Which is harder to do: using technology or figuring out what technology you should be using? This question is perfectly relative to each person who approaches it and, in the end, it doesn’t really matter how difficult or easy something is if you truly want to get it done.
The reason to ask yourself this question (repeatedly) is to make sure that the time you invest in learning new things goes to good use. If you like learning how to use things and do it quickly then maybe more time should be spent picking things up, playing with them, and deciding whether or not to use them. If, like most of us, you have limited time and want to simplify your daily life, it’s time to make a Technology Taming Plan.
How does one go about making one of these plans? The process goes like this: figure out what your goal is (gain more eyeballs on your website, sell more products, better connect with people), choose your methods for getting that done (re-design the site, start a blog, start networking on-line), and then pick the best tools for getting it all done. The key is to take each step by itself and not move to the next until you’ve completed the preceding one. This is the best way (that I know of) to make sure you don’t get bogged down in logins to site you don’t use, applications that take up hard drive space, and electronics that sit unused.
I’m new to all of this… how will this post help me?
We all have problems with getting done what needs to be done. Sometimes the problem is a lack of motivation but that’s not always the whole story. It’s hard to dig right in without a plan of action or a place to start. It’s hard to clean your house when everything is a mess and you’re not sure what to tackle first. The same goes for moving your business, career, or personal life forward. If you know you want to make a change but you’re not sure of the first step to make, it’s very important to be clear about what you want to do and be aware of the tools out there that can help you do this. The implements can appear to outweigh the opportunities but this is not the case. Having a plan and taking specific action will always move you in the right direction (as long as you know what that direction is).
I’ll show you how to figure out your goal, think about ways to achieve it, then find the tools to get it all done. Of course, this is just a brief overview; if you need more in-depth help, talk to me!
Step 1 – What do you want to do?
Just like any endeavor in life, having an outcome in mind is the very important first step in progression. Whether you reach that outcome or not is not important but having one in the beginning is. Having a goal to point your effort towards gives important direction to everything you do. It also serves to keep you focused on the reason WHY you’re working so damn hard. Going to college is very difficult if you’re not sure what you want to do with what you’ll have at the end. Putting 100% into your work is very difficult if you don’t care where you’re going. Having a successful business, practice, or freelance operation is impossible if you’re not clear on what you want to accomplish.
The same goes for properly using the technology around you. If you buy a Blackberry but you don’t know what you’re going to do with it or why you need it, you’ll probably just end up making calls on it. This is fine but you chose the wrong tool for the job. If all you were going to do was make calls, you probably don’t need more than about 16 buttons and a 2×2″ screen. If, on the other hand, getting email, having access to the web, and keeping a detailed calendar is essential for what you do then the investment was a good idea and so is the time you will take to learn the functionality.
But even that is jumping a bit ahead of ourselves. The first thing to do is to evaluate where you are and where you want to go. Because it’s going to be difficult for me to generalize this, let me give a few examples using clients that I have.
You’re an artist
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that being an artist these days is a lot harder than it was not too long ago. Though, ostensibly, this country is the land of the free, it’s still not all that easy to blaze your own path and do your own thing. The expectation out there is “get money” and if you’re not chasing that then what, exactly, are you doing?
The artists that I help don’t seem to be affected so much by this sociological construct but they still want more work than they are getting right now. So, we talk about expanding into new markets. The first thing that needs to get nailed down is literally what they want to accomplish in the end.
One thing everyone on the internet wants to do is to be more visible on search engines; this includes artists. Putting your art on a website is tough, partially because it’s hard to search for particular images (if they are not tagged properly) and partially because art doesn’t have to always lend itself to a long description (making it even harder to find). This, however, is a great first step. The goal is “get better search ratings in the major search engines.” Congrats, that’s a goal! You’re not seeing enough people from the internet, you’re not getting as many hits as you think you should, and you’d like to improve that.
