22Aug
Have you ever stopped to consider that working on your own soft skills can help you work better with other people?


As common as it is to feel to stressed at work --at your worst times you can feel like you're carrying the weight of the world (and then some) on your shoulders -- it helps to re-balance your perspective by stepping out from under the cloud of doom over your head, and looking at the whole context of the situations that are pulling you down.
  • Do you feel that there are people at work are gunning for you?
  • Are you having problems communicating clearly with your partners and co-workers?
  • What about your customers? What are the common threads in the kind of feedback you're getting from them?


The cult of the self.
Let's be honest, what with the on-going trend of personal marketing and personal branding, it's very easy to be lead onto the fast-lane of self-promotion, where you show the right image and display the right credentials and so on, but step back from the frantic construction effort and think. Personal branding, presenting the right image-- this is all right and good in an online market where image accounts for a lot, but in interpersonal relationships --in dealing with people -- how are you up close and personal?


  • Your website's 'About' page can be your launchpad to show your credentials.
  • Your blog can show off your writing and photography skills.
  • You can have your online gallery to show your body of work to a truly world-wide audience.
  • You can post your degrees, your bio, your very own tag-line... you can show off your awards and certificates to assure your market and your clients that you know what you're talking about.
These things, though, showcase your technical skills (for example, degrees and certifications, papers published, etc.) Technical skills in and of themselves are definitely desirable when you're looking for someone to do a demanding job.


But if you find it hard to communicate clearly and responsively with customers, or establish clear and reasonable terms and boundaries for a good working relationship, your weaknesses in 'soft skills' (people skills) might drag down the benefits your excellence in hard skills (technical know-how and experience.)
  • You're a damn good artist, but you can't make a decent living off your skills and training because you find the process of marketing and promoting your artwork confusing, and sometimes you feel like advertising your presence means selling out your art.
  • You're confused because you've set your rates at what you believe to be a really affordable price and yet no one's hiring you.
  • There's a few questions you intend to ask about the contract, but when the client doesn't address the issues, you ignore the tight feeling in your stomach and keep going.


No one works in a vacuum. You can have co-workers, employees, shareholders, board-members, clients, suppliers, technical support and customers. Yes, there are automated systems available for many things -- online banking, for example-- but sometimes these systems don't always fulfill all your needs or requirements. Soft skills are what you need to deal with real, live people. That's why they're also called people skills.


You've probably witnessed issues caused by lack of people skills in your own life: a conversation devolves into an arguments when two communication styles clash and something -- a certain tone, a particular gesture-- sets one or both parties off. A brilliant friend clashes with higher ups at work due to being overly blunt in dealing with others. A hard worker gets overlooked for promotions because he prefers to be unobtrusive. You can do the work blindfolded but the higher ups overlook you in favor of your more visible colleagues.


When you're not practiced or even cognizant of soft-skills, miscommunication is the result, and there have probably been enough times in your life to prove just how inconvenient that it, to say the least. Good soft skills acts like air the tires, or oil in the gears -- it makes the journey to your goals more comfortable and easier. On everyone involved.


Dealing with people means being able to interact, get along with, balance and manage them while protecting your boundaries without offending others, as much as possible. Remember that saying, ""It isn't always what you know but who you know"? Soft skills is part of that. People recommend and hire people they believe they can trust to carry out what's expected of them, and personal recommendations can carry a lot of weight over plain resumes.


Part of being a consummate professional is cultivating the soft skills and the hard skills you need to succeed, and what affects soft skills the most is mind-set. Training and certifications, you can get. Soft skills, you have to practice, and sometimes, getting things wrong while learning can be enough to sour you on the process, but you have to keep going. No one else is going to do it for you, or can.


  • Everyone you show them to rave about your artwork, but you feel awkward trying to promote yourself as a working artist.
  • You're a whiz at capturing light and shadow as a photographer, but sometimes clients complain that you're not listening to their ideas.
  • You're very fast at spotting the areas where things can go wrong, but in pointing them out, you're often accused of being a drag on the brainstorming team.
Soft skills are what helps you work easily in social situations. Or at least easi-er. They help your interactions be more effective, and you can adapt to different working styles and work with all sorts of personalities and temperaments without feeling overwhelmed or subverted yourself. Good soft skills make teamwork better, and good teamwork makes the work easier. Who doesn't want that?


