A Holiday Break + 5 Of My Best Posts

It’s December! Which means it’s time for egg nog and ugly thematic sweaters and being simultaneously excited about the holidays and stressed out.

In an attempt to create some of that work/life balance I’m always banging on about, I’m taking a break from my small business blog for the month of December.

But I’ve rounded up five of my most helpful archived posts to keep you busy. I’ll still be tweeting about gummy vitamins that don’t taste enough like candy and posting photos of my strange travel destinations, so you can always follow along there.

And if you’d like the holiday gift of a teeny, tiny consult – sign up for my newsletter and send me your URL. I’ll give your site a once-over and send you three specific-to-you suggestions to make your online space leaner, cleaner, more lucrative + traffic-ful. 

Happy holidays, guys!

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5 ways to get the internet excited about your products

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So you’ve create The Most Amazing product.
Maybe it’s a literary-themed cat calendar.
Or a line of sweet little leather clutches.
Or an espresso rind-ed hard cheese (!!!)

And (of course) you want everyone and their cat to know about it. But how do you create buzz around your products without annoying everyone? How do you engage your customers and invite them along for the ride?

Here are five things you can do to get people excited about your stuff.
These tips are most applicable to physical products but with a few tweaks coaches and marketers could use them, too! I’d also suggest spreading this business out gradually and gently over the course of months and guest posts – it will be a lot less likely to annoy/overwhelm your readers.

With that said, let’s dive in!

1. Post photos of your products in the sidebar of your blog or website
So many of us hide our products on a separate Etsy site or under a ‘shop’ tab. People can’t buy your stuff if they don’t know you’re selling it! Install the Etsy Mini app on your WordPress site or just add images of products to your sidebar and embed links to their sales pages.

2. Share behind-the-scenes photos of your work space and creative process
People love seeing works in progress and before-and-afters. Oooooh! A ball of yarn becoming a cowl! A half-dressed mannequin! When you post these photos, link to the sales page of similar products or tell your followers when they can expect to see these products for sale. Elise does a great job with this as do my friends at Frostbeard studio.

3. Share photos of your happy customers using your products
People love using your stuff because it’s awesome and more people will want to buy your stuff when they see tangible evidence of how awesome it is. When I sold my cat calendars, I asked pet owners to send me photos of their pets with the calendars and then I assembled an adorable Facebook album of the results.

Ask customers to submit photos of your products in action; you can even sweeten the deal by offering them a discount on their next purchase!

4. Create content about different ways to use your products
You sell cold-pressed olive oil? Do a round up of olive oil cake recipes. Share DIY olive oil beauty treatments. Share seasonally appropriate recipes that use olive oil. You get the idea.

And every time you publish a post like this you (obviously) link to your sales page.

5.  Share sweet testimonials or reviews on social media
Since your stuff is fantastic, I’m sure people are saying lovely things about it. Right? Right. Don’t keep that information to yourself! Share it on Facebook; Danielle does it with class here.

If you get positive feedback in the form of a tweet, retweet it! If the review is longer than 140 characters turn it into a 440 x 200 image and embed it directly into your Twitter stream – like I did here. Of course, you’ll cleverly wrap up these testimonials with a link to your sales page.

How do you build buzz for your products? I’d love to hear your best stuff!

P.S. How to take gorgeous, sales-making product photos

photo by Eric Danley // cc

How To (Nicely) Set Boundaries With Your Clients + My ‘Collaboration Guidelines’

set-boundaries-with-clients
A friend once described me as ‘the one with boundaries.’

Now, I’m not entirely sure it was meant as a compliment but I chose to interpret it as one.

When you’re newly self-employed it is so incredibly easy (and even advisable!) to say yes to every client and every project that comes your way. And we’re often so hungry for business we allow our clients to walk all over our deadlines, expectations, and tip toe over our boundaries.

But what if we never made those boundaries particularly clear?

In a perfect world, that client would apply a bit of Golden Rule logic when calling you on Saturday afternoon or dawdling on their invoice, but we teach people how to treat us and people frequently need to be taught in a rather blunt-if-loving way.

I do two things to establish (what I hope are) loving, mutually beneficial boundaries with clients: 

1. I work on one small project with them before we commit to an on-going, on-retainer relationship
One of my secrets to a sane, sustainable, not-freaking-out-about-rent-this-month freelance life is having several clients on retainer – that way I know even if I sell zero ebooks and no ad space, my rent and bills are always covered.

