Posted by: stephenfetters | April 5, 2016

Becoming a Writer? Here’s Book 2 in the Series

Today I am writing a review of the second book in Kate Johnston’s wonderful series, Writer Interrupted, A Handbook for the Emerging Writer. 

In Book One, Kate led us through the decisions one must make in deciding to become a writer.  Now in Book Two, she leads you through a strategy you can use  in implementing that decision.  I know, learning “strategy” sounds dull.  But, Kate leads us through it in her usual light hearted and informative way.

Kate starts out by reminding us the over riding reward we all gain from writing is pure, unadulterated, joy.  Writing is hard work…period.  Yet, we soldier on for the pure joy we derive in the doing.  And again, in her Mini-Journals, she outlines easy steps we can take to make sure we obtain the joy we deserve for traveling this road.

Writing is a skill.  Like any skill, learning it takes discipline.  Kate explains why setting goals is the most important thing you can do to build your skill as a writer.  But…just setting goals is not enough.  In describing her own journey of failing to set goals and the consequences that arose, she tells you the kinds of goals you should set and why.  Perhaps the most important point here is to note the only function goals have is to help you keep your quest on track.  The goal is not the quest, just as the map is not the territory.

Finding Your Groove

Next up is finding your groove.  That mystical place, where the words just seem to flow.  This is a highly personal task, which may need considerable effort.  The thrust of this is to help you determine what set of actions will allow you to show up and write every day.  I know,  writing every day sounds like drudgery.  But there are things you can do that brings joy to each session.  Recording voice memos on your smart phone, keeping a small pad with you to write down ideas,  scribble notes on paper napkins at lunch.  All writing counts.  It doesn’t have to be confined to one time or place.

Maybe for you the best thing is to have more than one project going at the same time.  I know this is what works for me.  That way if you stall on one thing, you can take a break and work on something else.  But, beware.  Managing multiple projects does take organization and the ability to shift attention.  

What’s Your Strategy? 

What’s your strategy?  Kate asks the question because you need one.  If you just sit down and write it’s called “pantsing”.  Writing by the seat of your pants. Many famous writers such as Lee Child and Harlan Coben write this way.  Other writers like J.K. Rowling create highly detailed outlines before ever writing a line of dialogue.  This is what I do.

I wrote a book using the pantsing method.  It wound up in the trash heap (where it belonged).  Now I outline down to the smallest detail.  For me, once I get the outline done, dialogue is almost like filling in the blanks.

If you don’t have a writing strategy yet,  Kate suggests you try both ways and pick the one that works for you.

Kate says she has invented a new system called “Plontsing”.  But, we’ll have to wait for Book 4 in the series to learn about it.

Word Count

And now… a word about word count (pun intended).  Kate points out the necessity of writers paying attention to word count.  First, as writers, we should be aiming for a goal of X number of words written per day.  Depending on how you write, you may want to tinker with the way the goal is structured.  It could be an average of X words per day, or X words per week, etc.  You get the idea.

Then you need to be aware of the general word counts expected for scenes, chapters, and books for the genre you are writing in. Kate cautions though, not to let word count get in the way of a good story.

Research

Next, Kate tackles three ways to do research.  Before, during, or after you write.  Determining when to do research depends on how you write.  If you have a fresh idea, you may be able to list the stuff you need to research before you start.  As a plotter, I find most of my research needs are discovered during the plotting stage. If you’re a pantser, items you need to research will turn up as you write the rough draft.  Then the actual research can be done between drafts.  Kate recommends not doing research as you write as it tends to disrupt the story flow.

There is an exception to this, however.  It occurs when the dreaded writer’s block strikes you.  The existence of writer’s block is hotly debated in the writing community.  Simply put, writer’s block just means you’re stuck.  There are several ways to overcome this.  Kate suggests just putting the project down and walking away for a while.  This gives your mind a chance to relax and allows your subconscious to come up with solutions.  And, here is where more research can turn up new ideas to get you unstuck.

As usual for Kate, she gives you plenty of ideas to try in her Mini-Journals at the end of each chapter.   These exercises will help you find the way to your groove.  That magic place where the words just flow.  Every day.  I highly recommend this book to everyone who ever even thought about becoming a writer.

Posted by: stephenfetters | February 29, 2016

What are the 6 Simple steps to success?

We all want to be successful. Volumes have been written on the subject.  Courses and Seminars abound on the subject.  Yet the amazing truth is there is a simple 6 step formula anyone can follow that leads to success in any endeavor.

Here they are:

  1. Know where you are.
  2. Know where you want to go.
  3. Take action
  4. Evaluate the results.
  5. Adjust the action taken in light of the feedback obtained in step 4
  6. Repeat steps 3, 4, and 5 until you achieve success.

“Oh come on!” I hear you say.  “It can’t be that easy.”

Wait…I didn’t say it was easy.  I just said it was simple.

Let’s break it down.

Steps 1 and 2

I think steps 1 and 2 should be taken together.  And…not necessarily in order.

In my experience, most people choose “Know where you want to go” first. This your goal.  It can be big or small, business or personal, but this is what you want. It’s the reason for going through this whole process.  If you are doing this for the first time, I suggest you choose a small goal to try the process out to prove it works.   

Go ahead.  Pick a goal.  Now.

Got it?

Write it down.

Before we leave this step, let’s make sure we know what success looks like.   

You should state your goal in the positive as if it were already achieved.  It should have a completion date.  It should be very specific.  So specific that if I called you on the completion date and asked you, “Did you achieve the goal?” your answer could only be “Yes” or “No”.

Let’s say you wanted to learn how to fly.  Your goal could be, “By December 31st of this year, I have obtained my private pilots license.”

