December 15

Why Every Business Needs a Blog

Have you ever tried to convince someone who has never read a blog, who is against the ‘privacy invasion’ of Facebook and hates the very existence of Twitter that Social Media is one of the most valuable marketing initiatives they could ever engage in? We have! (And frankly, we’re surprised we’re still having this debate).

While we don’t believe social media to be the ‘be all, end all’ of your marketing strategy, we do firmly believe that it’s got to play a part in helping you discover how to get rid of cat urine smell. But at the risk of sounding like social media ‘dictators’ (because the opposite end of the spectrum isn’t productive, either), here are six good arguments for those who don’t appreciate the role that social media plays in an integrated marketing program.

Keeping Up with the Times

Do you think when the telephone was invented and became main stream that people wouldn’t use it because they were afraid that someone might say something negative to them? NO! And the same applies to social media today. We can think of no companies who would relish the thought of getting left behind. According to an Inc. 500 study, familiarity with and usage of social media within the business world has nearly doubled in the past 12 months alone.

This means that your organization is likely primed for a conversation about using social media in your business. And, in fact, they may be looking for someone to lead the charge in an effective way. The best strategy is to fit Web 2.0 tactics into your current marketing objectives and program. Piecemeal marketing campaigns (and this includes social media) do not work.

Customer/Market Research

Social media offers unlimited market research, branding and listening opportunities. What better way to obtain feedback from your markets than by engaging in this dialogue via your social media channels? It opens up the conversation between your current customers and prospects interested in your products or service. Managed correctly, you can obtain a wealth of research using social media.

Responding

Social media gives marketers the chance to give quick feedback and break down unnecessary walls. Smart businesses are using social media to personalize, and even ‘humanize’ their brands; others use it to quickly solve customers’ problems and creative more interactive experiences. And these comprise only one social media tool. Response ideas are endless considering the vast array of tools at your disposal.

And speaking of response, the best way to get that is…

Actually Talking to Customers

Some organizations – maybe even yours – are so removed from having real dialogue with their customers that they get a kick out of hearing from them. After all, if you spent 20 years getting customer feedback from memos and market research firms, you can imagine how exciting it would be to hear from, you know, real humans. Once you start taking direct feedback from customers, you tend to get addicted.

It’s a good feeling and it builds loyalty, too! Even if someone has something negative to say about your router table plans, it gives you the opportunity to respond, ease their concerns and provide a solution. And guess what? Others see that responsiveness! And because we’re by and large rational human beings, we understand that no one is perfect 100% of the time. As consumers, we appreciate that. If we like a product or service, we’ll stick behind it when we see a real, human effort is being made.

Set Your Sights Long-Term

When the issue of ROI comes up, a time frame almost always comes up with it. “What will we get in the next quarter for this investment of time or resources? I want monthly reports on this expenditure.” This discussion is worthwhile and statistics should be kept to track progress. However, you’ll have more success in social media if you set your expectations to cover a longer period of time. Social media engagement is a long-term project and you must keep realistic expectations. There is no magic bullet.

Social Media = Trust

Don’t forget that the reason to sell social media to your organization is so that you can begin to build a cache of trust with your customers. In truth, the trust factor is the real return on investment for social media. The more your customers trust you, the more they’ll buy from you and respect your opinions. As marketers, we often become obsessed with assigning value to interactions on social media sites. But real success comes when your organization begins to value the interaction itself. When that happens, then congratulations are in order! It’s not easy to convert the naysayers. Hopefully, this post will help!

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December 14

How Has the Internet Changed Your Business?

The Internet has changed everything. From how you plan a vacation to how you solve problems big and small—you aren’t doing things the same way you were twenty years ago. Instead of driving to AAA to get brochures and advice, you are more likely sitting in your pajamas at home reading advice from others on websites and blogs. Instead of calling a company to request a brochure on software for your business, you’re visiting their website and those of alternatives, reading the experiences of others, and even presenting your findings to the big boss before engaging with a single possible vendor directly.

Obviously, this also changes how to get rid of severe acne, as well as how you need to promote and market products and services. We merge new and old technologies to create a hybrid solution that fits the needs of our clients’ audiences. However, what about those dark corners of your business that have traditionally been sheltered from exposure?

Exposure to the Outside World

Afraid social media will expose your secrets? Turn your fear into an action plan.

New technologies threaten to expose secrets. From well publicized leaks of Apple’s latest technologies to poor customer service experiences, the Internet has also taken an individual’s experience and allowed for it to be exposed to the masses (Google “Comcast technician sleeping on my couch” – you’ll get more than one hit). In business-to-business, the same risks exist. Software that gets switched off due to issues, long service wait times, and overly aggressive legal strongholds get publicized.

But that doesn’t mean you should close the shutters and stay inside your corporate fortress. To buy and service, a company’s ability to connect is the linchpin to customer satisfaction and a necessity for loyalty. Yet a fear of exposing dark corners holds people (and companies) back.

