough idea of a monthly income

You now have a business, and it is at this point when I would suggest you hire a business coach or participate in some business workshops to help you move forward efficiently.

GET READY FOR LEVEL 2!

New Paradigm Tools for Online Businesses

Tools for the New Paradigm Online Presence

Tools for the New Paradigm Online Presence

A curated list by the Spiritual Software Engineer

Updated: May 2021

Analytics Tools

Goolge Analytics – free, but you pay with your data. I still use this one, just because they are really good and what they do.

Mamoto – is free but you need tech skills to install.

Scheduling Platforms

Full disclosure: I am getting out of Facebook and friends. Moving to Telegram, MeWe, and other alternatives. But if you still plan to use Facebook, read on.

I do social media once a week. My motto is to empower those who visit Inelia’s page. I rarely see anything else on social media. I have saved links to go straight to the pages I want to, so I avoid seeing what “the algorithm thinks I should see”.

For this to work and still be active throughout the week I use scheduling tools.

TweekDeck – by Twiter for Twitter

Facebook Creator Studio – by Facebook for Facebook and Instagram

YouTube uploads have a scheduling feature when posting videos

Buffer – you can use one tool to post everywhere – I have some issues with this platform

Hootsuite –  similar to Buffer above, you can post from one place to multiple platforms. Used to have a clunky interface, I have not looked at it in the past 2-3 years.

TailwindApp – I use this for Instagram. The reason I keep using them is because of their analytics capabilities, but most of all they have a feature to suggest “relevant hashtags” that I find very helpful. This is a paid service.

Newsletter Service

MailChimp – as long as you don’t talk about vaccines you’re fine. Otherwise, you will get kicked out. Make sure you export your list once a week so you don’t lose your subscribers. This is a really powerful tool, but they did not choose our paradigm.

SendInBlue – has a nice free plan that can get you started. The interface is a bit slow, but I use it for personal projects where I am not sure if I will make money.

AWeber.com – next best from AWeber. It does the job, but not as easy to integrate with a website like MailChimp is.

There are other alternatives here, but in my mind, they are for medium to large businesses, not really for startups.

Backup Services

I use my own tools here. But here are some guiding principles.

You need to backup:

  • your content – keep copies of what you write/create/record on your computer as well – not just online
  • your email subscribers – export your list once a week and keep a backup on your computer
  • your website – do a full backup 2 – 3 times per year. If you have your content backed up and your list then you can rebuild the site even if you lose it completely. For more active businesses you need to backup more often.

The location of your backup is important. If you backup your site and store the backup on the site server, that will also be lost if your site is hacked or the server crashes. Backups should not be kept next to the original data. Ideally, you store the backup data, encrypted in a cloud storage service. See next.

Cloud services for backup

Cloud services allow you to share files across devices and, important for me, allow me to work on my stuff on any computer that has an internet connection. It is like a portable “hard drive”.

Google Drive – It’s Google, so privacy is an issue

Dropbox – This is the one I use with a good experience so far.

OneDrive – Microsft – well, it’s Microsoft.

NextCloud – I hear good things about it, related to privacy, but I have never used it

FTP Uploaders

This is relevant mostly for WordPress. All other website builders generally feature a drag and drop upload feature.

FileZilla is your friend here. I have been using it on Windows for more than 15 years, and I see they have a Mac version as well

Hosting companies

This is relevant only if you want to have a WordPress site that you would like to host on your server. If not, skip ahead.

SiteGround (affiliate link) – this is the one I use and recommend to everyone. They are not the cheapest, but they have good support and that is a must even for someone technical like me. Also, their email function is working properly. (UPDATE in May 2021: I have had some trouble with their support lately, but their performance and speed are still the best I could find, so I am still using them.)

Stay AWAY from these guys. Despite being voted “The BEST of 2020” by CNET.com, they offer really bad service and support.

  • HostGator – used to be a big fan of them, but they lost their ways
  • BlueHost – really bad
  • GoDaddy – really bad
  • Site5 – we used to be really good, but no longer an option
  • Dreamhost – bad

All these options are very cheap, but that means they had to cut corners. You will pay more in time lost and having to hire a dev since their support is non-responsive (or incompetent).

If you want to build a business and not a hobby, do not buy a “shared hosting plan”. You will share the server with other people you have no control over and that will affect your reputation and the performance of your site. So make sure when you budget your business that you include the costs for good hosting.

