Staying Alert When You’re Working Late

nightowl

Hey there, night owl!

Yeah, you!

The one who stays up past midnight on any given day to get work done so they can sleep in a bit the next day.  The one who gets his/her second wind around 10:00pm and will actually have a coffee to keep going. The one who just has so much work to do that you have no choice. The one who hates mornings so they stay up late instead.

This blog post is for you.

Here are our top 5 tips for staying productive when you’re staying up:

  • Do the big tasks first: It’s pretty self-explanatory. You use your brain power at its greatest peak before it starts fogging up and dwindling down.
  • Make your workspace as distraction-free as possible: No cell phones, no social media, no washroom breaks (just kidding). The more focused you are the better.

 

  • Brighten your workspace: Dim lighting may cause you to become drowsy which will lessen your focus and drive to continue your tasks. If you are already feeling sleepy? Darkness won’t help.

 

  • Get your blood flowing: Jumping Jacks, a few push-ups, maybe a brisk jog around your house? It should up your energy level and give you an added boost.

 

  • COFFEE- or a caffeinated beverage: They say not to just chug the drink though. Taking small amounts in periodically throughout your late-night work mission will keep you afloat.

 

These tips should help but the most important thing that you have to understand is when to know when to stop. Don’t push yourself into a canyon of “I am going to have to redo this work, because I am exhausted and when I read it tomorrow? It is going to be CRAP”.  It’s a slippery slope into that hole… so just know your limits.

Blogging: Where to start?

We’ve recently had a few of our followers comment on various articles asking us how to start a blog of their own. They, like many people, wanted to know where to start and if we had any tips/tricks to help them be successful in their venture. This in turn is what led us to writing this very article- so thank you commenters! This one’s for you.

 

Step 1

What do you want to blog about?

This can really be anything if you ask me…anything that you feel passionately about writing about? I say go for it! Worst-case scenario? No one reads it… SO WHAT. At least you got to express yourself. You got it off your shoulders.

This is a serious step one though… because without a general idea and purpose for your blog… well… things could get messy. Ask yourself what you want to get out of the blog. Is it a personal reflection blog? An informative blog? A community blog? A business blog?

Step 2

Who will host your blog?

We use WordPress. We are familiar with their plugins and have knowledge of the back-end, which is a bit more manual than some other hosts like blog.com. I find blog.com is the easiest for someone who maybe isn’t as computer literate but definitely look around. There are so many different platforms and price packages. Most platforms offer you a free and paid version. The difference is usually ad placements flashing on your blog, custom URL’s, larger file storage etc. Take a look at all the packages because depending on what you need- the packages may be worth it for you.

Beebom wrote a pretty good review of top blogs for 2015: http://beebom.com/2015/02/5-best-blogging-platforms   they don’t mention blog.com but in my experience it has been the easiest for newbies to grasp.

Step 3

Designing your blog.

This is more than just what pretty colour you want. Your main goal should be functionality, readability and overall set up. If your blog is on photography? You are going to want something that displays images the best, that has great gallery options and allows you to save an adequate amount of files in your back-end. If you are more informative- you still want to make sure that you can display images to make your blog aesthetically pleasing- but you won’t need as much storage space. Make sure that your menu is large enough to see and easy to navigate and that you can easily add and manipulate your pages as new content is added.
Make sure that your font is large enough and easy to read if your target audience is 65+ then up that font a couple points. Make sure the colours aren’t harsh on the eyes. Keep your pages white because it is easier for people to read than on black- and skip the neon.

Step 4

Content.

It’s time to write your first post! (Exciting) One thing I learned was that your post doesn’t have to be perfect. Your posts are easily editable and that you just have to go for it! Better done than perfect- obviously keep in mind your basic spelling and grammar but don’t be afraid to hit publish. A trick I use is, I write my blogs in word first- THEN I copy them into my blog. It allows for auto-correct to come to my rescue and I save my work as a backup. Keep your audience in mind and write away. Be sure to add a corresponding image somewhere in your article because it not only breaks up your blog and is appealing to the eyes, it also adds an automatically generated icon when you are sharing your blog link.

Write enticing headlines and remember that your work is SEO friendly- so who knows who will be searching for information and stumble onto your blog?

Step 5

Sharing your blog

Your blog will share organically in your providers forums, in search engines and through like’s and shares on social media but it is also up to you to share your links and promote your work. Be proud!