But you wouldn’t jump into a Serious Business Relationship without a few dates. My clients and I might work through a few blog posts or a ghost written ebook before we dive into something big and committed. If they need more than three rounds of edits or want daily check-in phone calls, it’s probably not meant to be – for either of us.

2. I have a set of ‘collaboration guidelines’ (which you can totally copy)
A happy, healthy relationship – romantic, platonic, professional – requires open communication, knowing how your partner works best and what annoys the sweet bejesus out of them.

Enter my ‘collaboration guidelines.’ Once my client and I decide that we’re in it for the (relative) long-haul, I try to initiate a conversation about how each of us do our best work.

Verbatim, here’s the email I send them:

These will probably strike you as ‘holy crap obvious’ but they are all things that have (sadly) actually come up with previous clients.  And I always feel that putting all our cards on the proverbial table from the get-go is the best policy.

So!  Here are my ‘collaboration guidelines’!

* After being shorted by a client who’s a pastor (!) I ask that first time clients pay for 100% of their package up front.  After we’ve worked together for three months, we can create a different payment arrangement if you’d like.

* In an attempt to have an actual life outside of work, I try not to respond to emails or phone calls after 6:00 pm CST on weekdays or on at all on weekends.  And I don’t expect you to, either.  If I email you on a weekend or at night, please feel free to ignore it till the morning or Monday. ;)

* Whenever possible, I prefer email over phone calls.  I work in coffee shops a lot and we all hate that person who talks loudly on their phone in coffee shops.

* I won’t call you unexpectedly if you won’t call me unexpectedly.

* My usual turn around time for writing is 2-3 business days.  It’s unlikely that I can write or edit something for a client that day or the next.

* In an effort to keep my email inbox under control, I like to limit communication to one or two long, information-filled emails each day.  I promise I won’t email you one-liner emails if you won’t do that to me. ;)

* I will usually write your piece and share it with you in Google docs. You can add comments or suggest edits by clicking ‘insert’ and ‘comment.’

* I ask that all clients who have purchased a 10 hour package with me use those ten hours within three months of purchasing it.

Tell me how you work best and if these make sense!

….

The amazing thing? Every.single.time I’ve shared these with my clients they’ve been appreciative of  my transparency and given incredibly valuable insights into how they work best.

One client likes confirmation that I received each email she sends me. Another has a list of words she doesn’t want included in the posts I ghost-write for her. A third prefers Trello comments over emails.  And I’m totally happy to accommodate all of those needs now that I know!

Do you struggle establishing boundaries with clients? If you have any good tips, please share them in the comments!  

P.S. How to deal with people unsubscribe/unfollow/troll your blog

photo by 
 // cc

9 Things You Should Read If You Take Your Blog/Business Seriously

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hilarious shirt via Wild Republic Designs.

SUCH A GOOD IDEA! (all caps necessary) Tackle your passion project with the 90-90-1 rule:
For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your work day to the one best opportunity in your life. Nothing else. Zero distractions. Just get that project done. Period.

I’ve pretty much given up on Facebook now, but if you haven’t, here’s how to see what is and isn’t working.

A checklist of 40 (!) things to consider before publishing a blog post.

How many of these do you do? 12 weekend habits of highly successful people.
Timothy Ferris: Don’t multi-task
Multi-tasking is so 2005. It may be tempting to maximize your weekend productivity by running on the treadmill while calling your mother and trolling your newsfeed, but successful people know that this just reduces efficiency and effectiveness. Instead, be present for each single activity. Ferris recommends a maximum of two goals or tasks per day to ensure productivity and accomplishments align.

Ever get a little annoyed when people want to ‘pick your brain’ (re: get free consulting from you)?
Now you can say no, gracefully.

Loved these five tips for new business 
Attract now, repel later.
As a new business, in the beginning it’s a good idea to stay open to different kinds of clients. Learn from each and build a solid financial cushion before specializing. Once you’ve passed the year mark, step back, reevaluate and decide who you’d like to attract more of. Focusing in on a particular niche will help you to position yourself as an expert and when you specialize, you’ll be able to charge more for your services.

Five really easy ways to make sure people open + read your email newsletter.

