4 Quick Tips for Brand New Small Biz Bloggers

Does this sound familiar? You’ve got a grant proposal to write, several contracts to review, a merchandising vendor ready for your final designs, not to mention the prospecting that brings in the very business which is your bread and butter or the actual creation of your products! If any of this rings a bell…

Congratulations! You are building a brand! If you stick to it, your hard work will pay off with good returns. But, as your fellow small business owner, I know firsthand that no matter how exhilarating our work is, deadlines in other areas of our businesses can make it difficult to keep the flow of content from being interrupted on a small business blog.  Take a look at these four tips for brand new small business bloggers.

1. Use an editorial calendar.

My blogging platform of choice has always been WordPress. I’ve tried the others and just can’t get behind them. It doesn’t mean that you can’t, won’t or haven’t. I love the editorial calendar plug-in found in WordPress and highly recommend fresh bloggers jump on board as you figure out where you are going and what you are doing. Once installed, this plug-in is nestled under the “Posts” menu and displays in four week snapshots. You can adjust the weeks displayed, moving back to past posts or look at what you’ve got scheduled for the future. Your past posts are imported to the corresponding days they were published, which will allow you to get a feel for when you are most productive or what your publishing habits have been so far.  The easy way drop and drag functionality is a huge time saver and empowers you to quickly manage your daily publishing goals so you can get back to creating!

(If you are struggling with post topics, check out this article I wrote for Michael Pollock’s Bigger Life Blog.)

2. Download a mobile app to allow posting on the go.

Download a mobile blogging app to your Android or iPhone for quick navigation. Mobile apps like  Wordpress are not just for writing new articles. You can easily track your stats, access your reader to catch up with other blogs or re-read and edit old posts. As your online presence begins to sprout, you will want to careful tend to the budding comments and watch traffic patterns for valuable insight on how to maximize your impact. Never blog while driving, not even at stop lights.

3. Ask for feedback.

This is your baby and you are mighty proud of the steps you’ve taken. You should be! Ask a colleague, trusted business partner or associate to take a look at your work so far. Does the information make sense? Is it easily digested by readers? Are your topics relevant to the services that you are offering? Folks closest to your business will be able to connect the dots with what you have created so far and what you provide. Good. Now, can the average, everyday Joe Plumber or a Soccer Mom do the same? If you include business jargon that is unexplained or wander too far into technical specs of your industry, you will quickly lose the most important readers…YOUR FUTURE CLIENTS!

4. Include a Call to Action (CTA)

If you are blogging for your small business, you are blogging for money. Hang on to that fact, stick it in your back pocket and look at your blog as an opportunity to convert readers into clients. A hundred well crafted articles about how to make a great wedding cake does not inspire someone to CONTACT YOU. They might ooh and aah over your work, but need some motivation to pick up the phone or request a price. The point of a blog is to show who you are and what you can do. Now, drive consumer engagement so that when they are ready to buy, they know where to come. You are the expert waiting in the wings to scoop up their business. Be sure you are clearly letting the reader know exactly what you would like for them to do. “Call me for a free consultation” or “Get a 10% discount when you book online.”  Don’t put off today what you want your readers to do before tomorrow.

 Extract your self from writing only long enough to make sure the “big rocks” are well placed, and then get back to creating great content within the boundaries of your well-planned, strategic editorial calendar.

Remember that content is key. Consumer engagement thrives off of good content and will do wonders for you behind the scenes, while you are putting out those other fires. Make time for blogging. Not at the expense of maintaining a superior client relationship, but a top priority. If you do get sidetracked, be forgiving and get back on board. Keep up the great work! You can do this!

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3 Ways to Stay PC for Passover

If you notice a coworker with slightly altered eating habits this week, it may be because they are celebrating Passover.

Members of the Jewish faith, and even some Christians, are celebrating the historical Exodus of the Jews from  400 years of slavery in Egypt. Remembering the suffering of their ancestors and rejoicing over their deliverance,  as the Jewish people were led by Moses to the Promised Land, families around the world are following the rich traditions of their faith which include a Seder meal and reverent sessions of honor and worship.

So, back to that coworker. Why is he brownbaggin’ it instead of having wings with you? Why is he skipping the morning bagels and opting for only fruit?

Well… I think there’s a saying about religion and politics, isn’t there? Oh yeah…they have no place at work! If you are having some trouble with this concept, check out the following three ways to keep your workplace PC for Passover (and any other religious observance). Trust me, you will thank me later.

