11 articles + tools that will end your business year on a high note

blogging tools

This is the last link roundup for 2015! We’ve got a great guest post coming up for you next week and then I’ll be taking the rest of December off from Sarahvonbargen.com. Too busy eating lefse and latkes!

The hard work is easier when you choose to love it.

A collection of letters from famous people, graciously saying ‘no.’

So, so, so helpful! Free, time-saving design tools for non-designers. (I particularly like the tool that helps you pair Google fonts!)

Have you ever wondered how freelancers and people with super diverse income streams make it work? Lauren writes about it here and I really like that she addresses being married and being a freelancer.

Unlike me, my husband, John, works a traditional 9-to-5 office job. I’m pretty sure a lot of people just assume John provides for me, or at least pays some of my bills. Not the case. We split everything 50-50, because yes, I make about as much as he does with my weird job.

Have you guys seen Pickle Jar? Every day they upload another beautiful, free, Creative Commons image that you can use however you like!

I’m not always as proactive about improving my writing as I could be. Here are 50 short, easy tips to tweak and practice your writing skills.

Have you ever heard of Wordoid? It combines two real words into one new word – it’s great for product naming and idea-ing! “Literacted” “Finitively,” indeed!

I love it when bloggers let their readers behind the proverbial curtain. Sarah shares 6 things I did to try and build my business that didn’t work at all.

Let’s be real. Building a ‘personal brand’ is weird.

I don’t think it’s possible to appeal to everyone and still be authentic, let alone unique. When Leland declared my web-site font “almost hippie-dippy,” I couldn’t help but get a bit defensive. So what if it is? My truest self does not use “impact” as a verb. My truest self likes to be catty about former employers that have done me wrong, not write pleasant summaries of what I was able to achieve while working there. My truest self is sending GIFs to my friends, not cheerfully influencing strangers’ thoughts.

Have you ever been asked to do ‘spec work’ for free? Watch how people in other industries react to that foolishness.

YES. I loved Jennifer’s honest essay about how you can really have it all (it’s not the usual advice, either!)

Flexibility is great, but don’t sacrifice too much income for it. Plenty of people have extremely flexible careers because they are freelancers who barely have any work.

It’s also possible to have a career that’s so flexible that it gets flexed into nonexistence when your partner makes more money and there’s childcare to take care of. You can work “anytime, from anywhere,” so your work time gets relegated to naptime (no word on when you get to eat or shower). It only gets worse from there.

And a few things I wrote that you might have missed: How to host your first workshop and How to deal when people unsubscribe/unfollow/troll your blog.

How to enjoy work (even when you’re busy + kind of overwhelmed)

Want to enjoy work? Even during your busy season? You can if you follow these 8 tips!

Do you quietly hate it when people tell you how busy they are?

Do you inwardly roll your eyes when someone responds to “How are you?” with a laundry list of duties and responsibilities they’ve been laboring under?

(but who cares and that’s kind of annoying, right?)

Because we’re all busy. We’re all sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated; we’re all over-committed and under-relaxed.

And while I’d like very much to tell you (and myself) to “say ‘no’ more” and “take on less,” that’s not always an option – particularly at work.

If you’re self-employed, you know what I mean.

If you’re launching something or starting a new job or training a new hire or absorbing responsibilities, you know what I mean.
If you’re a photographer and it’s wedding season,
If you’re an accountant and it’s tax season,
If you’re a teacher and it’s standardized test/conference/report card season,
you know what I mean.

Here are 8 ways I’ve learned to enjoy work, even when I’m car-razy busy.

1. Schedule intentional, restorative breaks – even if they’re tiny

Open your Google calendar, find a 20-minute window, and literally type “TAKE A BREAK, DUDE.” Set a reminder on your phone or computer and when that alarm goes off take an actual break.

And by actual break what I mean is “physically distance yourself from the project you’re working on and do something completely different and totally relaxing for 20 minutes.”

If you’re tapping away on your computer, push back from your desk, point yourself towards some fresh air and go wander around it in. If you’re grading papers, go make yourself a healthy, energy-giving, prettily plated snack and eat it on the patio. If you’re taping off the trim before you paint the kitchen, put down the painters’ tape and go watch an episode of your favorite VT show.

And if this intense, high-pressure time will last longer than a few days – if it’s more like a few months – schedule a block of off days. Go camping. House swap with a friend. See what crazy all-inclusive trips Groupon is selling. Leave your phone and laptop at home and spend a few days really, truly recharging.

I know it can feel impossible to find time for these breaks.

But here’s the thing: when you wear yourself down and burn yourself out, you’re compromising the quality of your work and you’re borrowing from future productivity and creativity.

The stuff I create when I’m running on five hours of sleep? I usually end up deleting it all. Taking a break – and spending that break really relaxing and rejuvenating – is an investment in yourself and your work.