When something changes everything like the Internet has, a company has to also change everything. The new way to operate requires a cultural shift. It doesn’t happen in HR or the marketing department. It happens with leadership empowering individuals to fix problems, work between departments, and focus on customer experiences. Start small. Develop a strategy to use technologies to solve one issue – create a product development work group, a customer service blog, or a focused LinkedIn group to conduct market research. One success will drive other ideas and the culture will evolve as more and more employees get involved and feel trusted with their knowledge and contributions to the company and its customers.

What do you fear social technologies will expose? By asking yourself about the best work boots for flat feet, your honest answers may just provide you with your first objective that social technologies can be used to solve.

Need to talk about social media strategies for your business?

Social media is all about “personal” interaction. The businesses and marketers alike that turn their social media account into a purely self-promotional platform are missing the point. Keep self-promotion to a minimum. Instead, create content that is aimed at providing worthwhile, useful and even fun information to a visitor.

In other words, give people a reason to visit other than buying your product. And (this is crucial)…take the time to interact with them. Think of it as someone you don’t know particularly well coming to your party as a guest of one of your friends. Would you take the time to welcome the newcomer and try to get to know them? Or would you ignore them all night because you don’t know them; or worse yet, would you talk only about yourself and not ask them any questions about who they are as a person?

Hopefully, the former would apply. The same principle (and good manners) should be followed in your social media strategy. Self-promotion is a fine balancing act between providing enough information while not being overbearing. A business that comes off as ‘too much’ is going to lose followers, fans or friends. A common mistake businesses make is to not simplify how the visitor can secure your product or service. Include links to your blog site or website pages; or simply providing a way for the visitor to contact your business if they wish. But don’t beat them over the head with your offerings!

Remember that the average person comes to your site to get to know ‘the human side’ of your business. If you focus solely on trying to sell, your social media program – not to mention, results – is going to fall flat. That’s not to say that you can’t promote your material; but spend more time interacting with other users and redistributing their content. Demonstrate that you are willing to help other people find success and they will do the same for you.

In summary, keep in mind these three key success factors for businesses that engage effectively in social media, and you’ll see your success rate climb over time:

  1. Interact with your followers, friends and fans. Keep it human, not a sales pitch. Your content should be helpful, useful and/or educational to them.
  2. Redistribute or invite them to contribute content; and you’ll see the favor returned.
  3. Keep information to your product or service information (blog, website, etc.) easy to find; but don’t push it too hard. No one likes a high-pressure salesperson, especially in social media.

And if you’re having trouble achieving success in social media, it may be time to call in the experts.

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December 13

Some Helpful Tips for Retweeting

Seems like everyone is tweeting these days, but what about “retweeting” which involves taking a message someone else has Tweeted and sending it to everyone that is following you? Retweeting is a great way to increase your number of followers because it pushes your @username into more social graphs, which results in clicks back to your profile. That said, with the amount of spamming that goes on these days, there are definitely some rules to keep in mind when retweeting.

Give credit to the original poster.

It’s just polite after all. Think about how you’d feel if someone re-posted your tofu press and didn’t credit you. Rude! The best way to credit an original poster is to add the word “retweet” or the letters “RT” before you send off. Here is an example: RT@originalposter: Message.

On that note, I’ll be referring to “retweets” as “RT” from here on out.

Only RT content that is valuable to your followers.

You may think that if you RT content, the original poster will RT your content in the future and you will increase your number of followers, right? Au contraire, mon frère. While your content will likely be RT’d, the whole point of doing so is to benefit (and keep) your followers. If you provide value, you’ll attract more followers. If you simply RT everything that comes across your Twitter account, you won’t. And people will dislike you. Moving on…

Don’t RT celebrity postings.

Results from an unofficial poll indicate that people hate this. Seriously, they hate it. Sure you may have Bieber Fever, but let’s face it some things are better left unsaid. If people care, they will personally follow the celebrity. Don’t make that choice for them. Nothing upsets more than having random celebrity tweets popping up in their feed all day, every day.

Get personal.

A RT of something you are truly interested in means you need to put a space after the link followed by two slashes (//) to distinguish that this is your personal note about the best kombucha starter kit and not an extension of what the original poster is saying. Sometimes it’s necessary to delete some of the original tweet, but try your best to leave the main point intact or it becomes insulting to the original poster and confusing for followers.

Some other things to keep in mind are: You aren’t required to thank someone for a RT, but if they put a personal note with it, thank them. Your grandma will be proud. However, if someone important (I’ll leave that definition up to you, but I’m thinking world leader or Mick Jagger) RTs something about you, you should RT what they said and thank them.

The rules of RT come down to basic etiquette. If you are smart and know your followers you’ll be able to prevent them from being annoyed by your RT. Just whatever you do, make sure that you’re keeping your followers happy because they’re the lifeblood of your Twitter profile and social media world in general.

