What do I do, anyway?

Classic DC Comics character The Question(photo credit Lunchbox Photography)

I’m addicted to consuming. In between checking my email and Twitter, I’m reading one of the kajillion blogs in my always-open Google Reader tab. Inside that kajillion, there is a small, select group of blogs that truly light my fire. I read every word of them. When Google tells me there’s a new post, suddenly the most important to-do of my day is to read that post.

IttyBiz is one of that select group. And today’s post, What do YOU do? The un-meme redux, gave some homework, which I’m going to do right here and right now.

(I don’t always do the homework Naomi gives her readers. See “addicted to consuming” above — most of the time I’d rather go read something else than sit down and take action on something I just read. But this particular un-meme just happens to dovetail perfectly with questions I’ve been asking myself about my own business lately, plus I’ve set a goal of posting more frequently, so here goes.)

Here are the questions Naomi posed, and my answers (keep in mind that all these answers are versions of works-in-progress, which is just how it should be).

What’s your game? What do you do?
I build websites and invent recipes for using them. I snap together all the behind-the-scenes technical bits like PayPal buttons, newsletter subscription forms, widgets, themes, and other stuff that makes normal people’s eyes glaze over. I make web technology work.

Also, I like to answer questions and share what I know…but more importantly, I want to spread the idea that regular people can bring their normal resourcefulness to bear when it comes to web technology. I don’t want my people to be dependent on me and my mad skillz. I want to teach myself out of a job, over and over again.

The way I do this is by teaching teleclasses (also webinars). Something about the conference-call format is perfect for me, and it allows even really shy people to listen and learn.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?
Here’s what I love the most. There’s a specific moment when one of my people Gets It. Let’s say you call me during Open Office Hour to ask me a question, or join me for WordPress Swimming Lessons, and I explain something to you. And the light dawns: You realize that you Get It.

It can be something huge like “I really can run an online business!” or it can be something comparatively small, like “Oh, hey, now I understand how to add a link to a blog post!” The point is, you came in not knowing how to do something, maybe even not believing you’d ever know how. And yet you learned how. Not (entirely) because I’m such a genius teacher, but because you were willing to learn. Technology is just a thing you can learn, like anything else.

And apparently I have a creepy knack for leading friendly and intelligent teleclasses. I’m actually energized by teaching over the phone, which is weird because I’m an off-the-charts introvert who normally hates making phone calls.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?
The kind of person who cares a lot and wants to make a difference…people who have a capital-M Mission. Maybe it’s a second career, maybe it’s just making a few hundred bucks on the side, maybe it’s knitting and selling beautiful penwipers because the world needs more hand-knitted office supplies.

These people are naturally curious and resourceful, and they just happen to be temporarily stuck and overwhelmed by technological questions. They have a DIY mindset but they’re not sure how to apply that to the confusing world of websites and shopping carts. They need some handholding, some encouragement, and some practical steps. And they’ll take it from there, thanks.

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?
Well, you, Naomi, specifically, should probably not buy from me (you’ve got ninjas to handle all the tech stuff for you anyway).

But for those who don’t have your own personal ninjas, here’s the scoop:

  • I talk (and try to write) in plain English. I won’t talk down to you. I believe you are smart enough to learn what I teach.
  • I can tell you exactly which tech ingredients you need. So even if you start with a broad goal like “I need a website so I can sell my penwipers,” I know the questions to ask you so I can figure out whether you need a shopping cart, how you’re going to follow up with customers, and so on. Which means that I won’t try to sell you a bunch of fancy technological tools you don’t need.
  • I want to teach myself out of a job. I’m like training wheels for your website. At some point you’ll be riding all by yourself and I’ll wave and cheer as you disappear down the block.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?
Up until now, the bread-and-butter of my business has been installing WordPress. And the truth is, one-on-one services like that don’t scale.

So I’m going to be teaching more classes and doing less actual tech tweaking in the future. I’ve already decided that WordPress Swimming Lessons will be a quarterly event, at least for the next year. I’m doing lots of guest- and co-teaching with awesome peeps (stay tuned to this blog for details!). And I’m thinking up crazy new class ideas all the time.