Site builders

WordPress.com – you can create a website for free, but with some limitations and not able to use your own domain. See this as an example of this working:

https://laurabruno.wordpress.com/  (UPDATE May 2021: I no longer recommend WordPress for people starting out, because it is too technical, too easy to mess up, too hard to get the site to be fast)

WIX – they say you can create a free site (but I did not find the option yet). This used to be bad, but right now it looks really, really good. They have evolved! – See this example. (I think that on the free plan you need to keep the Wix brand at the top). If top performance is important for your business, then look at Squarespace instead.

SquareSpace – more professional than WIX in my estimation. I know good examples of businesses built on Squarespace. Better overall performance. Integrates with Shopify for an online store.

Kajabi – a great “all in one platform” if you’re selling your knowledge: courses, videos, tutorials. The great thing about it is you just pay them and they handle email, hosting, security, subscriptions, payments. I am a student in Kajabi powered sites and I like the experience. I have not used it myself to build a business and if I were to choose it I would inquire about the possibility to export my data and move elsewhere if I want to. In other words, I need to make sure I own the business I build and I can use the email list I build without restrictions.

Landing pages – These can be a powerful idea when you’re just starting and you need to keep an eye on your budget. Ideal for simple tests, for building an email list, for getting feedback on a service you want to launch. Instead of building a full website, instead, you have just a page that is hyper-focused on one goal. This hyper-focus is a good thing. Look for tools that offer analytics so you know how well your page is doing and that they work on mobile. Both AWeber and MailChimp allow you to build simple landing pages with their paid subscriptions. For more options look into dedicated services.

Teachable, Shopify and Etsy – if you know you are going to teach something, or sell a product. These are built to help you get your business going and take away the problems with setting up payments and configuring a store and so on. If you are really serious about starting a business these are the ones I would recommend.

A note about Etsy:
Unlike Teachable and Shopify where you can build a business, Etsy is a good place to start, but it is not enough just by itself. Mainly because on Etsy you are building their brand and not yours, and you are also in instant competition with the entire Etsy audience. That is both good (there is an audience!) and bad (as it may be hard to get known).

WordPress Themes

I think it helps to learn how to think about choosing a theme before I actually tell you which theme to choose 😁.

Since this tools set is focused on building a business, this means your theme needs to support a store, in this case: WooCommerce. It also needs to be mobile-friendly (it is called: “responsive”). It needs to play well with social media. And it needs to be fast/high performance.

Some readers will notice that I did not say it needs to be “pretty”, and that is on purpose, as we are focusing on the customers and making their experience a good one while using the website.

I almost never choose a theme based on the colors or the images or the layout with one very, very rare exception: the theme matches the criteria above and it’s a perfect fit for what I have in mind!

I much rather prefer a theme that is easy to customize than one that is “ready-made” but almost impossible to change after you install it. This is because as you grow and you get to know your audience better, you want to be able to make incremental changes to how your website looks, or even a complete redesign, without having to purchase another theme.

My Recommendation

UPDATED May 2021: Because of big performance issues with Divi I no longer recommend them. What I now use is the pro theme from GeneratePress. They are blazing fast and play nice with other performance-related plugins.

I am no longer recommending anything else. Why? Because as of May 2021, Google uses our site speed as a factor in their ranking algorithm as well as how nice the pages load and function on mobile devices. So it does not matter how pretty and well designed your site is, if it’s not fast and it’s not mobile-friendly it will not matter.

Unless you can afford to hire a good performance-oriented developer, just get GeneratePress.

WordPress plugins

There are a few WordPress plugins that I install all the time on any new WordPress project:

  • WP Forms for contact forms and other intake forms. (If you care about performance stay away from Contact Form 7)
  • WPS Hide Login – helps with site security by hiding the default login page
  • All In One WP Security – for securing your WordPress install against hacking. Please note that on projects where I need top performance I am no longer using this plugin.
  • Yoast SEO – the free edition – gets your website ready to be indexed by Google in a fairly easy way. When you generate money with the website it is worth geting their PRO version.
  • WP Mail SMTP – a wpforms product – I will install this if the website cannot send email. It allows you to configure in a much more flexible and advanced way how email is sent and also to do tests. (Do not use Easy STMP as it has security problems)
  • WooCommerce – if you plan to make this a business this will be the plugin to use to sell things. This is a powerful tool, but rather hard to configure, and the free version, while it works, it lacks many of the things that make an excellent store. If you lack the tech skills you will be much better off building your store on Shopify.
  • EasyDigitalDownloads – this is an alternative to WooCommerce if you are sure you will sell only digital products. Since there is no shipping required, a plugin optimized for digital delivery can do a much better job than a plugin that needs to be more general.