A good reminder when it comes to creativity: you’re a river, not a reservoir.
Be the river. Allow life, and people, and the universe to pour into you. And instead of worrying if you’ll ever get anything more, let it go, pay it forward, release it on into someone else’s life. Create the space for more to be poured into you!

If you’re a beauty, fashion, or design blogger you should really know about these 12 blogger blogger outreach programs.

And a few posts I wrote that you might have missed: How to blog if you don’t like writing and 6 oddly obvious mistakes you might be making online.

P.S. If you don’t want to miss any posts, jump on my list! I’ll give you two free ebooks as a thank you!

5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Crowdfunding Your Business

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This guest post comes to us via Brenda Bazan and Nancy Hayes who co-founded MoolaHoop. It’s a rewards-based crowdfunding platform created by women to help women leverage the “power of the crowd” to grow their businesses. MoolaHoop enables female entrepreneurs, business owners and managers to garner financial support for their projects by reaching out to their customers, offering Rewards in the form of special pricing on their products and services and unique experiences. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter

So, you’ve heard the impressive crowdfunding success stories and are looking to launch your own campaign for your business. Great! Crowdfunding can be an excellent debt and equity-free way to raise funds to grow your company.

However, a crowdfunding campaign is a full-time marketing campaign. It involves a lot of preparation and hard work. Before you start your project, you should assess whether it is the right funding tool for you. Here are five questions to ask yourself to determine if your business is right for crowdfunding:

  1. What kind of business do I have?

Crowdfunding works best if you have a consumer product or service.  If your business serves other businesses, this may not be the method for you.

Rewards-based crowdfunding is essentially a pre-sale of products that your customers want right away. So the most successful campaigns offer early availability of new products or exclusive deals on things your customers love.

  1. Do I have a “crowd”?

Before you take on a crowdfunding campaign, you need to have a concrete list of who your customers are.

Collect their e-mails, invite them to like you on Facebook and have them follow you on Twitter. Once you have your followers, you’ll be able to start a conversation and engage real people in your business.

You can do things like provide special discounts, event invitations or access to behind-the-scenes content. Offer them something exclusive that is only available to people who join the community

Before you start a campaign, you need to determine how big your social network really is. How many people follow you on Twitter? How many receive your e-mail newsletter? These are the people you will be inviting to support your campaign, so the bigger your crowd, the wider your reach.

40-50% of your pledges will come from your direct social network and the remaining 50-60% will come from their networks. This means you have to have a big crowd and a story that people are compelled to share with their friends and family.

  1. How do I tell my story to best engage my supporters?

People always want to be part of a success story. They want to be able to say that they “knew you when.” They like the idea of supporting you in building your dream.

So, you have to tell your story in a way that lets your supporters be a part of an exciting narrative. Rather than saying “I can’t make my rent payments for the next three months, please donate to my campaign,” instead tell people that there’s enormous demand for your product or service but that you need their help to raise the funds to bring your product to market or move your business to a larger space. Always frame your story in a positive light to get people excited about your next step.

  1. Can I offer appealing rewards?

A crowdfunding campaign runs for a limited period of time so your rewards have to invite people to act now. That means either they get the product before anybody else, or they get a deal or experience that will never be offered again.

Get creative. For consumer products, considering offering a limited edition color or style. For services, a special event or a behind-the-scenes experience can be very enticing.

Offering things that are currently available on your website or at your place of business is unlikely to elicit enthusiastic support.

  1. Am I that person?

A crowdfunding campaign is a 24/7, nonstop marketing push. It requires you to ask and ask and ask for support. That will mean personal calls and e-mails as well as face-to-face meetings. This is definitely not for everyone. You have to be willing to really sell your business (and yourself) to be successful. You can’t just sit back after you’ve launched your campaign and hope for the pledges to roll in.

In addition to your supporters, you’ll need to get writers, bloggers and press interested in your story to give your campaign some extra PR fuel. It’s best if you’ve built some of these relationships prior to starting your campaign. In other words, you have to be constantly getting the word out.

This checklist should help you determine if crowdfunding is going to be the right method to help you to obtain the capital you need to expand your business. We look forward to seeing you grow!

