Start Starting

March 17th, 2011

Less Thinking, More Starting!


Stop Talking, Start Doing.
This was the slogan of a recent series of IBM ads that poked fun at businesses who claim to be inventive and innovative but never actually do anything. Businesses all over the world recognize the need to be remarkable, to stand out from the competition, to create something that people really connect with, but very few of these businesses are actually doing anything about it. Leadership is crowded around a conference table, throwing around ideas for improving revenue, increasing quality, and making more sales, but the people with real ideas–ideas that would make a difference–are too afraid to speak up.

In his new manifesto, Poke the Box, Seth Godin challenges the world you to START. You know that idea you’ve been toying around with but haven’t really gotten around to trying? Try it. Try it now. You know that game-changing innovation that exists only in your mind because you’re too afraid of failure to start rocking the boat? Get over it! Start rocking the boat. Just START!

If you like the status quo, if you like eking through the workday unnoticed and underappreciated, then I highly recommend that you never read Seth’s manifesto; but if you want to make a difference, and if you have ideas swimming around in your head, ready to burst, then you must–absolutely must–read Poke the Box. Then, when you’re done, if you still feel like you’re not quite ready to start, read it again! Then start!

Information Overload

Fear is a heartless, destructive beast, and I know that beast very well. In my own experience, my fear of starting always disguises itself in some other form: usually in the form of perceived ignorance. What I mean by that is that I have often felt that I needed more information before I could really start something worthwhile. If I could just do a little more research, read a few more books, and attend a few more motivational seminars, then perhaps I would be ready to start.

Information overload can be crippling. We live in the age of information-on-demand. Whatever you want to know can be found on the Internet. On the surface, this may seem like a huge blessing, but in fact, it is crippling many people’s initiative. For example, the first time I considered doing freelance work, I spent a lot of time looking for and subscribing to all the blog feeds I could find related to entrepreneurship and design. In fact, I subscribed to so many feeds that it became a huge distraction from actually doing the work. I would read the blog posts that I had time for and print out the ones I didn’t.

In the words of wise King Solomon, “Knowledge increases sorrow.” The more you read, the more you’ll realize you don’t know. The more you realize you don’t know, the more you’ll feel you need to read.

Where is the starting in that equation? Where is the initiative? Where is the action? To put a twist on IBM’s slogan, Stop Reading, Start Doing.

Start Starting

If you’re an employee in a large corporation, it may feel impossible to start. You may feel like a tiny ripple in a huge ocean. But what you may not realize is that you’re boss wants you to show initiative. Many employees feel like starting is the domain of upper management; but in an economy where many big businesses aren’t making their numbers, upper management is desperate for starters. Starters are no longer a luxury: they’re a necessity.

If you’re an entrepreneur, then you really have no excuse. One hundred percent of your success depends on whether or not you’re able to start. If you’re not doing everything in your power to make your business truly remarkable, then you will fail. Unless you want to become nothing more than a statistic, you need to stop putting things off and start starting. Poke the box.

The Web is a Social Network

March 12th, 2011

Forget Facebook. Forget Twitter. Forget StumbleUpon and Digg. The world’s largest social network is larger than all of these put together, and millions of people all over the world are making loads of money with it. I am, of course, talking about the Internet.

One of the main goals of search engine optimization is to increase traffic from search engines to your website. (Profound, I know.) What many website owners fail to realize is that search engines won’t start showing you the love until other people start showing you love. In other words, the Internet is one giant social network that requires you to get involved if you want to get the best results.

Optimize for Search by Optimizing for Users

SEO is about more than just optimizing for keywords. If your focus is solely keyword-oriented, then your website will be full of useless, affected writing; but if your focus is user-oriented, then you will have a website full of rich, meaningful content that users will find and share with others. And the more they share it, the more people will link back to you. The more people link back to you, the higher your authority will be for your niche. And the higher your authority is, the better results you will get from search engines.

As you can see, the most effective SEO strategies involve taking advantage of the powerful social aspect of the Internet. Focus on creating great content—content that entertains, informs, motivates, and educates—and the results will come.