How to Create an Effective Print Advertisement

Ad Tips

 

A successful print advertisement will grab and hold someone’s attention long enough for them to understand what your ad is about. You want to create instant appeal so that your audience will want to read on.  Design is important- but an ad is much more than graphics. There are strategies, tips and tricks that can help boost your ads effectiveness.

Aside from ensuring your ad contains important elements like your logo, call-to-action, and contact information- your ad should also:

  1. Be easy to read. Don’t use too many fonts or extra small text. Don’t fill up your page with too much information! Drive people to your website or social media platforms to learn more.
  1. Know what you want your ad to say. What are your objectives? Why are you running the ad?
  1. Use negative space wisely and ensure that the most important information is highlighted with a larger text, different font or different colour. Make sure your core message stands out.
  1. Be correct. Ensure your ad is free of spelling errors, grammar mistakes and that your contact information is correct.
  1. Have a unique selling position- why should someone purchase your product or use your service over your competitor?
  1. If you are offering a promotion make sure you set an expiry date. Create a sense of urgency!
  1. Stay on brand. Be recognizable.

Have you heard of the “Advertising Rule of Seven”? According to marketing expert Dr. Jeffrey Lant– “To penetrate the buyer’s consciousness and make significant penetration in a given market, you have to contact the prospect a minimum of seven times within an 18-month period.”

Above all- be sure that you understand your target market. Make sure that your ad is speaking their language, that the esthetics speaks to them and that the avenue you choose to deliver your ad in makes sense. Put your ad where they will see it- doing your research before placing your ad is important.

Whatever you do, don’t forget a call-to-action because you want to be able to measure your ad efforts. ROI! ROI! Always do your best to measure your efforts ESPECIALLY as a start up. You need to make sure your investments make sense. Use your insights and analytics to track visitors during your campaign.

Have fun and we will say it again…. stay on brand!

Blog Tips: How To Overcome Writer’s Block

Overcome writers block

Ahhhhh yes. Our BLOG! What to post… There is so much to write about- but you need inspiration!

So what happens when you aren’t in the writing mood, you get writers block, your creativity is flunking and you need inspiration! Well, these tips should help you out of that rut:

  1. Write early in the morning.

Your brain is fresh and new- plus you have the energy to get at it! Waking up early and getting a head start on your day will have you feeling on top of the ball not only if you write, just in general.

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself

Just write! Don’t worry if it is the best you’ve ever written. You can edit later or save a draft and never post it at all. Who knows if an idea you have with morph into an even better idea for a post?  Practice makes perfect anyway… I guess the point is – don’t spend hours trying to get it “write” (no good?)

  1. Read industry articles, blogs and books

Get inspired. Don’t plagiarize- just go with the flow. While reading you will educate yourself, you will take sides, form opinions. You may feel passionately enough about a topic that it will become a blog post. Reading also doubles as a relaxing brain break to help you re-energize. What is the worst that can happen? You learn something! Not a bad deal.

  1. Exercise

Get your blood going- break a sweat! Exercise increases your concentration, elevates your mood and releases a multitude of beneficial hormones to help you get the job done. Stretch those fingers out as well- help with writers block AND finger cramps.

  1. Keep notes

A blog post idea can hit at any moment. Be ready. Jot down your idea in your phones notepad, on a receipt or even on your hand until you get home. Log your ideas and reference your list whenever you feel stuck!

Hopefully these tips help… It is important to be consistent with your blog posts- so if all else fails and you REALLY can’t write that article? Outsource! Get a guest post. Ask employees, industry experts, authors or other bloggers to step up and enjoy some of the spotlight.

Any other tips you can add? Please do below!

How to Write a Business Plan

Writing a Business Plan.

The great business plan debate- is it necessary? Is it a waste of time?

Some may say yes- times have changed and to a certain degree- I agree. What I don’t agree with is phasing them out completely. It is a great referral document for you to have on hand and if you ever look into getting bank loans or obtaining outside investors? You should have this available for reference.

I believe that the real significance of creating a business plan is not the finished product in hand or who you submit it to; rather, the value lies in the process of researching and thinking about your business in a methodical way. You do not have to complete the sections in order- but I recommend completing your executive summary last. Remember that this is a living guide that you should develop as your business grows and changes.

Below are the sections that you should include in your plan.

Executive Summary

Explain the basics of your business:  What will your product be? Who will your customers be? Who are the owners? What do you think the future holds for your business and your industry?