Have you ever crowdfunded a project? How did it go? Share your stories and tips in the comments!

photo by david marcu // cc

An I-can’t-believe-I-haven’t-been-doing-this Trick To Get More Out Of Your Guest Posts

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A few months ago, the good people at Mind Body Green were kind enough to syndicate an old post of mine.
We edited it a bit, added a new, more engaging title and allofasudden 18,000+ people liked it on Facebook.

Amazing, right?!

And you know what I did to capitalize on all that traffic and all those new readers?
I blushed happily when people tweeted about it.
I bragged to my cat about it.
I looked through my archives and wondered what other posts I could repurpose.

Which is to say: I did nothing.

I did absolutely nothing to turn those tweeters and new readers into social media followers, newsletter subscribers, or clients.
18,000 people liked what I wrote and shared it with their friends and I did nooooothing with that.

You know what I should have done?
Created a page specifically for the the readers of Mind Body Green and linked to that page in my bio.

When you guest post for a high traffic website, you get a tiny slice of bio, 50ish words to convince those readers that you’re worth following. Do you point them towards your newsletter? Your huge Twitter following? That other applicable post? Your free ebook?

Yes.

You can do all that when you create a page, just for them, with all your best stuff and then link to this page-of-awesome in your guest post bio.
(You can see how I did that for my Mind Body Green readers here.)

What should you put on your specific-to-guest-posts page?

1. A greeting to your new readers
Readers will feel all warm and cozy and taken care of when you greet them. When you come to my house for dinner, I’m going to take your coat and pour you a nice glass of red. Do the same for your blog guests.

2. A selection of posts you think they’ll like
Based on the posts Mind Body Green publishes, I can surmise that their readers like life-y, inspirational, instructional posts. So I rounded up some of my best life-y, inspirational, instructional posts, made some pretty images for them and then linked the ish out of ‘em.

If I was writing a guest post on a travel blog? I’ve obviously link to my best travel posts. You get the idea!

3. Links to your social media accounts
Because if they follow you on social media, they’re a million times more likely to see future posts and products. (Are we friends on Twitter? Or Instagram? I’d love it if we were!)

4. A signup for your newsletter
In a perfect world, you’d have real, actual sign up boxes in the post (rather than a link to a second page) but any mention of your list is better than nothing. Not sure if you need a newsletter? You probably do. Here’s why.

Clever, no? You can use this specific-to-readers page to capture readers when you buy ad space or link to it (rather than just your homepage) when you guest post!

P.S. If you’d like more awesome internet/creativity/business advice, I rounded up all my favorite resources here!

photo by JD Hancock // cc

How To Get Your Site + Shop Ready For The Holidays

holiday-shoppingIs my mention of The Holidays giving you an eye-roll headache?
(I know. Me, too.) 

But for forewarned is forearmed, guys. For a lot of businesses, about 20% of sales happen in December; if you spend the next few weeks shoring up your shop, I bet you could nudge that percentage even higher.

Which means a longer post-holiday vacation somewhere sunny and more fancy cheese snacks.

I’m so serious about helping you guys prepare, I even called in some help. My friend Roxie co-owns Frostbeard Studio, a pottery and candle-making shop here in Minneapolis. Last year, Buzzfeed linked to their Old Books candle and things got R.E.A.L pretty fast. She was kind enough to chime in with her advice for makers and brick and mortar folks.

On the internet

Start building your list TODAY
Why do you need an email list? Oh, a million reasons. It will help you stay in touch with previous and potential customers, it will help you share updates and new products, it builds loyalty with your people.

I use and love Mailchimp, though I’ve heard good things about Aweber and ConstantContact. Place your signup box somewhere obvious (when I moved mine under my header, I tripled my signups!) and give your people an incentive to sign up – a free ebook or a discount off their first order.

Get Thank You cards printed
If you’re sending out physical products I know you’ve already got your branded packaging game on lockdown, right? Like, pretty tissue paper, maybe a sticker, a signed note thanking them for their business, maybe a coupon for a future purchase? (When I sold cat calendars last year, I included a thank you note from my cat and cat-shaped confetti!)

If you’re looking for card design inspiration, here’s a roundup of some amazing designs.

Submit your products to blogs
Most major blogs are working on content (and gift guides) 1-2 months ahead of time, so now is the time to submit that book/necklace/thematic tarot set. Of course, read their submission guidelines carefully, address them by name (spelled correctly), tell them why you think this product would resonate with their readers and send through really gorgeous photos.

