Blogs have evolved from supplying commentary around any given topic to become a powerful marketing tool. They’re like the pawn that got to the other end of the board. Blogs – the New Queen on the board?
Chronologically they are listed with the most recent at the top, and often written in diary form. Ultimately they are an opinion piece – and to the search engines, that’s what makes them attractive. For regardless of how they came about, content is king – and that means keyword-rich original content.
Blogs then, are written for website rankings – they are the means and not the end. In hunting terms, they are the beaters that herd the game to the hunters. Thus, the role of the blog has shifted. Now, while its content is still valid and determines the outcome of the search engines algorithms, its goal is to direct traffic to the hosting website. If you are the originator of the blog, then it is your website that the search engines will get excited about. The interesting thing about that, is that your blog doesn’t even have to be relevant to your particular product or service – it only has to be hosted by your site. You might be an engineering company with a passion for chess, so any blogs you host – well written, keyword rich original content – about chess, will drive up your rankings and bring traffic to your site. And from there, you do your magic with regard to the range and content of your professional services. Blogs allow a far greater net to be cast – to mix our hunting metaphors – than the narrower opportunities on offer solely from within your own field or industry. You could say that they provide width rather than depth.
Blogs that are intended to be specific about a product or service, are no longer opinion pieces suppling commentary around any given topic – their intent is now to focus on one particular aspect. Instead of a blog about chess, we’ve moved to an article that discusses gambits and how to formulate a strategy based on your opponents opening. This level of expertise requires a writer who is familiar with chess – the blog on the engineering site might have been 500 words on the history of the game – something any competent wordsmith could put together quite quickly. But the pros and cons of gambits, en passant and when to castle, requires the expertise of a wordsmith with a definite understanding and affinity for ‘the game of Kings.’ The blog on the history of chess brought visitors to your sight – now the site itself must keep the visitor. This is where your marketing consultant takes over and your magic begins. The blog has done its job – the articles on offer that inform the visitor must now take over. They no longer cover such a large area – they don’t have to – rather they must begin to indicate the depth of product knowledge or service that you offer and that will maintain the interest of your visitor. These articles will inform, inspire, direct attention, capture interest – they will be referenced, offer method and data, compare and educate – they will determine whether or not your visitor stays, bookmarks, refers or passes over, your site. They are no longer blogs – they are now articles.
These articles act as transition pieces – but what is now needed is a demonstration of the expertise you and your team can offer – and that requires the same level of expertise from your wordsmith. This is the world of the technical writer – the chess master who can debate the 1972 Spassky v Fischer World Chess Championship against the backdrop of the Cold War, or whether Norway’s Magnus Carlsen’s winning strategy is based on attacking his opponents, or simply outplaying them.
And let’s not forget the chess scene in the first Harry Potter movie
when all the pawns suddenly transform into defence mode – classic!
And let’s not forget the chess scene in the first Harry Potter movie when all the pawns suddenly transform into defence mode – classic! Our article is now a technical article, our wordsmith a career professional in the appropriate profession or field, and our visitors compelled to hit the ‘contact us’ tab because their search is over and their relationship with you is about to begin. If the potential client is lost now, it won’t be because the journey to your ‘contact us’ tab was deficient. The width has given way to depth, but the depth needed the width in order to do its job. A blog on the history of chess has enabled you to land a new client interested in base isolation for a new suburban library.
Blogs then, serve their purpose, one which must be understood. Like any tool, they have their place, and when used properly will achieve just what they are designed for – getting the rankings from the search engines, getting the clients to your site. That is our job – after that it’s the job of your marketing consultant. We’ve played our part – the rest is up to you.
What do your legs look like?
I’ve always liked the model of the 3-legged stool when trying to establish a foundation for any enterprise. So when it comes to business, my three legs are:
- Business is about relationships
- Never take a professional criticism personally
- Establish boundaries between your professional and personal lives.
Of the three, I find the last one the hardest, although as one who suffers from depression, the second one isn’t always easy either. So let’s look at each one briefly.
Business is about relationships. This should be self-evident, yet it is easy to forget. No matter how good your product or service is, without a client or customer all you have is a concept, a system or an inventory. No matter how good your business or marketing plan is, it’s about cashflow, and that means sales. And that comes down to how your client or customer perceives you – do they see a person of integrity with their best interests at heart, or a charlatan who they cannot trust? We must remember that as we are evaluating the person we are wanting to doing business with, they are also evaluating us. They are asking themselves “do I want to do business with this person?” I remember trying to deal with the owner of a business a friend of mine once worked for – and I could tell immediately that I did not want to do business with him. Call it discernment or a 6th sense perhaps, but I knew I could not trust this man.
