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Strategy is what helps you understand the difference between an opportunity and a distraction

What will you do today to grow your online presence? 

Every day you have thousands of ways to answer that question. You could follow this or that process. You could hire this or that coach. You can choose to do nothing. You can choose to focus on this aspect and ignore the rest. 

So how do you make the right choice? And how do you filter out the distractions that will take you nowhere?

And the answer is to have a clear vision and strategy to get there. 

The strategy to get to 10 subscribers this month is very different than the strategy to get 100k subscribers, and you will use very different tools and processes. 

When you have a clear vision and a defined strategy, you can very quickly narrow down the actions that you have to do by asking this simple question:

“Does this fit within my strategy as a step to get me closer to my goal?”

If the answer is YES, then go for it!

If the answer is NO, then you are just busy getting distracted. 

Building a vision and then a strategy is hard work. I am still working on mine. But I know for sure that if you do this hard work initially, you dramatically increase your chances of success. The alternative is to be busy for ten years launching efforts in all directions but not making any progress. 

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. 

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!

Wandering vs Leading

When you start a new project, you can find yourself on any point on the following spectrum: on the far left, there is wondering, and on the far right, there is going straight at a target.

When you are wondering, you don’t know where you want to go. You don’t have a destination. You try this; you try that, your ideas keep shifting, the way you talk about the project keeps shifting, your questions change.

You have this niggling feeling that you want to do something, but you cannot easily articulate what it is. And so you open your senses up for exploration until you discover what you clearly like and you dislike. And a vision starts to emerge. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you know where you are going. You have a map, a plan, and a guide you can call in case of trouble. You are super focused at this stage, your thinking is crystal clear, and your ideas are very stable. You know what is a distraction and what will move you along the path. 

Where are you on this spectrum? 

The way I see it, artists tend to be on the far left side. And they are comfortable in that space of exploration, of the unknown, of continually shifting ideas. It is a place where you are focused on self-discovery, on looking inside to uncover what that niggling feeling is about. 

On the far right side, you find the manager who cares only about the mission, about getting there as effectively as possible. The focus is no longer inwards because the vision is clear. The focus is on the team, on the project, and on being of service. 

In the middle of this spectrum is a place where you have found your vision, so you know where you are going, but you haven’t mapped out the road yet. 

I feel extremely uncomfortable on the left side, the wandering side, where you need to face “not knowing,” making mistakes, and “wasting time.”

I am used to being an A student, which means always having the “right answers” and not making mistakes. 

Being on the extreme right, where you are the manager and just executing the plan, feels more comfortable, but it can also be a place to hide. There is little risk involved. There are little unknowns. And if you fail, you can blame the map or the plan. 

As you move towards the left, things become more and more uncertain and risky. It’s a place fit for adventures—those who are OK with going into dead-ends and having to backtrack and try again. 

No point on this spectrum is better than the others. You can subjectively feel differently about it, as I don’t enjoy the wandering around part, but a project goes through all the phases.

Getting stuck is the problem.

You could wander forever and look busy in your constat search, but how will you sustain that? How will you take care of your family? Or how will you bring positive contributions to your communities?

You can also get stuck in the middle, looking for the “perfect plan” and trying to avoid mistakes. 

The best way to make sure you are making progress is to base your “why” on the good of a larger community. To try to find out how your endeavors will help others, not just you. And then, maybe, you can seamlessly move from crystallizing your vision to efficient execution.

So I ask you again: where are you on the spectrum? And are you making progress, or are you hiding in your favorite place? 🙂 

(credit: ideas inspired by Jonathan Stark – The Business of Authority )

Is this the best way to accomplish our goals?

Have you ever tried to coach a team towards an end goal but failed? Either because you can’t get your point of view across or because the discussion gets sidetracked continuously into things that are not that important? 

I have tried to send documentation to be studied that points at the right solution. That did not work. 

I have tried to use my experience and authority to give them the best solution and move on to the implementation phase. That did not work either. 

I have tried allowing them to learn on their own and to figure it out eventually. That also did not work because of time constraints. 

And guess what the common denominator is to all the failed attempts? Me! 🙂

My thinking says: if they only had the right information, they would see things like I do. Unfortunately, that is not true. As I am discovering, each one of us sees the world through a different lens. Our views may be similar, but they will never be the same

Today I was studying Seth’s book “Stop Stealing Dreams.” And I was fascinated with how many ideas he can share, without giving any advice on what to do! And not only that, but almost every paragraph had me stop and ponder what was said. I could feel the cogs in my brain getting a good workout!

I had to digest the entire book to figure it out finally. And the answer is now simple and obvious. Seth asks a lot of questions, inviting the reader to think for herself!

And the most potent question was:

Is this the best way to accomplish (…insert goal here…)?