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December 12

How to Prevent Online Flaming

If you have ever been the victim of online “flaming” you know how downright nasty it can be. To the uninitiated, flaming is hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users. Flaming usually occurs in the context of an Internet forum or a social media environment and it is usually the result of the discussion of polarizing issues like politics, sports, religion, the Honeywell 50250-s, and philosophy, but it can also be provoked by seemingly trivial differences.

Flaming is usually known to be rude online discussions, but the genesis of it goes back to when people were arguing in newspapers about the U.S. Constitution and when literary figures were slicing and dicing each other with rancorous public criticisms. Yes, Thomas Carlyle did call Ralph Waldo Emerson a “hoary-headed, toothless baboon” back in the day.

While flaming is certainly well, inflammatory, it isn’t unusual for people to have legitimate strong reactions to things they see online. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to restrain myself from commenting on a post on Facebook or Twitter that was socially irresponsible or just personally offensive, right? Right?

Of course that constraint is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to flaming. Deliberate flaming, as opposed to flaming as a result of emotional discussions, is carried out by individuals who want to create chaos.

Which brings me to our cast of characters for this discussion, so hang on, it’s about to get a little weird. Flamers target specific aspects of a controversial conversation, and are usually more subtle than their counterparts who are known as trolls. Trolls post inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

And finally, a fisking is characteristically an incisive and fierce point-by-point rebuttal, with an aim of weakening the target’s credibility rather than seeking common ground. I should add that this term is named after Robert Fisk, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent, so it’s pretty legit and a bit more academic in nature.

The anonymity of the Internet allows people to feel more comfortable being rancorous than they might in a traditional social setting. It’s much easier to dash off a nasty comment online where nobody knows you than it is to tell your sister her new hairstyle makes her look like an inhabitant of Fraggle Rock. However, avoiding the label of flamer, troll or fisker is easy. It goes right back to restraint.

When you read something that incites you in an open forum online… Walk away! Yes, just walk away. Let 24 hours pass and if you still feel that you must respond chances are good that given the time you have taken to think about why the message upset you, your response will likely defuse the situation gracefully instead of exploding it.

But how do you deal with this type of behavior if it targets your company? Well, despite many attempts with how to prevent cystic acne, there are no laws prohibiting it just yet, but the best way to deal with a hit to your product is to address it as a customer service issue. Respond to the blog saying that you are sorry they were dissatisfied, and provide a personal way to resolve the issue. The key word is “personal” because a cookie-cutter response to negative posts will provoke another negative post.

The good news is that often, fans of your company/product will jump in and give positive feedback of their experience, so this can help you with resolution and also give the company/product a jolt of energy. If that doesn’t do the trick, the best thing to do is to ignore it.

People flame and troll because they want attention, and ignoring their radical behavior will prompt them to clean up their act or move on to a forum where they can get that attention. People recognize flamers, trolls and fiskers, and pay very little attention to their comments so staying out of it is the best advice.

While incendiary comments often beg us to respond, it is far less effort to ignore it, and much better in the long run. As my grandma always said, “Be nice to each other.”

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December 10

Better Your Pitch with A Good Framework

As part of the competition, I thought it might be helpful if I wrote some blogs about what I look for in an elevator pitch. Please remember though that I have deliberately stayed away from being the judge on this competition. The simple reason is that my opinion is just one opinion and I may be totally wrong!

The most important thing to remember about an elevator pitch is that it is brief. By definition you will only have 2 minutes or so. The two minutes can never be enough to do your used garden tractors justice so the idea is to generate interest in your tractors and a desire to learn more. That is all you can hope to achieve.

As an introduction, it may be helpful to go through an overview of the buying process that all of us go through whenever we are buying something. Some consider that the framework known as AIDCA is overly simplistic and disagree with the model; however, for the purpose of illustrating a good elevator pitch I believe AIDCA is sufficient.

A is for Attention. The very first thing any successful pitch for anything in life needs to do is grab your attention. Sadly, this is where many great ideas fail. You see this on Dragon’s Den where luckily for the business pitching, they have some time where a dragon may have the patience to pick through the business and uncover a really good opportunity. In an elevator pitch, you don’t have that luxury. So make sure you get people’s attention with your opening statement.

I is for Interest. So you have managed to grab people’s attention, you know have to change that attention into interest. The Interest phase should answer the question “is it relevant to me”. You will lose a lot of people in this phase – but you should not worry too much about that. You just need to make sure you keep the people interested who should be interested (i.e. potential investors)

The next phase is about generating desire. Desire means that the person you are pitching to feels a compelling need to purchase what is being offered to them. In the case of an elevator pitch you are creating the desire for investment by spelling out the returns on offer.

