Self-doubt, worry and emissions testing

stressing out at the emissions test

For the first time ever, I had my emissions tested well ahead of the deadline. So worried that I would not pass due to car problems I’ve had recently, I wanted to get it over with and find out what problems needed to be fixed.

Figuring that the week between Christmas and New Year’s would be a less busy time to take care of the emissions testing, I went yesterday. Wrong, it was just as busy as ever.

It seems that every time the car idles for a long time, the Check Engine light comes on and it costs a lot of money to fix it.

Nail chewing time

I pulled into the emissions center in total freak-out mode and waited in line with my car idling for over a half hour. They now have a self-testing area. After briefly considering that, I decided out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it and would end up in the line anyway. Probably should have tried it.

Traffic jams always make me feel claustrophobic and sitting in this waiting area with many lanes of traffic completely stopped did not help my anxiety in the least. I picked the first aisle because I would only be trapped on one side and that was a little better.

There was a guy in a car in the lane to the right of me that was turning his car off and then back on when it was time to move up one car length. I considered doing this, but didn’t. When he moved his car forward it was making a terrible noise. I figured I would be seeing this guy later in the “you didn’t pass” customer service area.

There were 5-6 cars ahead of me when I got in line. With each car length forward my stomach churned and sweat appeared on my forehead. I thought to myself that maybe I could turn on the heat full blast and it would keep my engine cooler. Not sure if that makes any sense, but the hot flashes took over and I couldn’t deal with the blasting heat even with the windows down.

Another car length forward and my palms were sweating. I couldn’t sit still. To my left I could see people parking and taking their paperwork inside where you have to go once you fail the test. I knew I would be parking there soon and wondered how long I would be in line inside.

A passenger in the car ahead of me got out and took a little walk. I wondered what she was up to or if she just needed the bathroom. She came back a few minutes later. And we moved up another car length.

At this point I was in a full out panic attack. Why? I would just get a paper that said what I need to get fixed. I was sure it would be pricey, then I would have to come back and go through this horror again.

Oh boy, the car ahead of me entered the testing area. My pulse rate was high, full sweatiness and I think my eyes were crazy.

My head was throbbing now. The person in front of me got her paper and the attendant waved me into the testing area.

I could barely speak. I handed the guy my paper and money. He was telling me to turn off the car and step out while he performed the test. I felt faint. Maybe I’d vomit. I knew I looked on edge, but I couldn’t calm down.

The attendant handed me back the paper and I knew what he would say.

“You passed.” He said with the causal air of someone who says that all day long. I thought I misunderstood him.

“Thank you…” I croaked.

“You’re good for two years.” The attendant said. I’m not a hugger, but I nearly leapt from my car and embraced that guy in a full bear hug.

Disbelief

Out of the emissions testing center, I pulled out in total disbelief. I slowly drove down the road thinking that I will wake up at any minute and realize that I haven’t had the test yet. I got to the traffic light, thrust my fist upward and yelled, “YES!”

Here’s hoping 2017 will be filled with moments that end with a fist pump and a “Yes!”

Website promotion tips

gain page views on websiteEntrepreneurs of all industries have websites, but many business owners have no idea how to draw attention to them. While certain marketing like SEO (search engine optimization) is best left to professionals, you can do some things on your own to help put your website on the map.

Some of these suggestions may seem like no-brainers, however business owners are not always well versed in the ways of self promotion. It doesn’t take a computer wiz to do some simple things that will significantly increase your website page views.

Website self promotion

Doing these basic tasks can help gain momentum for your web page and ultimately boost your sales.

Increased sales is what we all want.