1. Change the Subject, Now.

So, what’s a girl to do if she accidentally brings up this taboo topic at the watercooler? Well, you certainly don’t have to feel guilty and flustered. It happens naturally in conversations outside of work, so a bit of curiosity about your cubicle-mate may slip out from time to time. But you could and should avoid making the situation more uncomfortable and awkward for others, by politely changing the subject and providing a graceful end to the conversation.  Some folks may be thrilled that you have taken an interest, some folks may not. Thankfully,  this isn’t a decision that you have to make, because you aren’t going to bring it up in the first place.

2.  Respond instead of Reacting.

Definitely don’t criticize, question or engage in a debate about religion. I observed this very situation take place in my workplace once. A few friends were chatting about the upcoming lunch hour which was normally spent together at a local diner. One employee quietly indicated she would not be joining the team on that particular day because she had brought her lunch. Puzzled by her change in routine, another employee asked why she brought her lunch. The first employee stated the she needed to bring food because the local lunch spot didn’t offer choices appropriate for Passover. Okay… straightforward enough. And, in my opinion, the conversation should have ended peacefully and respectfully, right there. I anticipated a response of understanding (“Oh, okay, I’ll see you when we get back) or even acceptance, since the two ladies worked closely together and seemed to enjoy one another’s company.

“I understand. Why don’t we order in and all eat together? I can’t wait to hear what you thought about last night’s Idol pick!”

Instead, I found myself groaning inwardly as the response came.  I heard this woman, in a very matter of fact manner, discuss why dietary restrictions for religious observance were so silly to her. I cringed as what ensued was a full blown, passionate debate about the relevance of fasting, futility of faithfulness and even defamation of organized religion around the world.

The offending, self-proclaimed woman-of-no-faith seemed to enjoy the conversation and be energized by the disagreement. Meanwhile the woman of faith proudly walked to  lunch and seemed no worse for the wear, at least on the outside. But what of the wreckage? At least ten coworkers were within range if the conversation and several were visibly upset. Hey Debate Club… It’s wrong. It’s highly unprofessional. Cut it out!

3. When in Doubt, Just Don’t.

I get that we can never remove every personal aspect out of our lives at work. In fact, some folks swear that to maintain a good balance between work and life, you’ve got to feel like your coworkers know and respect you as a person, as well as a professional. I have been friendly and open at work and I have been a no nonsense, let’s- get-down-to-brass-tacks kind of gal. Both strategies have significant challenges. But, I’ll take professional over personal ANY day of the week.

In my experience, any comments about one’s personal life can be misconstrued and taken out of context later down the line. Its really impossible to protect oneself from all the possible repercussions of ingrained prejudice or subconscious, subtle judgements made on a daily basis in our offices, our homes-away-from-home.  This is exactly why we have laws to protect employees from being put in this situation. I  wonder what the woman I described above would do if she was to find that her faithful Jewish coworker had been promoted to a management position over her.

So, if you see a coworker observing this week by eating unleavened foods, just say Happy Passover. Or, on second thought,  just keep your mouth shut. It’s none of your business anyway. Remember that you don’t have to share (your personal business) to care (about your job, coworkers, team, fill in the blank.)

The Salty Truth About Making Callye’s Cookies

Alrighty folks! Here we go. It’s taken me a week to recover since my adventure in making cookies. You may recall my intent to recreate the famous sugar cookie recipe from The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle. Well, it’s time to ‘fess up about the outcome.

Note to Readers: I love cookies and making them, but I make only two recipes, both from my Grandmother Betty and lacking any decorating component other than a basic sweet, lemon glaze or some red and green cherries. As you also may know, I am much more comfortable making and decorating cake, a hobby I picked up when my sister was planning her wedding. Okay. Back to business.

The Truth Comes Out

The truth is that my adventure was not so much sweet, as it was salty. Yep…I said, SALTY.

Everything started out great, the dough felt and looked good. I was really happy with the action as I rolled it out and my handmade cookie cutters sure were working great. SCOREBOARD TEXAS! Because my oven cooks hot, I was switching out pans about every four minutes, ensuring that the edges weren’t browning. I was in the swing of things. Vintage signs, hearts and squares, oh my!

The first sign of trouble didn’t come until I excitedly prepared to take the first bite of my culinary handiwork, testing my prowess in the crossover from cakes to cookies. Prepare for applause…

Crrrrunch!

What tha??? I grabbed cookies of every shape, as if that had something to do with texture.

Vintage sign shape? Crunch.

Heart? Crunchskys!

Square? Crunch, crunch, CUH-RRRRUNCH!

Even the next bite and then the next three after that confirmed my worst fears. I had stupidly used the large crystal, organic sea salt instead of regular salt. Massive fail.