I also just released my first product, a home-study version of a class I co-taught with the fabulous Shannon Wilkinson. We taught people how to get started with AWeber, and turned it into an audio-and-PDF do-it-yourself course called Love Your List.

I want to create more products, and I’m figuring out creative ways to do that because for me, the energy is all about the live class. Doing post-production work is very draining, so I get very very very stuck there (note to self: Hire some ninjas).

And that’s what I do. At least for now.

How about you?

Restaurant menu follies

The Professor and I recently got takeout Thai food from our favorite local restaurant, Sky Thai. And it turned into a case study in “what were they thinking?” that I just had to write about.

Takeaway #1: A good domain name gives you a lot of Google juice

I knew I had a paper menu somewhere (in fact I found it the next day, under a pile on my desk — clearly it is time for another Inspired Home Office Spa Day), but figured it would be faster to look up the restaurant on the web.

And it was. I typed in “Sky Thai” (with the quotes) and guess what came up as result #1? Yep, www.SkyThai.com. The next 9 results were for some place in Massachusetts that wasn’t named Sky Thai but had some kind of dish on their menu with that name in it. But I didn’t care about results #2 through #9 if #1 was the one I wanted. And I was kind of surprised, because this is a tiny little restaurant that’s not exactly in a thriving metro area. Just goes to show what the right domain name can do for you.

So far our takeout plans were going awesomely. Their menu was online and their phone number was in the header, so it was easy-peasy to call them up and place an order.

Takeaway #2: Don’t let your website be wrong

Except when we called them and tried to order the Fried Baby Shrimp appetizer, they told us they didn’t have it anymore. Not “we’re out of it,” but “oh, that’s not on the menu anymore.”

Except that it is. Right on the Appetizer page of their website.

Hmm. So they’re willing to print up new paper versions of the menu when it changes (we got a paper menu in our take-out bag, of course, and it was the updated version) but they can’t spend 10 minutes to update the website? Or pay their web person for extremely minor updates?

Sure, most of the online menu was still right…but all it takes is one wrong item (or price!) to get visitors skeptical.

Why throw away that Google juice so carelessly?

Takeaway #3: There is such a thing as good enough… and that’s all your site has to be

Not every website in the world needs to be a Web 2.0, social media-utilizing, user-generated-content repository of multimedia and ecommerce.

This restaurant is a perfect example. Sky Thai doesn’t need bells, whistles, or a flaming logo. Heck, they don’t even need a blog. Although I could certainly come up with creative ways they could use a blog to get more business, they don’t need one. They don’t need the ability to let people place an online order if they just give us the phone number.

On the face of it, there are plenty of terrible things about this site. The header is cheesy and fuzzy. The image of the owner, which shows up on every page, is broken. On every page. It’s not centered and the copyright date is 2004.

But none of this matters if all I want is the menu and a phone number. This website is just fine for that. It’s laid out clearly, in sections that make sense, with legible prices and descriptions. All you need for that is plain old boring text.

Except that it has items on it that they don’t serve anymore. So now I can’t trust it. (See Takeaway #2.)

Which is a shame, since they are #1 on Google for searchers who know the name of the restaurant and are ready to place an order.

Takeaway #4: Don’t let your website be the bastard stepchild, especially for an offline business

I looked over the paper menu, picked up a business card, and checked out the info stenciled on the door of the place when we went to pick up the takeout food. There was also a delivery SUV parked outside with Sky Thai and its phone number emblazoned on its side and rear window.

None of these places referred to the Sky Thai website. Nary a URL to be found.

Why?!?

OK, sure, maybe you don’t need it on the door of your restaurant because when people see that, they’re already there (though there doesn’t seem to be a downside to adding it anyway), but a business card? Or that menu that they stuff in every takeout bag, and probably leave in the mailboxes of hundreds of houses within a few blocks?

Why not just add the URL to all their printed material? It’s like they don’t want actual customers to know that the restaurant also has a website.

