I can still remember the first time I walked into my college’s main library. Before me were six huge floors, each one filled floor-to-ceiling with bookshelves. Looking at all that accumulated knowledge, my heart sank. “Everything important has already been written,” I thought.
I was surprised by my own reaction. Why despair? I didn’t consider myself a writer then, but that moment set me on a long journey to find out what I had to say that was different enough, and special enough, to deserve a place on those shelves, too. I was searching for my niche.
Most writing on niche marketing and niche publishing assumes a professional adult audience, but the search for one’s niche begins far earlier than that. In many ways, it is a continuation of the adolescent drive to find our place in the world, to translate what is inside of us into a unique offering that is valuable to others.
Seen from this perspective, finding your niche is not just about streamlining what you do but about adding back some of those early interests you may have dropped along the way. Here’s how this two-part process works. Continue reading
To be successful, every business needs a compelling message. Call it a tagline, a slogan, or even an argument, your message is what gets people’s attention and keeps them listening to what you have to say.
In a message, every word counts. Unlike mission statements which tend to be long, circuitous sentences that try to say too much, a message has to be on point. Rather than describing what you do, it communicates what you stand for.
But a message is not just words, it is also who you are. This is the critical piece for those of us with wisdom to share: if you don’t embody that wisdom somehow in your physical presence, your work will never truly have the impact you seek. So messages are a two-part process: finding the right words, and then bringing those words into alignment with your actions. Continue reading
I have written a lot about the essential tools, work habits, and attitudes for growing a vibrant web presence. Now that this series is reaching its midpoint, I want to write about the moment when all your hard work pays off and you actually start achieving success.
Strange as it may seem, success catches many people off-guard. If you have been striving for years to build your business or brand and attain influence, it can feel very odd to realize that things really are taking off. I have seen many people unable to slow down from their constant striving, and thus project insecurity when they need to transmit confidence. For others, the first whiff of success makes them lose focus and become overconfident, risking all their hard-won momentum just when they need it most.
Why is it important to adjust your outlook when you start to experience success? Because being an influencer, and ultimately a leader, calls for a different set of qualities than just being a successful business owner. Leadership is a long-term play for people interested in shaping the field rather than just winning a game. Making the shift from striver to leader is not difficult, but it does take practice, mindfulness, and a reaffirmation of your core values. Here’s how to get there. Continue reading
One of my favorite sayings is, “Life is an open-book test.” It is not important that you know everything, either in life or in business. But it is important to know where to find the answers you need. If you have set up your web presence correctly, chances are that even if you don’t know the people personally who could answer your questions, you know how to get in touch with them—through work contacts, mutual friends and associations. This network is the beginning of your knowledge base.
A knowledge base is the network of people you are connected to whose expertise you can draw from, and whose ideas and actions you respect. Most of us make decisions in our careers based on a combination of good and bad advice from the people we know. If we are lucky, we figure out pretty quickly which advice is which, and correct our mistakes before things get out of hand. So the first step in broadening your knowledge base is to take stock of your existing circle of friends and colleagues, and notice which have given consistently good advice. Make a point of thanking these remarkable people for their expertise, and stay in touch with them as best you can.
One of the obvious ways to expand our circle of wise friends is to get to know the people our current wise friends admire and like to hang out with. This is one of the great benefits of actual face-to-face social networking, but it is not always possible. While there is no real substitute for relationships cultivated in person, there are three very good ways that you can use the social web to much the same effect. If you are not yet growing your knowledge base online, here is how to start. Continue reading
The most frequent complaint I hear from clients is that they are juggling too many things at once. It is a familiar refrain, though the picture shifts slightly from one profession to another. Meeting with clients, managing projects, marketing, keeping up with billing and bookkeeping—there is too much of everything to do. When time gets tight it’s usually the “new kid on the block” that gets dropped: learning to use that new software, or moving forward with a web presence plan.
But there is a problem with the juggling metaphor: a juggler mostly stays in one place, dealing with the same stream of flying objects for as long as possible. There is no forward progress in juggling, no goal other than duration, and no exit plan except for dropping the balls or throwing them to someone else. So when a client complains about too much juggling, my response is always: Does all that juggling move you toward your long-term goals, or keep you standing still? If your daily routine does not also include actions to help position yourself in a year, two years, or five years from now, then you may as well learn to like it because in the long run nothing is going to change.
