The Reality of Freelancing: The Dream Is Free. The Hustle, Sold Separately

I used to dream about what it would be like to be a digital nomad. Just me, my laptop and a turquoise stretch of ocean on either side.

I’d think about what it would be like to work from a remote location that inspired my creativity and not just a desk where I’m accounted for between 9-5. How much more I could be getting done!

I thought the flexibility of a freelance lifestyle would allow me the time I needed to further build my personal brand and get noticed by brands and influencers. With more time I could make it happen faster!

I’d fantasize about how many projects I could take on. Going from a set income level to being able to charge for projects or hourly work (cha-ching, amiright?!). Which meant that in no time, all the projects I’d be getting paid to do would totally outweigh my full time salary.

Every aspect of freelance work was attractive to me – freedom to take time off when I wanted to, to travel, to get to the gym more, to not have a commute to/from an office, to cook all my own meals, to work from home wearing comfy clothes and also be productive at life tossing in a quick load of laundry, and the ability to get paid more.

It all sounded like a dream. Until it became my reality.

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Unlike most freelancers who quit their full-time job to pursue freelancing, I became a freelancer out of necessity.

Twice.

When your employer comes to you one day and says, “thank you but we no longer need your services.” What do you do?  For me, at the time, I did the only thing I knew how to do; I put my hard skills in SEO and online marketing to work as a consultant.

When it happened again this year, I did the same thing.

Only this time, I’m a little bit wiser.

I want to share what I know about the reality of being self-employed; what it really takes to build a consulting business from scratch. I also want to dispel the narrative on social media about freelancing which makes it look like you can be running your amazing, solopreneur business from your laptop on a beach in Bali.

My hope is to impart the reality of what you’re getting into if you’re considering following in the (sandy) footsteps of seemingly countless freelancers out there who are (at least visually) crushing it today. At the very least, I can share my wisdom to help you navigate this type of career path and the tools I’ve picked up along the way that will jumpstart your process.

In case you haven’t noticed the pattern in these Sponsored posts, the social media scene on Facebook and Instagram is rife with posts advertising how to become a lifestyle blogger /writer or digital nomad.  I’m not here to stomp all over your interests and passions, just don’t be fooled: there is no quick fix.

Here are three separate examples:

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It’s 2018, don’t be naive. There is no pill to take, no class to attend, no online workshop that can magically fast track you through the growth process of finding a profitable niche, building your brand, learning how to market yourself, and developing effective, repeatable methods for getting leads and prospecting clients.

The Perks of Freelancing

These perks live up to the hype:

  • zero commute
  • flexible working schedule
  • work from anywhere (that you can actually be productive)
  • being in control of what you make
  • no office politics
  • no need to spend money on expensive office wardrobe or (for ladies) makeup
  • no “all-hands” meetings (especially the impromptu kind)

That’s the plus side of what the freelance lifestyle affords you.

Yes, you have way more freedom and flexibility in your schedule to travel but, funding will invariably become a factor. If, for example, you plan to be jet setting around the world living that laptop lifestyle, you’d better be ready to be frugal with your finances and spend like a student on a semester abroad.
Yes, you are literally in charge of how much you can make. Every business needs to spend money to make money. But while full-time employees are reimbursed by their company, as someone who is self-employed, when you spend money, don’t expect a reimbursement check coming back to you in the mail.

No doubt the more glamorized version you see online makes it even more appealing. So, I thought it would be fun to paint a more realistic picture of the freelance life that I feel isn’t accurately being portrayed on social media.

Myth: You think working from home means taking it poolside.

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Reality: Have you ever been able to actually see your laptop screen in direct sunlight? Also, where do you plug in?

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Myth: You think being your own boss means you can spend the day as you please. Better yet, you’re such a boss you can multitask working on your laptop AND fit in gym time!

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Myth (con.t): You think building your brand online is tied to becoming Insta famous by posting selfies while crushing it and hashtagging: #bosslife #gymlife #laptopgamestrong #livingthedream.

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Reality check: who does this?!

Myth: You’ll think Wi-Fi everywhere and a Starbucks on every corner are you new BFF’s for productivity.