Company Description

What business will you be in? What will you do? What is your legal form of ownership (sole proprietor?) Include your mission statement, company goals and objectives: business philosophy, your industry, target market… your company strengths and weaknesses.

Products and Services

Describe your products or services. What factors will give you competitive advantages or disadvantages? What are the pricing structures of your products or services?

Marketing & Advertising Plan

Your marketing plan details how you intend to meet your customers’ needs and communicate the benefits of your products or services to them. You want to identify your target market and their needs and wants. Research your competitions strengths and weaknesses and think of how to position your brand, products and services so that your target market sees your business as better than, or different from, the competition.

Complete a S.W.O.T analysis and include it. (Download a free template HERE.)
Outline the budget and what avenues you think will work best for getting your message across.

Operational Plan

Explain the daily operation of the business, its location, equipment, people and processes. How and where are your products or services produced? How will you handle customer service, quality control, returns/refunds? How will you be storing your inventory? (If any), will you need to ship anything to your customers/suppliers?

Your Internal Organization

Who will run your business? Who is their backup should something happen to them? How many employees will you have? What experience will your employees need to bring to your business? How will you hire them? What benefits will you offer? What training do they need? How will you track their attendance and performance? How will you pay them?

Personal Finances

Show your assets and liabilities held outside the business and personal net worth.

Startup Expenses Planning and Forecasting

Estimate your expenses accurately and then to plan where you will get sufficient capital. It is best to overestimate than under. Consider all your startup expenses such as: legal work, logo design, business cards, brochures and marketing material, web site design, office supplies and furniture etc.

Financial Plan

This is what will ultimately tell you whether or not you are going to waste your time. Remember to BE REALISTIC when entering your numbers.

This section was/is the trickiest for me to explain- because it’s so important I found a handy template online- it was created by The Commonwealth Bank and it helps give you an idea of what you are looking at! Download the free template by clicking this link: Financial Plan Template by Commonwealth Bank

Also think about whether or not you plan on offering any credit to your customers- and how you will manage that.

Appendices

Keep track of the information that you used to come to your business plan conclusions. There is a lot of information in one document so it’s easy to forget sources! Even a copy/paste of the links will suffice.

So there you have it! Your business plan.

Take your time and enjoy this process- you will learn a lot about your business and yourself!

Why Your Business Should Be Writing a Blog

Why your business should blog

Blogging is more than sharing angry vents, happy memories, self-indulgent bragging and hobby posts. It is a marketing tool, an SEO gem and a shareable opportunity to provide your audience with helpful, inspirational and real information.

Let me explain in better detail.

Blogs drive traffic to your website. How? Well every time you publish a post, it signals to search engines and tells them that they need to re-scan your website- that you are active and have updated/provided new information. So what? Well every new indexed page means a heightened chance that your blog is going to surface when someone types keywords into a search engine… which means strangers will read your post, be directed to your site- then SHARE your post… then their contacts will be directed to your site and so on and so forth.

Blogs provide shareable content. When you write relevant information, people will want to share it on twitter, facebook, google+, pinterest and linkedin. Most blog hosts automatically imbed a “share” button at the bottom of each published post- so no need to worry about that. So again you are driving people to your site through your blog.

Blogs provide you with street cred. Or industry cred… whatever you prefer. Your blog showcases your knowledge and your willingness to share that knowledge. You are confident enough in your ability to communicate with your audience!

Blogs give your company a voice. Obviously your blog content will be relevant, on brand and the ‘voice’ you use will be consistent. People will get an idea of what to expect when they communicate with your company by what they read on your blog, how you respond to comments (good AND bad) and the tone in your posts.

Blogs are fairly easy to set up. You don’t have to be a graphic designer! You can use sites like wordpress, hubspot, blog.com… we use wordpress- but the choice is yours! You can choose from a plethora of template designs and colours to suit your needs and keep you on brand.

I recommend writing your posts in word or some other word processor- that way you can utilize the spelling/ grammar features AND you can save it half way through. You can also start multiple posts and go back to them if your brain freezes. I also don’t like to fully rely on the world wide web to save my draft properly should a hiccup occur.

Blogging isn’t scary. It’s fun and with practice comes confidence! Don’t think too much about tweaking it into perfection (you can always go back and edit after it’s published) just write it, check grammar and spelling and hit publish! You can do this! Follow likeminded people- read their blogs. Get inspired and be inspiring!
Good luck!