Thank goodness, it was only Tuesday. Three dozen trash bound cookies later, a new batch of perfectly baked, sweet and savory balanced specimens were laid out for review and approval. Ahhh, the aroma lingered with my first bite. Hallelujah! The recipe was great and the leavening had given the cookies just the right amount of chewy spring. Back to winning! On to the icing!

Further Follies

I would like to say that I learned a good lesson, ironed out the kinks in my attention span and had smooth sailing going forward. The truth is that this time last week, I was furiously blowing on leaky cookies and mopping up confectionery sugar glaze from my breakfast counter. You must be wondering, “And why might this be?” or  “Didn’t you follow the timelines that Callye gave?”  Well, I tried. Here’s the skinny.

Never one to follow rules and encouraged by Sugarbelle’s admonition to find what works best for me {All roads leads to Rome}, I decided that I would not use her Royal Icing recipe, but would go with a well-rated Food.com recipe from Alton Brown. This was partly because Good Eats came on while I was researching {AB is my chef/scientist idol} and partly because I kept seeing hard, royal icing cookies in bags at the Dollar Store cash register. Those dusty cookies at the store were screaming “broken tooth” and looked like they could compete in that McDonalds food aging experiment. For some weird reason, I had associated meringue powder with that “hardness” and just assumed AB’s fresh egg white recipe would taste and feel better. I knew how beautiful the Sugarbelle cookies were and that 5,000 cookie fans couldn’t be wrong, but I just couldn’t do it. Not for the bestie’s bridal shower! Ah, hindsight…

Well, Alton’s recipe never thickened, so I ended up adding an additional two or three cups of powdered sugar per recipe. {It wasn’t until much later that I would realize that All Whites egg whites from the carton will not turn into a good meringue}. I burnt out the motor in my hand mixer. But hey, there’s always the Kitchen Aid giveaway. Surely, I would win, not that many people could have entered anyways. Heh, heh, heh.

Using all of Sugarbelle’s tips on piping and flooding, I finally got my colors mixed and bagged correctly. It was so gratifying to outline each shape and then flood ’em once dry. I kept hearing her sweet Southern tutorial voice in my head. “Outline it like this…” .

She sure was right about making changes quickly. Boy…my flooding technique took quite awhile to sink in–to both the cookies and my thick skull. Not sure if it was the extra THREE CUPS of sugar or what, but my flood icing was hardening really quickly and I found myself using my finger to spread it out. Wait! Finger?? Yep! Another few cookies in the trash.

Because I was also making a three-layer dark chocolate cake with milk chocolate European buttercream, decorating it and making petit-fours shaped like mini wedding cakes at the same time as this flooding crisis arose, I was thrilled when I suddenly remembered the greatest tip Sugarbelle ever learned about decorating icing…the SPRAY BOTTLE!

Okay, so she said to spray the icing to thin it before you bagged it, not spray the icing after its on the cookies.

“You sprayed the cookies?”

Yes.

Sigh. The scatterbrained kicked in.

I…sprayed…my…cookies…with water.

Pressing forward, not to be outdone by sweet treats, I covered the soggy mistakes as best I could with fresh icing. I got the cookies, still drying with the cover-up icing and loaded them gingerly onto cooling racks in this nifty getup I created out of big Rubbermaid storage bins. I figured that the extra thirty minutes during the drive to the bridal shower was absolutely necessary if I wanted to produce the highest quality work and be truly proud of my first round of decorated cookies. {Insert snicker.}

Little did I know that on the way, a very polite gentleman would choose to brake in the middle of the highway, with no rhyme or reason. This, of course, resulted in emergency braking on our part and TA DA! –cookies stuck to the inside walls of Rubbermaid containers. Hey! I had a cake in my lap! What could I do?

Long story a lil’ bit longer…we got there. I was able to peel them off the walls of the container just fine. Thankfully, I had disinfected the entire thing well before using it. They were super smudged, but there were only a few casualties. {Cookies, not people.} I didn’t even cry. I think the champagne bar + all-niter gave me a kind of shell-shocked euphoria….

So, as you can see, there was a lot to stomach about this endeavor. I really couldn’t laugh and consequently blog about it until now. Despite the challenges and screwy mistakes, the recipe tasted AMAZING and I got some very sweet compliments from the guests. {Luckily, I didn’t have a salty cookie to show them my true talents}.

The biggest and best laugh of all came when the bride-to-be said that she liked the cookies better than my cake! I bagged them with a little pink ribbon as “thank you” favors and the remainder went home with the bride, so she could enjoy them for Valentine’s Day. Until I accidentally grabbed the basket and took it home myself, that is.

