Writing, marketing, communications, Web design, social media—these are some of the topics featured regularly on this blog. We’ll try to keep it light and useful. Feel free to comment on any posts or offer suggestions as you wish.
What’s Keeping Your Business from Growing?
Surely, it couldn’t be what you eat, could it? Well, if you have a growing mid-section, low energy, or are on the verge of having a chronic health condition, what you eat might be holding you back. Sound crazy? Read on!
About 45% of Americans (144 million people) suffer from at least one chronic condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and lesser-known conditions like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, or Crone’s disease. These conditions cost billions in health care expenses, lost productivity, and low quality of life. And most are related to what we eat one way or another.
What does this have to do with growing your business? To answer that question, we need to tell our story.
The “Mickey-D” Days
When Jenny and I first got together long before we thought about starting our own business, we ate what we considered to be a well-balanced diet, including occasional fast food. Okay, who are we kidding? We ate out a lot, sometimes 3-4 times a week. Picture Mickey-D’s cheeseburgers, fries, pasta, processed foods, ice cream, high sugar desserts, and red meat with an occasional side of broccoli.
What the hell, it was fun, and cooking in our tiny apartment was a pain.
We congratulated ourselves when we chose healthy “happy-ending” ice cream sundaes at Friendly’s™ or chicken platters at Applebee’s™. We’d heard our whole lives that a healthy diet comes from a combination of portion control and exercise.
Not only that, like most in the Westernized world, we had a hectic schedule. And it felt socially inclusive to eat out. How could you have a proper date night without take-out or the occasional fancy dining experience?
The “calories in, calories out” theory presented no problems until we lost our ability to function. Jenny’s longtime migraines began to intensify in magnitude and frequency. She slept for hours and would become exhausted from a trip to the store. Sometimes Jenny had to call Bill at work to walk their rescue greyhound because she couldn’t withstand or control an 80-lb dog on a leash. She would crawl rather than walk to the bathroom. Clearly, Jenny’s ailments rendered her unable to work a full-time job. Most days she lacked the energy to cook or enjoy life, let alone run her own business.
Rabbit Food Regimen
Neither of us was overweight when we got married despite Bill’s having
struggled to maintain normal weight for years. But about a year later, we both developed a puffy face. Trust us, puffy does not equal pouty or more Instagramable. Our waistlines bloated and Bill developed an embarrassing double chin.
More critically, Jenny’s health issues rendered her disabled despite her young chronological age. Medical professionals did not take her concerns seriously.
Bill, though much older, enjoyed relatively good health. Sure, he took Lipitor™ to control genetically–predisposed high cholesterol, and Prilosec™ to control reflux. Yearly physical exams, however, presented new problems: high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar (pre-diabetes), decreased kidney function, and arthritis.
Bill’s doctor wasn’t particularly alarmed.
She assured him, “People your age should expect these symptoms. Just watch your diet and continue to exercise and if that doesn’t work (and frankly it usually doesn’t), we’ll put you on a drug to manage these diseases.”
Despite piles of medical evidence and Bill’s stubborn attitude about not “getting old,” our old habits would have persisted were it not for a financial reversal that prohibited us from eating out. To save money, we began to cook all of our meals at home. At last we utilized our remodeled kitchen.
While researching recipes, Jenny also noticed the high sugar content of most processed foods. She began to purchase organic vegetables at Whole Foods along with processed foods made with organic cane sugar.
Our grocery bill skyrocketed (what they say about “whole paychecks” rings true), and Jenny still suffered from flare-ups of diverticulitis. You might be asking whether we considered going back to the Mickey-D days if our new healthy diet didn’t help. We reasoned the opposite. If we went back to white bread, high fructose, and MSG, we’d probably die.
So we persisted in the organic lifestyle until Bill’s physical revealed abnormal blood sugar numbers. It was time to reassess our diet yet again.
Jenny began to read the fine print on every food label. She would not buy anything with over 10 grams of sugar per serving. Not only were organic chocolate chips and cheesecake banned, but so were Bill’s favorite jelly and brown-sugar baked beans.