Never take professional criticism personally. I was taught this lesson very early in my working life – something I’ve been very grateful for. Making a mistake doesn’t minimise you as a person, rather it reinforces the need for diligence as a professional. If you have received personal criticism for your professional endeavours, you may need to try and understand the motives of your critic. It could be that they feel threatened by you, and here is an opportunity for them to deflect some of that back. The issue then is theirs, not yours.
Establish boundaries between your professional and personal lives. This is more important than we might realise, for we tend to define ourselves by what we do. Isn’t the first question we ask a stranger we meet: “and what do you do?” Imagine your surprise if the answer given was: “I’m a poet but I drive trucks to make a living.” The other aspect to this is balance. I was brought up with the saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and we all know people who are so engrossed in their business, that it dominates them 24/7. We call them workaholics, and the ultimate cost of this is too high – families, friends and health all suffer. All because of badly defined goals and values.
Each of these ‘legs’ are more than just personal supports however – they are perceived by our clients and customers. And if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that perception is reality. So what three legs support your stool? What are the core values that enable you to both attract and be attractive to your clients and customers? Why would someone want to give their hard earned money to you instead of someone else? It could be your point of difference, or it could go an awful lot deeper – do they want to deal with your business? Or do they want to deal with you?
Backwards to go forwards – how does that work?
I seem to have a lot of mantras! Another one of them is “Challenge: EVERYTHING” – I’ve even had a stamp made of it. Alongside that I put three principles that I was taught when I was studying to be an architectural draughtsman. They are:
- Start with what you know.
- Read around your subject.
- Decide where you want to go and work backwards.
As professionals who have decided that what we know has commercial value, the first one is a given. Yet all too often we can become complacent. Our confidence in ourselves and our abilities needs constant re-evaluating in our technologically-driven, fast-changing, innovative-today-and-obsolete-tomorrow world. We can be ahead of the pack at one point and then yesterday’s consultant the next. I used to be an expert in computer colour management – I wrote articles on it and people came to me for advice. One of the major film manufacturers came to me for advice on how to use their own colour management software! That was 20 years ago. Today I have to get an ARA fine arts student to show me how it’s done. I moved on in a different direction, and it moved on and evolved as it went, and now I’m the one getting the advice I used to give. So, by all means start with what you know, but don’t neglect the professional development required to maintain and expand it.
This leads to the second point – read around your subject. This is particularly important in today’s world when everything is about convergence. I gave a talk at CPIT once when digital photography was in its infancy, and predicted that the day will come when the difference between still photography and video, was a button on the camera. The tutor scoffed at it – today it’s a standard feature on your phone! I later wrote an article on the future of photography, trying to make sense of the convergence of the time. Looking back I got it almost completely wrong – but it made sense at the time and was the beginning of my writing career. And because I also had a background in the pre-press industry, I understood photography from both the taking and the reproduction sides, and therefore the – often conflicting – requirements of both. I understood the bigger picture – pardon the pun – and not just my part of it. So who do you rub shoulders with? Get to know and understand their contribution to your professional world, and your credibility will be greatly enhanced. And by extension, your profitability.
It is said that when NASA set out to put a man on the moon, they started by assuming that they had got there, and then figured out how they had achieved it. They started with the outcome and worked backwards. This is just basic goal setting, yet sometimes they aren’t as clearly defined as they should be, with the result being that the means and the method are also unclear. In NASA’s case, they had two parameters – a goal and a time frame – a man on the moon by the end of the decade. They also had a very large budget and political motivation – this was the era of the Cold War and the USSR was perceived to be winning. And while our stakes might not be quite so high, we do have competitors with similar goals based on similar motivation and performance standards. So, the clearer the goals, the clearer the plans, priorities and decisions, the less stress and the more confidence you have – each of which your clients notice and which gives them greater confidence in you and their decision to engage you. Your goals – stated or not – makes you more attractive as a professional. And by extension, more profitable.
In the end though, what makes you stand out from your contemporaries? You’re competent and technically aware – so are they. You’re competitive and believe in exceeding expectations – so do they. So where’s your edge? What brings your clients to your door as opposed to your competitors? We hear the word ‘smart’ a lot these days, and tend to use it to mean clever, more efficient, better value for money, convergent. I would suggest that this takes us back to where I started – “Challenge: EVERYTHING.” Never cease asking ‘why?’ Bring out the 2-year old in you – take nothing for granted. Convergence is not only about assimilating the past, it’s about defining the future. Start with what you know, read around it, and then ask “what if?” Define your future, and then figure out how to make it happen. In doing so you will increase your clients profitability. And by extension your own.
