Mini Action Plans with Powerful Results

notepadCreating a list of tasks that need to be completed is akin to developing an action plan.

At the beginning of the week, or end of the week prior, make a list of priority tasks that you need to complete by the end of the week. I group tasks by type – business admin, business marketing, client work and personal and then get to work crossing things off my list. The key for me is that while my weekly list might be long, my daily lists starts with only 3-5 items on it. It is all about prioritization and once I tackle those most important tasks, I can address less pressing issues/tasks.

Always be sure to consider whether there are other people or tasks that depend on whether you get your part done and work on those first.

To stay motivated, I celebrate the completion of each task by crossing it off my list with gusto and a bright red pen.

Small Biz: Adapt to Facebook’s New Content Policies

shutterstock_167215274Every time you log in to Facebook, you are potentially exposed to 1,500 pieces of content, according to Digital Marketing Ramblings. While that content ranges from useful, original and thought provoking to repeated, overused and pointless, Facebook has instituted changes to the algorithm in order to vary what users see in their news feeds. Facebook’s goal is to keep users engaged and on the site longer.

The Old Model

In the past, you would choose who you were friends with or what businesses you liked and everything from those people or companies would populate your news feed. You made the decision of who to follow. If you did not like what or how often they were posting, you could always manually remove them from your list. This was great for advertisers because the companies that were trying to get and keep your business knew they had to keep their posts interesting, relevant and engaging to keep you from dropping them. They would use photos, related news stories and even contests to stay on your news feed.

At the same time, businesses on Facebook had access to incredible amounts of user information in order to target ads and content to consumers. Ever-changing security settings made it difficult for users to protect their personal information.

The New Regime

However, Facebook users began spending less time on the site because they were only seeing information from a few sources who were putting out a ton of content. The Ashdown Group states the new algorithm gives higher priority to posts that have more likes, and gives better placement for people and pages users interact with more frequently. It also takes into account the number of the user’s friends who interact with the posts. In fact, the new algorithm has increased engagement by 13 percent over the old system, and users are now reading 70 percent of the posts in their feeds.

Effects of Change

This change impacts everyone who uses Facebook. The Austin Business Journal explains the new algorithm limits the amount of information that will actually reach customers, thus making it that much more difficult to get the message out. The article also states consumer may now be missing out on offers and information from companies they follow.

The Austin Business Journal describes several ways business can deal with this change. One way to make sure your content is seen is to pay for it through Facebook’s paid advertising program. This is not an easy pill for all to swallow, as many small business have limited budgets. Another option is to work with the system and partner up with other brands to tag each other and boost each other’s rankings. A third option is to look to other social networks to help spread the message. Facebook might still be the biggest, but they are not the only major player in town.

The Wall Street Journal reported a final option that food-delivery service Eat24 chose, which was to publicly leaving Facebook altogether. The company had worked hard to build up a Facebook following, offering great information and content for it’s followers, only to discover that most of it was going unseen, and that was the last straw.

Work With Your Rhythms


Early bird or night owl? Embrace it!

Most people have a specific time of day when they are most productive and focused. Take advantage of your best time of day and schedule the work that requires your highest concentration for then. By working smart, you’ll get more done in less time.

For example, I’m a early bird so by working within my rhythms I have super productive mornings. My reward for this focused period of work is I most days I am able to wrap up my work-day by early to mid-afternoon so I can enjoy life.

Making Better Use of Your Time with One Simple Tool

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Friday, April 11 at noon EST, you’ll be able to listen in when Sarah Davidson interviews me for her Spark Your Profits web series. Each session from her series is just 30 minutes long and during mine we’ll be chatting a lot about planning and productivity. So in anticipation of Friday’s interview, I asked Sarah to share her favorite time management tip with my readers.

Sarah says:

What does boiling an egg have to do with getting things done?

The answer is:  you will get better results with both if you use a timer.

One of my favorite productivity tricks is a very simple one.  When I need to get something done, I set a timer for 20 minutes.  After the timer starts, I work only on the one task that I set out to do until the timer goes off.  Of course if I finish earlier, that’s a bonus.  If the task takes longer, when I’m in a groove I just keep going.  Otherwise I take a short break and then start the timer again.