We continued to eat whole grain pasta and bread. Initially we felt better. We took control and Jenny was determined to have a positive report after Bill’s next physical. We each dropped 5 to 10 pounds. Yay! Winning.
But Bill’s blood sugar levels remained at pre-diabetic levels. Jenny felt defeated.
Her migraines worsened into a fibromyalgia-like condition, with seizure-like episodes. She suffered a nearly deadly attack of diverticulitis and medical practitioners debated whether to remove sections of her intestines, given her age.
We halted travel plans; life stopped.
Jenny’s blood-sugar fluctuated so fiercely that she would transform from Jekyll to Hyde (in a matter of seconds) if she didn’t eat every two hours. It then got to be every hour. For this reason, Bill does not laugh at “hangry” jokes.
Jenny lamented to Bill, “Why is this happening? We followed all the rules—went for hikes, cardio workouts, didn’t eat a single friggen’ chocolate chip cookie—for 6 months.” As a scientist, and former athlete she couldn’t reconcile the data.
By that time, we sorted out our finances but also realized that eating out presented too many challenges. Bill barely warded off mandatory sugar control meds even though we cut our sugar intake by 80% and suffered the indignity of brown rice in our stir-fry. So how could we manage restaurant food?
Gluten-Free and More!
During the summer of 2015, Jenny noticed a pattern to her extreme belly pain. After eating, her belly would swell and ache. She recalled reading a blog that mentioned “wheat belly” but didn’t give it much thought. She also began complaining about a bitter taste after she consumed bread. She whined, “What have they done to bread? I’m going to a real bakery where they use ancient whole grain flour.” Despite a price tag of $9 per loaf, the bitter aftertaste continued. She finally asked Bill if he had heard the term “Wheat Belly?” He responded, “What’s a wheat belly?”
A Google search quickly turned up Dr. William Davis’s book, Wheat Belly. (You can find more information about Dr. Davis (a cardiologist) and his program of grain-free diet on his website, Wheat Belly Lifestyle Institute.) Since we both had a protruding belly, Bill purchased the book. What happened next was transformative.
Bill read Wheat Belly within a week while Jenny investigated online sources (to each their own, right?). After learning that gluten acts like a drug and a “super sugar” on a cellular level, we decided to go gluten-free just before we began a week’s vacation in Maine. Disaster briefly ensued.
Jenny experienced a full-blown panic attack. She called Bill at work after having what can only be described as a fainting spell. She declared, “I will starve! I eat bread all day. It’s the most important part of my diet. What can a person even eat if they can’t have bread? It’s the very sustenance of life. Bread and water.” After 10 years of marriage, Bill was accustomed to Jenny’s rants and mild exaggerations. He calmly stated, “I’m going to do this with you every step of the way. Let’s just take this one day at a time, together.” Jenny remembered why she loved Bill so much but still resented the change.
But then she had an epiphany in her dazed state. Why am I so upset about not eating bread? Am I addicted to bread? Because I’m sure as frig acting like an addict. Jenny climbed off the couch and went to the pantry. She had just eaten spelt crackers with her egg salad. “Siri,” she asked her phone, “What is spelt?” Turns out spelt is another name for wheat. What? So she hadn’t been gluten free for the last couple of days.
By the time Bill arrived home, Jenny had emptied 90% of the pantry contents into the waste bin or donated what was unopened. She repeated, “Wheat, wheat, wheat, it’s in everything we eat!” Bill noticed a new determination and hoped they wouldn’t regret this madness.
But shopping for gluten-free foods in Maine turned out to be a pleasant new experience. We discovered vegetables at a local co-op and fresh meats from the butcher.
Halfway through the week, we began to notice significant changes. We experienced higher energy levels. We even climbed Mt. Battie in Camden, Maine, by going up the most difficult slope—something we would never have attempted previously. A mental fog lifted, and we no longer craved food or snacks between meals. There were many more surprises. Our mood improved and our indigestion ceased. Bill thought he might throw his anti-reflux pills away.