  1. Make sure the search engines have your site indexed. The search engine bots (automated software) regularly reach out to websites, but adding them yourself lets you know for sure Google and Bing know about you.
  2. Post new blogs, pages or updates to your personal social media pages. Even if you have someone who posts for you, add some yourself.
  3. Email your friends about your website.
  4. Set up a Yelp page for your business and encourage your best clients to post on it. Your clients can also post reviews on your Facebook business page.
  5. Add link to your site in the signature of your email.
  6. Make sure your site and social media pages are on your business card, brochure and any other printed materials. This may seem obvious, but people who do not live and breathe digital technology often forget to include their website on marketing materials.
  7. On your personal Facebook page, add your website in the settings section.
  8. Write an article about your business for someone else’s website. Guest blogging gives your business a new audience.
  9. Participate in online forums (using your web address in your signature). This also helps lend credibility and shows you are an expert in your field.
  10. Yahoo has a section where people answer questions. You get points when people like your answers. Become a well-known expert in your field by answering questions in the topic that best relates to your business (add your website under your name in your credentials).
  11. Create a magnet for your vehicle with the website in large letters.
  12. Many local businesses have neighborhood bulletin boards, add your card or flyer (with website on it).
  13. Bonus tip: Many blogs and sites recommend creating controversy on your social media pages to bring attention to yourself and your website. I disagree. Yes, people take notice, but you also take the risk of alienating people who are fans now. Upbeat posts are best.

Go through the list and do the things you feel comfortable doing. If you have questions or need help, please contact Social Squids. We can assist with marketing, printed materials, websites and social media.

Keep it Simple 

Keep it Simple 

Here is my latest Ink Slinger newsletter:

ink slinger

My mom used to call me the queen of the simple sentence – I thought I was simply being concise. As a senior in college I worked for a tv station and wrote for the 11:00 news. In only 15-20 seconds, I had to relate my story. That’s a mere 4-6 sentences.

In the world of social media, being the queen of the simple sentence can be a good thing.

Writing for websites can be tricky. No one wants to read any more. Bullet points and short statements are the only way to get someone’s attention and hold it. Long winded dissertations are no longer used in advertising, websites and never, ever in social media. The creators of Twitter made it 140 characters for a reason.

I took a class in graduate school where I had to take a complicated insurance form and condense the information into one page. Then it was shrunken down to a few paragraphs, and then to one paragraph. The paragraph was turned into a single sentence that summed up the entire document.

Try to do that with your company information. Can you? Take the content from your website and condense it down in stages until you have one statement. The result is probably very close to your elevator speech. If it’s not, then maybe your mission is getting lost.

How do you get your message across when no one wants to read?

  • Use bullet points!
  • Only say what is truly worthwhile
  • Infographics tell a story with images
  • Write down everything you want to say, then pare it down to the bare bones
  • Add images to your posts
  • Add videos to your posts
  • Vary sizes and fonts to make text stand out

Deliver your thoughts in a way that is short enough to read over a cup of coffee. Anything longer and you begin to lose people. Don’t let your true message disappear in a sea of meaningless words.

social media engagement infographic_

What would you do?

just sitting at starbucksLast week I found myself in an awkward situation. Maybe you have been there a time or two yourself. Here is my story…

This morning I am sitting in Starbucks for the second time waiting for someone who has not shown up. It is my second attempt on an appointment with this person and getting together was his idea. He seemed rather embarrassed when I talked to him after he missed the first appointment and here I am again. I really thought he would show up this time.

How many appointments do you make with someone and how long do you wait before you bail? This is someone I’ve known for over a year, but we will not be working together at this point. And, I feel like I can’t refer people to someone who doesn’t feel I am important enough to keep an appointment.

To make matters worse, one guy is talking loudly on his cell phone and a couple is having a conversation with someone on speaker phone. The loud guy is  talking to his appointment who did not show up either. I clearly heard him say, “That’s okay. Whenever you can get here is fine.”

I have resorted to my headphones, which I don’t like to do because I’m liable to start singing without realizing it. That will not be good in any way.

What is the protocol for being on time? 

In my opinion, you should always be 5-10 minutes early. That way you are never late. I get into panic attacks if I am stuck in traffic and I think I’m going to be late for anything, even if it’s just dinner with good friends and there is no time constraint. Maybe that’s just me.