Don’t Neglect the Keywords

Having said all of this, let me throw in the disclaimer that keyword research and optimization is a necessary strategy. But don’t sacrifice the quality of your content to get there.

Why You Need Online Video

March 4th, 2011

The Spread of Online Video

As attention spans get shorter and bandwidth gets broader, internet surfers are becoming more and more impatient with text-heavy websites. Research clearly shows that if you can’t grab a visitor’s attention in the first two to three seconds, then you’ve lost them. Internet marketers and businesses–both small and large–are largely turning towards online video to attract and retain traffic to their sites.

Clearly, online video is becoming more and more necessary to building an effective online presence.

Attract More Traffic

If done right, adding video to your website can attract traffic. If you have a video that people will want to watch, there are numerous places you can post it where it will get maximum exposure. Post your videos to YouTube and Vimeo, include your website URL in the video, and if your video is good enough, people will click through to your website.

Make it Sticky

One of the most disappointing statistics for a website owner to look at is often the amount of time that the average user spends on the website. Many people, especially those with unoptimized content, count themselves lucky if they can manage to keep the average visitor there for more than 10 seconds. How much interaction do you think can happen in 10 seconds? Not very much! But with video content above the “fold” of the page, studies have proven that visitors will spend much more time on the website, which greatly increases your users’ chance of purchasing.

The Power of Viral Video

The days of running a “professional” business, where everyone acts “professional” all the time, are quickly coming to an end. People who interact with your business, especially on the Internet, want to know that they’re interacting with real people. So in your videos, let loose! Let your potential customers know that they’re not only dealing with someone who has a quality product, but that they’re also dealing with people (REAL people) who love what they do. Check out this fantastic video for a mattress company.

As of the writing of this article, the video above has been viewed over 990,000 times!!! By the time you read this, it will probably have already reached the 1 million mark! Even if only 1% of the people who see the video decide to go see the website, that’s still an extra 10,000 visitors to their website! Who wouldn’t want an extra 10,000 visitors? Benson’s for Beds is pulling in loads of traffic just because they made a fun video that went viral online.

Take a look at your own business, and brainstorm ways that you can do the same thing. You don’t even have to break any world records. Just make something that relates to your business and is fun to watch. Then sit back, and watch the traffic roll in.

If you have any questions, or if you would like help creating your own viral videos, then please feel free to contact me, and we’ll add some online video to your website that will bring visitors in droves!

In an age of enlightenment and information-on-demand, our culture has squeezed every bit of wisdom possible from the thinkers of old. It’s time for Confucius, Gandhi, and Winnie the Pooh to step aside and make way for a new generation of thinkers. In a recent series of interviews, aimed to uplift and inspire, one of the premiere thinkers of our time has stepped up to share his thoughts on how to Win. Who am I talking about? Why, none other than acting legend, rockstar, warlock, and battle-tested bayonet: Charlie Sheen. In his words:

“Every day is just filled with just wins. All we do is put wins in the record books. We win so radically in our underwear before our first cup of coffee. It’s scary.”

Are these constant Wins relegated only to those with tiger blood in their veins? May it ne’er be so! Even though Charlie Sheen has assured himself that he’s the only Winner in this “terrestrial realm”, he has still been generous enough to offer some priceless nuggets of advice to help us build websites that Win every day.

Believe You Can Win

“Defeat is not an Option. They picked a fight with a warlock.” Charlie Sheen has the Winner’s mindset. Losing is not even a part of his vocabulary. If you want to take on the monumental task of building a successful website, whether for business or personal use, you must first adopt the Winner’s attitude. Building a Winning website is an uphill battle that requires commitment, vision, and a little bit of magic. You may not have flame-throwing fists like Charlie Sheen, but you must believe that you do have what it takes to make your website Win.

“Clearly I have defeated this earthworm with my words. Imagine what I would have done with my fire-breathing fists.”