Let's put it another way. If you're looking to hire someone, you want a candidate who knows what he's talking about, and can get along well with your people. If you're looking to be hired, you want to show that you're a good fit for the job and the company culture. Hard skills get you in, soft skills help you stay. Having high levels of both make you rise above the competition. Get it?


For team players and lone freelancers alike, cultivating the skills you need to polish and prove your value can show other people that you're someone great to work with, that they would want you to be on their team.


Technical skills can be quantified -- certifications, qualifying tests, products that work as they should, etc. Soft skills, on the other hand, are more along the lines of habituation and comfort zones -- you have to break a good bit out of both if you truly want to see a change in how you interact with people.
  • Start by identifying the communication ares in which you believe you need improvement. Ask friends you trust to tell you where they think you need the most help. Nobody' s perfect, and everyone has areas they can work on.
  • Look up ways to develop in each problem area.
  • Draw up a plan in which you get to practice in these core areas until the new behavior becomes normal for you, and you become habituated to it. Execute the plan.


People with well-rounded soft skills are just easier to be around. They generally encourage healthy, stable relationships with the people they work with, regardless if they're clients, co-workers or higher-ups. If you want to stand out from the crowd and show your market that you're simply the better choice, letting them see that you're a good guy to join their team is the way to go.


15Aug
"Don't put off for tomorrow what you can do today!
"First things first."
"If you don't have the time, make the time."


What does time-pressure, GTD and prioritization have to do with house-cleaning? Stay with me.


Unless you've been raised completely unaware of one of the most basic of household chores, to get a really clean floor, you need to sweep before you mop. In this metaphorical scenario, sweeping is preparation, mopping is action, the clean floor is the finished, desired goal. Get it? Not yet?


Okay, say you want really clean floors. Maybe your in-laws are coming to your new home, or you're planning an open house to show it off to prospective buyers , whatever. You just want a really nice, clean floor.
08Aug

The "World Wide Web" is a very big place --so big that it that makes for a smaller world.
  • Even with filters, firewalls, deliberate blocks, denial-of-service attacks and the frequent outages, the always-connected nature of the internet makes for a really small neighborhood when it comes to publicity, reputation and public image.
  • You don't know something, you google it. You want to find out about someone, you look them up on Facebook, on LinkedIn, or search for their blog or website.
  • Human nature being what it is, you take the first few results from the searches and go on from the information you get from these sources, rarely checking to see if these sources are truly reliable or not.

And when it comes to your business reputation, this is the part where public relations comes in.
28Jul
Framed in the simplest terms, a business is an enterprise that provides a service or a product to customers, in exchange for money. Without customers, businesses would fail. And as an entrepreneur and owner of an on-line business, aside from a viable pool of customers, you also need to have a considerable repertoire of hard and soft skills to see your business through good times and bad.


What else do you need?


You need to know the core mission of your business. You can earn money doing a lot of things: sell digital art, buy and fix thrift-store furniture and resell it, run a food-truck, etc. but you need to know: what is your business here for?


Times change, and the factors that sparked the seed of life for your business can change with them. Think of Kodak -- once the world leader in photographic film, it went bankrupt when it wasn't able to adapt quickly enough to take full advantage of the rise of digital imaging technology. The company re-imagined itself and announced that it offered "packaging, functional printing, graphic communications and professional services for businesses around the world," upon coming up from the ashes of its former success.


You need a long-term vision: where do you want to go with the business, and where do you want it to take you?