The Elevator Pitch: How to make it count.

Elevator Pitch

You get on an elevator at the 10th floor. Going down you are face to face with an opportunity to sell your business. Someone said hi and asked what you do. What do you say? How can you sum up what you offer in half a minute? Where do you start? You only have 20-30 seconds until the ride is over and if you aren’t prepared? You lose your chance.

Just as you finally get all of your thoughts together *DING* ground floor, and you watch your could-be client walk away.

Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The elevator pitch” gets its name from the length of the explanation. You should be able describe what you offer in a short period of time. You need to be able to spark enough interest to make a connection and be able to follow up. The pitch isn’t limited to an elevator of course- it can be for sales, to drive traffic to your website, explain what you do for a living and prep potential clients. It’s a good thing to have in your back pocket for just an occasion.

To start: Introduce your company and ask yourself how you want to be remembered by your audience. Include who your target markets is and how you provide value for your clients… what makes you stand out? Finish your pitch with an open ended question if possible (one that involves more than a yes or no) to include them in your conversation.

For example: If you are a travel agency:

“We are a full service, family oriented travel agency- we book your flight, hotel, car- we even book your excursions on the resort in advance. We pre-approve payment plans to help make it more affordable and offer heavily discounted last minute vacations. When was the last time you took a vacation?”

You need to get to the point and you need to make sure the delivery sounds natural (even though it isn’t…) Nobody wants to deal with the cheesy car salesman/woman…person. Also, make sure you always have your business cards on you and easily accessed.

Your DIY Website: Can it be improved?

DIY

Do it yourself websites have come a long way. Now more than ever, you can design a beautiful website yourself for much less than the cost of a graphic designer (sorry graphic designer friends! I know these template websites don’t compare to custom coding but not everyone can afford you off the hop). That being said: You want to make sure that you are getting the most out of your DIY website, that you are appealing to the public and that you are being received as a professional company!

I’ve compiled a list of what I believe to be the top ten DIY website building areas of focus:

1) ANALYTICS

“Google Analytics is a service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about a website’s traffic and traffic sources and measures conversions and sales.” – wiki

YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO IS VISITING YOUR SITE! You want to know how long they are staying, what pages they like/dislike, where they live, their language and more. The information that you can collect FOR FREE will help direct your advertising efforts (so you know where to target) it will help you measure your efforts and outlines your ROI. Get yourself a Google account and sign your site up for Google analytics. www.google.ca/analytics/

The website builder you use will have an analytics section in its settings. Once you are set up and given your analytics number- you simply copy and paste the number into the setting. If you don’t know where that is? Type ‘Analytics ‘into their HELP search area.

2) MUSIC

Don’t have automatic music. A large percentage of people surfing the web are at work taking a break and the last think they need is your chosen song to start blasting in their office and have everyone KNOW that they are taking a break. Best believe they will be closing off your site ASAP and probably aren’t going to return. If you want music on?-that’s fine! Just don’t have it on auto-play, give people the option to play it at their own leisure.

3) IMAGES

If you are going to ‘borrow’ an image from a search engine- make sure you give credit where it is due and make sure your image makes sense- no pink martini glasses just because you think the colour matches your real estate business’s logo.

Make sure that you label your images properly when you upload them so that when a user’s mouse goes over it, it doesn’t read gibberish/ the file name. Describe the pictures as best you can to relate to your business so that you increase your SEO (search engine optimization).

Pixilation is the worst. Please don’t publish blurry photos! A trick is to size the image to what you want before uploading it rather than resizing it online.

4) SPELLING & GRAMMAR

No one expects you to be a top notch editor- people do however, expect you to be somewhat grammatically correct and for your spelling to be correct. Ask family and friends to look over your written work before you post. I like to write all of my work in word so obvious spelling errors will be highlighted (grammar isn’t that easy).

5) LESS IS MORE

Lay off the million banners, boxes, pictures, information- you may scare off a visitor. You have three seconds to make a good impression- use it wisely. Personally I like when the homepage is short but sweet and doesn’t involve a lot of scrolling down and definitely never scrolling to the sides.

Oh! Your DIY builder offers groovy animations for your site? DON’T DO IT! Clip-art emoticons are not the way to go… no matter what, that dancing smiley face holding a fishing rod doesn’t fit into a professional site. (Sorry)

6) CONTACT INFORMATION IS CORRECT

Your company contact information, make sure your employee information is up to date, your social media handles haven’t changed… actually- just make sure all of your information is correct.