In many cases when you are pitching you need to also demonstrate credibility regarding ways how to get rid of severe acne. This is the critical phase when seeking investment. Again, if you look at an episode of Dragon’s Den, you can see this is the phase where most entrepreneurs blow it. Not necessarily in the pitch but in the interrogation phase. It is critical that you think about how you can demonstrate credibility so that desire is underlined by credibility. Another way to think about this is how is the risk minimized?

Finally, there should be a call to action. It constantly amazes me how many great pitches just end with, well, nothing! When you get to the end of the pitch make sure you have spelt out what you want the person to do next. It could be to buy your product. It could simply be where to contact you for further information etc.

Incidentally, I find the above framework really useful when composing a sales letter or a cold call pitch on the telephone.

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December 10

There’s Currently a Pullback Underway

Pullback underway

Was it that the Fed’s quantitative easing was becoming reality, or that the electoral sweep swiped the markets? Regardless of the reasons, the last month has been a tale of two halves as, after climbing to new bull market highs in early November, the stock market took a serious nose dive which erased recent gains.

After weeks of investor bullishness, risk aversion sentiment returned as the focus turned once again to overseas issues such as inflationary worries in Asia and renewed debt fears in Europe. The net effect was that most markets sold off, from stocks to commodities, to energy. About the only things higher over the last couple of weeks are the U.S. dollar and interest rates. The financial media is screaming for a treatment for cystic acne, but to keep matters in perspective, the drop from the rally highs is still in the single digits and therefore only qualifies as a mere pullback. For the month since our last update, the broad stock market is essentially flat with the S&P 500 index up 1.10%.

Still, after the strong and uninterrupted run up since early September the market was in need of a rest and despite Thursday’s strong rebound it would not be surprising to see the current pullback last a while longer or even develop into a correction. In the context of a still intact bull market uptrend, we view any weakness as great buying opportunities.

Gored by RINO

You can read about many winning stocks from investment newsletters, but seldom about the ones that did not go according to plan. We take this opportunity to present a lesson in risk management with our most recent speculation gone bad: Rino International (RINO), the very high flyer we highlighted in our last update for having gained the most!

We are pleased to quote from our original recommendation “For all the stated risk elements, and the fact that the bears may prove to be right after all, we are classifying this stock as speculative and, accordingly, we recommend placing a protective stop loss. Instead of the traditional 30% from entry price, we will set the stop at $11.18, the June low, as below this level our RINO investment thesis would clearly be invalidated.”

The short version of what happened next is that after being up encouragingly RINO shares got savaged by a damning analyst report. We got stopped out at our preset $11.18 level limiting our loss to some 26%. Not so bad, considering that the shares continued to drop to finally be halted at $6.07 as of this writing.

All the facts about RINO are not yet clear as the author of the report has himself come under criticism of fraud and class action law suits being filed for stockholders. From the safety of cash we will watch what unfolds and, if noteworthy, update you on the subject.

A small victory

The republican sweep of the midterm elections dominated the news and set the tone in the markets, yet one bit of rejoicing news, not just for green investors but for all humankind, went almost unreported: the defeat of proposition 23 in California. This was an ill-conceived initiative sponsored by big oil companies aimed at suspending the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (aka AB32) and its massive defeat by California voters is a clear vote in favor of clean and renewable energy.

The impact, not only to California’s renewable energy markets but to the movement nationwide and internationally cannot be understated. This decision literally saves over half a million jobs and tens of billions in private investment in California’s clean energy industry. With California’s traditional leadership status in clean-air regulation and renewable energy, the bigger impact is the growing public support for climate change regulation and sound and sustainable energy policies.

Portfolio management

With the end of the year fast approaching we are reminded that great benefits can be gained from sound portfolio management techniques. In particular, we want to identify any used lawn tractors which have delivered solid long-term capital gains for profit taking in a lower tax bracket, and conversely seek any loss leaders for tax-loss harvesting. Be sure to read this feature article in the December issue of the newsletter which applies these simple portfolio management techniques to rebalance the Portfolio.

The Portfolio update and recommendations

It must have been fate that made us write “Keeping short-term gains/losses in perspective” last time as some of these gains have now turned to losses… With a flat broad stock market over the last month, the Portfolio is down 4.04% and the S&P Global Clean Energy Index dropped 7.75%.

Since inception a little over a year ago, the Portfolio returned an aggregate 27.22% versus a loss of 30.13% for the S&P Global Clean Energy Index.

A big part of the recent losses can be attributed to the RINO debacle but there have been major hits to other holdings. In fact, the volatile solar sector was the big loser over the period with an average loss of 13.15%. Other notable losers included Vestas Wind Systems (VWDRY.PK) which continued to frustrate investors with another 19.91% drop.

