Whoever said, “there are no stupid questions, just stupid people,” was stupid. There are plenty of stupid questions, and they are among the most powerful tools you have at your disposal for creating a successful business.
Here’s the truth: No one knows your business as well as you (nor should they).
Unfortunately, many companies talk to customers and potential buyers as if they are coming to the table with the same knowledge base. This critical mistake may turn off your target audience and leave them feeling misunderstood and overwhelmed.
As a content marketer, I help companies share information about their products and services. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to ask stupid questions about your business before you start talking about it.
This process, which can uncover useful information, requires some humility. It may feel stupid to ask your target audience (or even friends and family) questions like, “why would you buy my service” or “how does my product work,” but the answers are critical for creating messaging that sells.
Get in front of as many people as possible, even those you don’t consider a target market. Sometimes the stupidest (and best) questions come from the unlikeliest sources. Let everyone play with your product or hear about your services, and use your website. Then give them permission to ask you anything.
The people using your product or service don’t share your encyclopedic knowledge about it, but their experiences are far more important. After all, if they don’t understand and love what you have to offer, then selling to them is impossible.
Listening without judgment is key. Remember, these are probably going to sound like stupid questions to you but there is something to be learned if only you curb your instinct to explain, justify, rationalize, or roll your eyes. Take notes on everything you hear, even if it seems totally silly to you, and watch for trends. If more than one person asks the same stupid question, it’s probably not so stupid after all.
By now you are probably thinking, “she’s just describing a focus group.” That’s true, it just happens to be a more organic, valuable, and cheaper DIY version. Long before you can afford to hire a big marketing firm to organize a formal roundtable of targeted users, you can empower yourself to improve your product using useful data from real-world users.
So the next time you find yourself saying, “that’s a stupid question,” stop and explore whether it might actually be an opportunity to improve.
Yesterday marked the first day of Spring. That means more daylight, buckets of rain, and pretty flowers are headed our way. Hooray! This is also the time of year when most of us start thinking about spring cleaning to get a fresh start after the long, cold winter. This process should include giving your office a good scrubbing.
For the last decade, I’ve written stories for the janitorial industry (both for trade magazines and for corporate websites). In that time I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about germs and where they can linger.
Here’s a scary stat: 1 in 4 keyboards has 5 times more germs than a toilet seat.
Feeling sick yet? Me, too. That’s why I think we should all carve out a little time this week to whip our offices into healthy shape. Here are five tips for spring cleaning the room where you likely spend 40 or more hours a week:
- Clear the way: Before you can clean surfaces you have to clear clutter. Recycle unneeded papers, file needed papers in clearly labeled folders, and store similar supplies in drawers or in boxes on shelves.
- Wipe everything down: Next, completely clear your desktop, shelves, file cabinets and all other surfaces in the office. Open the windows, then clean flat surfaces with a disinfectant and cloth (or a disposable disinfectant wipe). When dry, return items to their places and then clean them as well (don’t forget your phone and keyboard)
- Make it fun: Cleaning sounds like a chore, but it’s super important to your mental and physical well being. To make the task more bearable, put on some fun music and dance while you clean! (Get inspired by this list of 5 Albums for Spring Cleaning from Cooking With Vinyl.)
- Prepare for the future: If you don’t already have a trashcan and recycle bin nearby, add one to your office so you don’t get bogged down by piles of junk in the future. Also, keep tissues, hand sanitizer, and disposable cleaning wipes on or near your desk to help stop the spread of germs around your office or from your desk to the rest of your house.
- Repeat often: It’s not enough to go through this process once a year. At the end of each day, wipe down your work surface and frequently touched tools. If you share your space with anyone, make sure you’re both doing this and up your cleaning frequencies anytime either of you has the sniffles.
Question: What are your best tips for keeping your workspace clean?
My blog has basically been dormant for a year. I’m the first to admit that going radio silent is rarely a good thing, but it’s an especially bad idea for someone who makes her living helping others communicate. Of course, I have excuses for my absence. (I hate the word excuses, so let’s say reasons instead.)
Last year was crazy. It started with me turning 40 and having a mini midlife crisis. A few weeks later, after six months of trying, I found out I was pregnant. I was thrilled…and completely zapped of all energy.
