Category: Monday Tips & News

Business Book Review: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonWhen Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson came out shortly after his death, plenty of folks snapped it up very quickly.  I was a bit intimidated by its size, but I finally cracked it open last summer.

What I found was surprisingly not a fawning portrait of Apple’s visionary leader but instead a history of the tech industry wrapped in an honest, not-always-flattering biography.

It’s a great read for anyone interested in business, as it looks at what Apple — and Jobs — did differently than their competitors.  Here are two major philosophical debates presented in the book.

Diversification vs. Single-Minded Focus

Apple operates at its best when it focuses on making a single product awesome.  That’s how we got the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad — not to mention the last several renditions of desktops and laptops.  When Jobs set his mind to something, whether it was developing the perfect glass for his stores or finding the brightest shade of white, he went at it with all his energy until it was exactly what he wanted.

The pros to this are clear, but the con is that if you’re focusing on only one thing, you’re not focusing on others.  It’s what’s called the opportunity cost in economics, and it’s something Apple pays for from time to time.  But it’s also how they reap awards — like having enough cash on hand to buy Amazon or build a space station.

What It Means For Your Business: Finding the right balance between these two can make or break your business.  You want to focus on doing what you do best, but you also don’t want to miss out on related opportunities that fit your target market and at which you could excel.  Setting up periodic, regular reviews to analyze and adjust as necessary is your best bet for striking that balance.

Licensing vs. Exclusivity

The biggest fork in the road between Apple and Microsoft came when Apple decided they would not license their technology to other PC builders.  This allowed them to keep control of the quality of their brand — but it lost them a huge market share to Microsoft, as evidenced by the fact that you’ll still find PCs in most office buildings today.  Apple began reclaiming some of the market in the mid-2000s, but they’ve obviously got a long way to go.

That being said, you won’t find a more loyal customer base than Mac users, and practically everyone owns at least one Apple product these days, whether it’s a low-end iPod Shuffle or a top-of-the-line iMac.  PC users in general use PCs because that’s what they’ve been presented.  It’ll be interesting to see in the next decade where things end up, especially as tablets cannibalize traditional computers.

What It Means For Your Business: For most businesses, this relates to a case of quality vs. availability, and once again it’s all about balance.  Finding that sweet spot where you can provide the best product or service to the largest market without sacrificing the quality is what you’re aiming for.  That might mean taking on fewer clients or producing fewer units until you can sustain your growth by expanding your resources.  Again, setting up regular reviews is a great way to keep on top of your business’s needs and capabilities as it grows.

What to Take from Steve Jobs (the Biography)

Apple Apple Steve Jobs by Elizabeth Ditty

I was truly fascinated by this book — both because of the journey Jobs took from college drop-out to worshipped tech leader and because of what we can learn about business from how he and others ran theirs.

It’s not the rambling fanboy letter I’d feared it would be (which I say despite being an obvious Apple fan).  It’s an honest account of one man’s huge effect on both the tech industry and our day-to-day lives — and that’s no exaggeration.  If you read it, you’ll see what I mean — and if you have read it, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments!

Three Ways a Blog is Like a Baby

If all goes according to plan, I should be having a baby this week (or I’ve already had one & am reveling/drowning in baby bliss/delirium).  So, as you might imagine, I’ve got a major case of baby on the brain.  But I’m going to try to make that work to my advantage here today.  And so, I present to you:

3 Ways a Blog is Like a Baby @ Sarah Writes Stories

#1: Schedules are super important.

Or at least that’s one school of thought on babies, especially as they get older.  When it comes to your blog, choosing a schedule and sticking to it is also super important.

If you post sporadically, you’ll have a hard time catching regular readers.  Whether it’s once a week or once a month, choose a frequency and stick to it.

#2: You have to arrange for care.

You can’t just up and head out to work without making arrangements for your baby to be taken care of.  Similarly, if you head out on vacation or are swamped with work, you shouldn’t just leave your blog unattended.

There will be times when you won’t be able to keep up with a typical blogging schedule.  You’ve got three options: a) work ahead, b) schedule guest posts, or c) at least announce your time away ahead of time — and when you’ll be back — so your readers know what to expect.

#3: You have to be responsive.

When your baby cries, you can’t just ignore the poor thing.  And similarly, you’re really missing out if your baby is smiling, cooing & laughing but you’re too busy to respond.