On the flip side, in order to keep the portfolio’s loss to only 4%, there were some very solid performers as well and we will feature one in particular, our preferred Asian play on efficient transportation. The company has been quietly executing their plan and is delivering growth in key Asian markets like India and China, and the shares are appreciating nicely, 10.83% this month.

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December 9

My Review of Last Night’s Pitches

Here we go again – and welcome!

The first business pitching last night was a company from North London with a business which provided instant paper blinds which required no tools for assembly. The pitch was simply great (Elevator pitch 10/10). They knew their market brilliantly and were able to convince me within the first two minutes that there was a demand for this (and it is large). The question is always about the detail of how to prevent cystic acne and profitability.

The first issue was one on the patent on the product. It is always dangerous for an investor to go into a business which cannot be protected. Barriers to entry are a key requirement for ensuring a business is able to generate good products. As a result of the lack of protection they lost many of the potential investors. (This is a good topic for a future blog!)

The second issue was that the business team (three people) had only achieved one sales meeting with a major retailer in five months. This meant that they got crucified on valuation (they were offered £40,000 for 50% of the business). I felt for them. Had they just spent a bit more time selling the idea, they would have achieved a far higher valuation. I cannot stress this enough – you need to demonstrate to an investor that people want your product. (Incidentally, that is how I got into angel investing. I helped a few startups get their first sales and then realized what had happened to their valuation as a result of my help! I then started investing.)

The second presentation was a low calorie and zero cholesterol curry sauce. It was a good presentation but because of my earlier experience of selling low calorie cakes I was very skeptical. The great thing is that she had actually sold the product. She sold a lot of jars after appearing on QVC. Brilliant, but you only make money out of selling food lots of times – the repeat purchase is very important and this has not yet been proven.

It was all going well but then she dropped a bombshell….

She was trying to transfer assets from one company to another whilst leaving the debts in the original business. This is too sharp for me as a practice. However, the Dragon’s all came out one by one. I disagreed with the reasons the Dragon’s gave for not investing but would not have invested in her because of my skepticism about the appeal of fat free food!

We then had a presentation from an investor looking for £150,000 for 10% of a business providing natural remedies for cystic acne. I am sorry to appear slow but after the presentation; I still did not understand what the business actually was. The entrepreneur was honest, hardworking and passed that critical test of putting his own money (substantial) into the business. Having lost money on investing in businesses I haven’t understood – I was never going to invest in this one and nor did any of the dragons.

The final business pitching tonight was a ‘green’ business which made packaging from recycling materials. They had great customers and it is a business in the moment. I would have invested in this business as unlike the dragon’s I liked the fact that the entrepreneurs had a bigger vision. My only concern would have been that it seemed that the entrepreneurs needed a lot of help on the business. I was delighted to see that at the very end they managed to secure the investment and got one dragon to change his mind!

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December 6

Why I Don’t Like Strategy Consultants

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I am a great believer in business education and have benefited enormously myself from both doing an MBA and more recently qualifying for the Investment Management Certificate. The issue for me is that a lot of careers depend on ensuring that areas like strategy sound more complicated than they actually are. One of my bug bears (I have a few as regular readers will be able to vouch for!) is that some companies hire ‘strategy consultants’.

I have to ask the question – if a company is getting someone else to help formulate strategy – what are the leadership of that company doing, sitting around working on tuning a Holset HX30? Here is a suggestion; if a company hires a strategy consultancy – perhaps the fee for that should come out of the board salaries!

Corporate strategy is easy – it is formulating a plan answering three questions

  • 1) Where are we now?
  • 2) Where do we want to get to?
  • 3) How are we going to get there?

The above is sufficient working knowledge of strategy in my humble opinion. It is also the corner stone of any good plan and my advice to people pitching is that you use this framework for your pitch. The answer to the last question should explain how much money you are looking to raise and what you intend to do with it.

Strategy is not the same as business model – and the two terms should not be interchangeable. If I am asked what my business model is, I assume I am being asked to explain how the business makes (or should make!) money. If I am asked what the strategy is, I assume I am being asked what my plans to ensure the business remains profitable are, or where I am thinking of taking the business in the future.

Back to the three questions, it is of course not as easy as that. The questions are not that easy to answer and ask for a lot of analysis and understanding.

As a potential investor, I need to believe that the business understands the environment they are operating in. They would need to show me that they understand what is happening in the Industry and the Market. They would have a good idea of the forces shaping their business and the options open to them in reacting to changes in the market.

The plans for the company should flow from the explanation from the first section. It needs to be concise and clear and critically everyone involved in the organization needs to understand the logic driving that decision (companies are not and should not be viewed as democracies, every person does not have to agree with the direction, but they should respect the logic that has driven the decision)

Finally, but most critically, investors need to feel that the current management team/ product/ resources are capable of delivering the plan highlighted. The How section is crucial. I have been in situations where I loved the strategy but felt that the team in place were not capable of delivering it – and hence asked for significant management changes before I would invest. This brings me to a side issue.