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Reality check: Public wi-fi is not the most secure. Plan on using coffee shops for breaks and writing not checking in on your client’s analytics data — you can’t know what someone would do if they happened to see your unsecured files on their device. The only friendly is the guy reading a newspaper!

Myth: Your freelance work from anywhere job means now you have the freedom and flexibility to jet set around the globe. Just you and your laptop!

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Reality check: Most of the jet-setting freelancers are single and have an on-the-go lifestyle anyway. It’s highly unlikely your spouse and/or kids’ schedules will allow them to also pick up and go. But, being able to dictate your own schedule does allow you to be available for your kids or work around a spouse’s tricky hours.

Myth: You’ll think after Googling “freelance writing jobs how to make money” and trying it out, you can make six figures in your first year.

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Reality check: this is the most dangerous association made about freelancing. Yes, freelance work is the type of job where you can create additional revenue streams. But it takes work, self discipline, processes and tools.

Remember when you were a little kid and you learned milk comes from cows and not the carton in the refrigerator? Becoming a freelancer is a lot like that.

The Benefits of Working From Home

Let me make a slight distinction between freelancing and working from home (WFH).

In this case, the former refers to being an entrepreneur where you market your skills and services, close business, fulfill projects, and repeat the cycle anew.  The latter could mean you have a particular set of skills that is conducive to operating out of your home (i.e. writer) and are employed full time with the ability to work remotely (i.e. from home).

Deciding to quit your day job and becoming a solopreneur because you want the benefits of a freelance lifestyle is inherently risky. If you don’t know what’s involved, there is a better way to dip your toe into the water.

There are certain types of jobs that afford you the ability to work from home. But there’s a big difference between being employed and getting to WFH and WFH as as a freelancer.

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Source: LinkedIn news stories feed, August 21, 2018

The key words in there are “if they’re in the right professions.”

If you simply want to work from home, here’s a helpful list of 50 Work-From-Home Jobs Paying as Much or a Lot More Than the Average American Salary by my friend and entrepreneur, John Rampton.

Similarly, he is someone who can attest to a handful of disadvantages of freelance work.  From my perspective, I’m documenting what I’m finding to be the realities of freelance life.

 

Freelance Reality

Anyone who tells you all about their glamorous lifestyle as a remote worker who freelances could use your unwavering stare as you await their honest answer.

It’s unfortunate that the corporate workplace gets painted as a cubicle prison, and freelance is the paradigm of freedom. A lifestyle with work-life balance that we all aspire to (I mean, it even has the word “free” built into the word).

 

The truth is anyone can freelance.  The reality is not everyone can thrive doing it.

You should never quit your full time day job if the income from your side hustle doesn’t cover your basic monthly expenses, and don’t forget about insurance and benifits. Re-read that sentence if you need to.

Now, I realize hearing that sucks because some people really are in crappy jobs and it’s just easier to quit and start your own thing. You can absolutely do that but take these two nuggets of wisdom before you leap:

  1. Use the time to build up your side hustle before you leave an existing income.
  2. Become really self aware of your strengths as a sole proprietor that contribute to growing your business and brand. And recognize what you should outsource.

For a while I thought my day job ate into the hours I could be spending investing in my side business. What I now realize is that you can always learn something from your exposure to any business. A day job in the industry you want to be in gives you context, contacts, and experience.

It’s easy to zone out and get comfortable at a 9-5. But what most people don’t realize about freelance work is that it will become your job to push yourself and motivate yourself and to time manage yourself accordingly.

Business doesn’t just come rolling in if you don’t know how to do outreach and identify and pitch prospects.

Projects don’t just get done if you don’t prioritize your time and do the work to deliver it on time.

And, fun fact: you’re the one responsible for making sure you get paid!

The reality, is you have to manage yourself.

When you work for someone else, you don’t have to think about or do all of the other things that come with running a business.

But, when you run the show, you must learn to discipline yourself in prioritizing your tasks and time.

What’s more, you must be frugal with your spending. Since month-to-month will be feast or famine, if you want to survive you’d better be a saver not a spender (somebody put that on a T-shirt!).