2. Keep a ‘smile file’

Is that name so cheesy you want to die? BE THAT AS IT MAY THIS ISH WORKS.

Every time you get a kind email from a blog reader/client/customer, move it into a folder that you’ve specifically designated for these glowing missives. If you do better with physical, tangible things, print out these emails and but them in a binder. If you’re lucky enough to get snail mail thank you notes, tuck them into a folder in your filing cabinet.

Reference all these kind, glowing words when you’re feeling run down and unsure of why you’re working so hard. It’s encouragement on tap!

3. Read glorious, escapist fiction

When you’re studying for the GRE or launching your first product, it’s tempting to spend every free minute reading things that will help you score a few points higher or nab a few more sales. Spoiler alert: GRE study guides and social media marketing plans don’t make for very good bedtime reading and they certainly don’t give you and your brain an opportunity to recharge.

Cut yourself some slack and put away the professional development. Re-read one of your favorite novels or find something that’s equal parts funny and (relatively) intelligent. I like Jennifer Wienerfor smarter-than-usual Lady Stories or anything by L.M. Montgomery for cozy, ‘comfort’ reading.


4. Make your workspace + work experience as lovely as possible

This might sound frivolous, but you’d be amazed by the difference a few tweaks can make.

What if you…

  • Moved your desk so you got more natural light?
  • Added a potted plant?
  • Decluttered your desk – or at least shoved all the clutter into a drawer?
  • Hung a few pretty art prints? (I like this one, this one, and this one)
  • Cleaned your computer so it ran faster and wasn’t covered in crumbs and smudges?
  • Considered the hours that you’re most creative + productive and adjusted your work schedule accordingly?
  • Bought office supplies and software that were a joy to use? (cough these paper clips cough)

If you’re spending all that time working, you might as well do it in a pretty, inspiring space at a time of day you like!

5. Make yourself as physically comfortable as possible

Be smarter than me. Don’t buy a used Ikea desk chair off Craigslist because it “works with your aesthetic.”

Get yourself ergonomic stuff – the special mouse, the special keyboard, one of those nerdy wrist rest things. If you sit while you’re working, make sure your desk and chair are adjusted correctly. If it’s possible, get a standing desk or a convertible desk that can switch between sitting and standing.

Make sure your workspace has enough light, enough space to spread out and – depending on where you live – humidify or dehumidify as needed.


6. Eat healthy, delicious, attractive meals – not at your desk

When we’re working 12-hour days, it’s easy to convince ourselves that a Clif bar is a meal and that eating fast food at our desks is “multitasking.”

Friends, eating Chipotle at our desks is not multitasking. It’s messy and it’s a recipe for sticky keyboards and burnout.

You’ll do better work and have more energy if you take the time to step away from your work and eat a real meal.

What if you:

  • Made a giant batch of soup and ate a bowl of it every day for lunch
  • Transferred your takeout to an actual plate and ate it at a table – with a placemat! And a napkin!
  • Used your lunch break to try a new restaurant in your neighborhood
  • Ate your meal outside, soaking up the sunshine
  • Read this great article from Bon Appetit – Lunch al Desko: Upgrade Your Midday Meal

7. Take your work day seriously

When you work for yourself – or you’re in the middle of your busy season – it’s easy to let your workday rampage out of control. Allofasudden you’re answering emails in bed and starting work late because you ended work late the day before.

Ferociously guard the boundaries between work and play. Maybe you need to work 9 am – 9 pm for a month; maybe you need to work six days a week. That’s okay! But really, actually work those hours and when the clock clicks over from 8:59 to 9:00 pm, hang up your proverbial apron and call it a day.

When you’re entering a busy season, consider the hours you’ll need to work. Block them off on your calendar and work those hours. And when those hours are over? STOP.

8. Remind yourself why you’re working so hard 

Why, exactly, are you busting your sweet behind? Why are you working 12-hour days or juggling two jobs? It’s hard to stay motivated if you can’t remember why you’re working these long hours and making all these compromises.

Create a visual reminder of your goals and aspirations. Maybe you’re working this hard so you can afford a three-week vacation in Thailand. Maybe you’re putting your kids through college. Maybe you want your name on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Whatever the goal, find a related photo or image and make it your screensaver, or frame it and hang it next to your desk! Just make sure it’s visible and easy to reference when you’re working at 8 pm on Sunday night.

How do you deal when you’re in the middle of a busy season? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

P.S. How To Feel Great Even If You Stare At Screens All Day

5 Steps to Writing an Irresistible Sales Page

This guest post comes from Courtney Johnston. Courtney is the founder and Chief Copywriter at The Rule Breaker’s Club. She teaches women entrepreneurs how to write amazing sales pages and even performs “Sales Page CPR”. In her free course, The Rainbow of Sales, you can learn her unique approach to selling.

