Why You Need Good Listening Skills

Dog listening

The Importance of Having Good Listening Skills

Dog listeningWe often think we are communicating effectively and of course, we want people to take action on what we say. So it can be frustrating when we talk and share a message and NOTHING happens.  Crickets…. Most likely, you were doing only half of what needs to be done to effectively communicate- the talking part. Listening is the other half – perhaps the better half – of all communication. Unfortunately, most people rarely receive any formal training for how to do it properly. Improving your listening skills can enhance your professional and personal life. Follow these practical steps towards becoming a better listener, even in challenging situations where it’s most important.

5 Tips for Better Listening

1. Ignore distractions:

Give the speaker your full attention by looking him/her in the eye. Don’t be looking at your phone or anything else.   Let the speaker know you’re interested. Having an appreciative audience makes it easier for people to express themselves. It will also help you stay alert.
 If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the subject at hand.

2. Listen for the main points:

It’s usually more effective to focus on understanding the key points that someone is making, rather than trying to etch each word into your memory. Listen as though you were taking notes even if you’re not.

3. Hear people out.

Let people present what they have to say without being interrupted. Concentrate on what they’re saying rather than formulating your own response. Don’t just wait by patiently until you can have the next word.  Listen for understanding.

4. Encourage people to express themselves: 

Sometimes people are hesitant to approach a sensitive topic. Use open-ended questions and patient pauses to enable a more complete discussion.
Verify the message. With complex or emotionally charged material, it’s important to listen attentively and verify what the other person is saying. You can repeat back a brief summary of the message to be sure you’re both on the same page.

5. Listening with empathy:

One of the best ways to understand what a person is really saying is to put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand their thinking and feelings.
 Manage your own emotions. When you’re listening to something that evokes a strong emotion, you may need to detach yourself temporarily from your feelings. It’s critical to distinguish between what is actually being said and your own assumptions and emotions.

Remember, God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Becoming a better listener can enhance your own life and help you make a more positive contribution to the lives of others. Enjoy the many benefits of improving your listening skills.

Tips for Solopreneurs – Get the Blogging Weight off Your Shoulders

Helpful Blogging Tips

Tips for Solopreneurs – Get Blogging Weight off Your Shoulders

Helpful Blogging Tips“Yikes!”  “I don’t have enough time.” or “I don’t know what I will write about!” is what I often hear when people talk about blogging on a regular basis. .  There’s no question about it – blogging takes time. If you’re a solopreneur with a daily to-do list as long as your arm, you may feel like you don’t have the time to update your blog. However, it might be your day’s most important task, so don’t skip it. Here are some tips for taking the blogging weight off your shoulders and making blogging what it should be – fun, energizing, and creative.

 

Find Your Best Time to Write Your Blog Posts

Everybody has certain times of the day when they feel more inspired than others. For example, you might have your best ideas in the mornings just after you wake up. Set aside some time each day during these periods for working on blog posts. Make it part of your schedule and it will become a habit and ideas will flow and when they do, write away.

Load Them Up

Now even though you have created a schedule and are getting into the habit, sometimes things happen and you have to change your schedule.  So, let’s be prepared for that.   Set aside some special time to write for a longer period of time.  Perhaps you can devote a morning or afternoon (or maybe a whole day) to writing and loading up your blog with draft posts.  You never know what could happen to impact your ability to write. However, if you write a number of posts at one time, when you’re on a roll, you can create enough for several days or weeks. Just upload it to your site in draft form. Then, review and hit publish whenever you’re ready for another post.

Keep a Blogging Idea List

Any time you get an idea for a post, write it down (or jot it in your audio notes.) It could be while you’re at work, out walking around somewhere, or even going to sleep at night. Start an ‘Ideas’ file and just keep adding to it. Whenever you’re feeling uninspired or have writer’s block, refer to this file and pick one that strikes your fancy. You might also set aside some time for brainstorming topics. Let the ideas fly and don’t judge whether they’re ‘good’ or not. An idea you think is off-the-wall now may be a winner later.

Know Where to Get Blogging Ideas

Bookmark some good sites for getting new ideas when you run out. You can find interesting ideas absolutely anywhere online, but some of the best places include forums, question and answer sites, article directories, social media sites, or other blogs. Read what people are talking about. Take each question you see asked online and write a blog post that answers it.