When entrepreneurs present business plans, at the very beginning they tend to talk about their experience a lot. I would find it more useful if they gave me this explanation along with the How they are going to achieve these goals. As readers to this blog will know, I do not buy into the idea that success in one field means you are good at everything you do, such as developing the best work boot for plantar fasciitis. I need to understand how your past experience is directly relevant in ensuring that you have the ability to execute the plan you have presented.

I know from my own experience that I am good at managing in a crisis and I am good as a ‘temporary’ CEO or sales director. I am not a good business manager and I am not strong at the day to day stuff (which is critical). I was the CEO of a startup. I was good at getting the business set up and getting the right team together, but as soon as the business was launched; I was pretty hopeless as the CEO. I realized early on, and made way for someone who was much better and has made a great success of the business.

Strategy is not difficult, but thinking strategically means you are aware of the wider context in which your business operates and you recognize that your actions will lead to reactions in the markets you operate in. Ensuring you are able to profit from these changes is the key.

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November 25

Choosing Something to Blog About on Your Website

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This is where the blogger (that’s all of us) differs from others.  Let’s get straight to the questions of how to pick a topic and niche (audience) for your blog.

Discover Your Passions

Take a few moments to list all the things you are passionate about – for me, it’s the Kanken backpack.  Don’t stop to think about each one at first – just take 60-120 seconds and keep writing.  Later on we will go back and filter it out but, for now, don’t underestimate the importance of this step.  This will help you organize your thoughts, provide you a more comprehensive list of your interests, and set you up for the next step.

Remember that your readers will know whether or not you are actually passionate about your topic; it will be reflected in your writing.

Start filtering

Look through the list you just created and begin crossing off the ones that you merely enjoy reading or learning about.  What should be left are topics that you are knowledgeable about – topics that you are willing to put in time to research about.  The list should also be narrowed down to a topic you see yourself writing about for (at least) the next few years.

When you start your blog, you are automatically placing yourself as an “expert” in that field.  It is not necessary for you in fact to be an expert in the field.  However, whatever topic you decide to move forward with should be one that you have a certain degree of experience in.  People won’t expect you to know all there is to know about the topic, but they will expect you to provide some sort of valuable content they can’t find elsewhere.

Connect your topic with the Day of Judgment

There is, of course, a line between writing about something you are passionate about and a topic that may be completely useless.  I’m not talking about whether or not the topic is popular.  This is about us standing before Allah on the Day of Judgment and being asked about how we used our time.

In one way or another, your blog has to connect with worshipping Allah and spreading the message of Islam.  Here are some quick ideas for topics that might not seem directly related to the deen and how we can discuss them:

Technology

  • How can we use the latest technology for street dawah?
  • A list of ways Islamic schools can use computers to enhance their education
  • Inform parents how to monitor the websites their children are visiting

Productivity

  • How can Muslims continue worshipping Allah properly during exam time?
  • What are the different methods that people use to memorize Qur’an?
  • Share examples of how the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions used their time

Culture

  • How can we embrace culture without compromising our deen in any way?
  • Discuss the various cultures throughout Islamic history
  • Connect the emphasis on good manners in Islam with cultural etiquette

That’s just a few examples of posts for different topics.  Of course, it may not be that simple with all our posts or even the majority.  However, at no time should we forget that our intentions, our writing, and all the time we spent figuring out how to use our Alen air purifier will be asked about on the Day of Judgment – and we better have answer….for our own sake.

How much time can you dedicate to your blog?

Calculate the approximate amount of time you can afford to put into your blog.  If you don’t have much time to dedicate, don’t pick a topic that requires constant updating (like cell phones for example).  No matter how much you love the topic or how much content you can write, if you can’t keep up with the other competing blogs then your readers will just go somewhere else.

Keep in mind that blogging is a lot more than writing.  You’ll want to take into consideration the time it takes to:

  • Edit your posts, participate in the comments section,
  • Research and learn more about your topic,
  • Connecting with other Muslim bloggers in some way, and taking the
  • Time to follow-up with the back-end data (Google Analytics, advertising stats, affiliate programs, etc…)

All of these elements are key to starting and running a successful blog.  The last one on the list varies depending on how much you are tracking.  Many of us are not keeping track of the data simply to check how much money was made from ads or the number of people visiting.  If you use Google Analytics you’ll want to take some time to make lists of your most popular posts, the types of visitors that are coming, search terms that people are using to get to your site from search engines, and other important pieces of information.  If you use AdSense, you’ll want to find out which ad sizes are making the most and where they are placed.

So take all of these factors into consideration when you are figuring out how much time you have available for blogging.

Research your peers (a.k.a your competition)

Spend some time searching for other bloggers (Muslim or non-Muslim) who share your passion and interest in the topic.  Subscribe to their RSS feed, sign-up for their newsletter, read up on what they have to say about the topic, and participate in the discussions if you can.