Another thing I hear from artists is that they want to teach more people and lead more classes. More students means more tuition and more tuition means the bills are getting paid. This is another perfectly legitimate goal, “enroll more paying students in my classes.” You’re teaching 10, you have space for 15 so you want to boost enrollment by 50%. Or you teach one-on-one three times a week, you’d like to do it 5 times a week to fill up your time. Every time you talk to someone, hand out a card, send out an email, or take any step forward, think about asses in seats and you’ll stay on target.
You’re a freelance financial consultant
I know a very successful freelance financial consultant who does not have a web presence of any kind. He’s neck-deep in phones, computers, printers, spreadsheets, and digitized income statements but he doesn’t have anything out there that grabs people on the internet. There’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing because he has more business than he can handle. But let’s say he started to train people to do some of what he does. Now, he has employees who are doing the less-sensitive work and he’s freed up to work with the more important clients. Since the number of people he can hire is basically infinite, his income potential is not being realized by being strictly word-of-mouth.
So, this consultant decides he wants to “find qualified people that I can train to handle certain parts of my business.” This is an ambitious, well-directed goal that, at worst, will make you meet a few new people and really figure out if this is the direction you want to go. You’re starting out working 16 hours a day and you’d like to maintain your income but only work 10. Or, you can hardly keep up with what you’ve got and need help keeping it all straight. You want to expand but you need the right people. This is a great place to start.
Now that you’ve found a few junior accountants to take some of the math off of your hands, you want to find businesses that need your help. You want to “discover specific potential clients who need your expertise.” You work with 100 businesses and you want 300 in your Rolodex. You helped sell 5 businesses last year, this year you want to triple that. You know exactly where you’re at now and you have a clear idea of where you want to be soon.
In addition to building your business, you’re going to need to know what other people are doing as well. You want a unique and useful offering for people to come to you and start buying what you have. You want to price competitively (or contrastingly) and make sure that you’re not missing the boat on something else. You need to “collect good competitive intelligence to shape your offerings.”
Don’t bite off too much at this stage because you’re just going to end up frustrated. At the same time, don’t limit yourself because you’re not exactly sure how to get to where you’re going.
You need to walk a fine line between vagueness and specificity to get this step right. Be vague enough so that you’re not naming actual things you’re going to be doing (yet) but be specific enough so the goal doesn’t end up “make more money.” You want the direction in place so the next step, choosing a path, is easier.
Oh and WRITE THESE DOWN, write them all down regardless of what came out of your brainstorming. If you don’t have these on paper, you’re not going anywhere. It sounds a bit silly but this reminder will help you keep your eyes on the prize and your nose to the grindstone. It’s also very important for focusing on what you need to do.
By the way, try to keep the list short. I’d recommend two or three items but, to be honest, that’s a bit hypocritical because I have four of them:
- More online connections (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
- Bump up my monthly freelance income to a certain amount
- Add more people to which I can subcontract work
- Add more/better sites to my portfolio
Remember, the more of these you have, the worse your focus will be on each one. It might be better to take one or two on at a time and, when they get to a good level, move on to the next. But, again, that’s me giving advice without taking it! :)
Step 2 – How are you going to do it?
You have the toughest step out of the way, choosing the outcome. Now let’s start thinking about how this outcome will come about. I’ll use the examples from the previous section.
“Get better search ratings in the major search engines”
Everyone wants better search ratings but how do we go about getting them? Spend 5 minutes reading on the subject and you’ll realize that getting better ratings comes down to three things:
- Keywords (choosing them and using them)
- Incoming links (sites that have a direct link to you…more popular sites and more reputable sites are always better)
- Content following Seth’s 3U’s: useful, unique, and updated.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is simple but it isn’t easy.
So, our goal is in mind, we (hopefully) are aware what our situation is right now, what’s next? Now, we pick apart the paths we can take to determine the way forward. I’ll start with the first one, keywords. If you don’t know what I mean when I say “targeted keywords” then it’s time to spend some time on Google (or call me). What you will figure out is that you need to choose some keywords that describe your offering and always use those in your writing. There’s your first how from this goal, “choose the best keywords for what I do and use them in my content.” We’re not sure exactly how to pick them or the best way to write about them but we’ve got an action to take and we’ve got the reason why.