The work I do has a rather challenging obstacle: It makes my clients want to vomit.

As you can imagine, this puts me in a pretty sticky predicament!

My clients want to vomit because I make them do something that they procrastinate, put off, and resist.

What is this nauseating task, you ask?

I teach entrepreneurs how to write sales pages. Yes, sales pages — the page on your website that convinces people that they should work with you.

(Feeling nauseous yet? Keep reading!)

Every day, I work with female entrepreneurs like you who run small creative businesses. My job is to help them craft the right language to make their offers irresistible to their target markets.

These amazingly talented women are some of the most ambitious humans I’ve ever encountered. They’ve launched companies, quit their jobs, raise kids, travel the world, and more.

However, writing sales pages is their achilles heel!

After a couple of years working as a sales page copywriter, I’ve learned one thing:

Women entrepreneurs love what they do, but hate having to sell it.

That might come off as a really generalized, bold and slightly sexist statement. In my experience, however, it’s also really freaking true. (Remember the nausea?)

If you’ve ever tried to give an “elevator pitch” or close a deal, you know how terrifying it can be to sell. Most of us want to write a sales page about as much as we want to scrub a toilet.

And it’s not because we’re “bad” at selling. Far from it! Rather, the amazing women I work with are just like you. They want to help people, not push them with manipulative sales tactics.

We procrastinate writing sales pages because it feels hard and we’re not sure how to do it without compromising our soul.

What if I told you that I can teach you a really fun, rainbow-infused way of writing an amazing sales page (or work-with-me page) for your website?

Yes, really! You can write a sales page that:

  • Feels like having a cozy sit down chat with a good friend.
  • Completely resonates with your readers, making them feel heard, seen, and understood.
  • Makes your target clients think, “How did she get inside my head?!”
  • Converts prospects into clients like gangbusters.

Are you in? I promise it will be super fun. (And I’m dead serious about the rainbows).

Grab your best pen and hit “play” on some dance music.

Here are the 5 steps you must take to write an irresistible sales page:


First off, your sales page needs a powerful opening.

I once read that 80% of the emotional connection is made in the first 20% of the copy. In my experience, this is totally true!

So how on earth do you make this all-important emotional connection?

The answer might surprise you: You have to become a mind reader.

Yes, really! It’s actually not that hard to read your target client’s mind. All you need to do is use the exact language that they are using when they think about (or talk about) their current situation.

To show your reader that you understand how they feel, answer the following questions:

What’s your target client’s core frustration? In other words, what’s the problem that your product or service will fix?

Writing prompt for Step 1:

  • Are you sick of ________________________?


Congratulations! You’ve got their attention. Now how do you get them to keep reading?

One of the best ways to keep people’s attention on a sales page, in a presentation, or any piece of communication is to vacillate between the “high” and the “low.”

In the first section, you addressed the “low” and it’s time to take them high and show them what’s possible (once they use your product).

If you can paint a picture for the reader of what their life will look like once they’ve used your offer, they’ll be able to see that you understand not only what they’re struggling with right now, but what they desire most.

What will someone be able to feel, see, do once they’ve solved the problem from step one? How will their life look different? What will they be able to do / be / or have now?

Writing prompt for Step 2:

  • Imagine what life will look like when…
  • What if you could be / do / have…


Whew! Nice work.

Now that the reader is totally on the edge of their seat, it’s time to show them that you’ve got exactly what they need to get what they want. You’re going to position your offer as the bridge between the two.

When you share the details of your offer, you absolutely must paint a picture of what the experience will look like from start to finish.

It’s often difficult to get outside of your own head and know what details you should share about your product or service. The best way to understand what you need to share is to “step into your client’s shoes.”

Close your eyes and pretend that you are one of your new clients. Then, answer the following question:

What is the step-by-step experience of using your offer from start to finish?

Writing prompt for Step 3:

  • List all of the “touch points” of your product or service. In other words, what’s the experience like from start to finish from the client’s point of view?


Almost every entrepreneur I work with freaks out when it comes to stating the price on their sales pages.

In my opinion, there are very few cases when it’s appropriate to leave the price off of a sales page (highly, highly, HIGHLY customized services or a Tesla, for example). As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to include the price.

How do you state the price of your offer without people clicking away?

The good news: At this point on your sales page, you’ve already sold the offer. In sections 1-2 you aroused desire. In section 3 you painted a word picture of what the experience will look like.

There are two main ways you can introduce the price of your offer:

#1 Simple Price –

Easy peasy! If your offer has one price option, you can introduce the price by stating “Your investment for this service is $X”.

#2 Multiple Pricing Options –

If you have a multi-tiered offer, the best way to introduce the price is with a table. This way, you can show each option side by side, state what’s included in each option, and the price.