Warning: This is the part where shit gets real…
Two months after getting the best news of our lives, my fiancé and I got the worst. During a routine OB visit at week 10 of the pregnancy, I learned there was no longer a second heart beating inside my body. The news was quickly followed by a DNC, which heaped thousands of dollars of medical debt on top of our mountain of grief.
After growing a baby rather than my business for two months, and after doctor visits and minor surgery, my bank account suddenly felt as empty as my womb and my heart. I panicked and decided to take a full-time writing gig at a weekly community newspaper, which targeted wealthy suburbanites, without even interviewing anywhere else. It didn’t take me long to realize I’d made a huge mistake.
If you take nothing else from this story, let it be this: It’s never a good idea to make major life decisions when you’re depressed and desperate. (One good thing about going through difficult times is all of the lessons learned.)
As the fog of grief began to lift, I shifted my energy to getting my career back on track. I started an awesome mastermind group and got serious about finding new clients and reengaging old ones. These efforts, plus a bit of gumption, allowed me to quit the job after only a three-month detour.
(Gratitude check: The job wasn’t right for me, but I’m still thankful for the experience. It allowed me to pay off the medical debt, which helped me move forward after the miscarriage.)
Two weeks after I righted my course with a return to self-employment, life threw me another curveball. We were pregnant again. That brought a return of exhaustion, followed by the holidays, a vacation, and getting engaged.
Suddenly, it’s a year later. I’m about to turn 41, I’m 20 weeks pregnant with our first child, and I’m riding a roller coaster of emotions (excited one minute and terrified the next). I’m also as committed as ever to making my business successful.
So, now what?
I’ve been doing a lot of awesome work behind the scenes (check out my rad new web design!), but now it’s time to lift the curtain and start sharing with the world here. In the past, I thought I should only blog on topics related directly to the work I do on a daily basis (content strategy, writing, editing, social media, etc.). Being an expert voice for my field was never my calling, however, so I remained uninspired and my blogging was sporadic at best.
Stop worrying about what you should do and instead focus on what you want to do. (Again…tough times=lessons learned.)
That simple idea represented such a big shift in my thinking that it took this long to finally grant myself permission to make the leap. Once I did, however, the ideas began flowing. Moving forward, I’ll be writing here about whatever I damn well please, thankyouverymuch, and on a realistic about-once-a-week schedule.
There will, of course, be posts about writing and marketing, but many more about being your own boss and uncovering your best self. (There could also be a smattering of parenthood-related posts, but never fear—I have zero interest in becoming a mommy blogger.)
So, I ask that you please pardon my lengthy absence, and hope you’ll come back each week to read my latest ramblings. Even more, I’d love for you to participate in the conversation, sharing your experiences and ideas so this site becomes a living (and extremely valuable) resource for others.
QUESTION: What are your lessons learned from tough times?
Do what you love. Each time I’ve hit a wall in my career, people offered up those sage words as if I’d never heard them. It certainly sounds great, but what if I don’t know what I love? The mysterious passion everyone always talks about sounded like a load of malarky.
After more than a decade, however, I finally got it. Your passion, your what you love, is that thing you do for fun. Duh. This completely unoriginal idea came to me late last year when—for the umpteenth time—I was brainstorming ways to get some professional and creative fulfillment. A blog seemed like a low-cost solution, but what the hell did I have to say? What was my passion?
More nights than not, my boyfriend and I cook dinner while listening to our ridiculously large collection of vinyl records. It may not be glamorous or newsworthy, but it makes me happy. Perhaps this simple act that I’ve taken for granted for two years could be the answer to my career and creative woes.
Once that idea implanted itself in my brain, I couldn’t slow down. I bought a domain, set up a WordPress template, and started creating content (ie, cooking and listening). In less than two weeks, Cooking With Vinyl was live.
That was nearly two months ago, and I still show no signs of slowing down. I spend a few hours each day working on the blog—creating content, sharing it online, and networking with other food bloggers. While the blog may not pay my bills any time soon (or ever), it’s worth its weight in gold.