Let’s also say that you decide to boost your incoming links. The only real way to do this is by creating good content and then getting people to read it and link to it. You’re going to need your keyword skills from above and you’ll need Useful, Unique, and Updated content. You’re also going to need people online with websites that want to link to you. You need to “make yourself known in the online world and create something that people want and/or need.” Again, you’re not certain how but you know what and why now.
“Collect good competitive intelligence to shape your offerings”
Competitive intelligence is a funny thing. Not enough of it and you risk being in the dark, overcharging, and being generally uninformed. Too much of it and you might start cloning your competitors and end up a mushy, gray mix of all of them. You want to know what they’re doing but be careful what you wish for!
OK, so you want to know about your competitors and you promise to heed my warning. Now it’s time to think about what you want to know and how you’re going to get it. Let’s say you want to know who your direct competitors are and what kind of press they are getting. To do this, you’re going to need to understand the industry (if you don’t already) and keep a pulse on it. You want to “keep an eye on the industry at large, specifically who is playing and what they are announcing.”
Watching the industry change and progress while keeping your eye on the key players is an important for step, to be sure, but you want more than that. Maybe you’ve identified 1 or 2 or 3 specific companies, locally or otherwise, who are all competing with you for the same customer pool. It would be great to know what some of their clients (or former clients) have to say about what they offer. You want to network a bit and “find people with specific knowledge about your competitors.” You sneaky devil, you.
We’re knocking out the critical parts of the Technology Taming plan and getting down to brass tacks with the first two. These two are conceptual and work together to make sure that when you start to look for solutions to your problems that you’re not choosing things that don’t get you to where you want to go.
What we did in Step 1 and Step 2 was take care of the “why” and the “what.” The why will keep you focused on what you’re doing, even if the road is a bit bumpy. The what keeps you on-point in finding your solution instead of trying everything out there. Maybe one of these “whats” aren’t going to get you what you want but, if you’re honest about your intentions and your objectives, the only thing left is to try out your predictions.
Step 3 – What tools are you going to use?
Now we get to the fun part!
This might be the step where you call someone like me to help you find and learn the tools you need to use to do the actions you planned out to accomplish the goals you’ve set. But, if you want to go it alone and discover the tools yourself, here are a few resources (besides plain-ole Google):
- Lifehacker.com: I was resistant to this site at first if only because they cover SO much ground and I was jealous. Eventually I realized that they were a great resource but left a lot of legwork to be done, which I like.
- Google Blog Search: This little tool is getting used more and more by me. Blogs can have great, timely, very palatable information and, more often than not, you’ll find one with the author’s opinion mixed in which can help to make decisions.
- Forums (like the Computer Community at VWVortex): Forums on the internet can be frustrating and time-sucking but, take it from me, they can be unbelievably useful. Ask the right question and you can start a firestorm but it’s the debates that can give you some of the best information. My advice is to join a general-purpose one and build your reputation there then milk it whenever possible!
- Yahoo Answers: I’ll be honest: there are some INANE conversation topics on this site (stay away from the Relationships section) but there are also some smart, talented people who patrol these boards and answer questions. Sign up and start to answer a few questions and watch your addiction grow as you get points for answering. Interesting idea for sure and a great place to learn what other people are doing.
So, let’s go through the actions that we chose for the goals we want to accomplish. Keep in mind, these are just suggestions. If you’ve tried these before or simply want more information, I invite you to research them a bit and post back here with what you find. Finding the right tool for the job is rarely as easy as it seems. Don’t stop at the first answer; keep researching until you find a few things you can work with.
“Choose the best keywords for what I do and use them in my content”
Keywords are a funny thing… so funny that I’m not going to go into really deep detail about them. The key (no pun intended), however, is choosing words that don’t have tons of competition but do have a lot of people searching for them.