Writing prompt for Step 4:

  • What’s the price of your offer?
  • Have multiple tiers? Create a table that outlines what’s included in each tier.


Don’t forget: The entire purpose of a sales page is to get someone to take action.

Once you’ve given the details of your offer and stated the price, it’s time to give your reader an opportunity to say YES. Specifically, you want them to click your “Call to Action” button.

For service-based businesses, I always suggest using an application form or questionnaire as a “call to action”. This way, you can qualify leads to make sure they’re a perfect, Goldilocks fit for your service.

For products, a button that says “Enroll Now” or “Get my copy!” is a great option. (Whatever you do, steer clear from the typical “Buy Now” button which reinforces what the person is giving rather than what they’re getting).

Writing prompt for Section 5:

  • What action do you want people to take once they’ve read your page? 

Writing sales page copy doesn’t have to be so hard.

Having a framework helps, but ….

Your future clients are depending on you to inspire and uplift them. And that’s exactly the kind of energy you want to bring to your sales page.

The Life-Changing Magic of Intentional Ignorance

A few weeks ago I did something exceptionally brave.

I had to psyche myself up a bit and it took a few false starts, but after a few minutes of hovering and second guessing, I did it.

I was flooded with a mix of relief and guilt. I felt the internal click of an idea sliding into place, the realization that I could do things differently than I have in the past.

And what difficult, meaningful thing did I do?

Dear readers, I clicked ‘mark all as read’ on my RSS feed.

And when I saw newsletters from some of my favorite writers and bloggers filter into my inbox? I clicked ‘delete.’

Are you audibly groaning and rolling your eyes?

I realize it might not seem like a particularly revolutionary act, but this temporary ‘opting out’ has increased my productivity and cleared my mind like nothing else.

You see, I’m deep in ‘creation mode’ at the moment, I’m ghostwriting a book for Penguin. I’m writing a book proposal for another client. I’m completely rewriting, re-marketing, Kindle-izing and Amazon-ing two of my ebooks.

And all those great articles and clever blog posts and super helpful tutorials that I usually read aren’t helping me get any closer my goals. In fact, they’re distracting and misdirecting me.

Just learned 20 blog changing tweaks? I should probably stop what I’m doing right now and implement every suggestion in that 20-point list.

Just heard about the benefits of Periscope for the 50th time? Better scope riiiiiight now!

Happened upon Regina’s beautifully formatted and optimized images? Wouldn’t it be awesome if every image in my entire archive of 2,000+ blog posts looked like that? Clearly, I should start doing that now.

So I’m making the decision to safeguard my focus and productivity. I’m putting the proverbial blinders on and keeping my eyes on my own paper. And you can do exactly  the same thing if you want to.

You can choose intentional ignorance.

And while any suggestion that includes the word ‘ignorance’ might give you pause, hear me out.

Intentional Ignorance gives you space to do your best work. It frees up mental energy for big, exciting projects. It allows you to focus – with laser-like intensity – on one or two things.

What Intentional Ignorance is

It’s realizing that you’ve reached mental capacity and you don’t have time for another social media platform. It’s deciding that – while you’re sure webinars are great – you’re simply not going to learn about them right now.

It’s deciding that your SEO situation is good enough because you’re focusing on something else for the time being. It’s a temporary decision to put tweaking and fine tuning on hold because you’re busy putting E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G into one (or two) projects.

What Intentional Ignorance isn’t

It’s not a long-term strategy. It’s not an excuse to ignore advances and changes in your field. Intentional Ignorance won’t save you when Google and Facebook change their algorithms.

How you can add a little Intentional Ignorance to your business life

  • Allot a specific amount of time for your information sabbatical
    When are you going to resurface? A week after you launch your product? Once you’re done promoting your new ebook? January 1st? It’ll feel more professional (and less flakey) if you choose an end date.
  • Choose an area of interest and stick with it
    If you’re working on defining your writing voice, those are the blog posts you should be reading, the webinars you should be watching, and the newsletters you should be opening. If doesn’t address the topic you’re working on, you officially have my permission to ignore it. (In the event that you need permission from some stranger on the internet.)
  • Resist the urge to pin/save/sort things that you’ll ‘read later’
    I know, I know. You imagine resurfacing from your romance with Intentional Ignorance and actually clicking through everything you’ve filed in your ‘professional development’ folder.

    I’m here to tell you that a) that won’t happen b) all those unread newsletters carry an immeasurable psychic weight. They make you feel bad just sitting there, all unread! Dude, delete them. That’s what Google is for. When you’re ready, you can just type ‘how to get more blog sponsors‘ into that search box.