In the age of cell phones that have alerts to let you know an appointment is coming up or reminders that can let you know you need to do something, there is really no excuse.

When I first contacted the guy after missing the first appointment, he doubted me, checked his phone’s calendar and admitted I was right. Ouch. Doubting me? That hurt right off the bat. I should have just said forget it, but I was hoping that we could at least share referrals.

If I’m going to be late, I text or call the person to let them know. I had an appointment last week and the guy was 30 minutes late. He messaged me three times letting me know there was an accident on the beltway and that he was trying to get to the appointment. However, this time I have been disrespected – and for the second time.

Last night I considered sending a reminder email, especially because he missed the first appointment, but I figured we’re all adults here and should be able to keep an appointment. Seems like I got that wrong.

I will admit, I missed a doctor’s appointment once. I spent the day with that nagging feeling that I was forgetting something, but couldn’t remember what it was. Two hours after the appointment, it hit me. I was embarrassed and felt terrible especially since I would probably be charged for it. Granted, that was years before Siri was around to remind me. I made absolutely sure I did not miss the second appointment!

Should I be insulted? I am. Should my feelings be hurt? They are. Should I just chalk it up to experience and enjoy my Starbucks latte? I should, but I can’t.

OMG. The guy I’m supposed to be meeting just walked in the door and sat down with someone else six feet away from me. Now I’m really mad and in a completely awkward situation. I have no idea what to do. I feel like a complete idiot. I am embarrassed, although I should not be. This is crazy. I should not have started writing this and instead left when I had a chance for a clean break.

Life sure does throw me curve balls. Did he see me sitting here with my headphones and typing away at my keyboard or was he focused on his OTHER appointment with the loud guy I heard talking on the phone earlier. Apparently, he forgot that appointment too. I am seething…

This has become too angry to be a blog. It has become a rant.

The guy didn’t even go up and get coffee, offering me an escape route. I am trapped like a wounded animal. Being generally non-confrontational, I am at a loss. I just want to escape with what little dignity I have. At least his back is to me as I contemplate my predicament.

What would you do if you found yourself in this situation?

How do you telecommute when the “tele” is not working?

when telecommunications are not possibleI found myself in a bit of a dilemma yesterday when my &#%$ cable/internet/phone went out right in the middle of a phone call with a client. With a large deadline looming, I was in a panic. It seems that every time I do have a problem with my internet, it happens during a big deadline.

What to do…

I refer to my neighborhood Starbucks my “branch office.” The branch office comes in handy when doing writing or website jobs. Unfortunately, for this job I need all of my old files in order to do the work. Starting with old ads, changing expiration dates or making other alterations, is part of what I do. In this case, I need to have all of my files handy.

This is where the cloud comes in handy. Too bad I haven’t quite made the commitment for a cloud company. I wrote some web content about the various cloud companies and it did more to cloud the issue for me. Pricing, storage space and ease of use are all considerations and I have not yet made a commitment. Lucky for me, things have been so busy lately, there has not been a lot of time to think about it.

But, the time is now. Putting off the decision will result in more stress. Who needs that? A decision will be made, and soon.

Like most graphic artists, I am not a fan of doing graphics on a laptop. The screen on mine is so small that it becomes frustrating, even if I connect a mouse to do some of the finer Photoshop movements. But when push comes to shove, a laptop will have to do.

My desktop computer is a Mac Mini. Those things are amazing. One time the power went out during a bad storm and I just unplugged my computer and power cord, and took them to someone’s house. By simply unplugging their computer, I attached my Mac Mini to their monitor, keyboard and mouse. Then I was good to go. My old files were on CDs in a binder that was easy enough to carry along. Using other person’s wifi allowed me to finish my job without moving any heavy equipment. It was relatively stress free.