Now, let’s go back to step one: Know where you are.

Knowing where you are is the starting point.  Once you can compare that to where you want to go, then the action steps will begin to appear.

Where are you?  Let’s develop a list based on the goal of learning to fly.

1.  Where do you live?  Where is the nearest airport that has an FBO (Fixed Base Operator) where you can learn how to fly?

2.  How old are you?  You must be 17 to get a private pilots license.  There is no upper age limit as long as you can pass the physical.

3.  Are you physically fit? You have to get a 3rd class medical certificate from an FAA Certified Flight Surgeon.  This is usually not an issue as long as you do not have a physical condition that would prevent you from safely operating an aircraft.

4.  Do you have the time to devote to obtaining your license?  Time is an issue.  You must have at least 40 hours of flight time.  However most students need more to become proficient enough to pass the test.  Figure at least 60 hours to be sure.  Plus, there is travel time to the airfield, and ground school.  There is also study time on your own.  You will probably spend 3 hours studying for every hour of flight time.  Total study time…180 hours.

5.  Do you have the financial resources to accomplish your goal?  This is the big one.  Here is a break down of what you can expect:*

  • Aircraft Rental.  60 hours in a  Cessna 150 at $90/hour.  $5,400.
  • Instructor.  40 hours at $45/hour.  $1,800
  • Materials and Exam fees. $600.
  • Flight Test Aircraft Rental.  $135
  • Aircraft Renters Insurance.  $350.  (You need this.  You don’t want to be responsible for a $30,000 airplane if you make a bad landing)
  • Grand Total?  $8,285

*Note:  These rates are estimates and will vary based on aircraft type, fuel cost, local instructor rates, and area of the country.

I want to pause just a moment to apologize.  If you have no interest in learning how to fly, this list is boring you to tears. I went through it for a reason.  Your goal can be fuzzy.  If you’ve never done it before, you can’t know all the components of achieving it. But, you must be completely honest with yourself about where you are now!  Failing to do this may doom you from the start.

Steps 3 and 4

Step 3 is take action.  Now we are getting somewhere.

Let’s go back to learning how to fly.

The first logical action step would be to call the FBO at the nearby airfield you found and ask about flight instruction.  Most FBO’s offer an introductory flight, either for free or a reasonable cost.  On this flight, you will spend an hour in the air with a flight instructor, learning a few basic maneuvers to see if this is for you.

Action step #1:  You go take the flight.

Step 4.  Evaluate the results.

Did you enjoy it?  Or, were you motion sick and on the verge of vomiting most of the time?

If you were motion sick, then you may decide this is not for you.  If so, you can abandon this goal, and save yourself a lot of time and money.

Let’s say you loved it.  You are so excited you can’t wait to get back in the air again.

Step 5

Step 5 is to adjust your actions based on the evaluation of the action taken in step 4.

You loved the flight.  You like the instructor and feel you can learn a lot from him or her.

Based on that, your next step is to sign up for the course.

Step 6

Step 6 is to keep repeating steps 3, 4, and 5 until you are successful.

I have a couple of points here:

1.  You don’t need to plan too far in advance.  If you were accurate in your self assessment in steps 1 & 2, action steps will appear in natural order.  If you plan too far in advance, you risk losing the flexibility to adjust when things go wrong.

2.  Keep it simple.  As humans, our minds try to make things complicated and constantly look for trouble.  The key is to focus on what you want. Obstacles will appear. When they do, ask yourself the magic question, “How can I (insert here the obstacle you want to overcome).

Going back to learning how to fly:

  • Action Step: Get the training manuals and start studying
  • Evaluation:  You find the material interesting and not too difficult.
  • Action Step: Take the ground school test.
  • Action Step: Start flying with instructor- learn basic maneuvers.
  • Evaluation:  Some maneuvers are easy, some are more difficult.
  • Action step:  More practice on the difficult maneuvers.

And So?

You can’t fail.  Yes, things will go wrong.  Yes, you will make mistakes.  But every mishap, every mistake, gives you feedback you can use to adjust your next action.  Keep going, and you will succeed.  The only way you can fail is by quitting.

Remember, Thomas Edison ran more than 10,000 experiments before he found the material to use for the filament in the incandescent light bulb.  That’s persistence.

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Posted by: stephenfetters | February 23, 2016

4 Elements of a Successful Blog Post

As small business owners, we are told we need to blog if we are going to be successful.  But, no one tells us how to go about it.  Today I thought I’d post some quick guidelines outlining just how to construct a successful blog post.

There are 4 Elements to a good blog post:

  • Headline
  • Lead
  • Body
  • Call to action

These elements combine to form “the upside down pyramid.”  This is a style of writing common to newspapers today.

Let’s look at each of these elements in detail.

How Important Are Headlines?

The answer is…very.  Studies show 80% of internet readers never click past the headline.  The headline’s function is to spark the reader’s curiosity enough to get them to click through to the body of the article.

You don’t have to write the headline first.  Many bloggers write the body of the blog, then go back to create a compelling headline.

Here are some of the things a good headline does.  Your headline should do at least one or two of the things on this list.

  • It’s short. The best ones are 8 words or less.
  • It grabs your reader’s attention.
  • It asks a question.
  • It makes a promise.
  • It stirs curiosity.
  • It makes an offer.
  • It challenges the reader.
  • It introduces a compelling idea.

Here’s a few other suggestions to help make your headline compelling:

Use “how”, “what”, “why”, and “who” in the headline.  How to get a college degree online. 

Use numbers.  10 Reasons Small Business Owners Need a Blog.  Studies show readers prefer headlines using numbers.