More info about how to pitch bloggers here.

Buy ad space for November + December
And make the most of it! I’d also suggest getting on this post-haste since big blogs fill up way ahead of time. (Of course, I’d love it if you bought ad space on Yes and Yes for the holidays!)

Make a blogging contingency plan
If you have a blog that you update regularly, either put it on vacation (here’s how) or write posts now and schedule them out for that busy time of year. Readers are usually a) busy attending ugly sweater parties b) pretty forgiving during that time of year.

I think’s it perfectly fine to just write a “Hey! We’re up to our neck in holiday orders – what a lovely problem to have! See you January 5th!” post and point readers towards your archives and social media.

In your studio or shop

Make more inventory than you think you’ll need
Crazy things can happen (like a Buzzfeed article!) that might throw your business into an uproar and if you just sell your usual, holiday amount? Well, you’ll have a nice healthy inventory for later.

Stock up on supplies so you don’t end up maxing out your credit cards
If you make + mail your goods, you’ll need all sorts of unsexy stuff: labels, padded mailers, yarn, jars. It’ll make things waaaay less stressful if you’ve got plenty of those on hand when the holiday rush hits.

Consider making a special holiday item in the gift price range (under $20)
Make it appealing, one-size, potentially gender-neutral. Highlight that product somewhere obvious (link to it on your homepage!) or create a page rounding up all your gift-price-friendly goods.

Hire help
Or at least reach out to people to see if they’d be available to help if stuff gets crazy. Good potential helpers: your freelancer friends, college-aged siblings who are home on break and want money, even parents.

Say “no” to things
Now is not the time for custom orders, a million craft fairs, moving studios, launching a new product. Keep things as simple and streamlined as possible.

Realize it’s okay to close down shop early or have items run out of stock
When Frostbeard’s candles went viral, they had to stop taking orders on December 7th and even then they were working 18-hour days!

Think they lost sales and momentum? No way. Even closing early they signed new wholesale clients and since then they’ve hired two full time employees and upgraded studios twice. If people like what you’re selling they’ll still want to buy it when it becomes available again. (And if you get them on your email list, you can let them know when those products are available!)

Try not to work on the weekends
Roxie warns me that she’s not particularly good at this but we all know that taking breaks leads to better, higher quality, faster work.

Have treats for yourselves & employees
Order in food for lunch, hire a massage therapist for back massages. Plan a vacation (even just a weekend to relax) post-holidays! There’s a reason you’re doing all this hard work and it’s spelled b-e-a-c-h.

Whew! How are you getting your online (or offline!) space ready for the holidays?

P.S. Did you know that when you sign up for my newsletter, I’ll give your online space a once-over and send you three specific-to-you suggestions to make it tighter + more lucrative? What a good idea to prepare for that holiday traffic!

P.P.S. If you know a small business owner who stresses out every holiday season, send ‘em a link to this post!

photo by wikipedia // cc

How To Buy The Best Ad Space (And Make The Most Of It)

buy-the-best-ad-spaceSo you’re super serious about your site. You bought the domain name, you’ve got social media on lockdown, and you’re ready to buy ad space so you can piggyback off someone else’s traffic.

Awesome! But how does one make sure that’s money well spent?

I’m so glad you asked, friend.

1. Obviously, advertise on a site that’s read by your ideal customers and clients
If you sell artisan vinegars you should be advertising on a food blog, not a fashion blog. If you sell purses you should be advertising on a fashion blog, not an online marketing blog. If you’re a mommy blog, you probably don’t want to advertise on Rookie.  Generally speaking, lifestyle blogs are a decent fit for most products aimed at women and design blogs work for anything that’s style-y and homes-good-ish.

2. Look for (or ask for) testimonials from previous advertisers
What sort of traffic boost can you expect? How many new Twitter followers? How many new list signups? Hopefully, the site will post these sponsor testimonials (mine are here) and if they don’t make that information public, they should at least be able to tell you about an expected return on investment.

When possible looks for hard numbers. Things like “When I looked at site statistics for readers from Yes & Yes: the average (lovely) visitor from Y&Y stayed on my site for 3:22 minutes compared to an average 1:22, the bounce rate was 44% compared to the average 78%, and Y&Y was my second largest traffic source for the month.” Rather than “Sarah was really easy to work with!

