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11 Lessons Learned From 11 Years In Business

Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Jun 24, 2012
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Last year on this date I celebrated my 10th year of working for myself. I love milestones obviously and I thought that was an important one because most people that try to work on their own don’t even make 5 years.


That’s not my desk lol

And yet, that was more of a nostalgic post about me than about anything else, and that’s fine overall. But this year, on this blog (since that post above goes to my business blog) I decided to share some lessons I’ve learned in these 11 years. They’re not all good lessons on the surface, but they all contribute in some fashion to helping others, and still helping myself, to improve in some fashion, whether you work on your own or not. Here we go:

1. Most people really aren’t prepared to do this. When I started my business I hadn’t actually planned on starting it then. I was working up to starting six months later, but circumstances were out of my hands. Still, even if I’d started six months later I wouldn’t have been prepared for what was coming. The book Before You Quit Your Job by Robert Kiyosaki hadn’t been written yet, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know, let alone what I knew. Preparation really is key, and it might have made some decisions I made a lot smarter.

2. Getting comfortable with marketing and sales is going to be crucial. You know the people who make me sick? Those that say “I don’t have to market because I get all my business by referral. Trust me, unless you’re an old salt who was in a particular business for 30 years and everyone knows you you’re going to have to market at some point. And if you’re like me, coming from a non-profit background where we were the only game in town, you’re going to have to learn a lot about it. Man, the mistakes I made, and the mistakes I continue to make would make for a book that some would claim was stranger than fiction.

3. You’re going to have your ego bruised, and it could be crushing. You won’t believe this, but my actual employed working life was about 85% perfect over the course of 18 years. I always got lots of kudos for the work I did and I got along with almost everyone. I knew my stuff cold; no one could tell me I didn’t know how to fix anything, or come up with the correct thing to do.


I wasn’t as sad
as I look here

But on my own? People question you even if they hire you because they don’t want to do what you recommend to them. The first guy who read the first 25% of my book asked me if I’d ever written anything in my life because it was the worst thing he’d ever seen. My first newsletter got so many bad comments, none on the content though, that I almost decided I was never going to publish one.

I worked with a guy in NYC that decided to try to tell people I was the worst consultant he’d ever seen (luckily, his reputation was so bad that people saw that as a good thing). I’ve had people who didn’t know me well hear me say things I didn’t say and not hear things I did say, and I took the blame for it. And even after all these years, all the articles and blogs I have online and the speaking engagements I’ve done, every day I have to start again because there’s still 99.9963% of potential clients who have no idea who I am or what I do.

4. Cash flow is going to be a major problem. My first year of working on my own I only made $7,000; good thing I had great credit and unemployment. My first 3 years were really tough. My next 3 years were awesome. My last 4 years have been fair to middlin’. If I wasn’t a great budgeter and someone who has figured out the hustle when it’s really needed I might be in big trouble now. As it is all big bills are paid except for my mortgage; whew! But none of it would be possible without my wife’s help and her insurance.

5. Time is not your friend. I have never missed a deadline on a project, but I have worked some extreme hours at times. For one project that had to be done for a client in a time zone 10 hours ahead of ours, I had 10 hours of sleep in 3 days because they really needed it. I got paid well for it, but it was a killer. Early on I used to work 20 hours a day; now I’m down to about 10 – 12 hours a day but I kill time here and there for balance, and still only sleep maybe 5 or 6 hours if lucky.

On the other end, I always feel like marketing at 10PM and never during the day; that’s obviously a problem. I’m always at work since I work from home and I’m always working for that next dollar. When cash flow is low there’s not enough time in the day to look for contracts, work on contracts, and eat.

6. Staying healthy in general stops being a priority. I mentioned eating as an issue, but there are other things we need to take care of. In the summer I tend to walk a lot. In the winter I usually did nothing, and since I sit at the computer almost all day and all night it was affecting my health. I ended up joining a gym so I’d take care of some of those issues when it gets cold, and I continue walking in the summer. I’ve had to schedule my time during the day to take a break and eat, otherwise I’d miss it.

I’ve had to schedule when I take medication and when to brush my teeth, otherwise I won’t do it. I need to schedule when to work out. And now, at least once an hour, I get up from my desk and walk to the kitchen and back because it’s the longest distance from my office, 65 steps. And I’ve lost 20 pounds, and still working on it; have to work on making health a priority.