These changes persisted after we returned home. We were more alert and began to go on hikes in nature preserves near our home. Jenny’s migraines became less frequent and severe, and her digestive problems subsided. She began to suspect that gluten was a trigger for her headaches and intestinal difficulties. Craving food, especially bread, stopped.
We both began to lose weight. After 2 months, Bill had lost 30 pounds. His glycemic index and blood pressure numbers were still too high, but continuing with a low sugar, gluten-free diet gave him hope. When his physician suggested medication to control his blood pressure, he asked to try just the diet for a while longer. Within another 6 months, both blood pressure and glycemic index dropped into the normal range. Pre-diabetes was no longer a threat. His cholesterol levels stabilized, and he dropped to the lowest level dose of his statin. Arthritis pain also subsided.
By Christmas, Bill told Jenny that he wanted to retire from academe and start a writing business. Our bodies and minds rejoiced at our new anti-inflammatory diet. Ideas flowed.
Implications for Your Business
Our story doesn’t end here, and it’s not universally applicable. We continue to refine our lifestyle, bur more about that later. Our story can help those of you who are coping with many chronic conditions that sap your energy, your time, your productivity, and your financial resources.
For instance, Americans eat out a lot. We did too. And they pay a lot of money to eat out. Most Americans dislike the cost of eating out more than for any other thing in their lives, but they still do it. Why? Because it’s convenient, it usually tastes good, and it offers a chance to connect with others.
But consider how many more resources you could devote to your business if you prepared your meals at home. Sure you’ll spend extra time in the kitchen, and more money on groceries, but we stand by the adage “work smarter, not harder.” (For more, see our other “Grow Your Business” posts.)
Because of poor eating and lack of exercise, most Americans suffer insomnia, sleep apnea, IBS, and lack of energy to name a few. Let’s be clear. Weight gain alone is not the issue. We don’t care if you have a wheat belly. But an expanding midsection is directly tied to health conditions, which will prevent you from reaching your true potential.
To recover alertness, to better manage or reverse chronic health problems, to gain more control over your business and have the energy to promote and expand it, try a low sugar, gluten-free, and mostly grain-free diet. We eventually gave up dairy and nightshade veggies too, but we don’t want to overwhelm you all at once. This has been a 3+ year journey for us.
We don’t consider our choices to be a fad diet. They’re a lifestyle.
You don’t need to give up terrific flavor or variety in your meals. Spoiler alert: you’ll be able to eat spices again without the acid reflux. But you will no longer crave eating to the point of over-indulging. And you’ll feel better almost immediately.
We’re not saying that you won’t need regular exercise, but you’ll get more benefit out of less. Twenty minutes, 5 days a week on the elliptical helps us feel energetic and maintains muscle tone. Don’t forget to stretch and meditate too. We don’t need to “burn” calories and we couldn’t begin to outrun our hangry-cravings anyhow.
So we’ve convinced you to join us in a new lifestyle?
Hold on. We really appreciate your support, but this will be one of the greatest challenges you’ve ever faced.
For one thing, we’re all social creatures. We break bread with friends and family. We celebrate our most important milestones in restaurants or at home with cake.
If you live in a major city, you’ll have more options like dedicated gluten free and paleo joints. You’re probably thinking that most restaurants offer gluten free options nowadays. What they don’t tell you is that very few take measures to prevent the dreaded “cross-contamination.”
A word of caution: the longer you’ve been off gluten, the more even a trace amount will make you sick. You can view this two ways. One is to say emphatically, “Screw that; I can’t live that way.” The other is to admit that gluten acts like a narcotic in your body and avoid it.
Science doesn’t lie. But you can use your “gut” too. Why are you melting down at the thought of giving up gluten at this very moment? And why would a trace amount start off a chain reaction that puts people out of commission for days if your body treats it as a healthy substance?
That’s why you must act now. Give up gluten and all its nasty cousins, like processed corn and rice, for good.
Also, you’ll have to plan meals ahead and tell your office mates that you don’t eat pizza or subs anymore. They’ll mock you for being anti-American. And if you’re not American, they’ll still mock you. Maybe this will become a perfect opportunity to start your own business!