The same goes for your blog and other social media.  When someone takes the time to comment or ask a question, you should make it a priority to respond.

Blogging Services at Sarah Writes Stories

Like a baby, a blog is a commitment.  The good news is you can outsource a lot more of the blog work than the baby work.  If you need someone to run your blog, I’d love to chat about how we can work together.

Three Ideas for Great Blog Content

So, now that you know you need a blog, you maybe wondering what the heck you need to blog about.  It’s not as hard as you might think.  There are three sure-fire ways to provide solid blog content to your current and potential customers.

3 Paths to Great Blog Content @ Sarah Writes StoriesThree Paths to Great Blog Content

All good blog posts should do at least one of these three things:

  • Inform
  • Entertain
  • Persuade

And the secret to creating a great blog post is to combine them.  Here are three topics that do just that.

Tell People How To Do Something

If you have a special skill set, use your blog to share some of that knowledge with your customers.  This not only builds credibility and positions you as an expert, but it also helps build trust with your customers.  Don’t worry about giving away trade secrets.  For instance, even though I understand what happens during an HVAC tune-up and have even written about it for clients, I’m still going to turn to the pros when I need the job done.

Tell People Why To Do Something

Along with telling people how to do something, you should also tell them why they should do something.  For instance, if you’re in the gutter-cleaning or chimney-sweeping business, tell people WHY these tasks are so important.  If you’re in the cupcake business, give people a list of occasions for which they should send cupcakes to friends, family or coworkers.  These posts are especially great for including a call to action to turn your past customers into repeat customers and your potential customers into new ones.

Tell People About Your Business

If you’ve got something special going on at your business, like a sale or promotion, a new product or service, or a special event you want people to be aware of, then blog about it!  Your blog is a great place to showcase new and time-sensitive information — and a blog post is easy to share with your other social networks, like twitter and facebook.

Make Your Blog a Priority

Remember, you don’t have to be a great writer to ensure your blog has great content.  Writing a blog takes time and effort you may want to devote to the parts of your business you’re passionate about.  Working with an experienced SEO copywriter who can take your ideas, style and voice and turn them into Great Blog Content is one of the best ways to take your business to the next level.

Blog Writing at Sarah Writes Stories

I’d love to work with you to come up with Great Blog Content that will inform, entertain and persuade past, current and potential customers.  Having worked with more than 40 clients in the past year alone, I know how to adapt to each client’s personal needs and goals.  If you’re ready to get your blog started or make your current one more effective, let’s chat about how we can work together to make that happen!

Does Your Business Need a Blog?

3 Reasons Your Business Needs a Blog @ Sarah Writes StoriesThe internet is a big place, and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.  You may be wondering, does my business really need a blog?  The answer is YES.  Here’s why.

Three Reasons Your Business Needs a Blog

#1: A Blog is Your Best Chance to Put a Personal Face on Your Business

In this day and age, it’s not enough to simply have a listing in the yellow pages or even a top hit on Google.  Potential customers want to get an idea of who you are and what you stand for when it comes to your business.  A blog allows you to put your best foot forward and make a good impression before they even set foot inside your door.  And if you’re NOT making that impression, your customers might find another business that is.

#2: A Blog Helps People Find Your Business

One of the best practical reasons for a blog is that it increases the odds of people finding your website to begin with.  Every time you post, when you include a link to your website or to pertinent information on it, you’re giving Google & Friends more to work with.  More links to your website means it climbs higher in the Google’s rankings.  Continuous fresh content further increases your rankings.

#3: A Blog Helps Build Your Brand

In addition to building relationships as in Point #1, a blog gives you the opportunity to showcase aspects of your business you’re proud of.  Whether that’s your company history, a new product or service, a great customer service experience you want to highlight, or a new promotion or sale, your blog acts as your own personal news service for your current and potential customers and business partners.

Not a Writer? Not a Problem!

So now you know your business does need a blog.  What do you do now?  Don’t try to be a writer if you’re not.  Instead, find yourself a copywriter you can trust to take your personality and business brand and translate them into relevant, interesting, informative blog posts with proper SEO.

