The Year of the Blog

Are you one of those people who wakes up every morning and “reads” your smart phone as though it were the newspaper? I am! I check each email inbox, then move on to my news feeds. If it’s a good day, I can spend at least half an hour browsing the day’s top stories over a cup of coffee. Something I read today caught my eye…

Somewhere in my Twitter feed this morning was a business article stating how 2012 was the year of Twitter. According to the author, last year Twitter ruled the social media scene.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say 2013 is going to be the year of the blog. Just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve read at least a dozen articles and blogs about content marketing. This morning my Sunday newsletter from business genius Chris Brogan was all about how to create content that interests your customers and makes them feel like they are a part of something–like they belong.

In my experience, creating content is the hardest part of blogging. Setting up a blog is fun and exciting, linking the blog to social media accounts is satisfying, but there’s something about sitting down and staring at a blank screen that sucks the inspiration right out of me.

If I’m right and content will be king in 2013, then small business owners who want to stay on the path to sustainable growth must understand the importance of blogging. My advice? Take a cue from Twitter’s success and make your blog more like a conversation. Keep it light rather than formal. Ask questions. And at least some of the time, share content about topics you truly love. If you’re passionate about what you’re writing, chances are you’ll strike a nerve with someone else who shares the same interest.

Are you one of those people who shares online content when you find it truly engaging or entertaining? I am, and if my social media feeds are any indication, most of us are. I believe this year, the most successful small business owners will be the ones who create content that compels their audience to join the conversation. So what are you waiting for?

Día de Reyes or Three Kings’ Day

Later today, I’m planning to celebrate el Día de los Reyes with my fiancee’s family. Yesterday, I made the mistake of assuming this was going to be another tequila party, since most of the Mexican festivities tend to go that route. My fiancee looked at me like I was crazy and said with his Costeño accent, “Eet’s not a party! Eet’s bread with hot chocolate! And if ju get the beibi doll, ju haf tu trow the party nex taim.”  Ah, ok. Now I understand. And I’m supposedly the crazy one here?

Since I have a tendency to think a lot of the traditional customs are a little cuckoo before I understand them, I decided to do a little further investigation into this holiday so I could share the knowledge with you all.

Image: bashapedia.pbworks.com
Image: bashapedia.pbworks.com

So, the basic premise of this major holiday is it’s held on January 6th and commemorates the arrival of the three kings with gifts for baby Jesus. Traditionally, Mexican children do not receive their gifts on Christmas Day, but instead on January 6th. It is understandable, then, why this is an important holiday for old and young alike!

Just as many American children leave milk and cookies for Santa, Mexican families also leave an offering for the three kings on the evening before they arrive. They traditionally leave out their shoes (or small boxes) with a little bit of hay (for the reindeer–er, camels). In the morning, the hay is gone and is replaced with gifts for the children from the kings.

Rosca de ReyesImage: abullseyereview.com
Rosca de Reyes
Image: abullseyereview.com

Another custom, and one I in which I will participate for the first time today, is eating sweet bread in the shape of a wreath with a baby Jesus figurine hidden inside. The bread is called “Rosca de Reyes,” with “rosca” translating to wreath. The tradition with the little baby Jesus doll, “el muñequito,” comes from the Biblical story of how baby Jesus had to be hidden from King Herod, who wanted to kill him. Whoever gets the piece of bread with the figurine inside is supposed to host a party with tamales on February 2, which is el Día de las Candelarias.

Ay ay ay, I’ll have to find out more about that one and get back to you!! That is, if this doesn’t become another all-night fiesta!

My goals for 2013

January 1st. The day our resolutions begin. A clean slate from last year’s mistakes and shortcomings. It’s a day when many begin diets, ban alcohol and vow to get serious about cleaning the house/office/car/yard more often.

Since none of those typical goals sounded appealing to me, I decided to do something different this year. In the past, I’ve gone the way of “run at least X miles per month” or “stop eating fast food.” Guess what? Setting limits and monthly minimums for myself only made me feel like a failure when I didn’t hit the mark.

This year I promise not to limit myself. Instead, I’m going to free myself from being so calculated and cautious.

I’m going to write more, take more risks and spend more time outside. I know, I know. Those goals sound pretty vague and don’t relate to any specific measurable progress. This may not sound very smart. So I’ll explain myself.