Let’s start a healthy revolution, anyway. Shall we? Your body deserves better. You wouldn’t pump unleaded gas into a diesel engine, would you?
We’ve read countless articles written by doctors who warn people against the “gluten free” diet craze. You’re probably reciting some of their arguments now as you’re dreaming of eating your second breakfast bagel slathered with cream cheese. Partly, we agree with those doctors. If you’re just going to eat gluten free bagels and pizza, you won’t be any better off. This is about eating basic foods—mostly veggies, fruit, limited meats, and lots of nuts, and healthy fats.
And now you’re thinking, “Bill and Jenny are crazy or sadistic. I’m never giving up all my favorite foods because that’s not balanced, and I can barely get my laundry done let alone cook.”
Or you might be thinking, Jenny had extreme health issues and I don’t have those issues. But don’t forget about Bill. He lived a disease-free life until after 55. Then he experienced the same health issues as 80% of the population in that age bracket. And Jenny’s health issues are becoming more common, even among young people. How many people do you know who need a colonoscopy before the age of 40?
We never said it would be easy. You have to be committed to making your business grow. If I told you that you had to spend 3 hours a day posting on social media, you would not bat an eyelash. Does your health and your healthy brain count any less?
The benefits will outweigh the inconveniences. Promise.
We believe you can work smarter not harder and that this lifestyle will create time, energy, and alertness that you never knew you had.
Expand your business like the alert, competent professional that you really are. Get control of what you eat and quit being enslaved to your inner gluten zombie.
Remember, when you eat to live a fuller life, your relationships will improve, your zest for adventure will increase, your feeling of achievement and control will zoom.
When wheat and sugar addiction ruled our lives, we weren’t aware of the debilitating effects. Try it for 3 days – no cheating. You can do anything for 3 days right?
Disclaimer: This is not intended to be medical advice. If you have a serious medical condition, check with your health provider and follow the advice of your health professionals.
If you are new to freelance copywriting or are thinking of starting your own freelance business, experts tell you to find and develop your niche. “Write what you know,” say the experts. Sound advice—except when it’s not!
Perhaps you possess technical expertise in engineering, software development, medical research, or some other applied field. If so, you will likely be in high demand for technical writing projects, white papers, and case studies. Your main challenge will be attracting and retaining clients. In that case, polish your LinkedIn profile, network, and stop reading this post. But if you lack that kind of technical expertise, read on!
How My Horizon Expanded Unexpectedly
Looking back, I realize that my career continually involved moving beyond a narrow area of expertise. After several years of teaching religious studies at the college level, I moved into academic administration and was compelled to develop a completely new set of skills. Institutional budgeting, resource allocation, strategic planning, organizational management, personnel management, student and faculty recruitment, fundraising, and marketing exploded my previously constricted view of higher education. The world and my life suddenly became more complicated and intensely more interesting.
Upon retiring from academia, I started my own copywriting and consulting business. Although I was a decent writer (grammatically correct, and all that), attracting clients proved difficult. Businesses and colleges had no use for what I offered. No one believed that a former humanities professor and academic administrator possessed the skills or knowledge relevant to promoting their activities. I therefore returned to academia as a graduate dean for a few more years. This time, however, I paid much more attention to community networking while gaining marketing expertise so necessary for promoting my programs.
After retiring a second time, I took a different approach to my writing business. I reached out to professionals whom I had come to know and asked how I might help them cope with the challenges facing their organization. What I offered was not my knowledge, but a willingness to listen. Responses were positive, although those contacted did not quickly become clients.
Leaving My Niche Behind
After several months (none of this happens quickly!) of working on small, short-term gigs, I emailed a professional whom I had met once at a business luncheon two years previously and asked how I might help him. Three months later, he responded and wondered whether I could revise some of the content on his organization’s website. After checking out the site, I told him how I might help by rewriting a few pages with two principles in mind:
- Emphasize the benefits of his business to potential clients instead of his professional qualifications or the business’s features.
- Keep it simple by losing the technical jargon.