My first girlfriend;
my wife’s still jealous

7. The good times aren’t constant but when they’re good, they’re great. How great are they? There’s absolutely no pressure when the good times come. I bought two cars with a check and no financing. I went to lots of conferences. I ate lunch out every day. I paid someone else to try some marketing for me. And I budgeted because I knew there would need to be some balance; thank goodness for that foresight.

8. The freedom is amazing. You know, even through the bad times and the pressure, there’s a freedom that’s unparallelled. You might work a lot of hours but you know that at the end of it you’re the one benefiting from it, along with those you’re doing work for, not some employer who could care less about you and your needs. If you get into the right career your income is dependent upon your efforts. You can make as much or as little as possible. You can pick your own hours to work. You can pretty much do anything you want to as long as you have the money to do it.

9. You learn that you really can’t do it all alone. There’s a lot of stuff I know and can do, and for the first 3 years in business I did it all. At a certain point though I realized I needed some help in different ways. I hired an accountant and that took a major load off my mind. I contacted others in my field of expertise who knew others and helped spread my name around, and I started getting some contract work from people I’d have never met otherwise.

I learned that sometimes advice you give to others is advice someone then has to give back to you when your mind has gone astray. I joined associations of people who do what I do and understand the issues of being an independent consultant because they know how to offer support. And I’ve learned how to work in collaboration with others for some projects, because even a little piece of something big is still pretty nice.

10. You need to be really judgmental in working with others. I’ve done fairly well in this regard but I have some horror stories as well. I got taken advantage of by a guy who paid me almost nothing to do 2 4-hour training sessions on a topic where I was the only one who could have done it because I hadn’t yet learned how to price my services better. I worked with another company doing some work where I never got any feedback on how to do it their way until I didn’t do it their way, and it was 7 months of frustration; if you can’t communicate with others you’re doomed to fail.

I’ve had people offer me things early on that sounded like they’d be a good deal, only to figure out they were trying to take advantage of me and trying to use me to sell their products and not sell myself, without being paid for it. And I’ve had people who agreed to pay me for things that never paid me, people trying to trick me by saying they were going to pay me that ended up being a scam, and people who told me one thing without being able to follow through in one way or another.

It can happen in the other direction as well though. You might be so cautious that you miss out on what would have been a great opportunity. I’m normally a good judge of character, and learned that desperation, or lack thereof, should never be considered when looking into potential opportunities or liabilities. I have a friend who saw an opportunity that looked really good because he knew the person who presented it to him and thus signed up, only to learn later on that person wasn’t actually the one running things and the person who was running things was unethical.

In general, if the Spidey senses tingle even a little bit, learn more, learn a lot more, then make an informed decision. But always trust your senses.


Why my moral base is strong

11. The majority of people will treat you as you treat them, so make sure your moral base is strong. Y’all know I’m not religious, so in my mind religion and morality are two different things. If you’ve been following this blog even six months you know my morals are based on three principles: loyalty, honesty and trustworthiness. I could add two more, but they’re in longer form: be as nice as possible as often as possible, and if you can’t be nice, be accurate so no one can accuse you of not thinking straight.

If you try to do right by people it comes back to you. If you try to help others it comes back to you. If you show loyalty to others it comes back to you, even if not from the same people. Be open, but don’t be a victim. Be wise and sharing but don’t give it all away. Think of yourself first (this includes your family), protect yourself first, ALWAYS, no matter what anyone else says, and then think of others and what they need; I think 51% to 49% is a good ratio. In business, as in life, you can’t help anyone if your life isn’t secure first.

Yes, this was long, but so is 11 years in business for a sole proprietor. If even one person learns something from this post that will help them make better decisions down the road, I’ll be happy; of course, I’d love thousands of people to read it anyway. :-) But our dreams and goals are for us and no one else; keep pushing forward, keep trying, and try never to see yourself as a failure; as I always say, tomorrow is another chance to start again.
 

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Are We Right To Fear “Too Big”

Posted by Mitch Mitchell on May 31, 2012
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In the last few weeks the names Facebook and Google have come up a lot in conversations around the world. To many it’s for different reasons; to me, it’s for the same exact reason. Yes, it’s time for a minor rant.


by Henri Bergius via Flickr

People have been talking about Facebook for two things; going public and having their stock price not meet expectations, and of course for the privacy issue. For Google, it’s been their Penguin and Panda updates and a changing of SEO rules that have been standard for many years, rules they actually gave to us to follow.