Too many times to count, I was the kid in class who knew the answer to the question but waited for someone else to raise their hand. I would glance around sideways, thinking how obvious the teacher or professor was being with her clues, unable to believe no one else knew the right answer. I would then start doubting myself, thinking maybe it wasn’t so obvious. Of course by then the teacher had given it away or so many students had guessed wrong that I would chime in without fear.

That’s just one example of how I’ve played it safe over the course of my life. Trust me, I could go on for hours about my aversion to risk and my obsession with not doing something unless I was certain I would succeed.

Now that I have my own business (something I thought I as a chickenshit could never do), I feel it’s so important to set meaningful goals because my personal growth means growth for my clients and growth for my business.

If you’re still reading, I’ll share my reasoning for choosing each of these goals, not because I think it’s perfect advice for everyone, but because I know it’s perfect for me and I hope it will inspire you to do what’s perfect for you.

Write more. I have to spend more time putting pen to paper. Yes, I’m one of those people who prefers to see my words in ink on an actual sheet of paper. If I take the time to write down a goal or an idea, I feel far more committed to seeing it all the way through. When it comes to my blog, this past couple of months I haven’t written a fraction of what I wanted to. Partly because I haven’t made the time, but also because I was afraid to give the wrong advice or even put myself out there and have no one respond.

But this year I commit to put excuses and fear behind me. I will write down my ideas and I will blog about whatever is on my mind. I will do this not for the benefit of others, but for my own personal growth. It’s good to write. Writing cleanses the mind and frees up space in my cluttered brain. So I apologize in advance if my blog becomes even more random. I have to do this for me.

Take more risks. This goal will be the tough one for me. Last year I learned I was stronger and braver than I ever imagined, so in 2013 I’m going to be open to more possibilities, even when there are unknowns. Especially if there are unknowns. I’m going to ask what I think are the dumb questions. I’m going to reach out to new clients in a more direct manner. If the answer is no, then I’ll go in a different direction.

I have some potentially wonderful news I’m not allowed to share yet, but if it all goes through there will be a good deal of risk involved. I could fail. I could have to go back to square one. But I could also open the door to unlimited possibilities in my target market. So I don’t care if it’s scary. Hey, I quit my well-paying day job last month in a horrible economy because it wasn’t making me happy anymore. That was and is scary. It was risky. But they say nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Spend more time outside. There is no mystery behind this goal. I love the outdoors, I have two furry babies who love the outdoors. Instead of worrying at my computer about how I’m going to get by, we’re going to spend more time walking, running and hiking in the fresh air and sunshine. I don’t think that could hurt anything. In fact, I think it’s going to help give me the confidence and the balance to reach my other two goals. I think I’ll get started on this one right now!

Siberian Husky-style inspiration
Siberian Husky-style inspiration

Motivation: Three Easy Ways to Get Out of the Slump

Fear. Worry. Anxiety.

These emotions almost always accompany one of my “slumps,” as I choose to call those periods when I lack any and all motivation to get anything done. Prior to starting my marketing business, a motivational slump might have had such relatively harmless results as an overflowing laundry basket, a brief lapse in personal hygiene (eek!) or even gaining an extra pound or two due to not lacing up my running shoes.

http://myinnershakti.com/2012/01/page/2/

These days a slump seems far more dangerous. What if I miss the chance to connect with a potential client just because I’m not feeling up to logging in? Shouldn’t I be posting more blog entries? How negatively does it affect my reputation if I don’t tweet enough?

Well, fresh off the high of launching my business, taking a trip to Baja and getting some very promising leads, this past week I found myself smack in the middle of a slump. I should have seen it coming. I was recently moved to a new location in my day job, which means I’m learning and adjusting (read: getting a mental workout) for 45 hours a week right now. I’m feeling less and less satisfied with my day job in general and that leads to frustration that inevitably spills over into my work at home. Though I know I must be patient, I find myself getting worked up over wanting to work on helping others full-time through my business.

http://www.wolfescape.com/Humour/WorkStress.htm

All this stress and dissatisfaction created my most recent slump, and as I contemplated how to get out of it I received a timely email newsletter from Chris Brogan. His newsletters usually make me feel good in general, and he has a unique ability to write to thousands of people as though he is writing to a dear friend. This newsletter was just what I needed, as the topic was Facing Failure. And when I’m in a slump, I feel like a total failure. After reading his advice, I decided to offer a few tips of my own:

1.  Give yourself a break.

If I did this more, then I am certain I’d experience fewer slumps. If you spend day and night working on one thing or another like I do, then take the time once in awhile to rest and do nothing. Or do something fun. But don’t allow yourself to work. Sometimes when I relax a little bit, I actually get inspired so much that when I go back to my laptop I perform far better than if I force myself to sit down and write something when I’m not motivated.