How do we review our own KPi’s when we’re self-employed? How can review ourselves objectively?
The concept of wellness is the idea that our health is largely driven by our state of mind, and our state of mind determines our performance. From a business point of view, performance powers profits, which is why we have key performance indicators (KPI’s), targets and performance reviews. And just because we work for ourselves, doesn’t mean that KPI’s and performance reviews aren’t important, although they are harder because we are our own reviewer, and invariably we are our own worst critic. So how do we address this, especially if we are going through a low patch?
The first thing is to understand the nature of performance:
- It is definable.
- It is measurable.
- It is reviewable.
By extension then, performance is separate from our state of mind, and therefore impervious to our moods or rhythms. We can therefore evaluate it apart from ourselves, because we have established a definitive criteria – one that we can write down and refer to, one that doesn’t change just because we aren’t in a good place mentally, emotionally, or – dare I say it – spiritually. So let’s briefly look at our three criteria.
Performance is definable. Regardless of the nature of your work, you established yourself as a professional in your field with the intent of providing a specific service. You did this out of the conviction that your skill set and experience would carry you through whatever work came your way, work based on your clients conviction that you are the right person for the job. Or to put that another way, your previous performance has convinced someone else to pay your for your current performance. They gave you a specific set of tasks with a definable outcome, and you exceeded their expectations. They defined it, you exceeded it. The first box ticked.
Performance is measurable. My personal mantra is to exceed expectations – go the extra mile is the phrase we use. This isn’t about ingratiating ourselves on someone else, this about pure professionalism. You aren’t the only person offering your particular service, and the market place is very competitive. So why would you give your client any reason to go elsewhere? The ultimate performance review comes from your client, not from your state of mind. Did they pay you? Did they come back for more? They defined it, they endorsed it. The second box ticked.
Performance is reviewable. The reason why your clients come to you is because you have a service that they need, and they have ascertained that you are the best person for the job at that point in time. But you aren’t the only service provider – we call that competition. Are you competitive? And how do you review that? Do not make the mistake of assuming that price is the sole criteria – your clients will pay a premium for satisfaction. If you lose a client based on price, that will be the reason they give you, but the likelihood is that they have reviewed your performance, and your quality has dropped. Conversely, if they continue to engage you – even though they know that your competition is cheaper – it is because they have reviewed your performance, and you have passed. They defined it, they endorsed themselves. The third box ticked.
Performance is about professionalism. You are the professional and you have been engaged for that reason. End of story. It is your confidence in your original decision to hang out your shingle – a decision measured and reviewed by your clients – that is your ultimate KPI. Are your still in business? Do your clients keep coming back? Or better yet, refer you to someone else? You defined it, they endorsed it. The last box ticked.
We feel we can’t go on, but the cost of getting off is too high? Is there an alternative? And how would we manage it?
Business is relational – it can’t operate in isolation. It is symbiotic, contractual and ongoing. It has both bonuses and penalties, benefits and consequences. But at its core, it is intensely human. It is not just about the desire to support our families, it is also about recognition, satisfaction and achievement. It requires passion, motivation and tenacity, each of which can be very fragile at times. But business is also a machine, and once turned on cannot be easily turned off. It is relentless, consuming and sometimes overwhelming, and there is no ‘pause’ button. So while our wellbeing is subject to the variables of our personality, our business is subject to the variables of the marketplace and legislative obligations. And the two don’t necessarily mix very well. So how do we deal with what has become a treadmill – we feel we can’t go on, but the cost of getting off is too high? Is there an alternative? And how would we manage it?
The answer lies in our original drivers – what was our motivation? Why were we passionate about embarking on the twin responsibilities of being a professional in our chosen field, alongside the requirements of business management? Because it is invariably the latter that causes the grief – few of us go into business for business’ sake.
This is the heart-based bit, where our intent is fuelled by our desire to express what is important to us, to communicate through needs and values and not just expediency. Yes we need the money – and if that was our sole driver we would all be involved in some aspect of the financial industry, because that invariably is where the money is. But our motivation isn’t expediency, it is far stronger than that and lies at the core of our being. A definition of being human I use is “one who seeks to express understanding,” so being driven by passion is the desire to be heard and understood. We went into business because we believed in our ability to be able to consistently deliver our product or service, in a manner that was beneficial to both ourselves and our clients – the symbiotic aspect of the relationship. And the indicator that we have succeeded, is when our clients comes back for more. So, is our passion still intact? Do we still have that ‘fire in our bones’ that inspires us and drives our heart?