What you don’t hear freelancers talk about are things like:

  • Getting leads is an ongoing process and it’s largely about tapping into your network.
  • Becoming profitable means creating a sustainable referral-based business.
  • You’re going to have to figure out what to charge (hourly and project rates), and why.
  • You have to be able to clearly articulate what you do, what value you bring, what problem you solve and why someone should hire you.
  • If you market yourself online you’re going to want to set up a blog, landing page or website to capture leads and talk about your services.

3 Challenges of Being A Freelancer (and sources for overcoming them)

  1. Paying for healthcare out of pocket
  2. Paying taxes on your new income
  3. Making sure you have legal protection

Healthcare for self-employed: If you can get onto your spouse’s plan, it’s worth looking into. Otherwise, I learned about eHealth insurance that can provide plans for individuals or small businesses with at least one employee. The catch is that you have to wait for the open enrollment period (which begins in November).

Taxes: How much do I need to set aside? When should I pay taxes on freelance projects? The answer is, it depends. The best advice I can offer you is to get a tax guy (I’m happy to refer you to mine) who can accurately advise you on when and how much you’ll need to set aside for taxes. I’ve heard paying taxes on your freelance income quarterly is helpful.

Pro tip: Have a blank W2 form handy to be able to sign, scan and send to new clients so you can invoice them as an independent contractor.

Online business legalities: Whats the “legal side” of what you need to know about an online business? This is a seemingly daunting topic which I’ve been slowly reading up on. I came across a great resource by Christy Westerfeld. Start by reading her post on uncomplicating legal here.

 

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Freelancing…

  1. Focusing on doing more of “the right things” daily that grow your business and prospects is invaluable. Specifically, spending two hours a day networking to build your pipeline. Also, set up systems to stay accountable doing things like attending networking events, creating content with an influencer, asking for a referral, and doing work that builds your portfolio.
  2. Be ruthless with scheduling and managing your time. This article on FastCompany (3 minute read) gave me perspective and new things to try, “How To Schedule Your Day For Peak Creative Performance.”
  3. Develop templates for repeatable paperwork like proposals, SOW’s (scope of work), invoices, etc.
  4. Organize your network in three groups: Prospects, Mentors, Peers.  Execute your outreach in that order.
  5. Don’t give up your gym membership. You’ll need an outlet and a supportive community to help you maintain perspective through the ups and downs of being your own boss.

 

Fantastic & Pactical Freelance Resources

Here’s who I wish I knew when starting out — and who I’m still learning from 😉

He’s one of the best out there for practical, actionable steps towards building a profitable side business. What’s more, Ryan is incredibly generous to others finding their way and has compiled and shared his best proposal templates for earning new business and converting leads into clients.

Pro tip: His podcast The Side Hustle Project: How to Start A Side Hustle Today is loaded with great interviews and information.

Credo connects businesses with vetted digital marketing providers. It’s ideal for companies that need SEO services and a lead resource for search engine optimization freelance professionals who want consistent work.

Due provides seamless payment solutions for businesses of all sizes. The site also has products and informative resources like a Consulting Guide and Freelancer Guide to help others get started.

If you’re not fired up and ready to attack the day after listening to Gary, I don’t know what else will do it for you. He talks entrepreneurship 24/7 — he even built his own search engine so you can get his thoughts and ideas on any topic.

Ideal for people who’ve spent hours trying to make their digital marketing business work but are out of ideas for closing business and getting more clients.

  • Christina Pashialis

A fellow freelance marketer based in the UK who shared her own powerfully honest learnings about freelance.

Last but definitely not least, Rand Fishkin. His book “Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World” is always within eyesight on my desk.

I’ll be sure to add more helpful resources here as I come across them 😀

Summary – Freelance jobs are the way of the future

Today, more than ever, jobs in the “professional services” industry are on the rise.

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Source: Mary Meeker – Internet Trends Report 2018

It’s not surprising since the nature of freelance work is largely equated to having a more flexible schedule and the ability to work from home. The data definitely reflects this.

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Source: Mary Meeker – Internet Trends Report 2018

 

It saddens me that freelance work isn’t a more viable option for more people. I believe it offers better flexibility for working parents. Especially those with the means to travel and take their children to see and experience new places. I believe there are people who are trustworthy and capable of working remotely who don’t need to be “visible” around the office in order to be productive. There are may positive aspects to freelance work but it’s important to understand that things like income and projects don’t just appear.