A digital fax service, in my opinion, is much more useful than an actual machine when switching from laptop to computer to another location, etc. Many times I avoid printing anything (saving toner/ink and paper) by just looking at the fax on my screen.

Lucky for me, the internet was fixed back before I even figured out what to do.

Dealing with the computer illiterate

computer literacyYesterday I had a meeting with a prospective client about setting up a website. He is a very nice man, but really had no idea what a website does or why he should have one. He never thought about it before because he doesn’t really use a computer.

I see less and less of this type of person. Most people, even many of my relatives over the age of 80, at least use email and Facebook. Not this guy.

It was difficult explaining things to this man because I had to define the terms I was using as I went along. That often got me sidetracked. The man wants to sell something on his website that he makes by hand. He said he’d rather be working with his hands than using a computer. Obviously.

My explanations included how a search engine works and what it does, what Etsy.com is, Facebook, web hosting, domain name, etc. The poor man’s eyes glazed over when I talked about setting up a PayPal account so he can sell his products online. Of course, I had to explain what PayPal is and how it works. “How would I get the money?” he asked after a 10 minute explanation. I had to start from the beginning again.

Luckily, I am very patient. Years ago, I taught word processing in adult education. It was the same situation. The idea of switching from typing on paper to on the computer screen is confusing at first. I explained everything to this man as thoroughly as I could. I’m sure everything I said to him was a confused jumble in his mind when he left.

As a result of the conversation with this man, I have decided to write out some definitions/explanations to hand to people when I get together with them. It is my responsibility to explain what I do and all of the terms involved to a prospective client. I can either email (if they have email) or hand a prospective client the paper so when they go home and discuss it with people, they will have a better idea of what I do.

We need more brains!

brains, not just for zombies any moreNo, this is not a post about zombies. Sorry if you thought that!

Have you ever had a great idea, but after pondering it for a little while, you are not quite sure if it will fly or not? It happens to me all of the time. I get all excited about some business or plan and then once I think about it for a day or two, I lose my momentum. Instead of letting great ideas fall by the wayside, why not bounce ideas off of another person and see what they think about it?

Brainstorming sessions are valuable in business. If you have someone you can trust with your secret business ideas, ask to have lunch, dinner or even coffee with them. Let them hear your idea and come up with ways it might work, or reasons why it won’t. Either way, you should take advantage of this significant resource.

The name Social Squids, came from such a meeting. My friend and I got together for coffee and I told her that I needed to come up with a name. She’s an illustrator, very talented and creative in her own right.

The starting point was the fact that I like animals, so we decided the name would have something animal-related in it. We brainstormed great name ideas, terrible ones, silly ones and eventually one of us – I’m not even sure which one of us it was – came up with Social Squids.

I kept doing this thing with my hands, wiggling my fingers and moving my arms outward. I was thinking about how social media reaches out into cyberspace. Not only did we come up with the name, we came up with the tag line too – We have far-reaching tentacles.

Paying someone for their opinion has its value, but brainstorming with one, two or a small group of people, will help you find problems, solutions, more in-depth ideas or sometimes cheer you on for your amazing business proposition.

So, find more brains. Bounce ideas off of your friends in the business community. Sometimes these ideas might seem impossible, but give it a try anyway. It can be an incredibly valuable tool for your business. Just be careful you share your ideas with people you trust and who are not going to take your idea and use it for their own.

Is your web contest too complicated?

I received an email from a company the other day about their upcoming contest. I’m going to show the actual steps you need to take to enter the contest, but also change any identifying information.

  1. From DATES OF CONTEST visit our COMPANY Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts to gather a daily clue
  2. Use your clue to find the hidden ITEM on our website
  3. Click the ITEM to receive the secret words
  4. Collect the words of the day for all 5 days to create the winning phrase
  5. Enter your submission on our website between DATES OF CONTEST for your chance to win 1 of 10 prizes!

contest too confusing?