  • Consider dialing back your other commitments + responsibilities
    If you’re in the depths of a huge project, you should be intentional with your information consumption and intentional with your energy. You’re totally allowed to post less – or bring in guest posters, host interviews, do link roundups, or reuse old posts.

    You’re allowed to turn down clients or take a vacation from your blog.

We all cycle through seasons in our lives and businesses – times when we’re seeking inspiration and insight and times when we need quiet single-mindedness and uninterrupted time. Take a look at where you are and what you’re doing and if you need to turn down the noise, go ahead and click ‘unfollow’ or ‘unsubscribe’ or even just ‘mark all as read.’

The internet will still be here when you get back.

Have you ever practiced Intentional Ignorance? Would you? What big things are you working on right now?

photo by death to the stock photo // cc

13 articles that will help make your business remarkable + profitable

It’s the end of the month! Here are the best, most helpful things I’ve found on the internet, just for you!

In the last year, two freelancer friends have been injured in bike accidents and watched their income dry up because it’s hard to type or massage when you have a broken arm. Let’s all get disability insurance okay? I just got mine for about $1,000 a year. Here’s what you need to know.

Do you keep signing nightmare clients? Here’s how to spot ’em and avoid ’em.

Trying to write your first ebook? This will help.

I’m juuuuuust now starting to optimize my posts (#lateadopter) so I loved this checklist of 25 SEO questions you should ask yourself before you publish.

And then if you’re riddled with creative self-doubt while you’re writing that ebook, read this.

We all lose our passion for our businesses from time to time, but these four tips will help you reignite that flame.

Oooooh! I love a good behind-the-scenes peek. Here’s EXACTLY how Melissa launched and marketed her Pinterest ecourse.

We’re all half in love with Rashida Jones, right? Then let’s read her interview about being happier at work.
The other thing I’m working on is being willing to accept failure, whether it’s a failure to get a TV show made or a failure to reply to a midnight email. Failure and risk are inherent parts of any real work.

It can be oddly hard to hire people, especially if you don’t know anything about the area you’re hiring in! Here are five things to do before you hire a graphic designer.

I don’t write sales pages anymore, but pretty much every online business need ’em. Here’s Amanda’s 8-step process for crafting an awesome sales page.

Helpful! How to hide an image in a WordPress post!

And a few things I wrote that you might have missed: 3 clever things to do with old blog posts and 6 ways you can build good karma into your business (without losing lots of money)

Photo by Dustin Lee // cc

6 Design Tweaks That Will Make Your Site More Popular + Profitable


This guest post comes to us via Sarah Morgan. Sarah is an award winning web designer and blog consultant. After quitting her corporate job in 2012, she ran away with the circus (literally) to reconnect with her true passions and now helps others do the same. When she’s not busy training as an aerialist, you can find her on XOSarah.com inspiring her readers to turn their passions into a job they love and build strong, successful brands online.

You’ve got an amazing program, a budding business, or a killer product, but your website isn’t holding on to as many visitors as you’d like. They might be showing up in droves, but after only a few seconds they’re turning around and leaving. So what can you do to make your site not only bring people in, but turn them into customers, clients, and raving fans?

How about we start with an example?

Let’s say you’re looking to join a new gym and start (of course) by hopping on Yelp. You find two businesses, both with great reviews, so you click through to their websites to check out pricing. Gym #1 has a sleek site, with lots of great photos, and you find their rates immediately.

Gym #2’s website looks like it may still be hosted on Geocities, has about 16 different fonts blasting you in the face, and it takes a few minutes to locate the link to their pricing page.

Even though Gym #1 has higher rates, my bet is that you’re signing up with them even though according to Yelp, they’re equally awesome.

So why is it so important for your website to look as good as your products or services are? And (of course) what changes can you make to ensure you’re always grabbing those customers, clients, and sales, like Gym #1?

First, your website may be the initial introduction people have to you and your business. Over half of my daily page views come from Pinterest, which means people are likely landing on my site for the first time, so blog post pages MUST share what I’m all about and hook them quickly and efficiently. It takes just a few seconds for users to form an opinion on your blog or business and the majority of their judgment is going to stem from your design before they even start reading your content.

Second, your design should act like the most helpful and friendly receptionist ever. It should guide new visitors through your website, sharing important features and encouraging them to take a specific action. Users shouldn’t be searching for information or wading through unnecessary clutter just to find that one single thing they came looking for.

Third, a well-designed site helps to build trust with your audience. An expert doesn’t seem very expert if their site is a black hole of moving graphics, music, and rainbow colors. (Unless you can be hired for children’s parties – then rainbow it up!) A simple, well-designed site that promotes one idea or product will always fare better than a site that throws everything at the user at once.

So, what can you update on your site RIGHT NOW to make sure new readers feel welcome, informed and excited to connect with you?