2.  Take baby steps.

This is a strategy I apply throughout my life, both at work and at home. Whenever I get overwhelmed to the point of feeling useless, I set a tiny goal that I know I can reach. I definitely have lofty aspirations of bringing together entire communities and driving tourism all up and down the Baja peninsula through good marketing practices. But I can’t get there overnight. Hell, sometimes I can’t even think of anything interesting to put on in the morning! So when I’m in a slump, I write down something I know I can achieve that very day. It may be to organize one of my online accounts, respond to a simple email or even just clean my office. Once you get going, you’ll find it hard to stop.

3.  Don’t give up.

Even if you try your best to get inspired and it doesn’t work, don’t get so down on yourself that you throw in the towel. There is a natural flow to life that includes ups and downs. Keep trying! There are many quotes on the topic of not giving up, but an old favorite comes via a quick story from my own life. When my mom was losing her fight with the unexpected return of her brain cancer, I was five hours away at college. Not sure of anything and scared to death, a teary-eyed co-worker made sure I got safely into my car. As I set out to face the unknown, she whispered in my ear, “Sometimes you just have to fake it ’til you make it.” Meaning things might not be okay today, or tomorrow, or for a long time. But one day they will be, and we have to keep moving forward until that day comes.

http://www.seussville.com

So get up. Do something. Do anything and do it well. Though, as Dr. Seuss points out in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, “un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” In another one of my favorite sources of inspiration, he later declares, “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So, get on your way!” Yes!!!

Visit Los Cabos: The Gringo Experience

Any time I am able to travel south of the border, I consider it a treat. Everyone who knows me is aware of my love for the Mexican culture–many have told me my corazón is brown on the inside (meaning I am only a Gringa on the outside). Whatever you want to call me, it is safe to say I am at ease with my Spanish-speaking neighbors to the south. If I go by land, by the time I get just a few mile south of Tijuana I feel as though I am worlds away from the worries of everyday life in the States.

The beautiful desert view at the airport in San Jose del Cabo

On my trip earlier this week, I went by plane from the airport in Tijuana. Destination: Cabo San Lucas. Now before you go calling me a typical tourist, let me state that last year we vacationed in Cabo after driving the entire 1,000 miles from San Diego to the tip of the Baja peninsula. Then of course we drove back. While I would have loved to do it all over again, it was not a road trip my dear significant other wanted to repeat. So this time we had a much more typical tourist experience. I much prefer the road less traveled, but there are advantages to both types of vacation. Here’s how we chose to spend our time (and all our money).

Playing Tourist

I’m ashamed to say we did some cliché American-tourist-in-Mexico things. For starters, we spent way too much money on things we could probably do here in San Diego for less. Everything in Cabo San Lucas is expensive, and although the prices of many services in Mexico are negotiable, in the restaurants and bars you just have to cough up the dinero. We splurged on several pricy dinners for two, the most memorable being Sunset da Mona Lisa (a must-do no matter who you are if you want an unforgettable view and fine dining experience) and Mango Deck (I am still shocked at the good quality of the food at this Spring Break hotspot). We also enjoyed an overpriced room service meal at the Bahia Hotel that piqued our interest in the hotel’s restaurant…until we discovered it was all the same menu. You should be prepared to pay outrageous prices if you go anywhere in a cab. We spent a sizable chunk of our budget just getting to and from the airport. Expect to blow a lot more money than you planned, just know it’s possible to save in other areas.

The view from the restaurant at Sunset da Mona Lisa

Saving Some Dough

Admittedly, we dove into some of the Cabo tourist traps like giddy first-timers, but we also tried to be sensible on this week-long vacation in paradise. One of our first stops when we got into town was at the local Costco, where we loaded up on sandwich fixings and beer. The going price for a cheap beer in a restaurant or bar was about $3 each, so we saved about a hundred dollars by getting our booze at the store and drinking from our stash when we lay by the pool, walked around town and/or sat on the beach. We also ate a lot of turkey sandwiches for breakfast or in between bigger meals when we would have otherwise purchased appetizers or snacks at an inflated price. Another good tip is to bring your comfortable shoes and go on foot as much as possible. We walked into town at least once a day and took the public bus a few times for as little as 50 cents each. We went all the way to San Jose one afternoon for $1.50 each way, which would have cost at least $40 USD each way in a cab.