The only place, in my mind, to start is the Google Keyword Tool. This handy page will help you figure out the best words to use in your articles, blog posts, and general content. Just type in a(several) word(s) or phrase(s), fill in the captcha, and, behold, your list of terms. What this tool does is collect synonyms of the word you typed and then tells you what the competition is, how often it was search for, and what the search volume looks like on average. What this tells you (succinctly) is how hard it is to rank for the keyword (competition), how many people search for that term (value), and the growth rate (value versus average). Look for low competition, high value, and growth or stability instead of decrease.
Once you pick a few of the right keywords, start including them in your content (organically) and keep track of your website analytics or incoming calls/sales to see if the change made a difference.
“Make yourself known in the online world and create something that people want and/or need“
Wow, that’s a big one isn’t it?
Plain and simple, the only way to do this properly is to start at the bottom and build your on-line reputation. This is a tough thing to do and, trust me, if you don’t enjoy it AND see a palpable benefit, you will never continue the effort needed.
Making yourself known is one half of the equation. There are seemingly infinite ways to gain some ground on this but here is what I’ve been doing:
- Started a blog. Read other blogs, commented on them, linked to my blog.
- Signed up for Facebook (I know a lot of people on there anyways), signed up for Twitter (took a while to build any kind of following on there… try following others), and linked the two together.
- Signed up for LinkedIn. built a great profile, recommended many former co-workers. Now, their counter-recommendations act as testimonials on this site.
- Signed up and spend some time on a few different forums. I try to give at least as much as I ask for.
- Stay in touch with many people
Everything on that list is an action I would be doing anyway but, because I have a whole online persona/profile to maintain, I do it with even more gusto.
Building an online network is mostly a slow process unless you’re already established somewhere and just missed the internet boat for a while. I’ve found it very frustrating for a while but, as time goes on, it’s very enjoyable, allows me to meet a lot of new people, and expose myself to many more projects and collaborators. In the end, it’s essential.
Creating something that people want and/or need is a whole other thing. To be honest, sometimes this is like starting a business with every step forward. I’ll be honest: I certainly haven’t figured out the silver bullet here though it seems like others have. Here are my thoughts on the matter:
- Use the keyword tool above and a blog
- Use google.com/trends and google.com/news to see what’s growing out there. If you’re game, try to jump onto a pop culture or fashion trend (especially if you’re in the industry). If you’ve been gathering your network and can move fast, it shouldn’t be too hard.
- Two words: viral video (a video that garners a lot of attention quickly). Get yourself on Youtube with something off the wall.
Weak list for sure but I can’t help you TOO much… I need to keep some stuff for myself, right?
Honestly, this is just a matter of putting yourself and your talent out there any way you can. Do what you love and do what you’re good at then do it how only you can do it and you’ll hit the moon in no time.
“Keep an eye on the industry at large, specifically who is playing and what they are announcing“
You need to sign up for Google Reader and get your RSS on, for sure. Use Google Blog Search and look for words that describe your industry, look for blogs that get at least a few comments a day, make sure you like what the author puts out, then subscribe. Now, go to Google News and search a relevant phrase. Is this information that you’d like to see on a regular basis? On the left, there is a tiny “RSS” link you can click. Do that and add this subscription to your Reader as well. Repeat until you have a few solid streams.
Find at least ten blogs to sign up for and read them in Google Reader at least a couple times a week. Feeling good? Now take it a step farther:
- Sign up at Technorati and look for blogs in your segment with good authority.
- Sign up at Digg and keep an eye on stories in an appropriate category.
- Learn how to use Yahoo Pipes (look for an intro post soon). This is advanced-level.
It’s all about finding the right tools for the job. Search them out, try a few, and switch it up if they don’t work for you. There are millions of ways to get information, thousands of pages that can help you do what you want, and just as many applications that can help you out. Keep your eyes open and your fingers moving!
< Take Action >
Suggest changes on GitHub ›
Email › GitHub ›
< Read More >
Sep 26, 2008
It took me long enough but I’m finally implementing a password safe and I’m choosing KeePass.
Sep 22, 2008
Each day that we are granted is a chance to escape the condemnation of comparison and start anew on our way to who we know we can be.