LIVE Streaming: Events, Webinars, Workshops

Workshop – means you need live interactions from your participants.

Webinar – means you are talking to people, but they cannot talk back, at most they ask questions via text chat

Events – You LIVE stream something that you do – like a webinar, but maybe you don’t stay in front of the computer if you’re streaming a Yoga glass (for example).

Zoom – workshops, webinars, events.

  • PRO: easy to use, most everyone knows how to use it by now, good quality for the streaming
  • CONS: you need to pay for meetings longer than one hour, and if privacy is a concern, they don’t do very well, even if they claim “end-to-end” encryption

Google Meet – workshops, webinars, events

  • PRO: easy to use, good quality, integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar, and it’s free
  • CONS: it’s Google, you need a google account with them, so you get all the related privacy issues.

Facebook Live, YouTube Live, InstaTV – webinars

  • PRO: free (just as Google is free), easy to set up, it’s “trendy”, people in your audience will get notified about you without having to do anything special
  • CONS: comments are very hard to manage, especially in a solo operation, does not look very “professional”

Team Communication

Slack – instead of communicating via email, it is more effective to use a tool like Slack. This way you can organize the communication in channels of interest, and get notified about only the important stuff, and also be able to search your older messages. You need to have been part of a team with more than 3 people to understand the power of this tool. It’s free with some limitations, after a while you can no longer search older messages unless you pay. The paid version is not cheap.

Discord – is like Slack, but it was designed for gamers. The big advantage is that it is free (last time I checked). The biggest drawbacks are the name itself and being game-oriented, which can be a put-off when you want to do “work”.

Circle.so – a new kid on the block, shows promise and it is more intuitive to use than Slack or Discord.

Telegram Groups – it’s like Whatsapp but NOT from Facebook, so for now it has better privacy. It will work for small teams and small projects, but if your team grows you will need to move to Slack or Discord.

Screen Capture

ManyCam – the paid version – is what I use to record my screen, to create “picture-in-picture” images, to color correct my image, to LIVE stream to YouTube and Facebook at the same time. This is a very powerful and versatile app and if your business requires teaching through video, or doing live casts it is worth the time and money invested in learning this tool.

There are free alternatives, but I find that a paid software not only saves you time but also makes you look more professional.

Video Editing Tools

Video Editing is a complex process, but I will focus here on cutting, trimming, adding intro and outro, and logo overlays.

DaVinci Resolve – is the tool I use most often. The free version is powerful enough for what I need it to do. The UI is pretty complex, and I suggest watching a YouTube tutorial before trying to work with it so you don’t feel lost. The good news is that once you learn the process for your workflow, it’s pretty easy and fast.

HitFilm Express – is the tool that I used before Resolve (above). It is somewhat simpler to use, but it lacks some more advanced features that I needed. This also has a complex user interface, but there are tutorials about it.

Note about video: video is a complex system to present media. It has the visual component, but also the audio track and it can have subtitles. Videos can have hundreds of formats, each with its own settings and parameters and that can be utterly confusing. If you plan to work with video it is worth the time and the money to have someone teach you a process for what you need, or else you might get lost in the hundreds of options available. Resist the urge to become a video editor, unless that is actually your business. Hire help or buy focused tools. You will make your money back.

YouTube had some video editing capabilities that most people will find good enough when they start.

Image editors for Social Media

I use Photoshop for my Social Media posts, but it’s unrealistic to expect someone to learn this tool unless they are passionate about it. Seriously, unless you’re into photography, learning Photoshop can be a massive waste of time better spent focusing on your business.

Therefore the tool I recommend now is Canva. They make it super easy to create images for social media, providing templates and the correct sizes that you should be working on. And the fact that you can collaborate on your designs is a big plus!

PRO Tip: If you like someone’s presence on Social Media reach out and ask them what tool/process they use. You will find some gems.

Free High-Quality Images

Unsplash – This is the place I use most often.

Pixabay – This is the place I go to when I can’t find what I need on Unsplash. Be careful with Pixabay, I have had complaints with images from them that were not actually free to use.

Your own photography – if you’re so inclined and have a good enough phone, your own images can go a long way, since they will be unique and feel more authentic. However, taking good pictures is a skill in itself so balance this with your need to look professional.

Once you have a business that is working and the branding becomes important, you will want to invest in paid images, since almost everyone is using Unsplash these days. Look at places like Shutterstock, Dreamstime, iStock.

Hire Help

Fiverr – many vendors, you need to shop around to find someone who is a good fit. A lot of them are really bad. My own experience with Fiverr is: don’t go for the cheapest option, and be ready to hire 2-3 people for the same job, and chose the one that is the best.