Those who are already successful and want to make the leap toward being influential tend to have more difficulty than most in shifting focus. These people typically have a very active Rolodex and have done quite well on the strength of their contacts and experience. They know how to bring in work and have fine-tuned their daily routines to keep that flow going. With strong real-time networking skills and relationships they don’t really need a web presence plan to help them stay successful, but they do if they want to build influence by having their ideas to catch fire in a wider circle. The question is, how?
In an online world dominated by analytics, you may be relieved to know that one of the most important social media tools at your disposal is your intuition. It is especially important in creating a vibrant web presence, where half the battle is separating the wheat from the chaff among the new marketing tools popping up daily.
Intuition is one of those skills that everyone uses but hardly anyone mentions. Sometimes called a “hunch,” or a “gut feeling,” it teeters on the brink of being too “woo” to discuss in the presence of business associates. So in the interests of having some guidelines about how to develop and apply intuition in a business setting, here is a quick primer on what intuition is, how to sharpen it, and when to use it. Continue reading
Being honest is an art, not a science. If it were a science, anyone could do it well by following a simple formula. Instead, there are different rules for different levels of honesty, and it is important when cultivating your web presence to know which level you are going for, and why. What sort of honesty is appropriate for a Twitter stream? A personal website? A Facebook page? And when do any of these cross the line into too much honesty?
I have been exploring these questions ever since I began blogging over 5 years ago, and realized how different it was than essay writing. The immediacy of web publishing, and the instant access of hyperlinks and Google searches, means that more is revealed about the writer of a blog post than is revealed by a print article. While this may make some shy away over privacy concerns, the truth is that privacy itself is a moving target. And when privacy as we know it becomes a thing of the past, honesty itself needs to be redefined.
One of the many things I like about Clay Shirky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, is that he shines a light on some of the human qualities that give the internet its real value. Shirky writes, “The harnessing of our cognitive surplus allows people to behave in increasingly generous, public, and social ways, relative to their old status as consumers and couch potatoes.” (p. 63) Generosity is intrinsic to the overall success of social networks, yet its role in your web presence plan may not be clear.
Generosity can mean giving things away for free, and that is a standard formula for business websites: give people free access to some content, and charge for more. (Or in my case, give away content and charge for services.) Businesses that value generosity often make it a practice to help support a local non-profit agency, in order to give back to the community. Yet generosity in social networks is different than just wealth or resources, and understanding the difference could make or break your web presence plan. Continue reading
In my latest email newsletter, I talk about finding your way into “the zone,” where creating content for your web presence is effortless and enjoyable. Being in the zone is also called “flow,” and the feeling is unmistakable: deep concentration, coming up with just the right words and concepts when you need them, being so engrossed in your task that you don’t notice time passing.
Flow is an optimal state where focused work becomes deeply satisfying, but flow also requires that certain conditions be met. According to author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, these include having clear goals, a lack of distractions, and a task that is challenging but not too difficult. Under these conditions, people are able to do some of their best, most innovative work.
Everyone understands the importance of reducing distractions and having clear goals. What is less well understood is how important it is to know your unique work rhythms. To really benefit from flow, you may need a whole new way of thinking about how you manage your tasks, as well as your time.
One of the most challenging aspects of boosting your web presence is responding to the many different types of people in your social network. These could be friends (or former friends), colleagues, customers, clients, or prospective clients. Setting a good tone is easier by phone or face to face than it is through writing. That is why I encourage clients to strive for equanimity in dealing with both combative and complimentary interactions.
While equanimity is commonly thought of as a spiritual rather than a business value, the demands of online communication are such that equanimity, or even-temperedness, is essential. The time between receiving a comment over email, Twitter, or the web, and responding to it, is minimal. To be most effective, we need to focus on a quality that helps us respond in a timely way while staying as calm and centered as possible.
Equanimity in online presence means keeping in mind three key points at all times: 1) Nothing written is private; 2) Your business will be judged not by what you do but by how you interact with others; 3) Criticism and praise say as much about the person sending it as they do about you. Here is how to translate these points into everyday action. Continue reading