Be careful with superlatives.   Studies show 51% of readers prefer headlines with one or fewer superlatives

Make it simple…and powerful.  Click Here to Save Money!

Remember, your goal is to get the reader to open the blog post.  The headline is the bait.

The Lead

If the headline is the bait, the lead sets the hook.

The lead is usually short.  It contains the whole point of your blog post right up front for the reader to see.  It should contain the one thing you want your reader to take away from your post.  But, it shouldn’t tell them everything.  Leave something out the reader can only get by going to the body.

The Body

The body of the blog post contains the information supporting your headline and your lead.

It’s important to note, most people scan internet content, they don’t read it.  You need to break up your content to fit this pattern.  Your paragraphs should be short.  No more than 3 or 4 sentences at the most.  Studies show internet readers skip long paragraphs.

Your sentences should be short.  No more than 8 to 12 words. Avoid compound sentences.  Use the active voice.  Avoid adverbs as much as possible.  You can use italics, bold, or underlined text for emphasis.  Be careful though, too much of this can be distracting.  Use numbers in your text.

Write in plain English.  Avoid jargon or buzzwords.  Make your tone conversational.  Imagine you are sitting down with your best friend over a cup of coffee, telling about the story of your post.

Lists are easy to scan.  You should use them where possible.  You can use bulleted lists or numbered lists or both depending on the length of the post.

If your content is long, break it up with sub-heads.  This helps the reader skim the post and find what interests them.

Speaking of length, how long should the post be?  The answer is: As long as necessary to tell your story.  You should make the post at least 300 words.  Why?  Because, posts less than 300 words are not ranked by Google.   Google indexing and ranking are important. You want to build an archive of posts for your readers to find.

When you’re done, read the post out loud to yourself.  Doing this will reveal clumsy structure or natural breaking points. If it doesn’t flow as you read it, your reader won’t get it either.

Call to Action

Your post should always end with a “Call to Action”.

Ask your reader to do something.  Click here to:

  • Sign up for my course
  • Join our email list.
  • Contact me for more information

And so…?

That’s it. I hope these guidelines will help you as you create your posts.  Blogging can be a lot of work.  It can also be a lot of fun.  You’ll get a lot more responses if your blog is structured so it’s easy to read.

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Posted by: stephenfetters | February 5, 2016

Why am I Doing This?

Why am I doing this?

Because of all the things I love in this life, helping others succeed is what I love the most.

Today I thought I’d post a short entry on why I started this blog.

How I got here.

If you’ve read my “about” page, you know I spent 20 years coaching and mentoring mortgage loan officers.  What most people don’t know is Mortgage Loan Officers are essentially self employed sub-contractors.  Yes, technically they are employees of the company they work for.  Yet,  they are almost always compensated by commissions on the loans they originate.  Their business comes from Realtors, home builders, and personal referrals from satisfied clients.  In reality they are running a small business within a business.  It was my job to help them succeed.  I became passionate about it.

When I became a Commercial Realtor, once again I specialized in small businesses.  For most small businesses, location has a great deal to do with their success.  I had to learn about the industry my clients were in, who their clients were, what types of space fit their business model.  Then I was tasked with finding just the right space for them to lease or buy.

All during this time, I was writing as a hobby.  I wrote short stories, a magazine article, even a full length novel.  The novel was never published, and didn’t deserve to be.  I also wrote training programs, business plans, white papers, and case studies.

When I retired for the second time, I decided to take courses in copywriting.  I figured using my talents writing for businesses was something I was used to doing, and I could get paid for it.   

The “Aha” Moment

When I started to set up my own website, it hit me!

I built two websites with “Popular Domain Name Seller”.  You know who they are. They’re the ones who say. “Buy a domain name from us for just $9.95 and we’ll give you a free website.”  Both of my previous ones were duds.  Why?  Sure, you get a free website, but no one tells you how to promote it.

This time I found a domain seller and host that provided a ton of training on the proper way to build and promote a website.  Now I had good tools and some guidance on how to use them.

While I was building my new website I made some startling discoveries.  Here they are:

  • People have changed the way they buy.  According to a Google survey from 2012, 97% of consumers search online for products and services.
  • Approximately 87% of the U.S. Population is on the internet.
  • There are roughly 28 million small businesses in the United States.  These comprise 60% of all businesses.
  • 52% of small businesses don’t even have a website.

This last one just blew my mind.  People start their search on the internet. That’s where the potential customers are.  Why wouldn’t  a small business owner want to be there?

The answer?  I think they do. But, there are two major obstacles.

  1. Hiring someone to do it for you can be expensive.
  2. When you try to do it yourself, you run into this wall of techno-babble that is almost impossible to understand.

That’s when I decided to devote my efforts to explaining in plain English how small business owners could use the internet to be successful.

So…That’s It!

I want this website to be a source of ideas, techniques, and methods small business owners can use.

I know first hand running a small business can be both a difficult and joyous experience at the same time.  I hope to present a wide range of topics you can use to be more successful.    

If there are topics you would like to see discussed, please let me know by emailing me in the comments section.

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Posted by: stephenfetters | January 27, 2016

Becoming a Writer? Here’s a Great Book!

Today I am reviewing a wonderful book “Writer… Interrupted: A Handbook for the Emerging Writer”, by Kate Johnston,

Have you ever thought about becoming a writer?  I remember when I did. It looks easy enough, right?  All you have to do is sit down in front of your keyboard (or pick up a pen and paper) and write.   Then…nothing happens.   Murphy’s First Law, “Nothing is as easy as it looks” has reared it’s ugly head.

Well, here is the good news.  In Writer Interrupted, Kate Johnston guides you through the action steps necessary to pursue that dream.