There are a number of reasons I find this so useful.  It helps me:

  • commit to focusing on only one task at a time
  • actually improve my focus and concentration
  • get started on a difficult or complicated project
  • stop putting off a task I’ve been procrastinating
  • overcome writer’s block
  • understand how much time tasks are actually taking to complete

As a matter of fact, I’m using a timer right now to write this article.  Writing is one of my favorite tasks to use a timer for.  Simply write freely for 20 minutes without doing any editing.  This works best if you use a previous chunk of 20 minutes to do any research or preparation you might require.  Remember, the idea is to focus on only one task at a time.  Don’t worry if you aren’t happy with the quality of what you are writing, just get your thoughts out on the page.  The editing phase (which you can also use a timer for) is when you will be refining and improving.

What kind of timer should you use?

I tend to use the basic timer built into my iphone.  It’s free and always handy.  Another great option is a simple old fashioned kitchen timer, chances are you have one lying around your house somewhere.  It’s old school (or maybe retro?) but effective.

There are a variety of more specialized timers that can be used.  These can be cloud based, installed on your desktop, or smartphone apps.  Some options are Focus Booster and  If you have a problem with distractions (for example if you pick up your phone to set the timer and notice new texts or emails that need your attention), it might be best to stay away from using your smartphone and stick with the old fashioned timer.

Don’t get too caught up in finding the perfect tool, though.  Any timer will do!  The best tool is the one you will actually use.

Ally here – I hope you enjoyed Sarah’s tip. It is something I use myself to stay on task. In fact, check out the Pomodoro Technique for another great resource.

Meet Sarah Davidson

Sarah Davidson social media headshot doorSarah has extensive experience in marketing from leading marketing programs for Fortune 100 corporations and running several of her own successful online and offline businesses.  She is the host of Spark Your Profits, a free web based marketing education series from top experts designed to help small businesses grow and thrive.

Get More Done This Week

clockWe are all short on time when juggling life’s demands with running a business. Here are two of my favorite tips to get you started being super productive:

Schedule Your Work

Use your calendar to block of time for work everyday, including time to work on your business. Balance is achieved by ensuring you also have personal time on your calendar each day.  >> See how I manage my calendar

Work on Your Priorities First

Break down your work into tasks and priorities for each day. You should identify 3 top priorities you want to accomplish that day followed by minor tasks that come second. >> Read more about priorities

Spring is Time to Revitalize Our Productivity Practices

sandsoftimeWith nicer days ahead (hard to believe as I look out my window and it is spitting SNOW in late March!) it is a perfect time for all of us to revitalize our productivity practices.

Last summer I challenged myself to work just two days a week in July and August. I enjoyed it so much I extended the schedule through late September! It was probably one of the best things I ever did for myself and my biz.

Now that Spring is here and we’ve moved close to the ocean(!), I’m determined to do it again…this time with a new twist. This year my timeframe goal for maintaining a two-day a week schedule is Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Yup, you read that right — four and a half months!

It’s not impossible, but it requires planning, discipline, focus and most importantly productivity practices that work. (Want me to teach you how I do it? Register for my next virtual Napkin Note Biz Plan Workshop happening Friday, April 11).

I recently came across this great infographic from the makers of the collaborative productivity tool Wrike, featuring productivity lessons that have endured through the ages.

I’ve found the most effective productivity practices are simple and practical and that is exactly what is outlined in the above.  My favorite from the list is “An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening.” I know that is the case with me, but it is all about knowing your body and how you work best. For my night owl friends, you could revise the statement to an hour in the afternoon.

As we move further into Spring, I’ll be sharing more about productivity and the practices I follow. I’d love to kick it off by learning more about the practices you make work for you. Please join the conversation and share your best productivity tip in the comments below.

Branding Lessons from St. Patrick’s Day

ShamrockHappy St. Patrick’s Day! Today is a special day in the Piper household…Not only is it an excuse to fall back in love with the color green, eat some corned beef and cabbage and search for a leprechaun, but it is also my husband’s birthday!

And this year in particular I’ve noticed how well “branded” this holiday is. St. Patrick’s Day owns the color green. It is everywhere!  And major cities and businesses are jumping on the band wagon — from the extreme of dying the river green in Chicago to Shamrock Shakes at McDonalds and various green donuts, drinks and Irish Cream coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.  Einstein Brothers is even offering green bagels (plain with green food coloring) this year.  In years past I’ve attended parties that served green beer and handed out shamrock necklaces.

The lesson here for business owners is simple – own a color and make it work for you. In my own business I’d like to think I own the color purple and I’ve written about rocking your brand color before. My friend and colleague Leslie Sturgeon from Women Inspiring Women owns pink and black.