UpWork – unlike Fiverr where you search for a vendor, on UpWork you post a job and allow vendors to find and bid for your project. Because the payment method was blocked in Romania I could not use them, but from other sources, I hear the quality of work is better than Fiverr.

99Designs  – this is targeted specifically towards design: be it logos, websites, or brochures.

Hire a consultant for a strategy session. It is worth spending an hour with someone competent to draw a map for you to follow. You will save both time and money.

Image Resizer

Using images that are way too big for your website can slow down the loading time, especially on mobile. While performance optimization is a long and complex discussion, you can get to some low-hanging fruit, by properly resizing your images.

The tool I suggest is here is “Image Resizer” because it’s super easy and a 1, 2, 3 step process. I don’t personally use this tool very often because I have similar options in Photoshop, but the advantage of this tool is that is available everywhere and it works and you don’t need to learn anything.

OptIn Popups

I don’t like OptIn popups but the data suggest that they work in getting people to subscribe to your newsletter.

The providers I have used are:

Mailmunch – they have a free plan (branded), and they integrate easily with WordPress. I just noticed that in their paid plans you have landing pages and email marketing. That could save you some money when you first start testing things online.

OptInMonster – they don’t have a free plan, but they come highly recommended as a mature product. Unless there is a clear indication that this is a better fit for you than MailMunch, I would not use this one.

Podcasting Platforms

There is some tech required to record and edit the audio file for your podcast and that is not what I am addressing here.

I am talking here about the place that will store your audio files, and podcast information and will allow you to link it to podcast syndication platforms like iTunes or Google Podcasts.

Transistor.fm – is the tool that I recommend. It is not free, but it’s well worth the money. I have tried to “do my own thing” and host the podcast files myself, but it takes so much time to do it right, that it’s best to pay someone to do it for you in a professional way.

Payment Processors

PayPal – everyone knows about PayPal. Some customers don’t trust PayPal and in the past, there were issues with accessing your funds. To be fair I’ve seen no problems in the past 2 years with access to funds.

Stripe – is the main PayPal competitor and worth checking out. As far as I know, they allow for a smoother and more customized checkout experience which will influence your cart abandonment rates.

SquareUp – I have not used this one but it comes highly recommended.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Is this tool available in your country?
  • How do they help you with your tax documents?
  • How fast can you access your money?
  • How do they process refunds (is there a fee)?
  • Do they have an easy checkout experience?
  • Do they accept credit cards?

Let me know if you have questions about any of these or you’d like more specific details.

Udemy for instructors is fantastic, but not for making money

If you spend any time online looking at Udemy reviews, it becomes obvious that many instructors bash the platform for its practices:

  1. they take 50% of your sales revenue
  2. or 75% if they used a promotion to generate the sale
  3. you compete with all the other instructions on the site, and there is no way for you to stand out
  4.  you don’t control your course’s sale price – and most sales happen at around $10, out of which you get $5 – even if your listing price is the maximum allowed of $199.

If you are an instructor, then all the above are terrible news for you! 

So why do I think Udemy is fantastic?

Let’s start with who is Udemy for

Udemy is for students looking for quality courses at affordable prices. That means that Udemy is focused on the students, and not you, the instructor. They don’t care how much money you make; they care about how many students they serve as their customers.

And if you want to build your business around selling your knowledge, you too need to start caring about the students and putting them first. 

When you shift your viewpoint like that, you begin to see how Udemy is fantastic for you to grow as an instructor, especially if you are just starting out

Udemy offers you free training on how to create a course. 

They have data from 35m students using their platform: they know what works and what doesn’t. Don’t ignore this. 

They offer articles on how to choose a microphone and camera to record your material. 

They offer a free expert review of sample material when you signup as an instructor. You may think your video and audio is excellent, but having an expert giving you direct feedback is a massive learning opportunity. 

Your course needs to be reviewed to assure some quality standards before being approved on the platform. I read many people take issue with this, and they are frustrated, but I believe they are missing the point. This review is again a free expert critique that you would do well to listen to. 

They offer your marketing insights like what students are searching for, what the competition looks like around a specific topic and some estimated sales numbers. 

How to make Udemy work for you?

The short answer is to embrace for what it is, and not fight against it. The really bad way to use Udemy is to have “a great idea for a course,” do some quick recordings with your phone, upload it to the site and wait for the money to flow. Frustration and disappointment are at the end of that road. 

Do not even think of what you could teach before you do your marketing research. And here, Udemy can help a lot. 