What you also need for your business are good relationships. Good businesses work to maintain long-term relationships with old customers, while inviting new people to join the group, and taking care of the ones who keep coming back. Solid relationships with your peers, partners and associates in your business community are also vital. No-one ever really gets anywhere worth going to all by themselves. Help people up, build friendships, and your reward would be a supportive community, a deep sense of belonging, and the privilege of being able to give back.
21Jul
Advertising falls under the broader umbrella of marketing. If marketing is getting people to buy your products, advertising is what you do to inform a targeted audience that your products exist, and that they provide the perfect answer to your audience's specific needs.


When you're drawing up the strategies you will use to advertise, you have to have specific goals in mind to help you focus your efforts, time and energy through out the advertising cycle. The most basic goals for on-line advertising campaigns are:
  • To build and grow brand awareness.
  • To get more visitors to your website.
  • To generate more sales of your products and get more leads.


With these goals in mind, the next logical step would be to pick what type of advertising to use, and where you will apply them. The Internet has dozens and dozens of styles of advertising, with some suited to particular styles or products, and others tailored to specific content types.
  • For example, visual content is the mainstay of websites that sell clothes, shoes and accessories. Nobody wants to buy clothes based solely on a description. Customers would want to see for themselves how exactly the items look like, and pictures help set expectations as well as sell the product. On websites like these, picture ads and banners predominate over links and text ads.
  • In other situations, like promoting though content articles, or advertising in an internet forum, for example, picture ads would be thought of as spam and can result in banning. Text ads and links can be more discreet.


Whatever advertising method you choose should align with your goals .
14Jul
One of the biggest obstacles to starting your own internet venture is the inability to get started. You very likely have a clear financial target in mind: You want to make money with this business, and to a secondary extent, you don't want to lose all the money you currently have trying to get it up and running.


What can really gum up the works are all the possible solutions you can come up with as to how, what, where and why the business will succeed. The choices are endless, and their possible combinations, near-infinite. You can't quite settle on just one or two choices to consider, you keep rating and ranking and comparing choices ---right into paralysis. Why?


Because it's easy to dream big. Dreaming is free. Joint ventures. Teleseminars. Blogging, maybe, hopefully towards an eventual book deal. Money, fame, authority. The images are so seductive, so shiny, that we can spend hours immersed it what-will-happen-when-I-get-rich. In the blink of an eye, we're at the grand finish. We have a thriving, successful e-business.

And without any solid, real plans to explain how we got it.



Dreaming is free, and the problem is when you come up against the reality of the things you need to do to actually start. Faced with too many choices, we can fall into the trap of endless comparisons, cost-to-benefits ratios, etc. and never really start.


So here's a simple plan to start an on-line business: you already know you want money.


Pick a method to earn it.
The Internet is the great leveler. It doesn't have timezones or physical borders, so there are many ways that you can make money via the 'net. You can:
  • Create a product - design, test and come up with a product that fulfills a certain need.
  • Become an affiliate or an affiliate marketer - Leverage the power of groups and shared marketing strategies. You don't need to come up with a product on your own, or make your own advertising campaign or content.
  • Sell ads - There are many kinds of ads out there. In your own browsing it's a sure bet you've been exposed to almost all of them.
  • Sell services - Promote your skills and-or talents in exchange for money.


Pick a channel.
It's the information superhighway. "Communication is key," is the very heart of it. And think of it, you definitely use different channels all the time to get your information fix.
  • Blogs are ubiquitous. There are blogs for every niche. Think of a topic, there's probably a blog for it somewhere. The investment comes in the time and work it would take to come up with solid content, getting (and keeping) attention in the form or followers and subscribers)
  • Email subscriptions are good for gathering a following -- that's a pool of interested followers right there who want to hear what you have to say, or know what you want to share.
  • Social media is a great way to get in touch with like-minded people who share the same interests that you do, or want to solve the problem you believe you have a solution for. You could get instant feedback, tap resources and share news instantly.
  • Video is a very good way to earn money when you've got a good system down cold. The weight of the work comes down to producing quality videos with good, value-filled content on a consistent, regular basis to draw in and keep subscribers and followers.
  • Paid ads are part of the lifeblood of the internt, no matter what extension we use to keep them from interfering with our own personal browsing habits.