I can’t figure out why you would bother to build a website and then not link it up with your other, existing, marketing materials.

Takeaway #5: Remember the nudists

If you type www.skythai.com into your web browser, you’ll get the website I’ve been ranting about. But if you type skythai.com (with no www, which is known as a naked domain), you’ll get…a blank page.

As I explained in my blog post about naked domains, you should always make sure that both versions of your domain are usable. There are multiple simple tweaks to get it to work right. You don’t want people to type in the naked version, get a blank page or an error page, and assume you have no site or that your site is broken.

Because then they will go away and never give you money in exchange for Fried Baby Shrimp. Or anything else.

Now I’m hungry for some spicy, creamy, fragrant Tom Kha Gai. If only I didn’t have to dig out my paper menu to figure out if they still have it.

Moments of zing! Or, what I’ve been learning about Right People

I read Havi’s post on Re-explaining the Right People concept today, and feel inspired to tell my how-I-found-Havi story here because it is my best (living, organic) self-reminder of the whole idea of Right People. It was my moment of zing! that gave me a visceral (in a good way!) right-people experience that I draw on to this day.

Back when I was a wimp…

Non-Icky Self-Promotion for People who Hate Self-PromotionAbout 15 months ago I read an item in Pam Slim’s blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, recommending Havi and Naomi’s course, Non-Icky Self-Promotion for People Who Hate Self-Promotion (otherwise fondly known as Self-Promotion for Wimps). The course has been over for more than a year, and you can now finally get it as a home-study package, by the way. (Yep, those are totally affiliate links. I’m sure you can find the page another way if you’d rather not use them.)

I had never heard of either Havi or Naomi before. But on Pam’s recommendation, I clicked through to the sales page.

And I was suddenly in a new world. I had never, ever, ever read a sales page like this. In fact, it didn’t feel like a sales page at all. I felt safe. I felt respected and appreciated and invited.

I knew instantly, bone-deep and with total clarity, that I had to be in this course, because I wanted to meet these people who could write such an amazing sales page. I wanted to learn how it was possible to create sales pages like that, because I wanted my future customers to have the same moment of zing! when they read my sales pages.

There was no internal “should I or shouldn’t I?” There was no worrying about “will it be worth it?” I never felt like I was being persuaded or convinced (let alone manipulated). As I read, I became sure that a course this wonderful would be way out of my price range, so when I got to the price, I was amazed that it was so affordable. It was truly a no-brainer to sign up.

Yes, I believed there would be some practical benefit to the course, but honestly my biggest desire was simply to hang out with Havi and Naomi (which was why I knew I had to buy the VIP option). And I’ve been doing it ever since.

In search of The Perfect Sales Page

I’ve thought a lot about marketing tactics and sales pages and my experience interacting with them (both as a consumer and as a marketer) since I took that course.

For a long time I believed that Havi and Naomi had some special and mysterious marketing smarts and writing skills and pricing methodologies that allowed them to create sales pages that were better than anyone else’s. And I wanted to learn that stuff.

Now, not to knock their marketing/copywriting/pricing smarts at all, because I have learned tons about all three of those things from hanging out with them, but it’s only in the last few months that I’ve truly understood that that sales page wasn’t The One and Only Unquestioned Perfect Paragon of All Sales Pages that I should model Forevermore Without Question.

There is no perfect sales page (when “perfect” means perfect for everyone). Like there is no perfect product or website or business. There are only varying degrees of matching up, or resonating if you prefer, of rightness, between buyer and seller.

That sales page resonated with me. It was perfect…for me. I was a right person for that class, because I was (still am) a right person for Havi and Naomi. There were plenty of other right people for that class. And there were some people who would have read that sales page and had no reaction at all.

I’m OK, and I guess you’re not crazy either

This was brought home to me a couple of months ago on a forum where I’m a member. Someone asked for feedback on a sales page, and another member recommended that the asker check out Havi’s sales pages, and the asker replied saying that Havi’s sales pages had always left him kind of flat. He wasn’t dissing her or her products, or in any way being a jerk, just saying that he didn’t have much of a response to the sales pages.