Beautiful Catholic church in San Jose

Being Smart

It’s fairly common knowledge that prices are inflated in the high-end tourist town of Cabo San Lucas. We knew this going in and allowed ourselves to enjoy some of those typical high-priced pleasures on our trip. But besides doing our own shopping and hoofing it for much of our vacation, we also tried to be smart when it came to paying for negotiable items. We knew from previous trips and from our friends who live in the area that the price of necessary taxi rides should be negotiated before getting into the cab and that if we offered to catch the next one they would usually bring the price down. When we took a water taxi to Lover’s Beach for the afternoon, we took only as much money as we had paid for the fare the year before, and though we had to walk away from the first two offers, we found a taker for our price and were happy to pay a reasonable rate for the five-minute boat ride. We followed the same strategy when shopping for souvenirs in the little mercado at the north end of town. We took only as much cash as we wanted to spend and found a nice young lady whose first offers were reasonable. We didn’t even negotiate with her because she was more than fair, and we ended up buying all but one souvenir from what she had to offer.

One bus driver had a rabbit’s foot and a crucifix on his dash–foolproof!

Like most of my trips to Baja California, this vacation was full of beautiful scenery and relaxing among friendly faces. I learned a lot about what’s truly worth seeing and what I would skip in the future when in Los Cabos. Of course I also heard the persistent fears about travel to Mexico and had a few laughs to myself about how perhaps even in a place as safe as Cabo it’s true–if you’re not careful, the tourist traps will rob you of your money and the tequila will take your memory with it! Still, the only thing I’ve ever had stolen on any of my Mexico trips was my little gringo heart, which can’t wait to return to Baja soon.

Twitter: The Good, The Bad and The #$%?!

Tweeting. Twitterverse. Tweeps. If the mere mention of these terms makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Despite boasting more than 500 million registered Twitter users worldwide, only about one-third of all Americans use the service. And according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, even CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are reluctant to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. So if the rich and successful business man doesn’t use Twitter to promote his company, why should you?

The answer is simple.  And in this case, it comes in the form of a question from someone far more qualified than I am to speak on the subject. In the above-referenced WSJ article, management professor and former CEO Bill George asks,

“Can you think of a more cost-effective way of getting to your customers and employees?”

Considering all the social media channels at our disposal and the relative cost of each, I think George’s question should have more businesses asking, “Where do we sign up?”

Twitter is only one platform for growing your business network, but I recommend it to all of my clients because it is free, offers an enormous audience, and, in most cases, puts your business ahead of the curve in terms of social media presence. Businesses in my consulting demographic truly need to use as many social media sites as possible because they are targeting American tourists with smart phones who are connected to social media 24/7.

And now, my personal rant (a.k.a. The Bad Side).

I recently experienced a moment of panic when my shiny new Twitter account was suspended just a few days after I opened it. I could not believe my ability to connect with the world could be taken away without notice and seemingly without reason. After several minutes of frantic Googling to find a solution, I contacted Twitter via their appeals process.  Surprisingly, someone replied to me very quickly with a verdict. My crime?  An “aggressive following pattern.” Sheesh. More on that a little later. The moderator who replied to me promised after I pledged to stop violating their policies my account would be restored within the hour. It was about 24 hours before I could use my account again, but upon logging in I was relieved to find  everything just as I had left it.

Which brings me to the negative. Twitter is a third-party service that can decide on a whim to shut down or suspend your account. My violation of their terms consisted of sitting down on my couch one Sunday morning and following a number of businesses in the region I will be visiting shortly. I thought I was doing myself a favor and building a legitimate Twitter feed.  They called it “annoying other users.” Then, as I mentioned, they called me aggressive–a term I take offense to when used to describe me anywhere outside of my coed softball league.

This story has two morals: If we want to win at marketing with Twitter, then we have to play by their rules. Even if sometimes those rules are vague and subjective.

The other moral of the story? Sometimes Twitter sucks. And that’s just part of life in the 21st century.