It’s all about executing on the right advice.

Execute on the right things for long enough, and you will be successful. These days, my definition of success as a freelancer is making an income that covers my rent and basic monthly expenses, making time for healthy meal prep along with daily fitness, and being home when my fiancé is also off work.

The dream of leading a freelance lifestyle – and IMHO, all of it’s inaccuracies – is still incredibly attractive to many people.  That being said, how you achieve financial success, grow your business, market your skills and services is where the real work will always need to be put in.

The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.

 

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The Busy Marketer’s Guide to Google’s Broad Core Algorithm Update of 8/1

Are you sitting down?

Good. Because Google just announced they made an algorithm update on August 1, 2018. They rarely confirm any kind of update let alone one having to do with their algorithm.

Still, the August announcement was made via the Twitter account from Google Search Liaison (@searchliaison).

Here is the tweet:

Google SearchLiaison on Twitter

Google SearchLiaison @searchliaison

When did the algorithm update happen?

Here’s what makes this Broad Core (BC) algorithm update special, 8/1 is the third iteration of a broad core update that’s been announced this year. Which means Google is actively communicating to webmasters about algorithm improvements.

Here’s a quick overview of the timeline from SEO industry heavyweights:

Per the Tweet above, these types of updates are done “routinely several times per year.”

More threads on Twitter expanded upon Google’s explanation around the latest 8/1 release:

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This part of the Tweet is interesting to note, “There is nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefitting pages that were previously under-rewarded…”

Marketers & SEO’s shouldn’t jump to make changes to pages that may have slipped in rankings. It might be prudent to check pages that were ranking in striking distance position to page 1 (positions 11-20) to see if those pages are now ranking higher.

The speculation continued last week all the while the BC algorithm continues to roll out into the second week of August.

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What is the Broad Core Update?

So there’s “no fix” only, get better. In my opinion, the takeaway around the BC algorithm is that it is related to the types of quality updates seen with Panda (maybe even to an extent Phantom) where pages with thin content did not rank well.

It seems like a re-evaluation of pages that have good content but have been underperforming. Meeting user intent (or relevancy) is a factor. Maybe searchers have been returning to the SERPS and clicking on what they feel to be better, more relevant results, further down the page?

All in all, Google wants to provide the best results to the searcher and better understanding the human intent behind the query or keyword search helps them refine their listings.

It would seem this BC update relates to Google’s core algorithm.

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The takeaway: “This is a broader general change to the core algorithm.”

What does Google want at its core? Quality. It wants to provide the best individual user experience possible to the person asking a question or typing in a noun into their search box.

Marie Haynes, a recognized industry authority figure on algorithms, shared a few insights from here client’s data and clues about potentially affected industries:

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What industries were affected? 

Furthermore, Haynes’ data indicated the 8/1 update strongly affected sites dealing with diet products, nutrition and medical products otherwise known as YMYL (Your Money Or Your Life) sites.

  • “It is important to note that most sites that I monitor did not see any significant changes. However, the majority of those that did see changes were very strongly affected” Haynes said.
  • In her opinion, the update is primarily about trust. Many sites that were hit were sites that lacked author E-A-T, lacked reputation information, or were selling products that could be deemed untrustworthy.

I happen to agree with her completely, especially on the point of sites needing to invest in content that reflects Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.

Large service based businesses have been known to publish lots of pages that probably have little value (or content) on them simply because at one point, everyone thought more content translated into better rankings. But it doesn’t. It marginally increases the potential to have more pages ranking because you have a higher volume of pages in Google’s index. It doesn’t mean the content is of high quality.

Assuming this BC update is based on course correcting where Google is looking for more quality signals, it does not mean webmasters need more pages; it means they need to improve upon the pages that already exist.