I revised a couple of web pages for a very modest fee, and we met to assess results. Since he had a liberal arts education and experience as adjunct professor and author, we hit it off personally. I proposed writing a few blog posts (he had no such page) to increase visibility and traffic to his site. He agreed, and we proceeded to collaborate.
Although I had supervised several graduate programs, I had no direct knowledge of my client’s business sector. To create blog posts that would interest his prospective clients, however, I soon learned how to find reliable information about a wide variety of relevant topics. After light technical editing by my client, the posts were published regularly. After a few months, the number and complexity of projects began to grow.
What have I just described? Clearly, I left my niche (whatever that was) behind. But a more accurate way of saying that is to note that by focusing on my client and his needs, I allowed him to lead me beyond my niche, my comfort zone. I am now becoming intimately acquainted with his organization’s sector (and others) in very challenging times—an immensely interesting new “niche.”
Of course, my prior experience proved useful. Over the years, I learned much about what it takes for organizations to succeed (or fail). I know something about human resource practices and marketing. But I realize now that such experience and knowledge has become my deep background—not something directly applicable to what I’m doing now. What has now become important for this client and others is that I can learn, I can do thorough research, and I can communicate in clear, simple prose. After learning about their particular challenges, I offer those skills to clients now.
Lessons for Growing Your Business beyond Your Niche
- While your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and well-designed website are important, be sure to reach out to those whom you have met, regardless of field, who might benefit from your services.
- Unless your expertise is concentrated in a technical area, focus on the benefits of your communications skills for potential clients.
- Do not presume that you know what prospective clients need or want. Ask them!
- Avoid telling potential clients that you lack experience in their business or activity. Assure them of your ability to adapt and apply your skills to help them meet the challenges that they have identified.
- Before meeting with potential clients, conduct careful research about their organization and sector. Be prepared to suggest (gently!) one or two ways that your approach might help them.
- When meeting with clients for the first time and subsequently, remember: the focus should be about them and their needs, not about you.
- Don’t be trapped by your niche. Let go of your fear. Open yourself to the new. Good things lie beyond the boundaries of your niche!
You found your calling, but have you found your place? In our last blog post, Want to Grow Your Home Business? Rescue a Pet! we explored how our furry companions spark creativity, increase productivity, and make us healthier overall.
So what do we mean by find your place? In 2016, we almost put off a long-awaited trip to Scotland. A trip wouldn’t have been prudent after a tough year financially. But one of us couldn’t stop looking at Pinterest and pondering our dream vacation.
When the airfare dropped one morning, we took the plunge and have never looked back.
Despite the harrowing driving experience, this turned out to be the best money we ever invested our business. Yes, that’s right. The trip seemed to unlock some hidden potential. Business soared.
You’re probably wondering how spending a few thousand on a trip could lead to business prosperity. Sure we could have used that money to buy more Google ads, hire a social media guru, or have our website redesigned (all worthy ventures), but none of those things would help define us.
We decided to read a wee bit about Scottish history in advance so we didn’t act like typical tourists decked in our finest non-clannish plaids. Most important, we rented a car so we could take in the countryside at our own pace. We hiked, wide-eyed, in majestic forests, among towering Douglas firs with boundless carpets of moss underfoot.
Clearly we enjoyed ourselves, but inevitably our trip came to an end!
One might argue that we acquired some great memories, used up a portion of our savings, and now it was over, right?
Yes and no.
We took a piece of Scotland home with us (in addition to a few luxurious cashmere scarves). We developed a feeling of contentedness. The locals’ down-to-earth perseverance infected our psyches.
For a few days back at home, we talked of nothing else. We wandered around in a depressed daze as we returned to familiar, grayed-out American shopping centers.
We had to survive in our new reality, and run our small business. How were we ever going to manage that? We had already investigated moving to Scotland, but our business was in the States.
In order to persist, we opened our eyes to our own backyard, so to speak.
As it turns out, we live within a mile of a nature center, two reservoirs, and a mountain—all of which have extensive trail systems.