This question serves double duty:

1. It makes sure that we know and agree on what the goal is. If we don’t, we need to go way back in our discussion and check and decide on our goals again. 

2. Once we agree on the goal, asking “is this the best way” opens everybody’s mind to contribute in a focused way towards the goal. 

The key difference for me is that I no longer dish out my solutions but instead invite everyone to contribute. The best way that the group finds may be way better than what I had initially thought the correct answer was. We all learn, and we move forward together.

I will definitely give implement this one in my communication.

“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? 

Automation with Zapier

What do you value most? I hope that your answer is: “TIME.” 

Time is our most valuable resource because it is non-renewable. Wasted time is lost forever. And it could be argued that the reason we work so hard is to have enough resources. Resources that will allow us to spend more time doing the activities that we enjoy: activities like following your dreams, working on your business, spending more time with friends and family. 

I don’t know of any better time-saver in the online environment than automation.

Automation means to identify and formalize processes for the flows that make your business work and then use various tools to set them on “automatic.” This way, they can work even when you are not paying attention. It is like having an employee that is almost free and never sleeps or rests. 

In today’s world, the leading tool for automation online is Zapier

The idea behind Zapier is quite simple and yet profound because of the market they are speaking to. 

What happens is that in the online world of business, you have your website, your store, your payment gateway, customer engagement, webinar, emails, and so on. All these components need to talk to each other. What used to happen before, is that you, as the business owner would have to create and manually maintain this communication, usually based on email notifications you would get from various systems. 

The alternative was to hire someone to do it for you or hire a developer to write a custom program that would automate these processes. Both options could get pretty expensive.

There has been a shift in the past few years. Each of these services exposes an API. This API allows them to talk to each other in a clear and standardized way. With this option available, you would need somebody to integrate these APIs. To connect them in ways that make sense for your business. 

Here in comes Zapier! The beauty of it is that they have put together a platform that allows non-developers to visually express their processes and to connect all these components in a way that makes sense. This flow is testable (which is very important, you want to make sure that your automation works as intended), and you have analytics and an overview of what is happening.

There is a free tier for Zapier, but I want to get into the paid one because I think that is where the power is. You may shy away from paying them the monthly fee. So let’s explore that a bit. 

The way to think about choosing a paid plan is to make a business decision. Would paying Zapier a monthly free enough time and generate enough sales to cover for the costs and then some?

If you get their $20/mo plan, you need to only generate an extra $20/mo in sales for this option to make sense to you. But not only that. Also, consider the free time you now have to do something else, and how much you value that. Consider the money you would spend on a developer to set this up for you and then have it maintained. (By the way, I am not an affiliate for Zapier, I am just using them as an example to talk about automation)

In conclusion, we live in exciting times, where with a bit of patience and thinking through your processes, you can build your website and connect the required components with no need for a developer if you use a tool like Zapier. And this excites me because it enables even more people to express their creativity cost-effectively!

If you are reading this and you are a developer, then seriously consider exposing and API for your services and products and have them seamlessly integrate with Zapier. 

The Power of Using APIs

Many years ago, I had set up my very first website. It was a Sudoku generator based on a selected difficulty level.

To promote the website, I wanted to have a newsletter so I could email my subscribers a daily puzzle to print out.

At the time, I was using AWeber as my newsletter service.

I was very annoyed with the fact that to capture the email of my visitors I would have to send them to a new AWeber page where they would fill out a form, and then instruct them to go to their email to click the confirmation link, and that would get then to a confirmation page on AWeber, and then finally back to my website.

Those were way too many clicks to get yourself a printable sudoku puzzle!

What I wanted, was a way to plug into the AWeber service, and communicate with them, on my visitors’ behalf, while the visitors were staying on my website. What I wanted was an API, which is short for Application Programming Interface.

They did not offer that at the time, so I decided to simulate one by using a “fake browser” to make it “as if” the user has opened their page instead of my mine.

I was very proud of my solution, and it worked very well for about ten days until my account was banned for violation of terms of service.

Today they do offer an API, so I don’t have to resort to “shady tactics” to keep the users on my page.

I use this little story to make it evident why APIs are so powerful. I am all about automation and integration and the APIs make all this possible in a way that is reliable and makes sense and does not violate any agreements 🙂

I don’t think it makes sense to create an online service in today’s world and not to develop an API for it. Interconnectivity and interoperability increase the rate of adoption of your service. And you open it up to be used in ways that you may not even have imagined before and if you connect it, for example, to a platform like Zappier.

In conclusion, I feel that all software development is moving towards building APIs that will talk to each other. Even the front-end of websites will be a templating API making requests to a back end API.

This change will bring about dramatic shifts it what software developers do and will open the doors for non-developers to be even more expressive and sophisticated in their creations. Add AI to this mix, and we can only guess at the limits 🙂