Another trusted resource of the SEO community is Glenn Gabe. He has compiled two extensive blog posts detailing his data and the insights he is seeing thus far from this update. Here are a few of his highlights; clues to quality and relevance factors:

Gabe’s Clues:

  • March was a global update impacting domains across categories and countries.
  • The impact was site-wide rather than at the page level.
  • “In January of 2016, we found out that Panda became part of Google’s core ranking algorithm… Panda seemed to focus more on relevance rather than hammering sites that were low-quality.”
  • The March and April updates were big. Relevance AND quality stood out.
  • Make fixes and don’t roll them back. “Google’s John Mueller has explained several times that Google wants to see significant improvement over the long-term.”

Simply put, Relevance and Quality are the keys to these broad updates happening throughout this year. It’s very possible these two factors will continue to be at the forefront of future BC updates.

What should we do?

First things first 😉

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Now that we know there’s no quick fix (hint: there never really is). Marketers & SEO’s alike should “focus on building great content.” Here’s my caveat: remain focused on building great content by improving upon what you have and provide a great website experience for users and bots that’s technically sound. If we do that, we’ll weather the upcoming iterations of Google’s broad core algorithm updates.

Reversals in organic traffic can happen (meaning your traffic dips for a time then comes back up) but webmasters should not simply wait around and do nothing. This is an opportunity to improve the elements on our web domain that are within our control. Here are the top recommendations and action steps I compiled from Gabe and Haynes:

  1. Improve your website: add useful & helpful content, address any technical SEO issues, improve the user experience, cut down on pop-up ads and boxes “join-our-newsletter requests” that obstruct the visitor from seeing your content.
  2. Don’t revert changes – Keep the fixes in place for at least several months.
  3. Analyze queries and content that lost rankings – Check the queries the page was ranking for, evaluate the on-page content with an objective eye to see if the page is relevant to the search intent.
  4. Perform real user testing – Invest in asking a handful of people to navigate your site with a goal in mind. Have them narrate the experience, record it, and make changes based on the findings. A fresh pair of eyes can help you see where to make improvements.
  5. Read the QRT – Quality Rater Guidelines and have working review sections with your team. You can download the PDF of the general guidelines updated in July.
  6. Use the GSC Index Coverage Report – This is a newer section of Search Console that helps webmasters understand which pages Google is indexing and which pages it’s not. Gabe recommends keeping a close eye on the “Excluded,” reporting. That’s where you can often find serious problems. It contains pages that Google has crawled, but decided NOT to index for some reason.
    1. GSC Location: Status>>Index Coverage>>Excluded

Continue to monitor rankings for organic search traffic (especially on mobile!) from mid July through mid August since the update is still presumed to be rolling out this week.

Could your content and website use help identifying technical SEO improvements and specific quality and content areas to address during this update?

Contact me for an SEO Site Audit by emailing me at itsmillertime0baby (at) gmail.com. Subject line: SEO Site Audit – BC Update.

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Growing Up Millennial – Online Marketing Consultant Explains How ‘Kids Today’ Use Social Media

Imaging there is no Facebook. No Instagram. No Twitter. No Snapchat. What do you spend your time doing? Who are you telling that story to about your weekend adventure in LA rescuing the neighbor’s cat and breaking into your friend’s apartment because you were out partying but they fell asleep on the couch. Who is listening to you? Who are you telling your stories to?

Not, who are you broadcasting your life to, because there is difference. Hopefully, another human being maybe?

But let’s (be kind and) rewind this VHS tape back to the start to get a glimpse of the Millennial foundation.

Facebook was founded in February 2004.  I was at Chapman University in Southern California at the time. I remember responding to a petition where our .edu email addresses were required in order to gain access the platform. There were other universities signing up too, but it took a certain number of signatures in order for Facebook to extend access to your university to the platform. They did. At the time, it was a closed platform for students only and it was glorious.

FTV dance hall party

Oh yes, kids, our film school hallway dance parties were…epic 😉

I remember the fun in sharing pictures from the party the night before, adding random commentary and tagging friends. We thought nothing more of it than a photo-sharing-I-just-ate-a-sandwich-status-update website. At one point everyone’s relationship status was “it’s complicated” because…it’s funny. Also, at the time there was NO MOBILE app; I would come back from class and have to log into Facebook’s desktop site to see updates.

Fast forward to 2014 where over half a billion users access Facebook exclusively through mobile devices.