How could we have lived here for ten years, and not taken advantage of these natural wonders? Because we hadn’t been awakened to them. Scotland did that for us.
It became our proverbial place.
If you want to understand how our daily hikes helped business to skyrocket, check out this article from Business Insider, “12 Science-Backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Outside.”
Being outdoors does so much for our bodies, and minds. A 20-minute dose of nature improves short-term memory, sharpens focus, and sparks creativity. It also boosts your immune system, which means we spent less time sniffling and more time networking.
Nature even combats fatigue. Normally most of us guzzle coffee and gulp sugary snacks to slog through the drudgery. Maybe all we need is to surround ourselves with nature and inhale the fresh air.
Not only did the trip re-order the mitochondria in our brains, but it also provided us with an array of stories. Tales about Scottish locals bumping into Prince Charles in the Highlands near Balmoral Castle and our own near-death driving experiences captivate an audience at dinner parties.
While many of us realize that successful businesses are built on the ability to tell stories, we may borrow them from others.
But they are much more powerful when they are our stories.
At Barnett Writer, we encourage you to go find your place, and live to tell your own tales. It’ll help define you as a person, and that will define your business.
You’re in luck! This article will NOT discuss yet one more time how you can harness the power of social media to promote your home-based business to the ends of the earth.
But there’s more to success than hum-drum affiliate marketing, right?
At Barnett Writer, we’ve discovered a few practices that improve our effectiveness because they make us healthier and more content. And yes, well-being really does translate to greater productivity, improved client relations, and the overall determination necessary to get the job done. One way is to adopt a pet, preferably a dog or a cat.
So how can our furry, four-legged friends make us more creative? As it turns out, research shows, in several ways.
Our business partner, Aslan (for a profile of Aslan, visit our ”About” page), prefers a mid-morning play session each day. Often, he’ll place his paw on my shoulder to let me know he’s bored (uh . . . I mean that he thinks it’s time to discuss business strategy).
Sounds more like a distraction than a contribution, right?
Just the opposite. In fact, these breaks may actually boost our mental acuity.
An article in Psychology Today cites the benefits of taking breaks in the workplace. Fatigue sets in rapidly as we try to plow through our daily workloads. Predictably, this leads to brain drain.
To combat brain drain, most of us reach for something sweet or caffeine-infused. This causes our bodies to yo-yo. According to experts, we need to detach our minds from work completely for a few minutes at intervals throughout the day.
No one knows exactly how many breaks equals work nirvana, but a Health.com study shows that workers who take breaks early in the day excel throughout the day. Delaying a break to get more done actually creates a situation where we achieve less.
Remember, your brain is a muscle. Would you lift weights or run a marathon for eight hours without taking breaks, and staying hydrated?
So how exactly does rescuing a pet specifically help home-based businesses?
We of the increasingly self-employed variety don’t usually have colleagues with whom we can solve a problem or relate in a positive way. And it’s pretty obvious that we’re driven personalities or we wouldn’t be running the show.
That often adds up to grinding away at our computer screens for hours on end. Sometimes, we do this for six to seven days a week. After all, we don’t have a team of people to help us. We don’t clock out for lunch, plan leisure weekends, or take PTO (personal time off).
So rescuing a pet is a win-win. Fido gets to sniff out the neighborhood leaf piles while you increase oxygen to the brain by literally getting out of your chair.
You’ve probably heard of sitting disease. Yes, one more thing that’s going to kill us. Let’s face it: without your furry best friend, you’d be far less likely to take as many breaks as you need to recharge your batteries.
Aslan is not only helping me combat sitting disease, he’s literally making me healthier. According to recent studies, (https://mom.me/pets/19946-cats-purring-proven-help-human-health-numerous-ways/), when cats purr, people breathe easier. And their owners are 40% less likely to experience a heart attack. Our rescued companions even help us heal from infection and injury with their purr.
Two weeks ago, I came down with a terrible cold. I think Aslan could tell it was going to be a struggle for me to type out a few emails, let alone write a blog post. So he took matters into his own paws and hummed a deep tune while curled up against my chest. Guess what? I felt better!