That’s better.

7) CHECK YOUR LINKS

Does your email hyperlink work? Does your social media handle direct properly? External links- are the correct? ALWAYS check your links. Clicking and being directed to a null page is irritating.

8) FONT

Stay away from too many fonts. Make sure your font is not too big, not too small. (If you are targeting senior citizens? Bump up the font size to make it easier to read). Stay away from neon colours, rainbow colours, bright yellow on black (I personally despise solid black website backgrounds, my eyes feel like they are going to burn out.) Ideally (according to my graphic designer friends) you should use two no more than three fonts.

9) WEBSITE ADS

There are plenty of free website builders- if you want to be taken seriously, buy their upgraded package so you diminish the ads that you get if you use the free option (plus you don’t get a personalized domain name with the free package- personalized domains are a must).

The price ranges from $50-$200 and it is worth every penny. “Create your own free website” splattered all over your site doesn’t say commitment to me. Not to mention sometimes you have no control over the ads being posted! You are selling cute fuzzy Christmas crafts and XXX ads could be tarnishing the reputation you are trying to build. (Maybe not XXX ads, but you get my drift.)

10) TAKE YOUR TIME

Time is money- yes- but if you are going to build your own site I hope you are somewhat computer literate and will be able to maneuver through the site options. Take your time and see what your site builder has to offer before really getting started. Also- you don’t have to publish your site off the hop. Save your work and publish it when you are ready. Take your time and label everything correctly. Fill in all the blanks in your page settings so you increase your SEO and are user friendly.

Take note that I am not a graphic designer– I don’t claim to be. I am a DIY site builder, a website user and a corporate communications graduate who knows that this top ten list makes a world of difference.

Crystal Lengua

Email Etiquette 101- Writing for Business

How to write a professional email.

Not everyone can articulate themselves well through written work- I know this mainly because of email communication. I’ve read some emails that led me to believe that the person behind the computer was either extremely upset (when they weren’t), uninterested in our conversation or that their account had been hacked by a five year old playing a mean joke on me… Yes, they were that difficult to read.

Email communication is a conversation through writing. When used for business it should be polite, easy to understand and to the point. There are certain rules to obey to avoid your email being sent unprofessionally and received in the wrong way.

Here are my top email etiquette ‘rules’:

1.  Include a formal salutation in the initial email

Hello, hi, or even just the recipient’s name will do. Sending an email without saying hello to the person you are sending it to may come across as lazy and/or indifferent. The following emails in the conversation thread don’t have to have a salutation (I always include one but it isn’t a must). You wouldn’t just walk up to someone without them seeing you coming and start talking without saying hi, would you? Maybe you would… but try not to in email.

2.  Include an appropriate subject line

This will help the recipient prioritize their incoming emails and also help them search for your email thread in the future.

3.  Don’t type in all caps

This is read as though you are YELLING. No one likes to be yelled at so your message won’t be received well.

4.  Keep your email short and to the point

This is to benefit both the sender and receiver. The sender isn’t stuck writing for an hour and the reader isn’t stuck reading for an hour. If you feel that your email is getting lengthy- take that as a sign that you should set up a meeting or conference call.

5.  Font

Please use an easy to read font in a dark colour and please don’t use a size 8 or 20. Reading a bright red email in Chopin Script sized 18 is not the way anyone wants to start their day.

6.  Remember your audience

 Write your emails for the person receiving them. Maybe you write “ur” instead of your or use abbreviations such as “LOL” or “BRB” when you write with friends but keep your emails as professional as you can when you’re representing your business. I would even avoid the famous smiley face emoticon until you have established a relationship with the receiver and you are on friendly terms. 🙂

7.  Say please and thank you

Pretty basic stuff, but it can be lost in verbal to written translation.

8.  Proofread your email

I have a trick when it comes to writing emails. I write them in Word and then I copy and paste it into an email. I do this for a couple reasons:

  • My spelling is correct (note that your grammar still may not be so proofread anyway)
  • If I am upset or irritated this allows me to re-read and re-word the email without accidentally pressing send and throwing all of my email etiquette rules out the window

Email communication is an important part of your daily business interactions- treat it as such and your impression on the receiver should be a pleasant one.

Do you have an email pet peeve? Please share it in the comment section below!

Thanks,

Crystal Lengua