However, what it boils down to in the end is our distrust for entities that have gotten too big, so big that they affect our lives even if we’re not a part of them. For instance, it’s my belief that every person in the U.S. is on either Google or Facebook, whether they know it or not. Either they have voluntarily “outed” themselves to establish a presence online or someone else has outed them. My grandmother never looked at a computer in her life, yet before I mentioned her when she got sick I could look up her name and find at least cursory information on her.

Why do we fear “too big” and should we? I tend to believe we should. After all, “too big” is what’s responsible for us being in the financial mess we’ve been in for the last 6 years, and trust me it’s been 6 years. The mega-banks were responsible for the housing crisis, and those same banks, along with many mega-international banks, were responsible for so many countries having their countries credit ratings drop and have some of those countries go into default.

In some countries Microsoft and Google are considered a monopoly. In this country, AT&T was broken up decades ago because they pretty much monopolized telecommunications, and they’re slowly working their way back into that same position. And have you wondered why so few cable companies control more than 95% of our cable access? Is there anyone in the country that actually has more than one cable choice in their area?

When companies get too big, they tell us it’s in our benefit because they can offer us services to make our lives easier. What we find in reality is that we pay more money for things and that they decide how to control our lives. Without Google being such a big deal, do you really think our traffic would have fallen do drastically over the past year? After all, there are other search engines; does a Google change in algorithms change how they work? And has anyone else noticed that at the same time the initial changes went through that Google reduced the amount they pay on your Adsense account per click?

There has never been a single company that’s grown big that’s benefited anyone. The auto industry needs to have multiple car makers so prices stay relatively low. We need multiple gas stations to help keep gas prices low. We need multiple mobile phone operators to help keep those prices low and offer choices when it comes to the services we want to avail ourselves of. We need multiple airlines so that they’ll compete for our business, even if the government is doing what it can to make air travel unpalatable.

Think about this; why don’t we trust our government, the people we elect to represent us? Because they’re too big, to the point where the majority of people that get elected have no idea what most of us go through because they haven’t been “us” in years, if ever. That goes for all branches of government, even some local town governments, which in my mind we don’t really need because it just means there are more levels of government to deal with and everyone passing the buck when we have specific issues we need addressed.

Unfortunately, I’d have to agree that we do have to worry about “too big”. I’d also have to say that there’s not much we can do about it either. Big government stinks, but look at what the Tea Party has done to it as a small group of politicians. Big cable stinks but look at all the services they can offer as opposed to the other companies that can offer some comparable channels, but nothing like what the big boys can. There aren’t a lot of options when it comes to operating systems for either computers or cellphones, and usually only the one option in a community for landlines.

Ah, but we do have some online options don’t we? There are other search engines, and if we stop catering to Google as much they’ll come around and start treating us fairly. You don’t have to use Facebook, as there are new networking opportunities coming up every day. You don’t have to use Twitter and based on figures an overwhelming number of people who sign up aren’t using it. If there’s the one place all of us really have options, it’s online. Sure, the big boys offer things we can’t get anywhere else as far as completeness goes, but there are multiple companies that offer at least pieces of things we want.

In other words, there are always choices online, and when we start thinking that one company has too much leeway over us we can choose someone else and help them grow. or create something yourself and become the player you were always meant to be.

Just stay humble; otherwise, we’ll have to think about leaving you as well. :-)
 

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A MLM Rant

Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Feb 11, 2012
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I’m tired of seeing them; the sneaky messages that never tell you what you might be getting yourself into, the ones that promise the world. Yes, I’m talking about MLM schemes, and they’re all over the place. These things waste my time and yours as well. And you’re not going to make all that much money from it.

I’ve written before about watching out for scams far and wide. Just last week I wrote about an email/internet scam that got sneakier the further I got into it.

What caused my rant? What do I recommend? What’s my opinion on it all? You know I did a video about it, right? Take a look, then let me know your thoughts:


 

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10 Years Ago

Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Jan 23, 2012
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Yes, another video post for you, but of course I get to do a brief setup for it.

I was watching a video by Lynn Terry of Clicknewz.com on her video channel which she titled What Would You Say. She was asked a question as to what advice she’d give her past self about 10 years ago. I thought that was an intriguing question, and I liked how she answered it so much that I decided to address it myself, and thought it would be neat doing it by video.