In a healthy way, Insha’Allah, the blogs that you find are your direct competition.  Find out what topics they are not covering that deserve to be written about.  Connect with them and help each other to become better, more knowledgeable bloggers.   Competition doesn’t mean bashing or avoiding linking to their blogs.  As Muslim bloggers, we are always looking for the best interest of our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters.  As the Prophet (pbuh) said.

Picking a niche

Once you’ve found the best air purifier for allergies, the next step is to pick a specific audience that you want to write to.  For The Muslim Blogger, I selected to write specifically to the Muslim blogging community.  However, you may choose to write towards Muslim youth or maybe just anyone that has an interest in your topic.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that your blog must be a way to spread the message of Islam for the reasons that will be discussed below.  So if your blog is about business management and it is not geared to Muslims exclusively, don’t leave out words like Insha’Allah or Alhamdulillah.  Rather, use them like any Muslim should and provide a page that defines/explains Islamic terminology.  If there is a relevant hadith or ayah you can place in your blog post, use it.

Teach people that whatever the topic is, Allah’s religion has a position.

Of course, we still need to recognize and stay within the limits of our knowledge when including ahadaith or ayat- but as Allah tells us Ibrahim said in the Qur’an.

Category: Blogging, Religion | Comments Off on Choosing Something to Blog About on Your Website
November 25

Getting Started with Your Own Blog

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Muslim blogs can, and should, be filled with the best ideas.  I’ll repeat that once more, but say it with me this time because it’s not just a nice idea — it is our goal:  Muslim blogs can, and should, be filled with the best ideas.

So far, you have purified your intention, prayed istikhaara, and selected both your topic and target group (niche).  The next step? Read on to find out.

Resource Center

This is something I started about a year ago or so.  I use to have every blog with its own individual folders for things like product reviews/plugins/pictures/screenshots/ideas.  While I didn’t completely abandon that structure, I did try to unify it all into one central folder: Resource Center

Once that folder has been created, I place it in the folders that were relevant to my type of work.   For you, this can be anything you find relevant.  This is folder where you keep everything together, so have a structure that make sense to you from the beginning.  After I added the folders it looked more like this

So the upper level it’s structured like that.  Let’s go inside The Muslim Blogger folder and see what’s in there.

Inside The Muslim Blogger folder, I have certain files that are exclusive to TMB.  What I want to draw your attention to, though, is where the red arrow is pointing: TMB Posts.  This folder is, for the most part, the place I go to whenever I have an idea for a post. On that note…let’s move on to the Brainstorming Ideas

Brainstorming Ideas

Above, we quickly went through what a resource center is and one way that it could be set up.  But what about the actual ideas?  Let’s break this into two parts: what to brainstorm and how to brainstorm.

What to Brainstorm

To avoid wasting time, first make a list of problems you believe you readers have that you can help them solve.  Let’s say there is a Muslim blog about Muslims in America.  You could brainstorm the points you’re interested in — but that won’t help.  You need to find the intersection of your interests and people’s questions.

  • What does it mean to be a Muslim in America?
  • Can you be Muslim and American?
  • Is there a contradiction between the two?

Those are possible questions Muslims may have that would attract readers.  Of course, you would have picked this topic only having looked into your knowledge in it (dunya/deen) and having prayed istikhaara.

So that is a good place for you to start before you get to the next part

How to Brainstorm

Having completed some of the basics of the what, now it is time to cover 3 different ways that may help you to figure out the how.

Branches

Here, you want to get out a paper/pen, open Microsoft word, or some other way to begin getting ideas down.  Some might do well with a Roman Number system outline.  Most of the time, however, I prefer something visual.  I use an app called MindNode for Mac (free version) and I ended up with something that started off like this.

Pretty basic stuff and nothing fancy in any way.  From there, as I’m sure you can guess, I began to branch out another level.

At this point, what I’ve done is essentially narrow down what my entire blog will be about and the direction I want to take it.  You’ll notice that for The Muslim Blogger, the whole idea is shown in that tiny visual and eventually became worded as: Tips to help Muslim bloggers get more traffic, become better writers, and make money.  The next level begins breaking down into what are later categories and tags.

I won’t go through how it looks when you keep branching out, but you get the idea.  All you are doing really is finding a way to clearly lay out what your blog is all about.  And yes, it does make a difference to have it in front of you vs in your head.

Write-As-You-Go

For example, while I’m writing this I have an idea for a post I want to do in the future – a Blueair 203 review.  I open up Notepad (or TextEdit on Mac) and either just right the title I want or both the title and maybe a sentence or two.  Here’s an example of what I mean.

These are three files that I have in my folder:

  • The first is about this series we’re on now and the topics I want to include.
  • The second was nothing more than a title.
  • The last is an idea that came to my mind and I added a few things to get going later.