3. Find sites that will include you in an actual blog post
Now, this is the proverbial needle in the haystack but if you can find a high-traffic blog that includes sponsors in real, actual blog posts, I so encourage you to work with them. I am, of course, biased because I include my sponsors in blog posts but I also speak from experience.  I’ve purchased sidebar ad space and sidebar + included-in-a-post ad space and they can’t compare.

Most people read blogs in RSS feeds these days so they never even see the sidebar! I couldn’t in good conscience ask people to pay $80 a month for an ad tens of thousands of people weren’t seeing.

4. Link your ad to a list of freebies, your ‘best ofs’ or your newsletter signup
So you’ve purchased your ad space. Are you going to link it to your home page? I totally understand the inclination, but it’s actually a lot smarter to link to your ‘best ofs’ (here’s mine), your freebies (like Danielle does), or your newsletter signup (like Laura did with her Yes and Yes ad space). 

Your goal with your ad space is to begin a long, loving relationship with your new readers. You don’t want those new readers to pop over to your site, read half a post, and then leave, never to turn their thoughts in your direction again. You want them to take action – download something, sign up for something, follow you on social media so you can keep in touch with them.

If you’re suuuuper ambitious, you can even make a page that’s specific to the readers of the site where you’re advertising and make sure that page is optimized to appeal to those readers.

5. If your ad links to a blog post(s) make sure they’re optimized + as awesome as humanly possible
What does that mean?  Optimized blog posts
* include in-text links to related content
* are related to your services or offerings and link accordingly
* have gorgeous, Pinterest-friendly images (here’s how to make your images more pinnable)
* you’ve written alt text and title text for the images (it’s not that hard)
* maybe you’ve even used the P.S. trick

I realize this sounds like one metric ton of work but if you’re going to spend money on an ad, you might as well, you know, benefit from it. If you’re interested in buying ad space on Yes and Yes, you can check out my rates and info here – my sponsors love it and I have tons of repeat business! 

Tell me: what other sites do you know that include sponsors in actual posts? Where have you advertised?

P.S. If you know someone who’s bought ad space and been disappointed or is thinking of buying ad space for the holidays, send ‘em a link to this post!

photo by  // cc

9 blog posts that will make your online space hum with awesomery

links for online businesses

Good reminders for those of us who work from home!
Get Out of Your HouseThe hardest part about working from home can be feeling a bit isolated from your community. So make it a point to get out a few times a week. I like meeting local clients and creative peers at my favorite coffee shop. I also like to get some fresh air with a morning walk before I begin my day. 

Hooooly useful. 50+ places to repurpose your content!

I’ve been busy circle-ifying headshots. Here’s how you can do it with Picmonkey – for free!

An insanely useful post from Paul Jarvis about how to grow your freelancing business. So much good stuff in there!
Start by getting into the head of the people you want to get hired by
Make a list of people that have hired freelancers that use the same skills as you have and have recently hired for it. Send them a quick email to see if you can ask them for their advice.

Would your blog posts be more engaging if you were using gifs? It’s easy to make your own with Giffysnap!

Have you ever failed at something? (Um, are you a human?) If you have, here’s how to get over it.

Before you contact a professional peer you haven’t talked to in ages and ask them to promote your stuff, read this.

I loved Jill’s post about how to get rich as a blogger.

A sneaky way to get more people to read what you write.

And some posts you might have missed: Collaborating your way to more traffic + clients and How to toot your own horn without being totally annoying.

Have you read or encountered anything super helpful lately? Leave links in the comments!

 photo by  //cc

6 Things Your WordPress Site Wants You To Do Every Month

This guest post comes to us from Norma Maxwell, founder and CEO of Connect Interactive, LLC, a digital creative agency that specializes in WordPress design, development and strategic online success building. Her passion is helping clients create a strategic online presence that not only connects with the right people, but resonates long after they have made their first contact. Connect with Norma on Twitter or Facebook. 

wordpress-updates

WordPress is like a car. It needs regular tuneups to keep running smoothly.

Having your own self-hosted WordPress website is a beautiful (and necessary) thing for any serious business owner or blogger. Unlike websites hosted on proprietary platforms owned and controlled by someone else, a self-hosted website is 100% owned and controlled by you.  It’s like the difference between owning your own car, or renting from someone else.  When you rent, you follow someone else’s (always changing) rules, and you pay a lot more money for the privilege.