In the video, I give one personal tip and one business tip, which actually ends up being more than one business tip and that’s the reason you should watch it. One other thing that’s new in the video is that I’m wearing a white shirt that I didn’t even know I had. I don’t have a lot of white shirts. I have one dress white shirt for emergencies, a white t-shirt with a picture of my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family, and a Syracuse University white shirt that I don’t even think they put out anymore (I actually have two of these t-shirts), as I haven’t seen anyone locally supporting the team wearing white. That’s what happens when your team is called The Orange. lol

It’s a relatively short video of around 6 minutes, and this time I recorded it without so much density so it uploaded much faster, which didn’t depress me at all. It looks fine on this side; I hope it looks fine where you are as well. Here we go!

 

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Social Media & The Concept Of ROI

Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Jan 15, 2012
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I belong to a consultant’s group where monthly we have a presentation on something that most consultant’s probably need to know for their business.

A few months ago I was the presenter, and I gave a shortened presentation of the one I did back in 2010 on social media, which was a 5 hour presentation. I had to strip it down to 50 minutes, which wasn’t all that hard since I concentrated only on certain things for these folks, most of whom are older than me.

It’s that “older than me” part that makes it interesting because I always get the same question from the same guy: “Have you gotten any business from it?” When I say I have the next question is “what’s your ROI?”

That, for the uninitiated, stands for “return on investment”, and for many businesses it’s a critical question that has to be addressed. For instance, if you spent $25,000 on a print campaign that involved paying someone to create flyers, going to the printers, mailing everything out, and it resulted in an overall loss or a profit of less than $5,000, you’d probably have to say that your ROI was pretty bad.

When it comes to social media, evaluating ROI is much different. If you’re going to base everything on costs, they could end up being minimal or costly; it’s up to you. For instance, you could start a campaign of Twitter posts and if you do it yourself there is no cost, assuming you’ve already got everything else in place if you’re sending traffic somewhere. The same goes for Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or anywhere else, even if you own a brick and mortar business.

Or is it cost free? See, with social media, even if you do it all yourself there’s an inherent cost; it’s just how you decide to evaluate it. The cost is in time and what your time is worth.

Let’s look at this in two ways. One, do you count the time if it’s outside of 40 hours, which is the American standard for working hours? Some might, since many of us (yeah, even me) work more than 40 hours if we own our own businesses. Some might not if they stick with traditional times and consider anything else as free time.

For someone like me, based on which business I’m doing at the time, I get paid anywhere between $50 and $250 an hour; yeah, I’m like that. Anyway, this means that if I’m putting in a 10-hour day and 2 hours of that happens to be writing my blog posts, which you might not think about like this but at least 4 of them I consider as business related in some fashion, then it’s costing anywhere from $12.50 to $62.50 each time I write a blog post (I average 10 to 15 minutes per post most of the time). If we look at one of my business blogs, where I try to write a post every 3 days, that averages out to around 120 posts a year, and if I use the lower figure it means it costs me about $1,500 a year of an investment towards writing that blog; that’s not counting responding to comments (I don’t have a lot yet so y’all need to go check it out).

Since posting a link to these social media platforms takes almost no time whatsoever, this pretty much means that I need to generate at least $1,500 a year from that business to break even. Of course I just started that blog in August, but already I’ve made that much, though it wasn’t from blogging, but it doesn’t matter. The thing is that as a marketing campaign, one isn’t always sure where they’re getting their business from, but even if it was related to the blog I could still say that, based on time, I’ve about tripled my initial investment.

Here comes the next stage though. What if you want to pay someone else to handle certain social media aspects of your business? For instance, say you hired someone like me to write your blog posts for you. I’m not saying this is necessarily my fee, but say it costs you $400 a month for a certain number of blog posts, and those posts automatically go out to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook (although I know Facebook just shut down one program and I’m not sure if there are others still working right now)? The approximate cost to your business is $4,800 a year; do you have the kind of business to overcome that amount of outlay? Is there the possibility that your business will generate that kind of money online, or will it come from offline sources?

That’s just it; you don’t know. Do you consider it offline if someone found you on Google and called you up, as opposed to contacting you via email? I don’t, and we all know that more content on one’s site helps them gain more prominence on the search engines. If you’re someone like a Marcus Sheridan, whose business is swimming pools, how many sales would he have to make because someone called him because they found him on Google to have made back all of his money if he paid someone to write his posts (which he doesn’t)? For that matter what’s his ROI now from blogging and obtaining business? I’m thinking it’s probably pretty good.

Every person has to evaluate for themselves whether they think they’re getting out of social media what they’re putting into it. However, you can’t make an evaluation if you don’t try. So, what are you waiting for?
 

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