When Facebook opened its doors to everyone, they held their initial IPO in May of 2012, our online world changed overnight. Suddenly, everyone’s mom was on the platform. Employers could see where you were on Monday night. Having the proper relationship status’s actually became important (gah!). We all became highly aware of the nuances of a public vs. private post. In that moment, we became our own brand ambassadors almost immediately.

Shifting to some of the other social giants, Twitter was founded in March 2006. I joined April 2009.

Instagram launched in October 2010. I was late to the game and got on this platform in May 2015 (based on the date of my very first photo on IG).

Snapchat crashed the party in September 2011. I dipped my toe in, getting on board in 2013.

At this point, Facebook remains the only platform of which I’ve been an early adopter. But my point is that Millennial’s largely matured on this and similar platforms. We’re somewhat used to the microscopic fame of our social media profiles. And it’s only been just over a decade.

Social media has defined the Millennial generation and created a black-swan effect that’s largely still being played out. Scroll through any 30-something’s feed of vacation selfies and you’ll see how susceptible we are to the comparison-syndrome trap which leads to feelings of inadequacy.  This year, Facebook hit its 2 billion monthly user mark.  That kind of size is a delicate balance “where it’s worth really taking a careful look at what are all the things that we can do to make social media the most positive force for good possible.” That was from Facebook Chief Product Officer, Chris Cox.

With great power comes great responsibility.

At this stage in our lives and careers, many Millennial’s are seeking social media and technology that makes life easier. Whether we’re single, have kids, or are newly married, we’re the generation that knows how and where to search to get things done. Millennial’s are the generation most receptive to online interactions with the largest purchasing power, acute search capability, and a general zest for sharing photos of our lives and the occasional bad brand experience. We’re our own filmmakers kicking off a live video to share something cool, funny or unique.

The good news is we still have the ability to choose which stories of our own and others to amplify. Even better, with heroes like Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, Amy Cuddy, and Brene Brown my suspicion is we’ll turn out to be a pretty good lot after all.

One can only hope 😉

Email Marketing: A Little Known Way To Remain Relevant In Their Inbox

I thought this was a great and rather unique example of an email that aims to re-calibrate the level of engagement. Essentially proactively saying, we noticed you may need less communication: “We haven’t heard from you in a while, how can we adjust the frequency of our communication so you don’t unsubscribe completely.”

Ok, I’ll bite and open your email. I admit, I’ve been away from my personal inbox a bit more lately actively engaging in the physical world (#girlswhotrain). And also trying to be diligent about saving a bit of cash not buying every new Reebok shoe that comes on the market.

This email has a great approach because it taps into why I connect with the Spartan brand, reminding me of the mindset of never giving up. And the fact that they noticed I haven’t been clicking through to the website (clearly a diligent marketer leveraging their data & ESP). We, the brand, respect your training time and mental capacity so let’s actively provide you with a way to adjust the frequency of emails accordingly. I love how they use the illustration of buckets as a CTA to continue to engage with the brand at my own pace.

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How can you show your non-engaged consumers that you notice them? What can you do to ask them how they want to be communicated to or how often they want to hear from you?

Reading List From A Digital Marketing Specialist

I typically over prepare for questions I might get asked on webinars or talks I’m giving. But I was recently part of a panel at an event hosted by the San Diego American Marketing Association where I was asked a question about what books I’ve read that have had the most influence on my professional career.

Holly Miller speaker

Top-Of-The-Funnel: Awareness Strategies & Technologies

For a split second, I blanked.

But, I’ve actually read quite a bit! I’m the type of person that’s reading 2-3 books at a time. So, for personal and professional development, productivity, and all-around inspiration here is the batch of books I highly recommend checking out:

“Lost And Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World” – Rand Fishkin
“Emotional Agility” – Susan David, PhD
“Settle for More” – Megyn Kelly (hand’s down the book is amazing)
“And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side” – Dana Perino
“Let Me Tell You about Jasper . . .: How My Best Friend Became America’s Dog” – Dana Perino
“The 48 Laws of Power” – Robert Greene
“The Art of Seduction” – Robert Greene
“Mastery” – Robert Greene
“Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” – Brene Brown
“The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that fuel Success and Performance at Work” – Shawn Achor
“Being in Balance: 9 Principles for Creating Habits to Match Your Desires” – Wayne Dyer
“Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships” – Daniel Goleman
“First you have to row a little boat” – Richard Bode
“Marketing Genius” – Peter Fisk
“Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” – Brian Tracy
“The Power of Myth” – Joseph Campbell
“On The Shortness of Life” – Seneca