But, just like owning a car, having a self-hosted WordPress website requires upkeep.  You keep the oil changed and schedule regular maintenance to make sure your car keeps running smoothly. In the same way, your website requires regular maintenance to make sure it stays up-to-date, secure, and runs like it should. You can change the oil and run the maintenance on your car yourself, or hire a mechanic to do it for you. Either way, you owe it to yourself to make sure your website stays secure and maintained, so you won’t find yourself broken down on the side of the Internet highway.

How to Keep Your WordPress Website Maintained + Safe

  1. Create a weekly or monthly (depending on how much content you stand to lose if you do it less often) complete backup of your WordPress database, images, and all content.
    You can do this by purchasing a backup plugin that will help you create the backup. I use the Backup Buddy plugin on my clients’ websites. Store the backups locally on your server and on a remote storage account (such as Amazon S3). Although some hosts offer backup plans, if something happens to their server, you’ll have a complete backup of your website stored elsewhere, which gives you peace-of-mind–just like keeping your important papers stored in a safety security box in a bank.
  2. Keep your WordPress software, themes and plugins updated.
    If you don’t, you run a real risk of your website getting hacked and infected with malware. Every time WordPress releases an update, it’s because the developers have discovered a vulnerability, or are making the software perform better in some way.  The same thing goes for themes and plugins you’re using on your site. You get an alert in your administration panel when an update has been released, and it’s a two-three click operation to update your software.  Whenever you log in, if you see a plugin, theme, or WordPress requires an update–just do it.
  3. Remove unused themes and plugins, and get rid of unnecessary plugins.
    Any extra software on your website creates risk. If you’re not using a theme, delete it.  Same thing goes for any disabled plugins on your site. If you have plugins installed on your site that aren’t absolutely necessary, get rid of them.Less is definitely more in this case because the most important thing you can do for your visitors is offer them a safe visit to your website, and maintaining a healthy, fast website is the best way you can do this for them. A bunch of plugins you don’t need = slow site performance. Slow site performance = lost visitors to your website and lost revenue for your business.There are thousands of plugins available for WordPress, but that doesn’t mean you should use them all!

    Any developer in the world can create a plugin which means the quality can vary a LOT.  Some plugins are great, and some not-so-much.  Check to make sure the plugins you use are supported and regularly updated by the developer.  Read user reviews to see if people are having positive results from the plugin.  You can find all this information on the WordPress.org page for that plugin (if the plugin you want to use isn’t listed there–it’s a red flag, so I would recommend you don’t use it).

  4. Perform regular security scans.
    Hackers are busier than ever wreaking havoc on innocent websites. It’s a fact of life that can’t be ignored because one malware infection can cause you to lose all of your website content, put your site visitors at risk, and potentially cause your website address to be blacklisted by Google. All of which would definitely NOT be good for business. You can monitor your WordPress website for malware by using a plugin like WordFence or setting up a subscription web service like Sucuri to make sure you’ll be notified of any vulnerabilities your site has immediately.
  5. I also recommend installing the iThemes Security plugin to give yourself an extra layer of protection against threat by hiding vital areas of your site, restricting access to important files, preventing brute-force login attempts, detecting any attack attempts, and notifying you by email if there are any issues with your site.
  6. Use a comment spam prevention plugin like Akismet to control comment spam.
    You can review any spam comments it catches in the admin section of your site.
  7. Create a secure username and password and change it regularly.
    A secure password is 18 characters long, and contains a combination of special characters, capital and lowercase letters, and numbers. You can use a free application like Passpack Desktop to help you generate secure passwords and store them securely in one place so you can always look them up when you need them.

I know it seems like a lot of work, and it does take some time, but if you take these steps, you’ll have a safe, secure website that runs like a charm and doesn’t stress you out.  Your website takes care of you in so many ways, so it makes sense that you need to take care of it to make sure it functions as it should.  If you’d rather have dental work than do this yourself, I have a Monthly Maintenance for WordPress package just for you.   I’ll take care of making sure your website is safe, secure, and running smoothly so you can focus on what you do best!

What updates do you run on your site? What are you favorite plugins? Tell us in the comments!

P.S. 7 ways to spring clean your blog and How to use Google Webmaster tools in a non-overwhelming way.