Writing is both a calling, and a craft.  If you decide to answer the call, then you can learn the craft.  Ride along as Kate details her journey from a child in love with story telling, to stay at home mom, to falling in love with writing again.  In the details of her emotional struggle you will find questions you need to answer in deciding your own path.

In the “Mini-Journals” at the end of each chapter, Kate gives you action steps to choose from.  Pick the ones that appeal to you.  Take the all important first step…”And, you’re a writer”.

Writers write because they have to, just as other people have to breathe.  But, where do writers come from?  A very few are born to it.  Most come to it later in life.  Kate leads a wonderful discussion about the origins and types of writers.  Which type do you aspire to?  Do you want to write for yourself or do you want to be paid for it?   Kate’s questions will help you decide.

The first thing an aspiring writer learns is the one thing essential to success is writing every day.  An aspiring writer also needs tools and a place to use them.  I know this sounds mundane, but deciding what tools you need to carry on your task and where you are going to do it does smooth the road to success.  There are lists here to help you decide what is right for you.

Writing is always assumed to be a lonely profession, and it can be.  The truth is all writers need a team.  It’s also a fact that you will wind up with a team whether by default or by design.  The chapter titled “Team Writer” describes the ins and outs of putting your team together.  Where can you find team members?  Who should be on it?  In the beginning, letting others see your work can be a terrifying experience.  Here you will find resources you wouldn’t discover on your own.  Your team can make a big difference in your quest.

Time.  Ah, yes, time.  Perhaps the biggest challenge all beginning writers face is finding the time to write every day.  Maybe the best way to determine this is to ask, “When is my mind most productive?”  For me it’s in the morning.  My most productive time is before noon.  Kate writes at 4 AM.  Why? It’s a fascinating story.  You’ll need to read the book to find the answer.

Writing time doesn’t have to be hours.  You can start with as little as 15 minutes a day.  Be creative.  You can do it at lunch.  Sit in a back booth at Mickey D’s with a Big Mac and a coke.  Once you find your time slot, do it every day.  Every successful writer will tell you the secret to success is found in the acronym BIC (Butt In Chair).  Sit down.  Write.

Last, Kate discusses the necessity of nurturing yourself.  I think when writers answer the call and begin to dig into learning the craft, they are surprised to find out how much energy it takes.  Writing can be cathartic and at the same time very tiring. Just as an athlete trains with interval training, you need periods of relaxation to regain your energy.  Giving thought to finding what works for you can keep the writing experience fresh and exciting.

Did I see myself in this book?  You bet I did.  If I’d had this book to go by 20 years ago, my path would have been much easier.

I’ve found there are two ways to learn: By enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or from someone who’s gone before. Kate’s book can make the journey a lot more fun

This is Kate’s first book in a series. I think you will find it instructional, inspiring, and challenging. I highly recommend it to anyone who has something to say to the world.

You can find it by going to the Amazon website and entering “Kate Johnston” in the search bar. 

Posted by: stephenfetters | January 8, 2016

Starting a Small Business? Here’s Step 2

Congratulations!  You’ve decided to start your own business.  You know just what you want to do.  You can’t wait to get started.  You’ve answered all the questions I posed in my previous blog. (Click here if you haven’t read it).

http://successfulcm.com/2015/12/10/want-to-start-…ness-read-this/

Hold on there, kiddo!  Before you quit your day job, there is a lot of thinking to do.  And…yes, more questions to answer.

“Oh, come on,” I hear you say.  “I answered a bazillion questions last time”

True.

But…Wait, there’s more.

Remember I said if you are going to be successful you have to know where you are going?  I want to expand on that.

There is a simple six step formula for being a success at anything.  Here it is.

  1. Know where you are
  2. Know where you want to go.
  3. Take action
  4. Evaluate the results of that action.
  5. Based on what you found out in step 4, repeat the action, modify the action, or try something different
  6. Repeat steps 3, 4, & 5 until you get what you want.

“Really,” you say.  “Huh, six simple steps.  Who knew it was that easy?”

Yes it is that easy.  But (ah yes, there’s always a but) you have to apply the six steps, with brutal efficiency.  You cannot let anything get in your way.

And…remember Murphy’s First Law, “Nothing is as easy as it looks.”

Let’s look at the six steps.

I’m assuming you have completed Step 1.  You know where you are.

Step 2 is know where you want to go.  This step actually contains two elements: A Business Plan; and an Operations Manual.

Why Do I Need an Operations Manual?

Two good reasons:

  1. Even if there’s only you, it forces you to think about how you are going to handle your customers and/or clients
  2. An operations manual standardizes policies and procedures for your employees.  They will know what to do if you’re not around.

Building an Operations Manual is easy.  Get a three ring notebook.  At the top of each page list a topic.

One topic might be customer relations.

Under customer relations you might list: “Answering Telephone Calls.  The script is: ‘Good (morning)(afternoon)This is Fred, how may I help you today?’”

Now as things occur to you, get out that notebook, creating topic sheets as you go, and adding items to them.

My point is, you don’t have to write the whole operations manual in one sitting.

The same is true for the business plan.  You do need a plan.

What? A Business Plan Too?

Here is the challenge with a business plan.  You sit down and spend a week on it.  You wind up with a 50 page document, complete with graphs, Xcel spreadsheets, and time lines.  Now you think you’re locked into it.  Every action’s evaluated by how it fits into the plan. Then something goes wrong.  Now what?  Do you sit down and rewrite the whole thing?

General George Patton, the famous WWII Tank Commander once said, “The best battle plan in the world isn’t worth a damn after the first shot is fired.”

Here’s this quote from Dwight Eisenhower: “The plan is useless, but planning is essential.”  (Berry, Tim (2008-08-01). The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan (Kindle Locations 214-216). Entrepreneur Press. Kindle Edition.)