Don’t Pretend You’re Not Special

One of the biggest mistakes that most websites make is they fail to stand out. They don’t even try. It doesn’t even occur to most website owners that they need to be different, unique. They need to be high priest Vatican assassin warlocks like our good friend Charlie.

“I’m tired of pretending I’m not special. I’m tired of pretending like I’m not…a total frickin’ rockstar from Mars.”

Winning requires standing out, rising above your competitors and making something truly unique. Think about businesses and websites you’ve seen that have captured your attention and brought you back over and over. Think about the Twitters and Facebooks and Vimeos. What is it that makes these websites so special? It’s easy! Their creators simply decided to stop pretending like they weren’t special. They sought to create something that no one else had ever created, and in so doing, they Won.

Getting the Worm

You have no doubt heard all the old axioms about success coming to those who refuse to sleep in. The early bird gets the worm. Early to bed, early to rise… And so on. As Charlie Sheen put it, “We win so radically in our underwear before our first cup of coffee.”

As I sit here and write, my clock tells me that it’s 6:40 a.m., and I’ve already been up and at it for over an hour. Why do I do this? Because I’m more productive in the morning.

Does that mean that success is contingent upon how early you roll out of bed? Not necessarily. For me, waking up early just works. But I’ve known people who have absolutely no business waking up before nine in the morning. They are fairy tale creatures, trolls of the night who never take on human form until they get a very full night’s (and mid-morning’s) rest. If anyone were to confront them in the morning, then in the words of Mr. Sheen, “Everybody’s, like, gonna get murdered.”

What this does mean is that you need to find a time that works for you. If you’re most productive just after lunch, then make sure that’s when you’re doing your most important work. Make sure that’s when you’re Winning.

Win in Your Sleep

In the early days of starting a business or building a Winning website, zeal for your project keeps you going. You wake up every day, saying, “I’m proud of what I created. It was radical.” But if you don’t pace yourself, you may find yourself crashing and burning. You must make time for a little bit of rest and relaxation: a little bit of “me” time. In the words of our epic hero, “I got magic, and I got poetry at my fingertips…and this includes naps.”

Research tells us that we do most of our growing while we’re at rest. The bodybuilder builds muscle not while he’s heaving a 400-pound barbell over his head, but while he’s resting. Exercise tears down, and rest builds back up. Do like Charlie, and Win in your sleep.

Parting Words

We all have a lot to learn from the likes of Charlie Sheen. Even though he assures us that he is special and he will “never be one of you,” the least we can do is try. And if you take the advice that Mr. Sheen has so generously shared with us, then you will begin to discover what it means to really Win.

I leave you with one final thought from Charlie:

“I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available. It you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off, and your children will weep over your exploded body.”

Traditionally, if you wanted to embed video in your website, it required your users to download some sort of browser plugin in order to be able to view it. Most Internet videos, such as the ones you find on YouTube, Vimeo, and on Apple’s movie trailers website, still require plugins like Quicktime or Flash. But there’s a large movement towards creating Internet experiences that are 100% free of external plugins. The HTML5 standard has gone a long way towards helping to make this happen, and part of this standard allows a new method of embedding video. The <video> tag, which works a lot like the <img> tag for images, allows web designers to embed video that is natively supported in most new browsers. (Don’t get your hopes, IE users. Internet Explorer 8 doesn’t support HTML5, but version 9 will.)

Staying Up to Speed with Internet Video

If you have spent any time at all with digital video, then you are most likely familiar with AVI, MOV, WMV, and MPG file formats. These are all container formats for video. These files contain video and audio tracks that allow someone with the right software to view them. Unfortunately, however, if you want to embed any of these video formats on your website, it requires that your users install a plugin, such as the Quicktime player. But with the rise of HTML5, you will no doubt begin to become familiar with a few more video formats that you may not have heard of before. I want to briefly mention three of these formats: namely, MP4, Ogg, and WebM. These three formats can be used with the <video> tag in HTML5 to embed video that won’t require your users to install any third party plugins.