 

Now, the next time I get asked this question, I’ll be able to say “oh, on my blog itsmillertimebaby.com, you can find a list of the books I recommend.” 🙂

sandiegoama_photo

Having a laugh along with Alan Bush

About the event: Top-Of-The-Funnel: Awareness Strategies & Technologies

Our first-ever event collaboration with SoCal Marketing Club was an unqualified success! An SRO crowd heard about the latest trends in awareness strategies and technologies from our all-star panel: Alan Bush of Ignite Visibility, Holly Miller of Searchmetrics, Donovan Moore of Goodway Group, Adam Wagner of Raindrop Marketing and moderator John Bertino of The Agency Guy. Many thanks to our lead event sponsor Searchmetrics, to Downtown Works for the fantastic space, to Stella Artois and California Fruit Wine Co. for the tasty adult beverages, and to Lenóce photo for capturing the spirit of the evening. @sandiegoama

4 Lessons In Online Marketing I Learned From Mom

In recent weeks, Google has officially begun phasing out the existence of its right-rail ads. As you can imagine, removing ads from one position means they’ll show up in another. Presently, this means up to four PPC ads can appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) thereby pushing the organic listings completely below the fold. The example below illustrates this point and shows how product listing ads (PLAs) occupy the right rail for transaction based queries.

Google removes right rail ads

While it’s not the case with this particular search above, the increase in page one real estate is very real!  In some cases, the number of organic listings on page one has decreased from ten listings to seven. That’s if users even scroll below the fold. As an SEO savvy to the consumer journey, I can’t stress how important it is to provide a seamless user experience that captures the transaction after the user moves from the SERP onto your site. Let me illustrate using my favorite, observable test subject; my mom.

It’s funny, marketers sometimes go to a lot of trouble organizing focus groups and selecting just the right individuals to represent their “target market.” But if you really want to know when and where customers are abandoning your site, watch your parents navigate the domain.

During a recent holiday with my parents, I watched my mom book tours and excursions online. The website (which will remain anonymous for this post) that my mom was attempting to book our tickets on using her tablet, provided such a poor user experience. She was unable to properly confirm the reservation had even been made (seriously, you don’t at least provide copy that says “Thank you for your reservation…”) that she proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes on the phone trying to reach a real person in the customer service department to confirm the reservation.

The frustration and confusion caused by this website’s booking design is completely unnecessary and very fixable. Here are the four highly frictional elements which nearly caused my mom not to compete the transaction:

  1. Required a login & password.
  2. Not providing the option to at least check out as a guest.
  3. Multiple information-requesting steps asking for the airline name, arrival and departure dates, even date of birth (seriously!?) prior to purchase.
  4. The website design was not formatted for a tablet device.

Don’t try be original, just be better.

As a consultant, I am constantly observing how elements on a page can help or hinder whether or not the consumer takes action. Simply doing the opposite of the four obstacles listed above will improve your user experience.  One-time visits to book tickets online or make a reservation should not require  a username/ password; it is literally too much for the customer to think about creating yet another username and password for your site that they’ll actually remember.  Which is why providing the option to check out as a “guest” is much more seamless and hassle free to the customer.

If the information requested during the time of checkout is not relevant to the actual tour, it should not be required. Ultimately, the number of steps towards completing a purchase should be as few as possible. If your business requires certain forms of information, indicate to the consumer what information is required versus what is optional. This at least ensures you get the necessary customer information all the while continuing to move them on their way towards their booking goal.

Lastly, website design should be formatted to the device (mobile, desktop or tablet). Otherwise, customers can quickly became frustrated at not being able to see how to successfully complete their transaction and may abandon the process without completing the sale.  Customer, gone.

With the increased competition for page one real estate in the Google SERP, it is imperative for e-commerce and service-oriented websites to provide an efficient online experience that quickly and securely ensures the transaction is complete and assures the customer of their purchase.