Outsource and Edit

Hire someone to write your blog posts for you and then edit the work they deliver so that it’s ‘you’ and in your blog voice.  (see post on having your own blog voice) One great way to save money doing this is to hire people to write short articles (300 words or less) to use as skeletons that you’ll flesh out. As you edit, expand on the points they make and add your own ideas. This is cheap and it saves you a considerable amount of time. If you find a good writer, you can also let them come up with post ideas for you.

When the Inspiration Dies…

Whenever you don’t feel like blogging, stop. If you push it and write when you’re not feeling inspired, it’ll show. You need to give your readers nothing less than your best. And if you’re feeling uninspired, remember that there are simply days when the writing doesn’t flow. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, maybe shooting a video will be more fun or a quiz or  sharing a quote that inspires you and that will inspire your readers.  Blog posts do not always have to be written articles.  Change it up and have fun with your blog.  And always, share who YOU are with your audience.

Create Your Blog Voice for Your Business

How to Create the Blog Voice for Your Business

Find Your Blog VoiceMany businesses start blogs without a real plan. After all, it’s easy to do and you just need to start writing. But actually, there’s some serious planning involved and one of the major decisions to make is  your blog voice. Just like you need consistent, clear messaging in the rest of your business, a good blog has a clear and consistent voice that is communicated on every page. Consistency helps you create a brand and this is what builds trust with your audience. More importantly, you need a blog that is not a copy of anyone else but a true reflection of you and how you want to show up to your audience.

The Elements of a Blog Voice

What does ‘blog voice’ mean? It sounds simple but it’s made up of a number of different elements including personality, beliefs, tone, style, and type of content. Some questions to ask include:

  • Is your blog going to be strictly factual or opinionated? (are you going to be a technician or thought-leader)
  • What values will it speak to?
  • Is the tone going to be casual and friendly or more professional?
  • Are you going to focus on recent news items, write reviews or offer how-to information?

Personality is an especially important consideration because your blog can’t be dull and formal. The human aspect has to come through. It needs to be engaging and speak to emotions as well as simply giving the reader information.

Your Ideal Reader

Just like any other time you are communicating your message, the best way to determine all the elements of your voice is to picture your perfect reader. Who do you want to become a fan of your blog? If you can imagine this person clearly, you can write posts to them that resonate perfectly. It may take a bit of market research. Find out which demographics are important parts of your niche. Find out what they like and dislike. Learn about how they feel, what they want out of life, and how they see themselves. Some people even draw a physical picture of their ideal reader and look at it whenever they write!  I even recommend going further and naming this person so you can really connect to them as if s/he was sitting next to you.

Your Blog’s Image

Now that you’ve got a clear image of your blog readers in mind, the next step is to create an image for your blog that appeals to them. Consider not only your readers but also your business’s unique selling proposition. The key question to ask yourself here is – ‘How is my blog different than other similar blogs in my industry?’

The answer to this question lies in the specific niche you choose for your blog. One of the biggest mistakes bloggers make is trying to be everything to everyone. The truth is that no niche is too specific (unless it’s a market of one person). You need to carve out a unique place for yourself in the blogosphere that will set your blog apart.

Finding Your Voice

Finding a voice for your writing is something all writers must do. If you’re going to blog, you’ve got to consider yourself a writer, even if you don’t have the training, experience or writing chops. Take some time to read different blogs to see how each person’s voice differs. Some write in a very personal style, some are humorous or slightly outrageous, some write posts that are short and to the point. Find your own way of writing that you enjoy and that resonates with your readers.

So, I would love to hear what your voice is…. Share in the comments.

 

How Personal Is Too Personal for Social Media?

How Personal Is Too Personal for Social Media?

Sharing Social Media informationEveryone says that you should show your personal side, even if you’re using social media for your business. Personalizing your content and interactions puts a human face on your business. This is how you build real, authentic relationships. But there are cases where you can be too personal, and you need to steer clear of these or the results could be disastrous.

No “Big Talk”

The type of personal content we share on social media falls under the category of small talk, not “big talk.” You might mention a place you ate today and how it was. You may show a picture of your dog and share a milestone in his or her life. But you would avoid topics like romantic encounters, touchy political issues, or things that annoy you about certain people, unless those topics are a central part of your branding.  We have all seen how too much politics has made people cranky and frankly rude to one another- even leading to the “unfriending” behavior that is happening all too frequently.

Sharing (too many) Problems

Venting and complaining about your problems is more likely to annoy than engage. However, there is a right way to discuss problems that can actually boost engagement. The way to do it is to share a problem you faced that is also a common problem of your audience. Get them to discuss the problem with you. Even better, offer a solution to this common problem or ask your audience to share theirs.