I don’t know about you, but by the time I got to step three, my eyes glazed over and that was the end. I understand that this contest was developed to get people to engage in the company’s website and social media sites, however, most people are not going to spend that much time trying to win something. Maybe if the prize was a couple million bucks, people might do it. But this was for a basket of products that are worth a few hundred dollars at best.

Many companies use the “find the hidden item” idea on their website in order to get people to look at the entire site. That’s a great idea in itself, but adding all of the other rules of this particular contest makes it a little too complex for the average person. You would have to be totally devoted to the product in order to do this. And those people are already customers!

People may click on the first link and then lose interest. Once you complete all of the steps, you still only have a small chance of winning. Website visitors might find this scavenger hunt frustrating. That is not an emotion you want prospective customers to feel.

Sure, have a contest! That is a fantastic way to get people interested in your site and products. Intriguing people is the name of the game for online sales. But, when designing the contest, try to engage without annoying your page viewers.

Common bonds and business growth

common bondsI met a prospective new client last week and we found out we had a lot in common in our personal lives. That can make a deeper connection with a client, better than simply making a sales pitch. And, she hired me on the spot. That does not always happen.

Finding a niche market might for your business could incorporate discovering new business associates with common interests. As an entrepreneur, you should always think about any social occasion as a networking occasion. Without being “salesy” or pushy about it, you can talk about what your business does with people anywhere at any time. You might find new avenues to marketing your business.

Certainly, there are times when you walk in the door, present your information and the client will either hire you or not. But when making a deeper connection with the person, you feel more like friends and less like business associates.

According to some business coaches, you need to make the prospective client know and like you before they will hire you or buy your products. Finding common ground is a great way to persuade them that you are worth hiring.

Personally, I prefer to work with clients whom I like as people. It is only natural to feel that way. I’m an animal lover, other animal lovers make good clients for me because there is an understanding that goes beneath the surface of the business relationship.

Does that mean you should never work with individuals or companies that share nothing with you? Of course not, common ground just makes the relationship easier.

I have many clients whom I have never met. We communicate solely through email and I know nothing about their personal lives. I get along with them just fine, however we do not share a deep connection. If they found a better deal, they would probably drop me in a heartbeat. Not so for people with whom I have a more personal connection.

Get to know a little bit more about your prospective clients and you just might end up with more business.

To trade or not to trade

I am currently trading services with a client and considering doing it with another. Over the 26+ years of being in business, I have had the opportunity to trade with a lot of people. It does not always work out to be an even trade, and it doesn’t always end well.

So, trade or no trade?

Personally, there have been things that I could not afford that I really wanted. Every now and then, I found a situation where I could do work in exchange for whatever it was. Sometimes my clients had the same issue. They needed someone to write a newsletter or create a logo or for their company, but didn’t have the money to pay for the service. Usually, these were fledgling companies, like my own at the time.

Back when I first started my freelance business, I could almost always work a trade to my advantage. I traded for veterinary services, pet supplies, baseball tickets and plumbing work. Once I traded for maid services for about a year. That was beautiful, except the woman was always complaining that my house was dirty. Really? Isn’t that why you need a maid? I admit, I definitely got the better end of that deal!

Once I traded typesetting work for restaurant gift certificates. I used one gift certificate to take out a friend for her birthday. I used another to take another friend out to dinner. In exchange, she gave me a tv, a garden hose caddy and a tetanus! Yes, she was fully qualified to administer a shot (I had no insurance at the time). Things were a lot simpler back then. Ah, those were the days…

Not sure if trading organizations still exist, but I was a member of a one in the early ‘90s. The problem was, the monthly fees were due in cash and there was a cash charge for each transaction. I never did very well within that organization. I had hoped to trade for a chain link fence, but that didn’t work out for me. Direct trades worked better for me. The IRS says you have to pay taxes on any income, including trades. You are supposed to declare the value of the traded item.

Trading is a little different for me now. I rarely do it and only do it when I really want or need something. You might considering trading for your business, it can be a way to buy something when there is no cash handy.