First, it has given me a much-needed creative outlet over which I have sole control. While my paying gigs are me writing someone else’s words to sell their product or idea, Cooking With Vinyl is my words, my way, for my gain. That feels pretty sweet. Second, it is providing me an invaluable education. I’ve helped many clients with blog strategy and content, but creating this blog from the ground up is teaching me all sorts of new tricks (and traps) of the trade. Finally, it’s helping me feel better about my career. It’s refreshing to have something I really love to turn to when I’m frustrated with a client or a project. Plus, watching the blog generate traffic and positive feedback boosts my confidence in my professional skills, which motivates me to get out there and sell myself to new clients.
If you are feeling stalled out in your career or creativity, I strongly recommend finding your passion and turning it into a side project. How? Do what you love, of course! I know—easier said than done. Let me steal a quote from illustrator Jessica Hische: “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” If you’re struggling to find your passion, take stock of the things you do when you’re bored, procrastinating, or simply living your life. There’s magic in there, even if it seems like nonsense to you or others.
A new month is a a great time to make changes.
Fresh start. Clean slate. Blank page. Any time is a good time to make changes, but there’s something special about the symbolic reboot provided by the start of a new month. Today I’m spending a little time taking stock of where I am, where I want to go, and what I can do for the next 30 days to advance those goals.
This whole year has been all about change. I started 2013 by leaving a secure 9-to-5 gig to move back home with mom to heal our relationship and grieve my brother’s death. After great progress on those goals, I’ve shifted my focus for the second half of 2013 to starting a new career as a personal trainer. Already I’m making headway on my new goal by studying for a certification exam this fall and working an apprenticeship that’s giving me valuable experience (and also validating my decision to pursue this professional path). I’m also beginning to see how my experience with setting goals and making changes will serve me well as a personal trainer, helping other women do the same in their own lives. Although I’m not yet a goal-setting expert, I have four simple strategies that help me and may also help you.
1. Dream Big: You don’t get behind the wheel without first knowing where you are going. Before you start setting goals and making changes in your life, it’s important to first determine where you want to end up. Whether you create a vision board or simply write down your life goals, it’s important to have a road map. Dream big but be specific. The best goals are those that are measurable (ie, “earn $100,000 a year” is better than “be rich”). Consider ultimate goals for every area of your life, including career, relationships, finances, fitness/health, spirituality, etc.
2. Break It Down: Let your big, scary goals inspire you but don’t let them overwhelm you. Break them down into reasonable, actionable steps. Is your ultimate goal to lose 100 pounds? While that can’t happen overnight, it can (safely) over the course of a year. Shift your focus to a monthly goal of losing 6-8 pounds or a weekly goal of losing 1.5-2 pounds. To achieve those more manageable goals, what changes do you need to make? Now you can think about smaller changes to your eating and exercise habits rather than a looming 100-pound weight loss. Try this strategy for each of your big-picture goals so that you end up focusing on just a few simple changes each month/week/day. Changing yourself can take years, but it can also happen every minute when you make new, better choices.
3. Get Help: Trying to change your life in big ways—whether changing careers or giving up negativity—is always tough. There will be failures and setbacks and plenty of opportunities to give up. When you go it alone, it can be too easy to give into the urge to quit. Instead, find an accountability partner to provide support, encouragement, and sometimes even a little gentle scolding. If you can afford it, hire a professional personal trainer, life coach, or therapist (depending on your specific goals). If money is an issue, turn to the Internet for free online support groups, which are available for almost any topic. You can also ask someone you admire professionally to be your mentor at no cost. As a last resort, ask friends for help. Although friends can be a good support network, they are not always the best choice for a true accountability partner. They are untrained and, therefore, may not give the wisest or safest advice. Also, their honest feedback can hurt far more than hearing the same words from a stranger.
4. Revisit And Revise: Finally, relax. This is your journey! You’re not bound by the goals you set and, in fact, making them ironclad is against the point. Self-improvement is a journey along a winding road, not a straight line, and you may discover something that once seemed so important is simply no longer right for you. Each month, review your goals and make changes as needed. So long as you are making the revisions for the right reasons (and not just because the goal is too difficult), they aren’t failures but are actually a positive sign of growth that you are becoming clearer about who you are, what you want, and what is right for you.
Do you have other tips for setting goals and making life changes that have worked for you? I’d love to hear them! Share them in the comments area below.
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