Read about and research your choices.
Knowledge is power. If ever you've heard about 'due diligence' now is the time to exercise it. Do the research. Go on forums, niche and industry blogs and look at how things work in the channel you've chosen. Information gathering is valuable in the following ways:
  • The more you find out, the more information you have on which you can make a good decision on the channel (or channels) you've picked. You can ask people in the business model you're interested in, and get first hand accounts of what it means to run things that way.
  • You can gather concrete examples for the most common mistakes first-timers make and save yourself time and effort (and probably money, too) from learning from other people's mistakes.

You can check for fit. Dreaming's free and all, but work is every day. If you want this thing to succeed, you have to do the work, so you better know what that means, and whether you can commit to doing it day in and day out until you reach the point where it starts making money (and hopefully get to the point where: the business is stable, self-sustaining, and the money is enough to support you in the lifestyle you desired in the first place). If you can't commit to putting in the time needed to start and keep going, you may need to reconsider.

You can get an idea of whether or not the channels you've picked are suited to your personality. Some people are naturally gregarious and can't imagine being unconnected from the 'net. They would think nothing of keeping multiple conversations or threads open, readily responding to comments and reviews. Some need a lot of time alone, without any distractions, to center themselves and make outlines that will be turned into blog posts and content articles, or ebooks. Some may prefer video, some may prefer podcasting, and others writing. You have to know if the fit is good.


When you've got working knowledge and resources you have what you need to paint a clearer picture of what you'll be facing. You can brainstorm, diagram, outline and identify necessary steps, and come up with a working plan. You have a good idea of what you need to know, what skills you need to learn, and what you have to do to get the ball rolling. You can start laying out the foundations for your online business. First a webhost, then a website, then a blogging platform or a personal channel...you're on your way.



Wanting things to be perfect or to have the best options for success is only human, but those needs can hinder us from actually taking concrete steps towards the goal. Once you get out of your own way you'll find that each small accomplishments fuels the next.


When you've started your venture, it's easier to keep going. Measure your results and track the important statistics to see if you're getting the numbers you need, whether in visitors, subscribers, clients, etc. Study the numbers and be ready to tweak things so things will run better and get you the results you want. Get things started, keep things going, and once it's sustainable, you can level up. Just start.

07Jul

Let's talk about low-energy days. You know what happens. They're dips in energy, anywhere from feeling a little blah or under the weather, to actual mental fuzziness and blanking out on important stuff. Often it manifests as the flickering attention or fractured focus we get in the afternoon -- usually after we tried to get by on caffeine-drips and convenience food eaten desk-side earlier in the day, just so we could cram in all the stuff on our to-do lists.


Low energy manifests in many ways.

Physically, when it comes to posture we can revert to a certain 'slackness': slumping or slouching. There's a sense of fatigue, listlessness and generally feeling "off."


Mentally, low energy affects how you think: like experiencing the inability to focus, or to hold a coherent and cohesive working idea for a sustained period. You skip from idea to idea without settling on what's important. Thoughts slip out of focus. The more you try the harder it gets, like trying to hold on to water --or nailing jello to the wall. You can't concentrate for all the 'static' going on in your head.


Low energy can result in slowed reaction times and less comprehension. It isn't a coincidence that accidents happen a lot more when people are tired, and that we make more mistakes as well.


These dips and slumps in our energy levels can come up like a sudden squall, leaving you feeling like a puppet whose strings have just been slashed. They can slowly creep in and envelop you without you noticing until it's too late, you're already foggy and can't decide what to do first, or next, or at all.


For example: You made plans last night, prepping for today. The list is right there in front of you, but your energy level is somewhere around your knees, your mind feels like sludge, and somehow your give-a-damn's malfunctioned while you slept and right now, sitting at your desk and looking at what you need to do today, you just can't care.
30Jun

Imagine a 3-question pop-quiz:
  • (Daily) What are your responsibilities as a business owner: Hah. Many.
  • (Longer-term) What is your responsibility as a business owner: To ensure the success of the business.
  • (Lifetime)What is your main focus as someone living in this time, in this era, in your culture, doing the things you do?