  1. Decide on the most important action they should take before leaving your site.

    Don’t leave it up to the user to decide if there’s something specific you want them to do. Likely it will be signing up for your email list, but it could also be subscribing to blog posts, following you on social media, or filling out a consultation form.

  1. Put things in the usual spots.

    If there’s only one thing you take away from this post it should be – don’t make users search for things. Put your social media icons at the top of your site, the bottom of your site, and/or in the sidebar. Add social sharing icons underneath or on the left side of posts. Your navigation should go at the top and bottom of your site. Contact information should be at the top and bottom of your site and in the sidebar. People will not spend more than a few seconds looking for what they need. Don’t let them leave without finding it!

  1. Declutter.

    Your blog is on fire and you can only save 5 things, what are they? On my website, it’s my email opt-in, social media icons, latest blog post, most recent product, and site intro/about me. Remove blog badges, drop-down lists of archives, tag clouds, blog rolls, and anything that’s not helping readers take the action you decided was most important up there in step one.

  1. Stick to 2 fonts and 3 colors.

    I know it’s tempting to use everything blog image as a creative project, but your brand will fare better if you stick you a specific style. This means your whole blog design, blog post images, and all your social media graphics should use the same fonts, colors and image styles. This will make your blog look more cohesive and make your brand instantly recognizable on social media.

  1. Give them just enough information.

    Visitors, especially new ones, don’t need to see every single post, page, product, program, or service you offer. Give them the newest and the best and use those to help move them through your site. If you overload them with content on the first page or pack your sidebar so full it takes away from the blog post people might just ignore everything instead of finding what they need.

  1. Don’t try to appeal to everyone.

    FACT: Not every person that visits your site should love you and what you do. If you’re trying to build a site that appeals to everyone, you’re really drawing in no one. Take some time to get super specific about the type of person you want to work with or would really love what you do and build your site around them.

That’s it! Take those six points, make it happen on your site, and watch people stick around longer, take action, and fall head over heels for your brand!

Download Sarah’s blog design checklist to double that check every post and page is doing its job.

photo via death to the stockphoto // cc

9 Things That Will Make Your Blog Successful (and it’s not the posts you’re writing)

As a professional writer, a former English teacher, and a full-time blogger it pains me deeply to write the following sentence:

Good writing isn’t enough to make your blog successful.

(Can you hear that? It’s 2007 me weeping. It’s Professor Purdy shaking his head. It’s the sound of ‘Bird by Bird’ throwing itself off my bookshelf.)

The truth is, good writing and helpful content are significant aspects of any blog’s success, but if we’re screwing up the other stuff, we’ll struggle to keep readers around or make any money.

And I don’t want that for you! I want your readers to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole of your online space and emerge hours later, fingers numb from clicking the ‘older post’ link. I want them to pick up what you’re putting down and buy what you’re selling.

With that in mind, here are nine things that make for a successful blog … and have very little to do with your actual blog posts.

  1. Your site is clean and professional-looking

How many times have you clicked a promising-sounding link only to find yourself on a center-justified, GIF-filled, neon-fonted Geocities-eque nightmare? For most people, it wouldn’t matter if the blog posts rivaled David Foster Wallace, we want to read things in an aesthetically appealing space. When a site is busy or ugly, we’ll immediately navigate away.

Having a well-designed site is especially important if you’re selling products or services. When your site is polished and professional, you seem more trustworthy, so we’re more likely to buy things from you.

In fact, having a well-designed site is so important, I’ve re-directed potential clients to a web designer before we work together. All the content and strategy advice I give can’t do much when it’s housed on an ugly site!

  1. You show us + tell us what to do next

    Do you want us to sign up for your newsletter? Then make sure you have sign up boxes in multiple places on your site. Do you want us to read through your blog archives? Then make sure you’re using a ‘related posts’ plugin or giving us a P.S. that links to other posts.

  2. You make it easy to find your best stuff

    We all have a few pieces that are our cornerstone content, stuff that’s super helpful and really insightful. Do you have a ‘start here’ tab? Or a ‘popular posts’ widget? Do you have an email series that shares your best things with new subscribers? Don’t let your best stuff gather dust! Find a way to bring it front and center so new readers can find it easily.

  3. You share your stuff all over. Repeatedly.

    If you’ve slaved over a blog post for three hours, don’t tweet about it once and then allow it to fester in your archives. Tweet about it several times (with images, of course). Share it on Facebook and Instagram and Google+ and LinkedIn. If that post is particularly applicable to a specific time of year – the holidays, tax season – promote it then, too. If you’ve linked to businesses or people in that post, email them and tell them so or @mention them on Twitter.

  4. You’re easy to find

    Are your social media icons easy to find? Are they on every page of your site? Do they link to the right places? Do you have the same handle on every social media platform, the same headshot, and the same bio? Are you sick of these questions yet?