Miraculously healed? No. But I was comforted knowing this furry guy “got it” more than my former coworkers who would hold their hands up to their faces as I walked by their cubes.
Harvard Medical School revealed that dogs have a similar effect on their owner’s overall health. Since dogs calm our nerves, they probably contribute to lower blood pressure. There’s a direct correlation between owning a dog, and having a decreased risk of heart disease.
That’s great news because, as business owners, we know that we have to be calm under pressure. Some days things don’t go so well, and even our greatest plans fail. But a rescued pet is always eager to listen.
Your pet will also help establish and maintain a daily routine. Ever try to sleep in while a hungry cat or dog sounds the alarm for breakfast? If you try to ignore that, a lick on the face or a paw to the nose will provide sufficient incentive to start the day.
Schedule maintenance continues throughout the day. Your dog needs to be walked 2-4 times a day, and is usually fed twice. Cats need to have litter pans raked and would prefer to be fed at least 3 times a day. Add time to romp and cuddle, and you will come to appreciate quiet time to work. Productivity will zoom!
To sum up, rescue a pet to
- Improve your emotional health,
- Calm your nerves,
- Stay on schedule, and
- Get more done!
For a list of pet rescue resources, visit: https://bestfriends.org/resources/for-shelters-and-rescuers/help-save-pets.
Small businesses should work to save the open Internet (a.k.a., “net neutrality”). Why? The reason is simple: under current FCC rules, Internet service providers (ISPs) cannot slow down, impede, or block, or charge higher fees for distributing data from any source. This means that content uploaded by small business and individuals enjoys the same access to distribution as that from large companies. When the Internet is regulated as a public utility (under current practice), visitors can access information from all websites like this.
Early indications from the Trump administration hint that such neutrality might be in danger. The mega-ISPs—Cox, Charter (also owner of Time Warner), Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon—would like to charge businesses a fee to have access to high speed distribution of content on the Internet. Such a fee would be in addition to their fees for connection to the Internet. Failure to pay could mean that a business would encounter a delay in displaying content or even failure to have content transmitted at all. Small businesses could suffer lost revenue compared to large corporations who would be able to pay the additional fee.
As previously mentioned in my post on long-form marketing, businesses and organizations are increasingly using video and other longer content pieces to tell their story. What happens if their sites take longer to load than those of larger, wealthier competitors?
If you run a small business that sells a product or a service, you could be forced to pay “protection money” to compete. After all, you can’t afford to have potential clients fall off your site simply out of frustration. And we humans get frustrated quickly: remember how often other drivers (not you, of course!) jump around slowed or stopped traffic to get ahead or into a faster lane. On the Internet, people will jump off your site in just a few seconds. In fact, most viewers spend less than 15 seconds on your website. If they can’t see your site or crucial information (such as a video) quickly, they will go to a competitor’s site.
All of a sudden, that protection money begins to sound like a deal, if not a good one for you.
Imagine being told by a company like Comcast that in order to allow your users to continue to browse your site at high speeds, you will need to pay a hefty fee for data prioritization. You would almost assuredly not be able to make those payments. On the other hand, your multi-million dollar competitors, whether they be Walmart or another big box store, have almost infinite funds to make sure their website speeds are consistent. This, in effect, could put a small shop out of business because of how important internet traffic is to its bottom line.
Kevin Green, “How Changes to Net Neutrality Laws Could Affect Small Businesses,” 2/22/2017.
With the appointment of Ajit Pai as the new FCC Chairman, threats to an open Internet have already surfaced.
From left: FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly.
The camel’s nose under the tent could be an emerging practice known as zero-rating. Large providers of streaming content—T-Mobile (with its “Binge On” program), Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Comcast—have begun offering consumers video content that would not count toward their data use quotas, that would be “zero-rated.” This creates a situation where an ISP such as Comcast could discriminate against another content-providing ISP such as Verizon. A precedent is then established to create rival toll roads whereby content providers would have to pay to get their content distributed universally. The situation is quite complicated. The best explanation that I’ve seen is by Jeff Dunn, “Trump’s new FCC boss has already set the stage for a less-open internet,” in Business Insider, 2/9/2017.