Moral of the Story

Maybe these are really apparent to you, but I made a few notes for myself.

  • Keep the Sea Salt on a different shelf than the regular salt.
  • If you try a recipe, stick to the complementary recipe {one that accompanies it} for best results on a multiple-recipe final product.
  • Fingers off!
  • Never spray baked goods with water!!
  • Research best practices for transporting your baked goods to an event well before departure.
  • Be able to laugh at your mistakes and humbly share with others.

So Sugarbelle, thank you for your inspiration and creative genius. I will never stray from it again, as I make these cookies in the future.

Yes! I will be making them again because after eating a leftover Thank-You bag of cookies every day, I’m hooked on these suckers! South Beach be darned!

Besides, my son has been selling them, like a slick entrepreneurial moonshiner, out of his lunchbox at school for quarters to spend on after-school doughnuts.

We are in business, baby!

You are reading , The Salty Truth About Making Callye’s Cookies originally posted on PollySentrick. If you’ve enjoyed this post, join us and check out PollySentrick on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest.

Amazing or Authentic? Listening to Echoes and Stirrings

There is such a difference between writing what you know and knowing what you write, isn’t there?

I mean, everyone says, “Write what you know”. I think we all agree and I have certainly always strived to follow this magnanimous rule, cursing myself silently when I wandered too far into the side lane of the “mastery highway”.

But, I never considered how different that is from “knowing” what I write. A sense of acute self-awareness. Well, something sort of clicked over in me unexpectedly last night. In the wee hours, when I am usually most productive, I felt restless and uneasy. My words didn’t flow the way they usually do when the keyboard and I connect. It wasn’t writer’s block. It was more. A deep need and longing to listen to the stirrings of my soul and spirit. “Ok. I could do that”, I said aloud to only my self.

I began to listen to what my self had to offer up,  in a very patient and still sort of way. I heard an authoritative cry of “Deeper!” from somewhere down inside and obliged, despite.the urge to laugh at myself and turn on the television.

“Deeper!”, came the insistent command again. “Okay, okay”, I said, still aloud, deliberately strengthening my resolve to block out my new ideas, those chain reactions that are always tumbling around inside me, as if desperate to get out and be free.

As I waited motionlessly, curious about what I assumed must be some great and powerful revelation, I realized that I was indeed quite thirsty for what would and could surely quench my parched and patched up being–body, mind and soul. It never occurred to me that I might not like what I had to say. Or that the experience would be more of a chastisement, than lauding of praise. In a nutshell, I never thought I would be overcome by probing, gutteral feelings of being utterly worthless and useless, stemming from the authentic voice inside me. {Think less “scene in the second Matrix movie when the probes find Jada Pinkett Smith’s ship and begin to rip it apart” and more “taking the red pill from Morpheus in the first movie”.}

No, it never occurred to me. But nonetheless, my core was truly shaken with the internal advertisement of my imperfections and flaws as both a person and a writer. Don’t be alarmed that I’ve given in to low self-esteem! This internal guide, it wasn’t those self-defeating thoughts of doubt and failure, that whisper sweet nothings in our ear to sway us from the course that I was accepting as sweet nuggets of truth. As much as it could be, it was a loving and real experience, a “rebuke like oil on my head.”

You may wonder how I responded or maybe more why I am sharing this intensely personal experience?

Well, I began to weep bitterly, not out of defeat or sadness, but at the true knowledge of my total ignorance. I knew at that moment that I couldn’t be content to just “write about what [I] knew”, because I was realizing how little that actually was in the grand scheme of things. {And I suspect we are very similar in this way, but too terrified to let it show in front of  others.} Believe me, writing these words now is an exercise of faith, for sure.

I felt confident that on this journey I travel, I should constantly question if I am being my authentic self. Not “self” in the sense of stingy and sinful, but “self” in the sense of my true identity. {Of course, that opens a whole new topic of questioning who one truly is and what defines oneself, but not right now. Stay with me.} I share this pretty personal moment because I know how personal writing is and rightly should be. If you aren’t being personal, you probably aren’t being read, right? Call me crazy, but I think someone out there can relate.

So, here I am, on the other side of my shot-in- the-arm session. A little wondrous, a bit cautious, but altogether better for it and ready to keep writing but with renewed depth. I believe that we don’t always have to write “amazing” content, but it should be authentic. I commit to remind myself that I should always be digger “deeper”, not just relying on my ability as a wordsmith to get me by, and then consider that “my best”.