Oops, I Shouldn’t Have Said That

Before posting anything personal, remember that this goes on your permanent record. Read back over it to make sure it isn’t something that might come back to haunt you later. Once you unleash it upon the world, it could be there forever.  

Data Collection

Keep in mind that any personal information you put out there could be accessed by data collectors for nefarious or otherwise malevolent reasons. If you publish something like your address or share pictures of your children, this could compromise your identity or safety.

That’s Not What I Meant

Before posting, always read your content to make sure that it won’t get taken the wrong way. Stories abound on the internet of people making a harmless joke that blew up in their faces and caused major damage to their brand image. Everyone may not be “in on it,” so make sure that your content won’t be misunderstood.

Think about Others

Finally, tread very carefully with the privacy of others. Don’t share personal details about other people unless these are things you know they are open about, themselves. You can always ask them to make sure before posting.

As you get more and more social, remember the goal is to be engaging and inviting so you can connect with more people.

Cross-Linking Blog Posts for More Interaction from your Readers

cross-link social media posts

What is Cross-linking?

As your blog starts to grow and you’re adding more and more posts, chances are readers won’t see every single post you write. Why not make it easy for them to find related content by cross-linking where appropriate.  You can even do this across social media platforms.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you blog about social media marketing and a particular post talks about using images effectively on Facebook. You could link within that post to an older post where you talk about using images on Twitter, or a more specific post where you explained how to fix things when Facebook doesn’t pull up the right image from your site. Do you see how this works?

The Power of Leveragecross-link social media posts

Let’s look at another example. Let’s say you’re writing a recipe blog and you’re sharing a new recipe for an amazing BLT tomato salad. You could link to an older post where you shared how to cook bacon in the oven. This is pretty easy stuff, right?  Or you can link to/from a post you did on Pinterest or Instagram or LinkedIn.  What about a video you posted on Youtube?  Sure, link them as well!   The more ways you can connect your content, the better.

This strategy serves a few different purposes. You’re engaging your readers more with your content. This gives them a chance to get to know you and your blog a little better. It also means you’re getting more exposure  and your visitor numbers will start to look better. It also helps you with search engines, believe it or not. They keep track of how long readers stay on your site and if they click around to read more. This is an indication of the quality of your content and your blog. In other words, if you can get readers to stick around longer, it will help your blog rank higher in the search engines.

Be of Service

Let’s not forget about the positive influence this has on your readers. You’re going out of your way to be helpful and share all sorts of great information with them. Not only does this allow your readers to get to know you better, it also builds credibility and trust which is exactly what you want.

Last but not least, the more pages your readers  look at, the higher your chances that they’ll comment or share your links on social media. That, in turn, will help you broaden your reach and grow your audience.  So, let’s see some cross-linking.

Today is the last day I am writing a  “How to” type blog for the October challenge ( I will keep sharing blogging strategies, resources and tips with those in the October Blog-A-Day Challenge so you can sign up  to keep getting this information –  http://www.blogadaychallenge.com).  I would love to hear what you have found helpful so far. 

Starting tomorrow I will demonstrate other ways you can blog and create a relationship with your audience. 

Yes, Your Blog Posts Need Images

Cute redhair dachshund is among the photos

Your blog is often the first thing new readers, new prospects, and new clients see of you and your online business and first impressions count. That means you need a well-designed and layout blog, great content, and pictures that draw you in and enhance your content. In other words, yes, your posts need images.

It doesn’t stop there. You want to keep encouraging your readers to come back and read more of your posts. Before that can happen, you need to catch their attention and draw them back in. It takes a while to build a loyal following of readers who will devour anything you write. Images will help draw them in again and again. In other words, yes, your posts need images.

We live in a very social and internet based world. One way to broaden your reach and grow the traffic to your blog is social media. Guess what captures attention on sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. That’s right, it’s images. The images make people click through to read your blog post.

Getting Images

You have two options when it comes to getting images for your blog post. You can use your own pictures, or you can buy photos to use. Your best option for purchasing images is a stock photography site like Istockphoto.com, Depositphoto.com and Pixabay.com  to name a few. You can find both free and paid stock photo sites. Get your images and move on to the next step.

Formatting Images

How you format and size your pictures will depend on a few different things. The first is where and how you are displaying them in your blog post. Next, keep the different social media sites where you’re active in mind. Different sites prefer or convert better with different images sizes. Do a little research and come up with an image for each of your most important social media sites.