As you can see, there isn’t one template I use – and there doesn’t have to be.  This is about what works for you and this post is just to point you in a direction that may help you.  I have dozens of files like that and the folder ends up looking something like this.

That’s one way to brainstorm ideas and how it fits in with the resource center.  Alhamdulillah, we find that Allah (swt) gives us ideas all day, every day.  Sometimes the best way to take advantage is to actually sit down for a good-ole fashioned brainstorming sessions.

60 Seconds

This is a technique that I was first introduced to in college and have found it to be very helpful in many different areas.  What you will do here is pick a word related to your blog and then for the next 60 seconds, write down every word that comes to mind.  The key is not stopping and letting the ideas come out – filter the list later on.

For example, let’s use the keyword SEO

  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • Words
  • Help
  • Blogging
  • Writing
  • Ideas
  • Thinking
  • Relationships
  • Importance
  • Relevance
  • Focused
  • Targeted
  • Import
  • Export
  • Read
  • Explore
  • Magazines
  • Nature
  • Biology
  • 2 Wheel Scooter
  • Circle of Life

There’s nothing wrong with it being silly or completely out there.  By the end, I’m not sure how I ended up with “Circle of Life” after starting with “Google”.

It’s a bit of a stretch at first, but the “circle of life” can be used to illustrate how words are interconnected and need to be used in balance so you don’t disrupt the “circle of search engines”.  Other points on there could actually become brand new posts.  Take “import/export” – I could create two posts: (1) How to import your posts and settings from a previous blog and (2) How to export your posts and settings for a new blog.

That list could prove useful in many ways if I spent some time trying to benefit from it. Alhamdulillah, it has helped so far and I do expect that it will continue being a valuable resource in brainstorming topics for The Muslim Blogger.

——————–

In The End

There must be hundreds of ways to brainstorm.  The above are only two strategies that I pray will be beneficial to you.  What is needed now is your input.  Some questions I have for you are:

  • Have you planned out your blog?
  • Do you brainstorm?
  • How do you come up with ideas?
  • In your opinion, do you think the ideas in this post are helpful?
  • What else can you share to help other Muslim bloggers?

I look forward to getting your responses in the comments below.

Category: Blogging | Comments Off on Getting Started with Your Own Blog
November 24

Which Plugins Should You Use on Your Blog?

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One of the primary reasons WordPress has become as successful as it is today is because of its flexibility.  In particular, extending the ability of WordPress through plugins is one of the best ways to make your blog yours by customizing it to your like. There are so many different things that you can do that it would be next to impossible to two different blogs to be totally alike!

Some of these plugins make changes to the design of your blog or add tools to make the experience on your blog better for readers.  Others enhance the back-end and make the writing process and SEO functions much easier to deal with.

So what are the 11 must-have plugins for your WordPress blog about finding the best air purifier? Before going any further, it’s important to realize that not all plugins are for every website. Sometimes you may need only a few of these, sometimes you may need them all, and sometimes you may have a need for a ton of other programs that aren’t on this list.

  • Akismet – This helps to prevent spam and is unbelievably good. It comes standard with all WordPress installs but if you don’t have it for some reason or deleted it, get it now.
  • All in One SEO Pack – Optimize your blog for search engines to find and index you quickly
  • Google XML Sitemaps – Another plugin that does an amazing job in the world of SEO
  • TinyMCE Advanced – 15 extra tools available to you when writing a blog post
  • TweetMeme Button – Make it easier to get your posts retweeted
  • com Popular Posts – A simple way to get a widget with your most popular posts. You can also customize how that list is made.
  • com Stats – In addition to Google Analytics, this is a quick way to get an update on who comes to your blog and the posts they read
  • PollDaddy Polls & Ratings – I use PollDaddy for polls and surveys. They have free and paid accounts but I find that the free one does more than I need at this stage.  This plugin makes PollDaddy easier to use
  • WPtouch iPhone Theme – Anyone visiting your blog from an iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, WebOS, BlackBerry, or Opera Mini will see a customized version. It runs in the background without interrupting anything so there’s no reason not to use it.
  • Contact Form 7 – Let your readers contact you with this plugin. It takes a few moments to set up but once it’s up, it works as expected
  • Simple Tags – Auto-generate tags and edit your posts’ tags in batches with this. Awesome plugin.

Do you use any of these plugins on your blog?  If so, what is your experience with them?  What other plugins do you use?

Help your fellow bloggers out choose the right sleep mask.  Share with us the plugins you use to make the blogging experience a better one. I think that if we all work together, it will be much easier for all of us to have successful blogs running.

Update: One of the commenters below (Ayaz) asked about plugins for social bookmarking.  Here are links to three different social bookmarking plugins: SexyBookmarks, Sociable, and Social Bookmarks.

Category: Blogging | Comments Off on Which Plugins Should You Use on Your Blog?