Let me put this another way, the plan is not the battle.

You have to stay flexible.  Don’t plan too far ahead.

This is where the six steps come in.

The first page of the business plan is your success statement.  You should have this from the last blog.

This is your goal.  From now on, with everything you do, every action you take, you should be asking yourself, “How does this support my goal?”

This also is Step 2 from the list above.

Now comes Step 3.  Look at your goal.  Ask yourself, “What is the first thing I need to do in order to achieve my goal?”  Write it down. Then ask “What is the next thing?”  Keep asking until you have five or six things on your list.

Now, take action.  Do the first thing on the list.  What happened?  Was it a success?  If the answer is yes, then repeat the task.  If the answer is no, what did you learn?  Can you modify the task, and repeat?  Should you abandon that effort and try something different?

I know this sounds overly simplistic.  But here is the point.  If you just begin, one task will lead to the next.  If you stay focused on the goal, as you complete a task, the next one will appear to you.  If it doesn’t, ask yourself “How can I accomplish …?”  Be still.  The answer will come to you.  It may not be instant.  It may take an hour, a day, a week, or a month.  But…it will come.

Keep going.  No matter what happens.  Stay focused.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will achieve your goal.    

“Oh, come on,” you say. “Nothing is that easy.  Something is bound to go wrong.”

What to do When Things go Wrong!

Yes, indeed.  Something will go wrong.  Murphy’s Third Law says: “If it can go wrong it will.  And, at the worst possible time.”

So what?  Napoleon Hill, in his Laws of Success series of books teaches that in every adversity, there is the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.

Notice I said seed.  That seed, like all seeds, needs nourishing.   Sometimes, the benefit is simply finding within yourself strengths and abilities  you never knew you had.  But, the seed is there.  If you nourish it, you will overcome whatever obstacles are in your path.

Do you know what this means?  You can’t fail. Or, the only way you can fail is by quitting.  Remember, success is never a straight line.  There will be mistakes, dead ends, blind alleys, disasters of all kinds for you to learn from.  These only make you smarter.

Thomas Edison ran over 10,000 trials before he found the right material for the filament in the electric light bulb.

Here’s the hard part.  (You knew there had to be hard part, right?).  The hard part is sticking to steps 1 through 6.  These steps seem simple and they are.  The challenge is in sticking to them, sooner or later we become bored.  Once boredom sets in, we become distracted.  Once distracted, we forget to focus on the goal.

How can you combat this?  The best way I know is to read your goal out loud to yourself at least twice a day.  Why?  Because it will keep the goal upper most in your mind.  When distractions arise, you will ask, “How will doing this move me toward the goal?”  If the answer is, “Not much,” you will drop it.

Follow these simple steps.  And…remember this quote from Winston Churchill.  “Never, Never, Never, Never, give up.”

So…there you have it.  A simple way to build the necessary plans to use as you get ready to launch your new business.

By the way, I think “The Plan as You Go Business Plan” is an absolute must read for anyone starting a new business.  You can buy it here, just by clicking on the link below.

The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan
by Tim BerryTrade Paperback
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Posted by: stephenfetters | December 10, 2015

Want to Start a Business? Read This

OK! OK!  I get it.

You hate your job.  Your company has the morals of a pit viper.  Your boss couldn’t find his backside with both hands.  Your co-workers are a bunch of mindless robots.

You dream of being free.  You dream of the day you can do a Johnny Paycheck and tell your boss, “Take this job and shove it!”

You dream of running your own business. Setting your own hours. Getting rich.

But…what kind of business are you going to start?

The purpose of this  series is taking a hard look at what it’s like to start a business from scratch.

Let me start out by saying everyone should be able to start and run a successful business.  That said, starting and running a business isn’t easy.

Your chances of success will increase dramatically if you are able to answer some tough questions.  These questions are not meant to discourage you.  They mean to inform you.

I have started several businesses in my career.  One or two made it.  The rest failed.

To anyone interested in starting a business, I would point to  Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat.”  To that, I would add, “Joy!”  If you choose well, you will endure blood, tears, toil, and sweat.  But, you will also experience the unrestrained joy of accomplishment.  And…that joy will transcend everything else.

I think choosing falls into two categories:

1.   You already know what you want to do.

2.   You want to do something different from what you are doing now.

If you already know what you want to do, you are halfway there.

Let’s tackle doing something different.

First I would ask, “What are you passionate about?”  What do you love doing so much that you would gladly do it every day…for free.

Got it?  Now can you earn a living at it?  If you love it, other people must love it too. If other people love it, will they pay you to help them get it? How can you use your passion to fill that need?

Every successful business fills a need or solves a problem.  This is how you make money.  People trade you the money they have for the need you fill or the problem you solve.

“But,” you say. “Can’t I just get rich selling stuff on the internet?”

Well…maybe.  If just making money is your primary goal, you can do that.  In my opinion though, you’re going to miss the joy.

After all, aren’t you quitting your day job because you’re miserable?  Being happy and having fun at what you do should be number one on your list.  Otherwise, all you’re doing is trading one form of misery for another.

If you’re having fun, you won’t mind the blood, tears, toil, and sweat.  You might even enjoy them.

Joseph Campbell once said,  “Do what you love.  The money will follow.”

Is there a demand for what you want to do?  One way to find out is to Google it.  See how many companies are out there doing what you want to do.  How big are they?  Where are they located?  How much do they charge?

Here is the biggie.  What can you offer your clients/customers that is better than what is already out there?   Don’t be shy.  Just because one of your competitors is a Fortune 500 company, it doesn’t mean you can’t deliver better than they can.  In fact, you probably can deliver better than they can.  Why? Because you offer personalized service. When the phone rings, you answer .  You make house calls.