  5. You’re elsewhere on the internet

    Writing wonderful, useful posts for your own blog is lovely, but if we’re not careful it can get a bit ‘if a tree falls in the forest’-y. Your fantastic blog posts will strengthen your relationship with your current readers, but they don’t do much to bring in new readers.If you really want a successful blog, you need to introduce your writing and ideas to new audiences. Write guest posts. Do interviews. Appear as a guest on podcasts and webinars.

  6. You’re creating supportive, lovely relationships all over the web

    What’s that old cliché? No blog is an island? Yes, I’m sure that’s it. You’ll find more support, inspiration, success, and inbound traffic when you make an active effort to develop relationships with other bloggers. Create link roundup posts and send traffic towards other awesome bloggers. Retweet. Comment. @mention. Send now-fawning fan emails. Befriending bloggers isn’t hard!

  7. You’re making your content easy to share

    If you write something awesome, your readers just might want to share it – but what happens after that depends on how shareable you’ve made it.

    Are you creating Pinterest-friendly images to accompany your posts? Are you writing title text for your images so they’re more SEO-friendly? These little tweaks make your content exponentially more shareable.

  8. You’re meeting up with internet buddies IN REAL LIFE

    All the Twitter conversations in the world can’t match a great dinner or a window-shopping date. Reach out and get to know your favorite internet people in Actual Real Life! Invite them to coffee. If you’re traveling through their city, invite them for coffee or a drink. Go to meetups and conferences. Ask them if they’d like to rent a house with you in Mexico.*

    Now, all the professional relationships and good site design can’t make up for poorly written, unhelpful blog posts. But if you’ve wondered why your awesome blog has failed to thrive, these seven reasons might give you a bit of insight.

    I’d love to hear from you! What non-writing, non-blog post things do you think make for a successful online life?

    * Yes, really. After we’re back in the states, I’ll write a post about how to DIY your own ‘mastermind retreat.’

Photo found here // cc

How to feel unproductive and worthless in one easy step!

I remember the first time I saw that now-famous pin, informing me that I had exactly the same number of hours in my day as Beyoncé.

“By god, you’re right, Pinterest! Beyoncé and I are both bound by the same laws of space and time! We are both doing our best with the 24 hours we’re given, but she’s clearly doing a lot more with hers. This is a wakeup call, self! Use your time more wisely! Less Netflix, more sit ups! Nooooo moooore excuses!

And then I drank a pot of coffee and wrote a bunch of things filled with typos and worked for so long I gave myself a headache and my hands cramped up.

Now, I love a tough-love reality check as much as the next Virgo but here’s the thing: you and I actually don’t have the same number of hours in the day at Beyoncé.

Let’s look at the numbers.

In a given 24 hour period, mere mortals like you and I run errands, cook meals, tidy our homes, and take care of our pets/children/partners. We drive places, we shop for things, we do our makeup and style our hair and choose our outfits.

We do all these things in addition to the things we actually do to earn a living. We do these things in addition to writing, consulting, coding, designing, or styling. Of the 24 hours we’re given, most of us spend at least 3-8 hours just managing our lives.

I’d wager a guess that Beyoncé (or Oprah or Taylor) spends 0-1 of her 24 hours managing her day-to-day life. In fact, if you added up the hours that Beyoncé’s team puts in every day – promoting her, photographing her, styling her, cooking for her – girl probably has 200+ hours in her day. At a minimum.

So I guess what I’m saying is, when you see that image float across your internet life, instead of doubling down on your workload or feeling like a failure, go ahead and reinterpret it.

This is what that aspirational image should really say:

Perhaps you could be using your time a bit more wisely. Maybe take the Facebook app off your phone. But it’s not fair to compare yourself to an international pop star who has a staff of dozens. You’re doing a great job! Keep going.”

How do you balance your expectations of yourself with reality? What do you do when you get down on yourself?

P.S. This is a concept I first came across in the book The Effortless Everyday. It’s full of smart, sweet, helpful epiphanies like this. Check it out!

photo credit: wikicommons

How To Have Long-Lasting, Super Loyal Professional Relationships

On a scale of 1-10, how weird is it that I’ve known most of my clients longer than I’ve known my husband?

Wait. Don’t answer that.

It’s not that I married my husband a few months after meeting him, it’s more that I’ve been with most of my clients for a very, very long time.

I knew Dr. Danielle Dowling before she was a doctor, back when she didn’t have a Facebook page and she was juggling a full-time job with grad school and clients. I started writing for Maria well before she became a mom (little Callum is almost two now!) and the first time I talked to Rikka was during a pit stop on my spring 2012 road trip around Louisiana.