And the great thing about the <video> tag is that you can point to three separate files, each encoded with one of these three formats, and the user’s browser will play the first one it’s able to play. And if you come in contact with a browser that doesn’t support HTML5 (such as IE8), you can create a Flash fallback that will play your video the old-fashioned way, using Adobe’s Flash Player plugin.

For information on how to properly encode your videos and implement them in your HTML5 website, take a look at Mark Pilgrim’s fantastic (and very thorough) article on HTML5 video.

Education Kills Creativity

November 6th, 2010

In this presentation from TED, 2006, Sir Ken Robinson asserts that education kills creativity.

Want to build traffic to your website without paying for it?

There’s no magical secret to attracting more traffic to your website. It’s actually much simpler than you might think. If commercial real estate is all about location, website traffic is all about content. Large amounts of high quality, keyword-rich, constantly updated content will do wonders for your web traffic.

1. High Quality Content – Too many web designers put all of their emphasis on design with very little consideration given to content. This disastrous mistake results in poorly written website copy that attracts no visitors and brings no benefit your online strategy. You must remember that your audience is coming to your site to solve a problem or meet a need. If your content does not provide some kind of value, then your visitors will have no reason to stick around, much less to spread the word.

2. Keyword-Rich Content – High quality content will do very little for you if nobody is searching for it. When planning the content for your website, take the time to make a list of keywords that your intended audience might be searching for. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience, and make a list of every keyword phrase you can think of, including variations on each possible phrase. Then include many of these phrases in your website copy.

3. Constantly Updated Content – Google loves nothing more than a website that always has fresh content. If your website hasn’t been updated in three years, then your traffic will be every bit as stale as your content. The more you update your content, the better your search results will be.

It’s Not as Hard as it Sounds

The natural solution to the need for high quality, keyword-rich, constantly updated content is to build a blog for your website. By its very nature, a blog makes it easy to update your content without having to know a single thing about web design. Odds are that if you blog about what you love, and if you’re dedicated enough to blog consistently, then the traffic will inevitably come. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you’ll discover that the more consistent you are with your posting schedule, the more traffic you will build.

When I first built schoolofflash.com, I was starting from scratch without a single visitor. For a while, the traffic remained fairly stagnant. And then I started posting more consistently. I made an effort to start posting 1 to 2 new blog posts every week, and within a few months, I found myself with 30,000 unique visitors coming to my site every month without spending a single penny on advertising.

Don’t like writing? Don’t have time to keep a blog up to date? No problem . . . Just pay me to do it for you.  :)

Overcoming Fear

February 8th, 2010

In my last post, I discussed the fear that so often paralyzes us and thwarts our success. For most of us, this is not news. In fact, you may be one of those unfortunate souls who has accepted that your fears are unconquerable and that you just weren’t meant to be successful. For people like this, success is a talent that some people are born with, while the rest of us are forced to eke through mediocre careers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In this post, I want to explore a few ways that we can overcome our fears and break through to a much more rewarding career. But before you start reading through these suggestions, I want to first challenge you to BELIEVE that these suggestions will work. So much of your own success will come from the faith that you have in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, then none of these suggestions will help.

1. Acknowledge your fears. “It’s okay, I’m not scared.” Have you ever muttered these words to yourself in the mirror before a big presentation, a sales meeting, or a performance review? If so, cut it out. It will do you no good whatsoever to deny the existence of your fears.

2. Accept your fears. Wishing your fears away is like trying to wrestle the wind. If you’re afraid of public speaking, then it will accomplish nothing to sit around and wish that you’re not. Once you acknowledge your fears, you must accept them. Trying to wish your fears away requires an awful lot of mental energy that would be better spent–in the example of public speaking–focusing on the content of your presentation. So instead of dwelling on your fears, put all of your energy into preparation. I have found nothing that helps calm my nerves more than being overprepared for whatever it is that I’m afraid of.