And…yes!  People will pay for service.

Next, ask where the market is for what you want to do? Is it local, regional, or national.  Is it a product or a service?

If it’s a product, where are you going to get it?  How much does it cost?  How much inventory does it require?  Do you need a bricks and mortar space to sell it out of?  If the answer to that question is yes, how much will that cost?

If you are going to make the product, what kind of facility are you going to need?  Will you need employees?  Are they skilled or unskilled?  Where will you find them?

I can hear you saying,  “Holy Cow, do I really have to know all this stuff?”

Yes.  Because as you answer these questions you are beginning to build a business plan.

“Ah, crap,” I hear you whine.  “Do I really need a business plan?”

Yes. Why?

Because you have to know where you’re going.

I know you have images of a 50 page bound document full of charts, statistics and timelines.  I assure you it won’t be like that.

In the beginning you need to answer this question, “What does success look like?”  Be very specific. Your answer to this question should have the following elements in it:

  1. It should be positive
  2. It should be stated as if it’s all ready accomplished.
  3. It should be very specific.
  4. It should have a completion date.

Let’s say you are an accountant and you want to open your own practice.  Success might look like this: By (fill in the date) I have obtained (Fill in the number) clients who will pay me an average of (fill in the number and add the phrase “or more”) for accounting and consulting services.

Now start listing the steps you need to take in order to get there.  Nothing complicated just the steps.

Step one might be:  Get one client I can work on during my spare time.

Step two might be:  Get another client.

How many clients do you need before you quit your day job and open an office?

Not so hard is it.

One thing to note here.  Be very careful that your success statement is about something you want, not something you don’t want.

Something you don’t want might be: “I don’t want to be broke.” Focusing on what you don’t want will sabotage you every time.

Our minds are very powerful goal seekers.  If you focus on what you want, your mind will do everything it can to create the circumstances to help you achieve your goal.  But here’s the odd thing.  If you keep saying “I don’t want to be broke,”  your mind is conjuring up scenes of you being broke.  Because your mind doesn’t recognize negatives, it takes being broke as a goal you want, and it will start figuring out ways for you to fail.  Add a lot of emotion to it, and your mind will make it happen sooner.

The trick is to take what you don’t want, (I don’t want to be broke) and turn it into something you do want (I want to be rich). Remember you have to be specific.  Make it, “By (fill in the date) I  am earning $500,000 or more a year.”   Focus on that.

The last question I would like to ask is about money.  How will you sustain yourself while you are starting out?

If you are going to start out with a few clients that you work in your spare time, like the accountant we discussed, then the time to make the transition is when your new clients can sustain you in the style to which you are accustomed.

If you are going to take the leap, quit now, and start your new business I have 3 questions for you:

1. How much do you have socked away to pay your personal living expenses at your current rate of spending?  I would suggest at least a year.

2. How long do you anticipate being in business before you can start paying yourself enough to meet your current standard of living?  Now add six months to that.

3. Where are you going to get the money to cover your business expenses during start up?  Again I would suggest at least a year.

Why is this important?  Because, if you are constantly worried about how to pay the mortgage payment, or where the money is going to come from to buy this week’s groceries, it’s hard to stay focused on what you want.

The first time I started a business, I had a great partner and we had a good plan.  My problem? For 20 years, I received a pay check every two weeks like clockwork .  The day after we opened our new office, I realized I wasn’t getting a paycheck any more.  I was terrified.  It affected my performance.  Having a year’s expenses safely tucked away in a separate bank account would have saved me a lot of grief.

Answering the money question will save you a lot of grief too.

There is one other major consideration.  You need to understand that whatever your product or service is, in the end it’s a commodity.  What is your vision for the way that commodity is delivered to your customer?  Look at this quote from The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber.

“Said another way, the Entrepreneurial Model has less to do with what’s done in a business and more to do with how it’s done. The commodity isn’t what’s important— the way it’s delivered is. Thus, the Entrepreneurial Model does not start with a picture of the business to be created but of the customer for whom the business is to be created. It understands that without a clear picture of that customer, no business can succeed.”

Gerber, Michael E. (2009-03-17). The E-Myth Revisited (Kindle Locations  1030-1032 & 1036-1038). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Remember at the beginning of this post I said every successful business fills a need or solves a problem.  But…that isn’t enough.  You must have a very clear idea of who your customer or client is.  Once you have that, you have to figure out how to deliver your answer to their needs in such a way that they are overjoyed.  It’s how the customer feels at the end of the transaction that determines your ultimate success.

You will probably have a lot more questions.  The list above is certainly not all inclusive.  There are a lot more issues we need to discuss. I intend to cover those issues in subsequent blogs in the “Starting From Scratch” series.

How are you doing?  Have you answered all the questions I have posed?  Have you thought of things I haven’t asked?  Did you come up with answers for them?

How do you feel?  Are you excited, charged up, can’t wait to get going?  Have you got all those nagging worries answered or at least turned into positive goal statements?

Then choose.  Get ready to enjoy a wondrous journey full of hope, joy, accomplishment, satisfaction, and yes, blood, tears, toil, and sweat.  I assure you there is no better feeling than to look back years from now and seeing what you’ve built and the people you’ve helped.

And…let me know how you’re doing.

Until next time…

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Posted by: stephenfetters | December 4, 2015

Duct Tape Marketing-A Book Review

Today I am reviewing Duct Tape Marketing, The Worlds Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide, by John Jantsch.  (© 2006 by John Jantsch All rights reserved. Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson is a registered trademark of Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

As small business owners, we must recognize, like it or not, we are in the marketing business.  When you’re starting out, it’s hard to know what to do or when to do it.  In Duct Tape Marketing, author John Jantsch gives solid advice on building marketing plans that work.