Images and SEO

Last but not least, let’s not forget about SEO. The file name and the alt tag are both used to determine what the page (or post) the image is found on is about. Use this to your advantage by including your keywords.

There you have it. Start using images in your posts regularly. Play around with style and things like adding text and titles to your images until you find a winning combination for you, your blog, and your audience.

Content Recycle – Turn Your Emails Into Blog Posts

recycle your content

recycleOnce you build a bit of a following with your blog, you will start to get questions and comments via email from your readers. Or you may find yourself chatting with a friend or colleague about a topic, again via email. Take a look at your inbox and more importantly your sent folder right now. Chances are you’re doing a good bit of writing on a regular basis and much of it applies to your target audience.

Reach a larger audience

Isn’t it a shame that many of these emails only go out to one person? Which means only one person potentially reads them?

And what about the emails you send out to your list? Yes, they get seen by many more, but once you’ve sent them, they are gone and a few days later no one will look at them again.

There is an easy little content recycle strategy that will turn those emails into evergreen content for your blog. The basic idea is simple. Anytime you write an email, be it a reply to one person, or an email you send to your list, ask yourself, “Can this content  be repurposed into a blog post?”

Recycling One-on-One Emails

An easy way to recycle one-on-one emails where appropriate is to introduce the topic, share the email conversation, followed by your comment where applicable.

For example, you may share how the conversation started or that you received a question from a reader in response to another post on your site. Then you would share the email they sent you (anonymously unless you’ve gotten permission to share their name) along with your reply.

From there you can elaborate a bit, or give more general advice if it was very specific. This is  a quick and easy post since you did most of the writing when you replied to the email.

Recycling Email Messages and A/R Messages to Your List

Paste the entire email message into drafts and edit away. Maybe you can expand on an idea or tip, or maybe all you need to do is change a few words so it reads more like a blog post than an email. Use the formatting tips we talked about a few days ago (here is the blog on formatting tips)  and you’re good to go.

Anytime you don’t feel like writing much, or don’t know what to blog about, dig through your emails. I’m sure you’ll find something you can use.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Down and Dirty Formatting Tips to Make Your Blog Posts Shine

blogging tips

blogging tipsWe live in a world where people have very short attention spans. We’re bombarded by so much content every single day, it simply isn’t possible to read and consume it all. The solution we have developed is to scan things quickly and decide if we want to invest the time to read the article, watch the video, or listen to the podcast.

Blog readers are no different. That’s why it is important to format your posts in a way that makes it easy to scan, get a quick idea of what the post is about, and then make a decision about reading it. That’s what formatting is all about. It’s an important step in your blogging process.

Add to that the fact that formatting is also an important part of on- page SEO and it is something you want to pay a lot of attention to.

Formatting For Your Readers

Always start by formatting for your readers. While search engines are important, they won’t do you any good if no one is reading your posts.

Make It Easy To Scan the Content

The most important thing you can do for your readers is to make it easy to scan the content. Use headlines, break up text, etc. to make it quick and easy to scan the post and figure out what it’s about. Of course your headline and your images are a big part of this.

Break Up Things into Bulleted or Numbered Lists

Break up your content, tips, ideas, etc. into lists. Depending on the context, those could be bulleted or numbered lists.  Lists are easy to ready, quick to scan, and help readers consume your content.

Keep Your Paragraphs Short

Reading online is different from reading a print book or newspaper. It’s much harder on the eyes, and since we’re consuming so much written content on a daily basis and scanning much of it, our attention span for reading has gone down quite a bit.

Make it easy on your readers to read your posts by keeping your paragraphs short. One to three sentences is usually all you want in each.

Bold important Concepts

Highlight the most important concepts or keywords of your post by bolding them. Not only does this help readers understand that this is an important point, it also helps with scanning before they commit to read your post.

Formatting For the Search Engines

Now that your post is pretty and easy to scan and read for humans, let’s talk about formatting for search engines.

Use H Tags

Using H tags like <h1>, <h2> etc. show search engines what words on the page are important. Use an H1 tag for your post title. If you’re using blogging software like WordPress, your theme should take care of this for you.

But don’t stop there. You can use various other H tags throughout your content. Let’s say your blog post can be slit up into two major sections like this post for example. One section is about formatting for readers, the other for search engines. Those sub headings are H2 tags.