If there is zero interest in your topic, it does not matter how high quality your course is, what a charismatic instructor you are; you will have just wasted your time. 

Use the marketing data on Udemy (that you get for free), and learn about your potential students first! (Remember when I said above that you need to focus on the students?). Once you have found some interests that you can teach about that also have students waiting, you can begin planning your course. 

Next, do not record your entire course and send it to Udemy for review. What if you made a mistake that will prevent you from going through the approval process? You again just wasted your time, and you will have to re-record everything. Instead, do a sample, ask for feedback from experts and listen to what they have to say. Look at the preview of popular courses from your competitors and understand what they are doing right. You don’t have to copy them exactly, but there is a lot to learn from someone who is obviously way ahead of you. 

The following step is to publish the course, set the maximum price for it, but allow Udemy to discount it. This strategy will likely drop the price to $10. Don’t despair. You are here for the learning experience, not for the money. Once you get some sales, ask for feedback from your students to improve your course. Learn from them and improve. I would also ask them for their email and permission to add them to my newsletter :). 

Here is a summary of what happened so far:

  1.  you have some research around students that may want to learn something from you 
  2.  you have much more confidence in your ability to create video content – because your creations have been reviewed and approved by the experts at Udemy
  3.  you have a rough idea of how your course competes against others in the same topic – if it generates no sales, then maybe you need to create something else
  4.  if you do generate sales – you have some students you can communicate with and get feedback from on Udemy – they can become your future audience for various products

Try to do this on your own, and see how far or fast you will go. 

In conclusion

If you are new, if you don’t have your own audience, if you need to train your video creation skills, if you don’t have a budget to spend on setting up a website, and you need to find a niche of students that you can teach, you can do all of that on Udemy for free. 

Once you get that training, have a product that works, an audience larger than zero, and you know how to do marketing, it may be time to create your website on Teachable. 

“I need help! I have a problem!” Syndrome

“I need help! I have a problem!”: I see a lot of emails with those titles almost every day. And in some cases, these emails are sent to public figures who may have large audiences. 

What goes through my head is this: 

“Does this person seriously think that their email will be picked out of the thousands and get a reply?”

And the answer is that probably yes, or they would not have sent the message in the first place.

For me, that is selfish thinking and selfish expectations. Especially for someone who has a broader audience, the email situation is asymmetric. There is way more incoming email than one person could possibly read, let alone send a response. 

And this also applies to social media communications.

I am writing this post here because I have seen a similar trend in the business world where people send messages asking for a job or offering their services to anyone who has a contact form on their website. 

These messages boil down to: “Hey, I am intrigued by what you do, can you hire me?” or “Hey, some nice content here, do you need SEO on the website?”

How would you feel if a stranger came up to you on the street and said that to you? Would they seem trustworthy? Would you think that they genuinely have your best interest at heart? Would you be eager to work with them? 

I understand that sometimes crises happen. I know there are situations where you desperately need to put food on the table and keep the lights on. But the problem is that everyone else also has their own issues to think about; they have their own story running in their head. The fact that you have a big problem, does not give you permission to but in and ask to be hired or offer a service that is not needed. It just creates friction and noise and lowers your chance to be seen as trustworthy

This shotgun approach has a math justification. It is free to interrupt many people in the information age and demand that they focus on my problem. So, the logic says, I just have to interrupt a lot of them, and eventually, I will get a hit! 

If you are doing this, how is it working for you? I bet that it’s not working very well.

The Alternative is to be generous and respectful.

Imagine that you are indeed about to approach a stranger in real life, not online, and you will see how face-to-face interaction changes the dynamic. 

None of the short meaningless pick-up lines would work. You would need to show genuine empathy and generosity. 

Being generous does not have to be about money. You can be generous with your time, attention, and emotional labor. Before you contact a potential lead, do read their about page, their social media activity. Get out of your head and your problems, and do your best to comprehend their story and problems. Once you feel you have seen the world through their eyes, only then you can go to them and say:

“Hey, I’ve been following your activity for a while, and I know a big launch is coming. Do you need any help with that? I am especially effective at creating and distributing flyers!”

If you were honest with your investigation and were paying attention, your lead was thinking or worrying about this issue. By mentioning it directly and specifically, you show that you care and that you’ve spent the time and the effort of getting familiar with their business and their problem. 

Do you see how this would set you miles apart from some just bombing with generic “I don’t care about you, please hire me” messages? 

The key to solving your problems is to help other people solve their problems first. 

Keep that in mind, when you send your next email or post your next message on LinkedIn. Are you selfish? Or generous?