Even if you don’t write, I hope that this lesson I’ve encountered will be of some worth to you. I believe in this age of digital everything, we are spoonfed so often that we forget to eat for ourselves. I wonder what your authentic self has to say and what it will prompt you to engage in your life. If you are brave enough, maybe you will share with the rest of us?

You are reading , Amazing or Authentic? Listening to Echoes and Stirrings originally posted on PollySentrick. If you’ve enjoyed this post, join us and check out PollySentrick on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest.

Go! Be A Mentor, Drive Results and Become A Leader

It’s February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day and each year, I celebrate this day with a heart-shaped cake and the singing of a traditional song.

Noooo….It’s not because I celebrate Valentine’s Day-Eve, its because I celebrate a birthday! My mother’s!! So, I thought it only appropriate that she be the inspiration for my post today.

So, how does this relate to digital marketing or business? Well, having a mother is one of the things that links all of humankind. Both literally and theoretically, we were all brought forth from someone else. To enter adulthood, we needed a helping hand, a guiding light and a nurturing source. I am amazingly blessed to have The Saint of all saints for a mother and consider it a true privilege to have had a powerful source of inspiration that taught me to go hungrily after my passions and never see the impossible. Furthermore, as a teacher by nature and trade, she always stressed the importance of sharing knowledge and joyfully helping others.

Authentic-Leadership

As I age, I notice, both personally and professionally, the disparity amongst younger folks these days, who, at alarming rates, tend to lack well-defined skill sets, social graces, interpersonal skills and the strong sense of integrity that I assumed came with the territory of adulthood. I fully embrace the diversity of our world and revel in the strength it brings us as a nation of people. But from a business perspective, it’s disconcerting that our churn is so significant that we would consider it a waste of time to simply interact. I find it appalling that we don’t reach out and build better relationships, but deliberately isolate these individuals, invisibly marking them as easy prey in our respective, competitive campaigns for personal success and glory.

One of the great travesties that I see in today’s workplace is the lack of a guiding figure that plays an integral role in one’s professional and personal development. A mentor.

Let me be clear- I’m describing a formal relationship that both parties enter with the shared goal of a long-term,close interaction. I’m not talking about just a boss, a trainer or a co-worker. While a mentor can certainly hold one of those titles and all of those roles carry great influence, I’m referring specifically to one who plays a sacred role in the life of a young{ish} professional.Mentor-Diagram

I heard once that we should always eagerly seek out a leader we admire with the intent of one day being able to take his/her place. I would like to add that maybe this should be viewed with a different lens.

Ambition is great and absolutely vital to survival in our dog-eat-dog world. But instead of planning a subtly, hostile takeover of our senior executives, should we not be focusing our attentions elsewhere? Who we will bring along with us? Who we will commit to truly nurture and guide this year? Who will we actively develop for success in life in general and not just to successfully maintain our legacy?

These are not popular ideas because they require an investment of Time and of Self. But, the ROI {return on investment} ! If we spent an hour developing an employee instead of cleaning up his mess, we would reap long term, sustainable results.

Nobody goes to work and says “I want to do a really awful job today”. But, it happens {too many times} when fresh talent bounds through the door, eager to absorb, digest and contribute, but then is left hanging out to dry; making their own way down a thorny path. I contend that this is a true waste of resources and senior level managers should proactively engage their teams to seek out a mentor, if no one is knocking on the door. Enable them to find a good fit! Facilitate a valuable introduction! 

A leader never has to tell others to follow…they just do. If we each focused on what positive change we can affect in our respective worlds by mentoring another, our workplaces would overflow with increased productivity, fresh ideas, increased value adds and eventually streams of revenue. And we would become leaders…by default.

I encourage you to be enriched by sharing experiences with another and to reach out to share your best practices with someone today. Don’t put this off. Even a small effort can have a ripple effect. Regardless of your industry, it can be a rewarding experience to impact the career of another. {Chances are that you will even be recognized by your seniors as the go-to guy for employee engagement and be promoted.}

With that, I have a heart-shaped cake to eat and a song to sing. Happy Birthday, Mama!

 Did a mentor play a role in your professional development. How do you engage with younger professionals to share your best practices? Leave a comment with your experiences as a mentor or mentee.

You are reading , Go! Be A Mentor, Drive Results and Become A Leader originally posted on PollySentrick. If you’ve enjoyed this post, join us and check out PollySentrick on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest.

Sources

Authentic-Leadership. Digital image. Http://smartwomensmoney.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.

Mentor-Diagram. Digital image. Http://happygolegal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Mentor-Diagram.jpg. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2013.