Bold Key Words

This one is easy. If you haven’t already done so for your readers, find your main keyword and make it bold. This will also show search engines this particular word or piece of text is important. Don’t overdo it though.

Use Alt Tags in Images

As you’re adding images, include text in the alt tags that describes the image, but also includes your main keyword. As with the other tags and formatting tips, this will help with ranking.

Use Your Keywords in the Text

Last but not least, give your post a quick scan and make sure you’ve used your keyword several times in the main body of your post. Again, it’s important to strike a good balance here. Don’t overdo it, but also don’t forget to include it. In a 400+ word article like this, using the keyword about 3 times is a good general rule of thumb.

Quick Blog Content Idea: Answer Comments in New Blog Posts

Questions And Answers Computer Keys Showing Support Knowledge And WikisComing up with fresh content ideas for your blog isn’t always easy. Today I have a great new content tip for you and the best part is that some of your post is already written. It’s a bit like getting to skip ahead in line. Perfect for those busy days when your calendar is full but you want to get a blog post published.

Got Questions?

Keep an eye out for questions in comments. Save them, horde them, and when you need a quick post, take that question – copy and paste it into your blog and answer it. That was easy, wasn’t it?

Of course you want to answer your readers right away when you see the comment come up. Go ahead and do that. But keep a mental tab on this question and ask yourself this:

  • Will other people have the same question? (99% of the time the answer will be yes)
  • Is there more I can share on the topic?

If you answer yes to both questions (and most likely you will), then the commenter question qualifies for a follow up blog post. And that’s exactly what it is; a follow up to the original comment question and your answer.

Answer those questions

Start by introducing the topic or question. Share the question and then let your readers know that you wanted to give a more detailed answer, thus the new blog post. Share the answer you gave the reader in the original comment and elaborate as you see fit. That’s it. A quick and easy blog post and for a portion all you had to do was copy and paste.

Format it, add a graphic and you’re ready to hit publish. Rinse and repeat with other questions as they pop up in your comments. Readers love these types of posts because they often had the exact same question, but they were too shy to ask.

Your Personal FAQ section

If you find yourself with quite a few questions, you may even want to make this a new featured category on your blog. It will quickly become a valuable resource to your readers.  You can even answer them all at once (in different blog posts) and schedule them to be published on a certain day.  If you are consistent with this, your readers will know look forward to reading the answers.  You can also do this as a video if you would like just to give people a more personal connection to you as you are answering their questions.

It will save you time in the long run. By being thorough in your answer, it will not only apply to this exact question, but a multitude of related questions. When they pop up in comments, all you have to do is reply with a link to the post. You have created your own personal FAQ section for your blog.

Wasn’t that easy?  So, do you have any questions for me today?

Day 5: Blog-A-Day Challenge

Which is Better? Quick Blog Posts vs. Epic Blog Posts

blog post

Blog posts come in all shapes and sizes and range widely in both formatting and word length. Heck, some of them have (almost) no words at all, sharing instead and infographic or a video for example (more on this in a future post.)

For the purpose of today’s post, we’ll compare two different posts that are on opposite ends of the content spectrum – quick posts, or short posts, if you will vs. epic posts.

More than just about the word count

While there is no set number to define a quick post or an epic post, in my mind, short posts are anything under 500 words. Some may define it by a lower number. To me, the post you’re reading right now is on the long end of a quick post, and not just because of the low word count. More on that in a minute.

Epic posts are long, well-thought-out posts that convey a lot of information. They are usually at least 2,000 words long. They also take a lot more research and aren’t something you can quickly sit down and write in an afternoon.

Which brings us to the next big difference between quick posts and epic posts – and one that I think distinguishes between the two better than some random word count.

Epic Posts

An epic post requires some research and planning. You gather your thoughts, figure out what you want to share and convey and then come up with a plan or an outline. From there you spend some time writing a long post that covers a lot of ground. You may also choose to include several different images or graphics to illustrate your point or embed some videos. You may even go so far as to summarize the main points of your post in an infographic.

There’s a lot more work that goes into an epic post and it isn’t something you’ll want to publish two to three times per week. Instead, it’s the rare project you put together to gain authority, links, and hopefully a lot of traffic via social media and the search engines.

Quick Posts

Quick posts on the other hand are something you can write and share quickly. They are shorter and to the point and frankly, are easier to read. These are your bread and butter posts. Quick posts are the posts that you’ll publish several times per week to keep your readers happy & engaged and your blog fresh.

Each type of post has its place in your publishing schedule. Are you using both types of posts?