Anything less means your competitors will pick up the sale where your website left off.

The Inversion Point is Coming – Is Your Mobile Site Ready To Handle Business?

As Joe DeMike, Principal Marketing Consultant at Google explained at IMPACT14 this September, there is an inversion point that’s coming with regard to mobile devices.  Simply put, there will come a point in the very near future where traffic from mobile devices to your company website will overtake that of traffic from desktop (and we’re talking organic traffic). Companies need to be ready and they need to be able to provide a seamless, frictionless experience on the customer path to purchase.

Case in point, I used two types of car services to get me to and from the airport while traveling to the Impact14 conference in Las Vegas this year. I booked an Uber from my office to the airport and I took a cab from LAX back to my office.

Here’s the key difference in my choice of words which, I’ll explain, simultaneously illustrates the difference between companies that are optimizing for mobile experiences versus those that are not: I booked the Uber—implying preference in my transportation arrangements whereas I had to “take” a cab from the airport because Uber drivers are no longer allowed to pick up from the airport…Lame.

Read on and see which seamless and frictionless experience you would prefer:

The Uber

  • Exiting my office building, I open the Uber app and use the pinpoint location to alert a nearby driver I would like to be picked up.
  • Moments later, I get a text message saying my driver is en route and the expected wait time is less than 5 minutes.
  • The driver pleasantly greeted me. He offered me bottled water and gum upon getting settled inside his clean, well-kept vehicle.
  • The driver used the company-provided smartphone to input my desired location.
  • We chatted back and forth during the entire ride to the airport.
  • Since my payment details are on file with Uber, there was no swiping of my credit card or fishing through my purse for cash—even tip is factored into the Uber rides.
  • In short, I arrived at my destination and left the car feeling happy and knowing that I would use Uber’s services again.

The Cab

  • Exited baggage claim at LAX and climbed into the cab giving the driver the exact office address for my destination. He did nothing with the information except nod, start the meter and shift the car into drive.
  • We spend the next minute debating the state of traffic conditions on the freeway versus side streets. When it becomes apparent to me that the cab driver does not know which route is faster, I pull out my smart phone. A quick look on sigalert.com ends the discussion; we will take the freeway (where is his smartphone?).
  • No conversation.
  • I advise the cab driver to exit the freeway and proceed to Pico to make a quick left and then right using back roads to the office (seriously, where is his smart phone?). He is flustered saying “but you said it was on Olympic?…” I say, “this method takes the back roads, it’s OK.”
  • The cab pulls up outside the office. This being the part where we exchange money for his service, I tell the cab driver I will be paying with a credit card and would like a receipt. His reaction is one of visible displeasure that I don’t have cash to give him.
  • I swipe my card into the machine and tip him 20% (since I’m such an inconvenience). The machine doesn’t work and I have to repeat the process again (seriously?!). Finally, receipt in hand, I silently vow not to take a cab again unless I absolutely have to.

These two experiences are night and day and, to a large degree, illuminate the disparity between companies that have optimized their websites to handle mobile engagement and transactions versus those that have yet to. A snippet from DeMike’s presentation, “mobile users will notice and be delighted by the small things you do for them to enhance their experience.” Some of the unique user needs (Read: mobile optimization principles) included:

  • Optimize your entire site for mobile
  • Don’t make users pinch-to-zoom
  • Make product images expandable
  • Tell users which screen orientation works best (if applicable)
  • Keep your user in a single browser window
  • Be clear why you need a user’s location

As it stands, there is a big disparity between the companies that are ahead of the game and those still thinking of getting on board the mobile bandwagon. The time for thinking has past. It’s time for action. I agree, the inversion point will happen and when it does, upon finishing an experience with a brand on a mobile device, marketers will want their customers feeling happy and knowing they’ll use the brand’s services again.

For your viewing pleasure, here are a few snapshots of what this years presenters had to say on mobile.  The IMPACT14 conference is an annual event hosted by the Internet Marketing Association.

Joe DeMike's technical check list

mobile commerce

build best in class experience

Cross device compatability

build app that enhances site

Please visit the event photo gallery for more photos of the event.