Is there a secret to long, super loyal professional relationships? Honestly, part of it is luck. I lucked into finding clients I like who happen to be so good at what they do they’re still in business (and can afford me) five years in.

But the stuff of great relationships is made up of four probably obvious things and one slightly less obvious thing. If you’d like to create awesome, business-building, long-lasting professional relationships, here’s what you can do.

The probably obvious stuff

If you only read one sentence in this entire blog post, let it be the one above this. This seems ridiculously, painfully obvious, but you would be floored by the level of flake-dom that occurs in the online world.

If your clients have ever hired anyone before, they’ve probably experienced people missing deadlines. People ignoring the guidelines. People failing to invoice. People ignoring the word count or the swipe files or the hex codes. People jacking up the price without notice. People bailing on a project when things get hard. People failing to double-check for typos or dead links.

When you don’t do these things – when you’re reliable and prompt – you’re already ahead of the pack, setting yourself apart. You will never, ever, ever lack for business. Ever.

Be good at what you do
As crazy as it sounds, I think being good at what you do is less important than being reliable and prompt.

A magazine editor friend said it best. “I’d rather hire a decent writer who hands in their work on time, with the right word count, on the right topic than a genius writer who’s always late and over the count. I’ll hire the reliable, decent writer over the late, genius writer every single time.”

Refer + introduce people
I do my best to work with clients I love and whose work I believe in. So when my friend is looking for a therapist or life coach, Danielle and Katie are at the top of my list. Elise writes about food psychology and Kenden writes about meaningful meals? Well, clearly they should be introduced. Natalie writes about entrepreneurship and Susan helps entrepreneurs build teams – obvious guest posting opportunities, right?

If your client is looking for a good VA, a talented photographer, an SEO guru, or a web developer and you happen to know one – hook them up. If your people could help each other, introduce them! It’s easy and it’s good karma.

Promote their stuff
You don’t need to tweet or blog about every single thing your clients do, especially if your followers or readers aren’t your client’s ideal customers. But if you think your people might like what your client is up to – like Danielle’s book or Elise’s #12tinychanges challenge – share it.

Your people like knowing about awesome, helpful things! If your clients are creating awesome, helpful things go ahead and share them! Again, it’s easy and it’s good karma.

The less obvious thing

Treat your clients the way you’d treat any other human you like + respect
When I got married, Danielle sent me a bouquet and Maria sent me an amazing set of cheese knives (because girl knows the way to my heart.)

On Norma’s birthday, I sent her a link to Sam Heughan saying happy birthday in Gaelic (because I know she’s a devout Outlander fan.) When I was in Santa Monica, I met up with Alexa for breakfast and when I was in DC, I stopped by Elise’s house to meet her gorgeous dogs and stuff my face with her food.

Just like any other human being, clients like to feel appreciated and valued – not just because they employ you but because you have an on-going relationship and you like each other. Show your clients that you like them! Like, as human beings!

Do you have long-standing professional relationships? How do you stay in touch and let your clients and vendors know you appreciate them?

13 Posts That Will Make Your Online Life Better, Tighter + More Fun

It’s the end of the month, dudes! I’ve been re-writing two of my ebooks, making them Kindle-friendly, and getting ready to sell them on Amazon (it is sooooo much more work than I expected). If it turns out, I’ll tell you everything I learned!

Awesome, helpful links I found for you:

FASCINATING. What it feels like to go viral.
The feeling was something that was most analogous to situations that hadn’t really occurred since high school: scoring a goal in soccer, or finding out your crush likes you back.

Are you doing all these things to get your work discovered? (I was doing about half!)

Can you work smarter not harder? UMM YES.

How to keep burnout at bay. I love the suggestion of finding a ‘uniform’ so you can save your creativity for other stuff!

Related: How to get out of your inbox and into your life.

Also related: 4 ways to retrain your brain to handle information overload.

Also also related: 10 ways to declutter your tech experience.

Are you failing to reach your income goals? Maybe this is why.

Now, I happen to think you should actually take a lunch break (and use it to do something fun) but if you’re going to eat at your desk, upgrade that ish.

I know there are people who think blogging is dead. Lauren has grown her business like WHOA and it’s because of her blog. She outlines the how + why here.

But here’s a woman who launched a successful freelance business WITHOUT ANY ONLINE PRESENCE. #isthatevenathing #apparentlyitspossible

Yes, you can work for yourself without crushing your soul.
Your work will suffer if you’re in it for likes on Dribbble or retweets from peers or industry awards that only matter to your industry (and not the clients you serve) because you’re focused on attention instead of actually solving a problem. Whether you like it or not, your intentions are evident, so make sure that what you do is indeed what you want others to see and know.

Have you read anything super helpful lately? If you have, please share a link in the comments – everybody benefits from shared knowledge :)

photo via unsplash // via pineapple