How about you? What color will your business own?

How to Find Inspiration for Your Next Blog Post

022411_bloginspirationIf you are looking to get your business noticed online and blogging is not part of your marketing plan, you should consider it. But before you commit to this marketing tactic, you must be ready to consistently provide high-quality information to your readers. To keep a blog interesting enough to be followed, its content has to be fresh and updated regularly. Create a blog editorial calendar by brainstorming a list of topics and determining when they will be posted – that is what I do here at

Ready to kick your blogging up a notch, but struggling with finding topics to write about? Always keep your eyes and ears open. There are potential blog topics all around you. To keep your creative juices flowing, here are some tips to help inspire your next blog post.

Read. Read. Read.
Keeping yourself up to date with what’s happening around you and in your industry is the best way to find inspiration on what you may write about. Newspapers and magazines are great resources ensuring you find topics on the latest events and current trends.

You may offer your opinions, reactions and suggestions on your blog about current events you read about. Not only will you be populating your blog with up-to-date topics, but you will also show your readers that you are abreast of the latest news and knowledgeable in your niche. To get a daily dose of current events delivered right into your inbox, subscribe to online news sites or Google Alerts.

Most of the information that you will gather in magazines are geared towards consumers, giving you a good perspective on writing blogs that will entertain and inform readers at the same time.  Check out the headlines in the magazines you read for further inspiration.

There is nothing that can educate you more than the experiences that you will have from stepping outside your comfort zone and traveling to new places. Being online will give you many insights to different countries, cultures and things to see, but nothing beats the real experience of doing it in real life. Seeing new places, meeting different people and even tasting new cuisines can bring a mountain of inspiration that no amount of research can provide.

Mingle On and Offline
You will find that the varied tastes, outlooks and opinions of your friends and colleagues are a great starting point for your blog. Mingling with different people will open your eyes to things that you normally would not know. Conversations with other people will give you endless ideas that can be transformed to great blog posts.

Don’t underestimate the value of the conversations you take part of online. Joining forums or groups that are of interest to you is a great way to meet new people. Social networking is the latest and best way to meet new people online. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have millions of members and more joining everyday. Besides these three major social networking leaders, there are hundreds more niche sites that you can join. You will find that reading through the comments and exchanges in these social networking sites are highly entertaining and a very rich source of information.

Keep The Competition Close
Stay on top of what your competition is talking to their customers about. It is critical to know what they are doing so you have an understanding of where your business fits in the marketplace.

Keep Track Of Favorite Book Shop’s Bestseller Lists
Whether you prefer your neighborhood bookshop or online bookseller like Amazon, always familiarize yourself with the latest Bestsellers. Even without reading the whole book, you can derive inspiration from it for your next blog. The title alone can generate many ideas for you.  Titles like “1,000 Places To Go To Before You Die,” have surely inspired millions of blog posts.

Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to keep your eyes and ears open so that you do not miss it. When there are times that you feel like you have nothing to say, it might be time to sit back and just relax. Calmly look at other options for inspiration and you will see that the ideas will be flowing again in no time.

What about you? How do you discover what you will write about next?

A Simple Method for Using Email Marketing to Stay in Touch

Marty Marsh introduced me to the concept of Stay in Touch Marketing and my life has never been the same. The concept is simple, but simple is what works best. The best marketing is about building and nurturing relationships and Marty teaches just that on is website So I asked Marty if he’d be willing to share a tip or two with you all and I’m so happy he agreed. Enjoy!

MartyMarsh-HeadShotYou likely already know that these days email marketing is an essential component of your overall marketing mix. And yet, people are so inundated with marketing messages that they’ve become, what I call, inbox weary.

No longer are you just competing for the attention of your prospects with the business down the street — or on the next website — you’re also competing with every other email that’s showing up in their inbox. And that includes not just other marketing messages but emails from their friends and family, too.

You may worry that you are being a pest when you email your list. You may worry about upsetting people. You may worry about unsubscribes. You may worry about emailing too often and adding to their email clutter.

The solution? Email MORE often.

Yes, that sounds a bit counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Here’s the thing: Precisely because there is a lot of competing email in your prospects’ inbox you want to get in there more often so you are seen more often.

Your prospects have very short memories. And when they’re ready to buy the solution to their problem — the very solution you offer — you want to make sure that it is you they think about.

So the solution to making sure you always stay top of mind is to email more often; at least once a week. (Once a month is not often enough.)

