Jan 23

How to Get Started: 5 Anti-Procrastination Tips

I get stuck a lot. In fact, I’ve been stuck for about an hour trying to figure out what to write for my fifth entry in the Your Turn Challenge. Lucky for me the challenge organizer prepared some daily prompts to help us get started.

Today’s prompt: What advice would you give for getting unstuck? Seriously.

Mark Whittaker looks for motivation with his cat

Looking for motivation

1. Look for a prompt. Not everything has to come from within. Take somebody else’s idea and give it your own spin. Sometimes you can set your own prompts. For a writer, it could be your own list of evergreen ideas. I’m in no position to offer weight-loss or exercise advice, but even I have a hard stop when it comes to weight. When I get close to that limit, I’m careful about my calories and I head back to the gym. It’s an internal call to action. (Joined the local YMCA and re-started the gym routine this week, as a matter of fact.)

2. Get angry. Anger is a great motivator for me. I quit smoking when I got mad at cigarettes for controlling my life. My nicotine addiction forced me to hide in the garage first thing in the morning, to exit a warm office on a cold day just to grab a few puffs on the loading dock and to head to the store whenever I needed a fresh pack. I hated it, and that anger finally pushed me to quit. I should add here that self-directed anger — I get mad at myself constantly — is probably counter-productive. For folks like me, self-criticism is crippling. You’ve got to direct that angry energy toward a situation you want to change.

3. Productive procrastination. When faced with something I need to start, but can’t, I stare blankly at my computer. Then I work on something else that’s easier to start. Or I walk away from the desk for a few minutes and check the weather. Sometimes I hold a cat. Doing anything but starting sometimes creates enough spark to get me back on track.

4. Talk it out. Telling somebody else (my poor wife) that I’m stuck is often enough to get things moving again.

5. Take a nap. Sometimes it works. And the headline says there would be five tips.

Have you got your own ideas on how to get moving? Share them in the comments.

Jan 22

Online Marketing, and a Little Baseball

Mark Whittaker Little League

That’s the 12-year-old version of me in my Little League uniform.

The tagline on my website / blog says “Online Media and Marketing … and a Little Baseball.” It combines my vocation and one of my favorite avocations.

I’ve been a baseball fan since age 9 or so, when I first started playing in the local Little League. I was awkward and terrible, but the games were fun. With some good coaching and some practice, I got better and had even more fun. As an adult, I’ve played plenty of softball and coached a little. Oh, and I spend way too much time watching baseball on TV and reading about the local team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. My wife is a fan right along with me, and we attended 15 or so home games last year.

I’ve been meaning to explore the similarities between baseball and online marketing. As I’m staring at my computer screen, it’s clear the topic is too broad for one, lowly article written as part of the Your Turn Challenge. But if you’re game, let’s start to explore some similarities.

Learning to play baseball takes time and practice. Just about anybody can play. It just takes a group and a large enough space, from a city street to a corn field. To be successful — to win — you and your teammates must learn and practice. You can learn to throw, but without practice you won’t throw very hard or far. You can learn to swing a bat, but without practice you won’t hit a pitched ball very often. You can learn to catch, but without practice, just as many balls will end up on the ground as in your mitt.

And, of course, you need to learn the rules. Three strikes, you’re out. Four balls, take your base. Hit one past that telephone pole, it’s a triple.

Online marketing is a game, too, with its own rules. Display ads, 300×250. Search ads, 25 characters a line and don’t use ALL CAPS. Give away an iPad on Facebook, get 200 likes (maybe).

To be good — to win and help your employer or client grow the business — you have to practice. Very little about online marketing is hard to learn (we’ll talk about analytics another time). But if you want to be successful at Facebook, practice. If you want to optimize websites for search, practice. If you want to write compelling blog posts that make readers want to run out and buy stuff, practice. No one succeeds on the first try. It takes practice, and that means time and repetition.

There you have it. Baseball’s first lesson for online marketers: Practice.

What do you think? What lessons from the game of baseball can you apply to your work?

Jan 21

Online Marketing: Anybody Can Do It

If you sell a service — anything from auto repair to tax preparation — you’ve heard potential customers or clients say “I can do that myself.”

Try selling online marketing and social media services to small-business owners. Lots of them started their businesses after saying “I can do that myself.” It’s hard to argue against the point. Any business that wants a Facebook page, a Google+ page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn page or an Instagram account can do it for free with a tiny bit of computer savvy. if you can upload a photo, you can set up a social media account for a business.

Online Marketing diagramIn fact, a great deal of the online marketing world was set up to be do-it-yourself. Want to buy ads on Google Search? Start an account for free and go to town. All it costs is the price of a click, and you can decide how much you want to spend. The same goes for Facebook advertising. To promote one your Facebook posts as an “ad,” all it takes is a few mouse clicks and a credit card.

You can even build a good website with free tools that are simple to use. I say that because I can do it, and if I can do it, anybody can. None of this online marketing stuff is rocket science. My website costs me about $100 a year in hosting and domain fees.

So, when a small-business owner balks at paying someone else to do that stuff and says “I can do that myself,” I have to agree.

When your car needs an oil change, you’ve got three choices. If you know what you’re doing and have the time and resources, you can change the oil yourself. Option 2 is take the car to an auto mechanic or one of those one-stop oil-change places. Option 3 is do nothing.

Each option has a cost, even doing nothing. If you never change your car’s oil, you gamble that dirty oil won’t make any difference to the life of the car. If you change your own oil, the cost is time, plus cost of whatever special equipment you need. It also costs the time to learn how to do it. Even if you’ve been helping your dad change the oil since you were 6, you and he invested extra time to make sure you learned to do it right.

I figure I could learn to change the oil in my car, but I’m not mechanically adept. I choose option 2 every time. I know regular oil changes extend the life of my 10-year-old Hyundai Tucson. I’d rather pay an expert to change my oil. It saves me some time, and I know it will be done right.

So if you own a small business and can handle all of your social media and online marketing yourself, have at it. But if your competitor pays me for my online marketing training, experience and insight, we’ll eat your lunch.