In Part 1 of the book, Jantsch describes in detail how to build a sticky marketing system designed to help your prospects know you better and like you more.  There is sound practical advice on building a core message, creating marketing materials, and building a web site without breaking the bank.

In Part 2 there is sound advice on using various types of media, from ordinary print and direct mail, up to and including the internet. Here you can find ways to generate leads, turn leads into prospects, prospects into client, and clients into partners.

Part 3 concludes the book describing how to take what works for you and then do more of it.

The only fault I could find this book, was that it left me with the impression that you needed to do it all in order to succeed.  I feel, in reality, you should pick one or two things most suited to your situation, and pound away at those for a while before moving on.

That said, I still found this book to be an excellent guide for anyone who is a small business owner and particularly anyone who is considering starting a small business.

If you want to order this book now, just click on the link below the book jacket image to get it from Powell’s Book Store in Portland.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Powell’s Affiliate.)

Click here to purchase this great book from Powell’s

Posted by: stephenfetters | November 27, 2015

Tyrannized by Your To Do List?

Did you ever feel like your To Do list was dominating your life? What happens when you can’t check off all today’s tasks?  How do you feel?

We are told if we want to succeed, we have to have goals.  Written goals. With deadlines.  Then we are supposed to break those goals down into intermediate steps with completion dates.

If we keep working backwards, we eventually wind up with a daily list of things to do.  Things that must be completed in order for us to achieve the big goal one, two, three, or even five years down the road.

But…what happens when you can’t complete the list?  For us driven, goal oriented types, not completing the list puts the goal in jeopardy. Not achieving the goal is unacceptable.

So what happens?  Completing the daily to do list becomes the driving force in our lives.

I struggled with this for years.  I would set goals.  Set up milestones to be achieved. Then work my to do list each day, checking off the items as I completed them.

Then came the day when something went haywire at 8:35 in the morning and my whole day went in the tank. Sundown came and not one task checked off.  Immediately my disaster radar would kick in and I would feel overwhelmed.  My whole plan was in jeopardy.  I was failing.

Then a few years ago, I found a two-part solution.

The first part was to change my perception about how goals are achieved.

I would set goals, make plans and start down the path.  I recognized intellectually that some goals are met, others aren’t, and some get changed along the way.  Emotionally, if I set a goal, I became so invested in it failure was not an option.

I was so focused on completing the goal, that any task undone meant now I had more to do in a shorter amount of time as the completion date drew near. I watched with dismay as the to do pile grew bigger and time grew shorter.

Pretty soon, achieving the goal began to look impossible.

It was obvious I had to change something.  So, I changed the way I thought about goal achievement. Now I prefer to achieve a goal. If I don’t, it’s OK.  The sun will still come up tomorrow.

The second and most important thing I did was to change the way I looked at tasks.

I still have my to do list.  But, now at the end of the day, I sit down and make a list of everything I got done during the day. And, I celebrate the baby steps I’ve taken.

Instead of looking at how far I have to go, I look at how far I’ve come.

Instead of feeling like a failure, I feel the joy of accomplishment.

As the list of things done piles up, I can feel my goal getting closer and closer.

And the tasks that are undone?  They can go on tomorrow’s list. I am mindful of Murphy’s Second Law, “It always takes longer than you think.”

So, If you feel dominated by your to do list, try this.  For the next 30 days, sit down at the end of the day and list the things you got done. Now, celebrate those baby steps.

My guess is at the end of your 30 day trial, you’re going to feel freer than you have in years.

It’s not easy to change years of ingrained habit. I did it.  I know you can too.

Remember, achieving goals is a marathon, not a sprint.

Marathoners have a saying, “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s mighty hard. Baby steps add up to 27.6 miles quicker than you think.

I hope you enjoyed this post.  If you would like to join my email list, here is the link
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Posted by: stephenfetters | November 24, 2015

How to Create Engaging Content

If you are using your blog to promote your business, what is your biggest challenge?  Writing content people want to read.  

It’s not easy.  Here is a post giving some great tips on engaging content creation.  

HOW TO WRITE ENGAGING CONTENT THAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY WANT TO READ
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December 24, 2013

Categories: Publications

With the state of search in the content basket, we have to provide well-written, engaging content for people in our niche. Think about The Huffington Post or Wired, or even Seth Godin’s blog. What is it about them that makes people go there, day after day, to read the content?

Does the thought scare you? It shouldn’t. You don’t have to be Seth or Arianna to have a willing audience. You just have to write more than pap. You need to teach people, entertain them, or give them something important to think about. There’s news, events, and even other blog posts to help you figure out something to write.

Writing or deciding what I’m going to write about has never been a problem for me because there is just so much information out there to pull from! You just have to know where to find it.

In this article, I’d like to give you some of my tactics and then, some resources where you can find ideas for creating content and making it sing!

Build Your Arsenal of Info

I use Outlook for email, but I’m sure you can set up folders in your mail program, no matter what you’re using to receive and read your email.  I have subscribed to a number of blogs and newsletters in the SEO niche, and every time one of those emails come in, it automatically goes into a folder I call “Grist.” Yes, for my mill. When I need to write an article and an idea doesn’t just pop into my head, I have a TON of information to fall back on.

I also start reading blogs, which I do anyway, to keep up with SEO changes. Reading alone has always given me something to write. Have you heard about AllTop.com? It’s a content aggregator, and with it, you can designate blogs you read regularly and have them all on one page at the same time, along with recent posts. If you click the link, you’ll come to my personal AllTop page, which has lots of tech, SEO and other stuff that will interest anyone who’s doing business online. Try it!