Of course, everything you email must be of high value to your prospect, or else you will be seen as a pest. Always send your best stuff and you’ll never have to worry about being a pest no matter how many times you email.

And as for those unsubscribes? Nothing to worry about. Those are people merely self-qualifying themselves as not a good fit for you. You’ll never miss ‘em!

Learn more about Marty and his stay in touch marketing programs at

5 Easy Ways to Maximize the User Experience of your Business Website

Juhan Sonin via Flicker

Juhan Sonin via Flicker

By Owen Oliver

If you’re creating a website for your business or modifying your existing site, there are infinite considerations that will apply to your individual situation. Regardless of the kind of business, there is a basic framework to follow when creating most business websites.

Here are the 5 most important guiding principles to keep in mind when creating a user friendly business website.

A Purpose Driven Site

There is one question that must be answered before the optimization process can even begin and that is, “what do I want to accomplish with my website?” Or, put differently, “what should my site do best?” The answer of this question will greatly dictate your next move. If you don’t know what you want your website to do, then it can’t be shaped to perform any specific task. Some common purposes of business websites are:

  • To sell products or services
  • To generate leads
  • To build credibility

Only you can decide what you want your site to accomplish. Once you’ve decided on a goal, it’s best to optimize your site to do only that. Spreading the focus of your site can cause confusion for the user and guide them astray.

Don’t Create a Cretan Maze

Often sites lose their user when the users get lost. It should always be obvious to the user where to go next. If it isn’t immediately apparent to the user where they can find relevant information, then they will move on to a site or service that is more intuitive, often times this means they’ll go to a competitor. Here are good tips to plan for great website navigation.

  • Navigation bars- A clear navigation bar should be at the top of your page with categories running horizontal.
  • Consistency is king- All your navigation elements, visuals, and style should run seamlessly together, and be consistent from one page to the next. Consistency is professionalism and professionalism is good business. Unnecessary embellishments only confuse and frustrate users.
  • Clear and accurate categories- A category should take the user to exactly what the user expects. The user should never be surprised at where they end up after clicking on a link.
  • Never go back- If a user is forced to use the “Back” button on their browser then it means that the site gave them nowhere else to go. It should be just as easy for them to travel forward to another site.
  • Leave room for growth- Set up your website so it has room to expand with your business. In this respect, it is good to recall all you’ve ever learned about fractals and apply them to your website design.

Reflect Your Business

The possibilities are enormous to allow your website to reflect your business. Every step of the building process should have this consideration at the forefront. Some areas you should pay particular attention to when assuring that your site is a reflection of your business.

  • Colors- Are you trying to project calmness, style, professionalism or action? The choice of colors should not be arbitrary. There’s a science to the colors used in websites, and you should check out this article on color psychology used in designing websites before making your color choices.
  • Typeface- Your typeface should be uniform throughout your site and can project as many different voices as you can with the selection of colors.
  • Graphics- This includes your background, button design, infographics, pictures and more. If you’re going to spend money to hire someone for any part of the process, then hiring a graphic designer for this is a great idea. You could also pick their brain on color theory and typefaces while you’re at it.

Colors, typeface, and graphics should all work with each other to create a coherent and enjoyable experience for the user

Update Your Content Often

No one is going to stick around a website that looks like it hasn’t been updated in months. Keeping your content updated and current immediately tells the user that the website isn’t stagnant, and that you are open for business. It could be as simple as maintaining a blog or modifying your service/product information as it changes. Don’t go through the difficulties of building a website only to let it gather dust.

Making a Connection Should be Easy

Making a clear “Contact Us” page should be a priority for any business websites. Some are afraid to put information like this on their webpage, but when you have a business, contact is vitally important. It lets users know that your website is real, and having contact details adds to credibility.

  • Multiple contact outlets- Allow your user to contact you in the easiest form to them. Some use Twitter for everything, others Facebook, and some prefer a web form to contact you directly. Give them easy to use options
  • Location, location, location- If you’re business has a physical site then make it known. No one is going to seek you out unless you make it extremely easy.
  • A call to action- Always call for your prospective clients to take action now and tell them in no uncertain terms how to go about it. It can be as simple as “Call today”.

Speaking of a call to action… Start building that website. Everyday your business doesn’t have a functional site is a day you are losing money. Build smart and build now!

owenoliverheadshotOwen Oliver is a writer and website design consultant with American Graphics Institute