Blog Writing at Sarah Writes Stories

And wouldn’t you know it, if you’re looking for a copywriter for your blog, you’re in the right place!  Shameless self promotion aside, I believe in working with clients to create content in a style that is unique to you and your business.  I want it to be your voice the customer hears in your blog, not mine.  If you’re interested in talking more about what I can do for your business blog, then let’s chat!

How to Show Your Clients the Love

How to Show Your Clients the LoveThe holiday season tends to be the time we think most about expressing gratitude, and rightly so.  But remembering to thank your clients for their business can become just another item on your to-do list — and one that can be easily forgotten with the season’s focus on friends and family.  And it’s not just you that’s busy — it’s your clients, too!  So here’s an idea: instead of filling up their mailboxes with perfunctory holiday greetings, why not send a thoughtful note around Valentine’s Day?

Clients Need Love, Too

Your list of people to whom to send Valentines is probably much shorter than your holiday greeting card list, and your clients likely aren’t expecting anything in the middle of February.  That makes it a great time to surprise them with a heartfelt thank-you for their business. (Bonus: Business gifts are tax deductible up to $25 per person per year!)

Don’t Bother With Empty Gestures

Perfunctory greeting cards just don’t really cut it these days.  In fact, they bring to mind this monologue from The X-Files’ Cigarette-Smoking Man. (I was going to post the video, but Fox has blocked it from youtube, which is a terrible Valentine to the show’s fans. Harumph.)

“Life is like a box of chocolates — a cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable, because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you’re stuck with this undefinable whipped-mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there’s nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while, there’s a peanut butter cup or an English toffee. But they’re gone too fast, and the taste is fleeting. So you end up with nothing but broken bits, filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts, and if you’re desperate enough to eat those, all you’ve got left is a… is an empty box, filled with useless, brown paper wrappers.”

One More Time With Feeling

So how do you send a thoughtful gift? The first step is, well, to think.  Here are some ideas.

Send a card.

I know I just said that a perfunctory card won’t cut it, but a quality, hand-picked card with a sincere handwritten note does. Find a card that you think your client might like, and then spend some time crafting a message that doesn’t sound like a robot wrote it.

Send a gift.

If you’ve got a particularly big client, consider sending a gift. Now, CSM may have railed against chocolates, but if you know your client loves them, then go for it.  If they’ve got a thing for cupcakes or gourmet cookies, then have them delivered.  Perhaps they’ve mentioned a restaurant they really like — can you arrange to have some appetizers delivered for a mid-morning or afternoon snack?  The key here is, again, to think about what your client would like (i.e., if you’re thanking a fitness company, then sending sweets may not be the best tactic).  Gift cards work well here, too.

Send a discount or a coupon.

This one not only says, “Thanks, I love doing business with you,” but also, “I’d love to do more.”  Even for clients with whom you have locked-in business, it’s a nice gesture that shows your appreciation.

How do you thank your clients for their business?  How would you like to be thanked?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

SWS Recommends: 5 Favorite Blogs

SWS Recommends: 5 Favorite BlogsI’m kind of embarrassed to tell you how many blogs I subscribe to in Google Reader (OK, OK, it’s 133), but the point is, there’s a lot of good stuff out there on the internet these days.  Here are my Top 5 favorite blogs of the moment with a post from each to get you started.


A Cup of Jo

A Cup of Jo

Joanna Goddard runs a lovely blog from her hometown in NYC.  She covers fashion & beauty, home & design, food & drink, travel, relationships and parenthood and sort of acts as a curator of all things awesome.  I look forward to her posts every single day.  She also has an awesome Pinterest account.


Shutterbean

Shutterbean

Tracy Benjamin runs one of the best foodblogs on the web, no doubt.  Her recipes run the gamut, from juices and delicious-looking cocktails to healthy dinners and sinful desserts.  If you’re a fan of Joy the Baker, then you’ll recognize Tracy from their podcast.  As a bonus, Tracy also takes gorgeous pictures.


How Sweet It Is

How Sweet It Is

Jessica is totally ridiculous in the absolute best way.  The things she comes up with, guys… I can’t even begin.  I often find myself staring at her pictures with my mouth hanging open, usually with drool dripping down my chin.  She’s hilarious, and her recipes are awesome.


Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist

Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist

As a shrewd businesswoman with Asperger’s, Penelope Trunk never bothers sugarcoating anything, whether it’s doling out career advice or occasionally revealing personal details of her life.  Not only is she utterly fascinating, she’s often absolutely spot on.  Her posts aren’t always easy to swallow, but they do provide plenty of food for thought.


xkcd

xkcd

This isn’t exactly a blog, but it is a webcomic and one of the best on the net.  Guaranteed to make you laugh, think and sometimes scratch your head in perplexion.  New comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  (Don’t forget the mouse-over.)


What are some of your favorite blogs out there?

Business Book Review: THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK by Timothy Ferriss

Seeing as how I have a vested interest in starting and running my own business, I’ve read a fair number of business-themed books over the years. It can be hard to pick out the ones that have the ideas that speak to you when staring at a bookshelf (or an Amazon page), so periodically I’ll bring you a review of a business book I’ve read. And we’re going to start with The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.

Discovering Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek

I first came across Tim Ferriss — the man, the idea, the guru — a couple of years after I started working a job in the “real world.” His ideas ran pretty contrary to everything I was seeing in corporate America — the endless, pointless meetings; the insistence on working set hours in the office; the disorganized, unclear email communication. As an early member of Generation Y, I loved his ideas and tried to incorporate them as well as I could into my own work day.

Unfortunately, when you’re working with people who have never heard of Tim Ferriss nor his ideas and you don’t have enough history with a company (or being a part of the workforce in general) to have much (if any) clout, you can get a certain reputation for being hard to work with pretty fast. To be perfectly honest, it’s a reputation I’m still trying to live down at my corporate day job. But the flipside is I’ve had a lot of positive feedback employing those same principles as a freelancer.

The Gist of the 4-Hour Workweek

There’s a lot to take from Tim Ferriss’ guide to “escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich,” but here’s a quick summary. The book is divided into 4 basic steps: Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation. But the gist of his book can also be divided into Dreaming Big, Productivity, and Life Design Strategy.

Dreaming Big

Tampa Sunset

I sure wouldn’t complain about relaxing to this view every evening.

In a nutshell, Mr. Ferriss details how to identify your dream life, how to make it a concrete concept by running actual numbers, and how to address the risks associated with going for your dream. A big part of this concept is defining wealth as relative instead of absolute. Instead of asking, “How much money would I need to feel wealthy?” you ask, “What experiences or possessions would make me feel wealthy? You can check out his Dreamline worksheets and calculators online to give you the basic idea of how he turns an unattainable dream into a concrete — and possible — concept.

Productivity

Mr. Ferriss’ strategies range from simple (email/time management, the 80/20 principle, effectiveness and efficiency, employing Parkinson’s Law, Getting-Stuff-Done strategies, low-information diets, etc.) to more complex (outsourcing tasks, delegation, automation).

These are the principles I loved, but also the principles that got me into a bit of trouble. Part of this is in the design, and part of this is in how I implemented them as a young, inexperienced professional. He addresses these pitfalls, but Mr. Ferriss isn’t exactly known for being the ultimate sweetheart either — which is OK because he’s Tim Ferriss. Just something to keep in mind as you start to introduce some of these strategies into your life, especially in the corporate world.

Life Design Strategy

In the Automation and Liberation steps, Mr. Ferriss details multiple ways in which you might leave (or lessen your time spent in) the corporate world while earning the money you need to live the life you want. These include real-life examples of both his start-up ventures (both successes and failures) as well as those of other entrepreneurs. In short, it’s about how to maximize your time while spending less of it to achieve your goals — whether that’s going into consulting, writing books, or creating and selling products.

The Hype of the 4-Hour Workweek

So, does the book live up to the hype or down to the backlash? Neither. There’s a lot of great information in there, but I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who believes Tim Ferriss actually only works four hours a week. The key is that he does, perhaps, spend four hours a week doing tasks he doesn’t particularly like so he can spend the other hours on the things he likes or loves. And that’s a pretty good life balance if you ask me.

This was one of the first business books I read, and it’s one that has stuck with me and that I continue to refer to six years down the road. You may not be able to (or want to) put all of it into action in your life, but I think you’re guaranteed to get some good and practical information out of it no matter what your life goals. Check out the 4-Hour Blog to get an idea of his tone and style if you’re unsure, but I have no qualms recommending it to anyone interested in strategies to work and live better.