Make Your Content Worth Reading

content1We’ve already established that not all content is created equally, and I further discussed that in an article I wrote last month in “7 Content Marketing Mistakes to Avoid.”  You need to craft each article with care and enough engaging information to make readers read through to the end. If you don’t do that and just writing for search engines, you won’t succeed. If you’re not writing content that people want to share, don’t bother.

Seriously.

So, you need some stuff to pump it up. Here are some tactics that I use to make my articles more readable:

Statistics

Statistics are great! People love to see stats about things they’re interested in and (at least, I think so) that’s partly why infographics have become so popular. Think about the last one you saw, and I guarantee there’s at least one interesting statistic in it.

Where can you get stats?

Easy.

HubSpot gave us All the Marketing Statistics You Need. This compilation of stats from data sites around the Web is amazing. Did you know that worldwide, we conduct 131 billion searches per month on the Web? According to ComScore in 2010, we did. I’m betting it’s a much larger figure now that tablets and smartphones are so available. Be sure the statistic you want to use reflects the current situation.

But notice two things about the statistic. First, I told you where to find it, and second, I told you where it came from and when. These are important for your credibility. You could make up any old statistic, so until you prove where it came from and assure yourself and your readers that it’s a solid stat, why include it at all?

If you click through to the page above, you’ll notice that Hubspot gathered statistics, not just from ComScore, but from Marketing Sherpa, eMarketer, and other known and respected sites, as well. Just don’t forget to tell readers that though you got the stat from one site, that it was provided by another.  Don’t trust sources that aren’t solid, either.  Known and trusted sites are the only ones you should pull statistics from.

Quotations

Quotes from people who are respected in your niche are great. Just be really sure they said what you’re quoting. I wrote a biography of Gloria Steinem several years ago, and she’s still quoted as saying, “A woman needs a man a like fish needs a bicycle,” but she never said it. Don’t put words into other people’s mouths! Not everything you read online is true, either. Remember that.

So, how do you prove things that people say?

Get at least two reliable sources. And sometimes, if the quote is controversial for example, get three. You can be sued for liable, even if you think nobody is reading your stuff. Famous people have searches done on their brand all the time. Just be sure you’re giving credit where credit is due.

content2Where to find quotes?

I’d suggest finding quote in articles written by the person you want to quote, since there are so many online now.  Just about every famous person who has ever existed has something you can quote from. Seriously. You’d be amazed at how many primary source documents there are online these days. That means, diaries, government records, papal bulls, letters, and so much, much more. Find those things and you know you’re golden. If you’re using primary source documentation, you don’t need to look for another source. Just as you won’t, if you’re quoting an article on a very reliable website.

For example, if I quoted Richard Branson from an article he wrote (or had ghost written) on LinkedIn, I wouldn’t worry about finding corroboration. But if I’m reading a biography on a personal blog about Richard Branson, I’d have to find other information that matches what I found to assure its veracity.

And please, please, please, don’t trust Wikipedia. It’s a great place for general research, but for honest-to-goodness journalistic purpose, not so much.

You can pick up a bunch of early American history primary source documents at Constitution.org, for example. You never know when a quote from George Washington or Patrick Henry might suit your needs, even if you’re writing about doing business online.

Try Google books, too. I just found an old book with a bunch of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s letters in it. (You’ll see why I was looking for those in a minute.)

Anecdotes

content3Anecdotes are always engaging. I used one above to tell you about Gloria Steinem. But an anecdote can be about anyone, known or unknown. It can be you or someone other than you that you tell a short story about. People love stories and that’s why copywriting embraces storytelling. It’s engaging, and if you tell a great story, people will want to keep reading your work until the end.

There are stories abound online. You can find a good collection at Listverse.com, but just type “famous anecdotes” into a search query box and you’ll find tons of them. Or read TextsFromLastNight.com and quote someone anonymously. Like this, “You’re right. I woke up today with my ugly sweater still on and no pants. I’d say it was a successful night.”  This doesn’t need corroboration because it was entered by the person who wrote it. Not an academic anecdote, but pretty funny.

Another story I found while researching a book about famous composers years back related to Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest. Apparently, he tried to drown himself because of an unhappy marriage to a woman, when he was more drawn to men. He was also prone to “nerves,” as he called them. So, he waded into the Volga River, which he hoped would give him pneumonia and cause him to die. His plan didn’t work, though he did suffer a nervous breakdown. Poor dude. If only he knew how beloved his music would become. Not a funny story, but I’m guessing you didn’t know that about the man. Am I right?

So, there: a sentence, one paragraph, a little story… and people feel happy they read your stuff.

Don’t Hit Submit Right Away

Now, you have a killer article that teaches people something, right? It helps them solve a problem in their niche, and it’s engaging because you took the time to fill in some really solid details.

But wait! Don’t hit the submit button yet!

Allow your work to percolate for at least a few hours (a whole day is better). Then, go back and see if what you wrote makes sense, if you might have used some better word choices or your phrases could be more fluid, and try to look at it like a stranger. With the world moving so fast and with all there is to do, see if you’d spend the time. Then, read the article aloud and see how it will “sound” in someone else’s head.

When you do this, you will have a MUCH better article.

Throwing things out there willy-nilly with bad grammar and spelling, and that’s not very readable won’t help you. Spiders are watching.

Give them a great show. They’ll not only read what you’ve written… they’ll come back for more!

Author bio:

Pat Marcello is the President of MagnaSites.com, a full service digital marketing company. She also taught writing for five years for the Institute of Children’s Literature and has had 10 books published in four languages. Read her last article “How to Be an SEO in 2014” here.

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