The previous FCC was investigating the effects of zero-rating on businesses. When Chairman Pai took over, he stopped the investigation, stating that the practice benefited consumers without undue harm to business. In fact, the FCC under his leadership appears to be poised to reduce or reverse regulations so as to allow ISPs to begin to charge content providers differently for premium speed access. That has not yet occurred, but it seems very possible.
What to do? If your livelihood depends on your small business’s access to an open Internet, contact the FCC commissioners. Also contact your local Congressional representatives. For an excellent summary of the historical, technological, economic, and cultural issues regarding the threats to the open Internet, see Quincy Larson’s recent post, “The Future of the Open Internet—and Our Way of Life—Is in Your Hands.” See also Thom Hartmann’s piece on how big ISPs plan to see your information with Congress’s (i.e., Republicans’) approval. Don’t be caught unaware of what’s happening!
The first clue that the blizzard has arrived is silence. The usual white noise of distant traffic, barking dogs, sanitation trucks, airplanes is gone—replaced by a white blanket of total quiet. Even the snowplows are banished from the street. Nothing. Everything. Just. Stops. Except, perhaps, for the wind.
Like birthdays, blizzards provide opportunities for reflection. Unlike birthdays, blizzards are random, usually identified by a specific year. People remember blizzards, sometimes fondly. And somehow, the snow remembered from past years always gets deeper, the temperature colder. So, while the wind blows and the snow swirls outside today, here are a few of my blizzard tales. Continue reading “BLIZZARD!!”
Why Not-for-Profit Members Are Important
Keeping the doors open for your not-for-profit organization is challenging. Money is hard to come by. Federal and state funding is likely to decline sharply during the next few years. The National Council of Non-Profits recently reported that government support, donor retention, and corporate funding have already dropped. Private foundations and individuals focus on new, splashy ventures that are often outside your mission. Covering day-to-day expenses keeps directors and board members awake at night. At a time when relying on members’ support is more important than ever, the crowded schedules of families and distractions of electronic screens means fewer members, both current and new. After all, what’s in it for them? Why should they join your group? If you’re involved in running a museum, an advocacy group, or a community organization, you need to show them why.
In Marketing Without Words? Not Quite!, I argued that social media marketing using lots of images still requires some words to convey precise meaning. But that’s not the whole story. Recent trends show that long-form marketing—long posts of 2,000+ words, case studies, white papers, video(!)—often gets better results in online search rankings and conversions. The primary issue, then, is which long-form strategy is appropriate for your organization and how you should implement it.
Continue reading “Marketing with Lots of Words? Sometimes!”
Words are dying. With everyone spending so much more time absorbing information via smart phones, tablets, or computers, digital marketing focuses more than ever on images. Capturing initial attention and providing essential, emotionally relevant information quickly are two good reasons for this shift. As Mike Hill at Moonshine has pointed out,
Visual and audio technologies liberate us to absorb more information, faster and better, than reading words.
The reason for this is hardwired into us – reading and writing are not skills we’re born with, unlike seeing and hearing.
That visual imagery results in more effective communication and retention of information appears to be confirmed by neuroscience. In explaining the “pictorial superiority effect, or PSE,” John Medina in Brain Rules (video available!) urges us to scrap our text-based PowerPoint slides in favor of image-based presentations. Continue reading “Marketing Without Words? Not Quite!”
Sorry, I’m not hiring. But I am looking to improve the process used by nearly all businesses and organizations that do hire. Let’s face it: looking for a job today amounts to an inhumane, impersonal, tedious slog. If you can join your parents’ or Uncle Joe’s firm, stop reading and go consult a family therapist. The rest of us are condemned to networking and responding to poorly written job descriptions. Be aware, however, that poorly crafted job postings harm employers and prospective employees.
We’ve all seen them: job postings so long, detailed, technical, and jargon-laden that a single human being could not possibly fulfill all of the required expectations. Why are we subjected to such abuse? Continue reading “Help Wanted for Job Descriptions!”