These questions may seem kind of unconnected, first asking about the business then becoming sort of metaphysical, but in light of all that we've seen happen when the internet (and the new communication technologies that followed) revolutionized the ways we can talk and share with each other.
We're always connected, and yet feel disconnected at times.
We share a lot of our lives online, but feel like nobody really knows who we are,.
And sometimes we feel there is more for us to do 'out there', yet we feel aimless, detached and unmotivated 'in here' (points to self).


The cost of doing something with intent is becoming lost in it. As paradoxical as it may sound, we often look for Big Things for ourselves: a cause to devote yourself to, something bigger then you. A vocation, a calling, a reason for being. We want to lose ourselves in a grand undertaking--and in doing so find our reason for being here.


We are also afraid of getting lost -- which is why we do so much stuff, to prove to ourselves and others that we got things going on. Important things, you know? We're not aimless drifters. We get stuff done.
We also burn out, or get bogged down.
23Jun
  • When you find yourself breaking even for the first time since you started your business venture, does that mean you're doing well?
  • If you receive fewer customer complaints this month than last month, does that mean can you relax?
  • When your click-through rate rises after a new site design, does that mean you can go through with the new marketing scheme and thoroughly overhaul your processes?


When it comes to making anything a success -- your business, your work, your projects, yourself, -- the question itself, "How do you measure success?" just opens the door to an overwhelming number of choices. Success is a complex event, and is made up of many factors. Focusing on just symbols or thresholds for success, when you're running a business, there are three kinds of markers right off the bat.
  • There are financial markers: I will be successful when I'm making enough money at my side-venture to leave my main job. I will be successful when I'm making $100,000 a year.
  • There are physical markers: I will be successful when I have expanded my operations to 5 new locations within the year.
  • There are emotional markers: I will be successful when I can stop worrying about making this business get off the ground.


In the question itself, "How do you measure success?" the parts "You" and "measure" should be pointed out as critically important.


For you to really feel the success, attaining it should be personal to you: there are too many accounts of people who, after looking back at their 'successful' lives and realizing they fulfilled the goals they were expected to have, were left feeling bereft and like personal failures when they realized those goals weren't really their goals, they just sort of... slid into them.


In this vein, you need to dig deep and find out what matters to you enough that you would freely put in the labor for it, engaging and wrestling with all the details and activities involved in making the work a success. A success stands out because it demands more from you.
16Jun
The drive to keep things interesting is one core business strength which comes with the goal of providing value. When you keep looking for new ways to re-tool old concepts and current ideas you keep your brain flexible, your attitudes keen and you keep apace with the changing tides. You can innovate, evolve and thrive. To do this you need to be open to ideas: in receiving them, in connecting them and in generating them. New ideas means new life for a business, and you have to keep them flowing to keep the business going.


The goal here is to produce ideas of real value. Brainstorming can capture a lot of ideas from out of the blue and squeeze them out under pressure, but you have to filter out the viable ones from the non-viable, then the practical from the impractical.


Now think in images with this next part: The general advice it to let ideas flow. Going with that in mind, if you have writer's block, that means your fountain of creativity may have run dry of ideas, or is stopped up in some way, and the natural flow ideas has been blocked.


Mind-mapping is a wonderful way to jump-start stalled creativity. We are a visual race, and imagery is one of the best ways we can set our imagination running smoothly again. Leave the serious edit-writing afterwards when you want to summarize or clarify what you mind-mapped, but giving yourself permission to draw and use stimulating colors and mediums in the process can slip off the automatic censor that can keep our best ideas from coming to light.


The method here is a very personal disciplined freedom. Think of it as your personal code. For example, you can use different colors to symbolize different ideas. Depending on what each color means to you, you can connect the colors to particular subjects in a way that is personal (green for money, for example, or orange for pending, purple for creative ideas, etc.) This helps tickle the neurons into making multiple connections. If music helps you think better, set up your playlist before you mind-map.
 

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