3. Embrace your fears. (Do you sense a pattern emerging?) Once you acknowledge that your fears exist, and once you accept that they’re not simply going to vanish, it’s now time to embrace your fear! In battle, one of the best ways to gain an advantage is by taking advantage of the element of surprise. So why not give your fears a little bit of a shock by embracing them. Let your fears energize you and spur you to action! Remember that if you’re not doing something outside of your comfort zone, then you’re simply stagnating. The act of embracing your fears and moving forward is just the impetus your subconscious needs to help you grow.

4. Repeat. If you embrace your fears, you will discover that most of your fears were only constructs of your imagination. And the next time you get up to give a presentation, it will be a little bit easier. But don’t stop there. Once you’ve mastered (for example) the art of giving a solid presentation, push forward and find something else that’s a little outside your comfort zone. By constantly pushing your boundaries, you will continue to grow, and you will become an irreplaceable asset to anyone with whom you do business.

So, what fears are you struggling with? What’s holding you back from becoming everything you know you have the potential to become? Even though you know deep down that you’re struggling, have you refused to admit your fears out loud? If so, step in front of the mirror, and instead of trying to convince yourself that you’re not afraid, simply say, “I’m afraid of giving this presentation next week. In fact, I’m petrified. But you know what? I’m not going to let that get the best of me. I welcome the fear. I accept the fear. I embrace the fear, because I know that pushing forward will help me to grow.” And say it out loud.

Stop lying to yourself, and embrace your fears.

Paralyzed by Fear

February 5th, 2010

You’re in an important meeting at work, and people are throwing ideas around, trying to find the appropriate solution to a problem. As everyone is throwing in his or her two cents, a brilliant idea strikes you, but you wonder if you should bring it up. Maybe you’re still the new guy, and you don’t want to overstep your bounds. Or perhaps you’re afraid that you haven’t thought the idea through, and you’re worried that you might sound like you have no idea what you’re talking about. Or maybe you’re just shy. Whatever the reason, you decide that it would be best if you just didn’t speak up.

So you pass up an opportunity to stand out. You pass up an opportunity to share an insightful idea with the people who have the power  to make things happen. And for what?

For most “average” workers, fear is the number one barrier to accomplishing goals and achieving success. Fear keeps us from standing out. Fear hinders us from making a difference. We play it safe, and as a result, we end up performing menial work that impresses no one.

Ironically, for most people it’s the fear of failure that becomes the greatest hindrance to success. You’re scared of taking ownership, because you fear messing things up. As a result, you blend in with the other drones, and no one ever takes notice of you.

Believe it or not, your employer, manager, or client will not be impressed with your ability to do what you’re told. Doing what you are told is what is expected of you! Why should you get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do? Your wage is your reward for that. But if you go above and beyond, if you put away fear and embrace your work with passion, then you will have something of value to give to your employer or client.

In a competitive marketplace where the rules are constantly changing, simple obedience just isn’t enough. “Average” workers are a dime a dozen, and some employers loves the average worker, because he’s so easy to replace. By playing it safe and doing only what you’re told, you may think that you’re providing yourself with an added measure of job security, but what you’re really doing is making yourself a replaceable commodity. And someday, when the rules of the game change (as they always tend to do), you may suddenly find yourself out of a job.

Employers want workers with initiative. Don’t be afraid to take ownership of issues that may not lie within your job description. Most people are so scared of messing up that they never step up. They never make themselves noticed. They shrink back and blend in with the crowd, and in the process, they make themselves replaceable.

Are you a replaceable commodity? If you were suddenly unable to work, would your employer or your clients find it difficult to replace you? What are you doing for your organization or your clients that nobody else is doing? What can you offer that noone else is offering? When you’re working on a project, do you provide just enough of yourself–your talents, your skills–to get the job done on time? Or do you pour your heart into your work and put the best of yourself into everything you do?

Don’t allow fear to get the best of you. Overcoming the paralysis of fear is extremely difficult the first few times you do it, especially if it doesn’t work out in your favor on your first attempt. But with time and practice, as with anything else, you’ll find that it becomes easier. And one day you’ll wake up to discover that you’ve built a whole new world of opportunities for yourself.