This is the mind-based bit, where our intent has direction and structure. Every profession has its specific categories, and while we are invariably aware of them all, we have chosen one or two in particular to focus our attention on – to become a specialist in. Combining this with the – often burdensome – structural requirements of business management, and motivation is inevitably the driver that is the most vulnerable. Passion simply is not enough. Without motivation it turns inward, and undermines rather than supports our heart. Motivation then, is key – everything else stands or falls against it.
Ironically, the decision to get off the treadmill will need to be managed just as much as the decision to stay on – winding up a business has its own stresses, including grief and the sense of failure, particularly if bankruptcy is in the wings. It has its own motivation, one that has an apparent short-term benefit, but one that is also less clearly understood. Getting off then, is not an easy option. But the relentlessness of staying on when things seem out of control has its own challenges. Either decision then, is driven by motivation – one the vehicle of the heart and passion, the other the vehicle of the mind and relief. And both of them must be managed.
The alternative then, is not actually an alternative, rather it is management. And management is always about prioritising. And prioritising requires decisions. At this point, help is required – so don’t be fooled into thinking that seeking help is somehow a sign of weakness – it is quite the opposite. It takes courage, strength and the fundamental desire to move forward. The likelihood is that the principles and the structure are sound, and what is needed is another perspective to help make the decisions and set the priorities.
It is possible then, to not only get the treadmill under control, but to regain the enjoyment of the recognition, satisfaction and achievement that motivated us in the first place. And that is our third driver – tenacity – convincing us that our original decision was sound, and that with some re-prioritising and good communication with our business associates, we are still in business.
Communication – the art of telling more than we know.
Silence tells us more than noise, while space is as valid a design element as any graphic or block of text. Gestalt tells us that the whole is different to the sum of the parts, and we’re all aware that. – whether we like it or not – perception is reality. Communication then, is the art of telling more than we know.
Consider this conversation:
Bernard Woolley : “But, you only need to know things on a need-to know basis.”
Sir Humphrey Appleby : “I need to know everything. How else can I judge whether or not I need to know it?”
Bernard Woolley : “So that means you need to know things even when you don’t need to know them. You need to know them not because you need to know them but because you need to know whether or not you need to know. If you don’t need to know, you still need to know so that you know that there is no need to know.”
Sir Humphrey Appleby : “Yes!”
Bernard Woolley : “Good. That’s very clear!”
A part from demonstrating the cleverness of writers Antony Jay and Jonathon Lynn, this brief dialogue highlights the difference between knowing and communicating – in this case bordering on obfuscation. Clear?
Communication – by definition – is relational. Knowledge is irrelevant if it isn’t put to use – it’s only data as opposed to wisdom. The all pervasive presence of the Internet has reinforced the distortion of knowledge, to the point where ‘fake’ news has become an industry, intended to disrupt and mislead. Once referred to as ‘disinformation’ – a propaganda technique designed to manipulate an enemy – it has spawned into a political weapon in which agendas trump facts and fiction is an engineered reality. So how do we establish ourselves and our products, services – and vision – against this manipulated backdrop?
Communication provides its own answer, for business – by definition – is also relational. Commerce, transaction, debit and credit – none of these terms mean anything in isolation. Profit and loss imply dealings between entities – ‘win, win’ means that both parties have benefited, and that ‘the story has moved forward,’ as the movie industry would say. Communication is about the story, about the motivation and self belief that inspired the principals to work 24/7/365, mortgage houses and risk everything – even other relationships, bankruptcy and health. Convinced of the story only they could tell, the contribution only they could make, the challenges only they could overcome, the problems only they could resolve, they began collecting stones for their own David and Goliath “once upon a time …”
Stories however, must be told. Humanities existence has always consisted of them – historians make their living collecting and collating stories of civilisations – stories of power and corruption, empires and hero’s, romance and war, fortunes made and lost – stories of the human condition regardless of epoch or era. These are often about the silence in the noise, the space in the crowded market place, the moving forward from perception to reality that could only be achieved once your particular part has contributed to the whole.
So there it is – your story of fortune and empire building, your research and development, the decisions you faced when the ethics or values didn’t match, the realities of next week against the perspective of legacy. This is your wisdom amongst the data, the motivation and that your role has shaped the sum of the parts in some unique fashion. You can tell more than you know, because your story is told against the backdrop of genuine relationship and social responsibilities, rather than ‘fake realities.’ You have humanity on your side. To paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby: “we need to know everything. How else can we judge whether or not we need to know it?”
Now, let’s begin: “Once upon a time …”