And my initial (in my head) reaction was are you crazy? How can you not have a response to the most perfect sales pages in the universe? Which was like a big hello?!? moment because of course the guy wasn’t crazy. He’s got marketing smarts, copywriting skills, and stuff to say (I like him and read his blog). He’s just not resonating on the same frequency as Havi. His ideal sales page is another style.

So I’m getting increasing clarity around the idea that smart people can disagree about the effectiveness of marketing, websites, sales pages, etc. and it doesn’t mean that some of them have to be wrong.

Does the concept of Right People imply that there are Wrong People?

My answer is no. I’ve been using the term Right People for, oh, several months at least, maybe a year, and although I might have talked about people being “not as right” or “not quite right” or even “not my right people,” I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me to use the label “wrong people.”

When I think about people being “not so right” for me or my business, it’s not with an intention of exclusion…it’s more like a willingness to let go.

I don’t shove them away. They self-select.

And we both win. I firmly believe that.

It’s not a loss to me for the person to not come into my orbit (or for them to wander by and then leave). And it doesn’t hurt or reject them to not come into my orbit.

So it can only benefit me, and my Right People, to work on tuning my own frequency so that my right people can hear it really clearly. And my doing so doesn’t hurt the people who can’t hear it (or who would simply rather not).

So I’ll be here, tapping and tuning and tweaking, and sharing what I learn along the way. Have a listen. See if it sounds good to you. Either way, it’s all good.

Wendy Cholbi

My phantom waiting room, bamboozled customers, and DirecTV

Another item from the junk-mail files.

It’s amusing to observe how off-base some of this old-school dead-tree marketing can be.

I usually throw this stuff away without opening it, but what the heck, it was a slow mail day, plus this one was addressed to my business name, which was slightly unusual.

It was addressed to me as “manager” (that’s strike one, I’m the owner of this business, thankyouverymuch).

Across the top of the first page: “Give your business a boost with DirecTV.”

A boost? How nice. I can’t imagine how, though, so I read the first paragraph:

Dear Wendy Cholbi,

Running a business can be very rewarding–and also demanding, hectic and exhausting. DirecTV can help.

DirecTV can reduce the demands on my business? Give me more sleep? How exactly are they planning to help? I continued reading:

With the best variety of sports, shows and up-to-the-minute news, DirecTV will keep your customers entertained and your employees informed.

Oh, I’m starting to get it. They think I have a business with a waiting room and people in it. Nope, entirely virtual, no waiting room needed. And that bit about keeping my employees informed strikes an odd note. Not just because I have no employees, but because…television? Keeping people informed? Really?

And the paragraph continued (this is the part that inspired me to start dissecting the letter):

You’ll make wait times feel shorter, liven up your atmosphere and attract more customers.

So rather than, oh, I don’t know, actually serving my customers faster (again, assuming they were here in person, which they’re not), I’m supposed to trick them into thinking they didn’t wait as long…by forcing them to watch TV.

So many things wrong with that set of assumptions. Where to start?

I’ll just say that as a Highly Sensitive Person, I hate waiting rooms with a TV. This includes airports, by the way. Hate. Sometimes I have to plug my ears to stay sane.

DirecTV actually tells me that they’re “an affordable way to grow my business.” That seems like a big leap.

It’s one thing to trick the hypothetical customers doomed to wait in my nonexistent waiting room with forced entertainment. It’s another to assume that any of those customers chose my waiting room because other waiting rooms weren’t equipped with DirecTV.

Attract more customers? Really? I’ve never heard anyone say “Well, I chose my son’s pediatrician because they have a TV in the waiting room.”

I’ll give DirecTV a nod for creative logic and the chutzpah to blindly send this message to every business on the state rolls. I imagine that a direct-mail campaign like this costs more than they’ll get, but what do I know? I deal with instant, measurable online information. And sorry, but I don’t plan to ever have a waiting room.