Back again. Help Me Help You.

I admit – I sort of forgot about this website.

Yesterday I saw that my About page hadn’t been updated since March 2015. Today I discovered that my last blog post (at this site) was a year ago. A year goes by fast.

Recently, someone looking to hire me for Virtual Assistant work asked if I had a website. I realized, “Oh shit, that’s what this website was created to be.”

In March 2015 I wrote on the About page that while in B-School my intention was to:

1. Resurrect my social media/web coaching/writing business – that’s this site –  with a limited number of clients. Watch for social media workshops in mid-2015.

2. Launch a new website and newsletter that will connect people will online health and wellness events.

#2 happened. I forgot about #1. B-School didn’t really work out for me, but I still stand by it as an excellent program.  It works out for many – and you should totally check it out. I made some great connections. I think that I went into it with the wrong expectations and that I need to keep referencing it on my own time until I “get it”. Today I went back to the “list building” module because I’m stuck on getting more people on my list for #2. It inspired me.

Six months after starting B-School I enrolled in a health coaching program.

I’m in this “do or die”, “feast or famine” part of my life. I’ve had a rough go of it. I’m back and looking to land more VA clients and to start accepting health soon.

Tell me what you need.

WordPress: 12 Easy Tips for a Better Experience

wordpress-love-icon-220x214Whether you’ve never used WordPress before or you’ve been using it for years, here are some tips to help you. If you only have the patience right now to focus on a few of them, focus on the Security section.

Security

1. Use a strong password.

For password generation and management I use 1Password. I like that it syncs across my devices and with Dropbox. I also like that it’s made by AgileBits, a privately held Canadian company located in downtown Toronto (support local business). Another good password tool is Lastpass, which does the same thing.

Bonus: Change the default login name too. “admin” is common and if somehow your password is hacked, the default “admin” user name will be the first that hackers try.

2. Keep it all updated.

That’s WordPress, plugins and themes. That includes the plugins & themes you have installed but don’t use. Don’t ignore the prompts to update!

updates dashboard screenshot
I updated after I took the screen shot.

3. Back up your site!

There are many plugins that you can do this with. Some are free, some aren’t. Here are a few examples. I have experience with some of them.

VaultPress: A subscription based service which offers automated real-time cloud backup solution starting at $5 / month.
VaultPress.

Backupbuddy: BackupBuddy allows you to easily schedule daily, weekly, or monthly backups and store them in Dropbox, Amazon S3 and other cloud services. The price starts at $80/year for use on 2 sites with 1 year of support forum access and 1 year of plugin updates. If you have multiple sites, that’s just $40 per site.
BackupBuddy by iThemes.

WordPress BackupToDropbox is ideal for Dropbox users looking to backup their entire WordPress site. It’s best for those with sites less than 2GB in total. I use it on one of my sites.
WordPress Backup to Dropbox

BackUpWordPress: This one has a free version and premium. The premium version stores backups in the cloud, which is what you want.
BackUpWordPress

BackWPup: What’s “Back WP up”, not “Back W Pup”. It also saves to cloud services and email. There’s a free version and a Pro version that starts at $75.
BackWPup free / BackWPup Pro

You can do your own research into backup plugins to find one that meets your needs.

4. Make your email address hard to spam.

Please don’t put your email address on your website. It will be easy for spammers to take it and use it. Instead, use a contact form. Spamming isn’t a security issue but it is an annoyance.

Site loading speed

You want your site to load quickly and efficiently.

5. Install a Caching Plugin

This will make your site load more quickly. Caching allows you speed up your site and prevent downtime if you get a lot of traffic at once. WP Super Cache (which I use) and WP Total Cache are the two standard ones. I’ve used them both and have no preference.

6. Reduce the size of your images before you upload them

By reducing the size of your images you reduce their file size, which makes your page load faster and more efficiently and also takes up less space on your web server. Also, clicking on an image in a post will display the image in its original size (unless you change it to open to another URL). If the original size is huge, it will display that way.

There are multiple ways to do this. On Mac you can do it straight from the Preview application. I don’t remember if you can do this on Windows but MS Paint allows you to resize and crop. Click your image to open it, select “Tools” and “Adjust Size”. I always duplicate the image and keep the original size on my computer just in case I need it but that’s up to you.

7. Evaluate your installed & activated plugins

This one affects both the site speed and security.

Every so often, go through all of your installed plugins. Deactivate and delete ones that you don’t use. Maybe you’ve tried a bunch and deactivated those you didn’t need but didn’t delete them. If you want, you can keep a list of those deleted plugins somewhere in case you want to try them again, but deleting deactivated plugins cuts the risk of being hacked.

Confession: I’m a plugin hoarder and am guilty of deactivating without deleting – and my site’s been slower as a result.

Design & User experience

8. Delete the default “Hello, world!” post and sample page

Leaving it in makes you look like a newbie. Replace it with your own content.

9. Change the default tagline

The default is “Just another WordPress site”. Your site isn’t just another WordPress site. It’s your site. You can always change the tagline later.

10. UsePermalinks!

In your URL, the text following your domain name should not be an ID number (e.g. “?page_id=123”). -Sometimes called “Clean URLs”, Semantic URLs or SEO-friendly URLs. This makes your site look better and is better for serach engine optimization.

To do this, click on Settings and Permalinks and select “Post name”.

Bonus:

11. Advanced: Change your default 404 page

The purpose of a good 404 page is to make sure visitors landing on it continue browsing your site, and find the content they came for.

I hand-coded the 404 pages on this site in the theme editor, but there are tools you could use to make it look better. I’ll get into details about 404 pages and how to customize them in a subsequent post.

Got any tips of your own? Share below.

 

Old Post: 15 ways to pitch your blogger

This is one of my favourite posts from the first iteration of this blog. It received a lot of engagement. I’ve modified it slightly.

Originally posted 2013-10-01

With many years of blogging, I get pitched by PR companies regularly. I’ve worked with a bunch of these agencies, some that I liked, some that I didn’t. There are about 3 that I really like to work with.

Here are some do’s and don’ts, of pitching and beyond for anyone pitching bloggers.

blog-wordle

Do

1. Do: Read their blog

Please read some posts to get a sense of the blog. Sounds obvious, but I’ve gotten some pitches that seemed to be from people who had never read my blog before. “Spray and pray” rarely works. I’ve had people get my name wrong and make reference to something nonexistent in my blog, which made me think that the invitation was meant for someone else.

2. Do: Read their “about” page.

Things to check for: Location, guidelines, things that the blogger will and won’t blog about, etc.

Bloggers, make this easy on the people pitching you by providing information about you and your blog.

  • Information about you and your blog could include home base (I was once sent an invitation to an event in Vancouver, then realized that I hadn’t specified that I’m Toronto-based), reader demographics (optional, I’ve never done it, but could be helpful), mission statement.
  • Pitching guidelines – how to pitch, and what. Be clear on the types of products and pitches that you will and won’t accept, especially things that you will absolutely refused.  State potential conflicts of interest.

I sometimes accept things out of my usual scope but there are certain things I always refuse.

3. Do: If you’ve got an established relationship, confirm information anyway.

If you’ve already got a relationship with a blogger and have sent them stuff in the mail before, confirm their mailing address. People move.

I once had an awkward situation when something that I wasn’t expecting was sent to an old work place, someone whom the package wasn’t addressed to opened it and the PR company was phoned and questioned.

4. Do: Assign one or two agents to communicate, no more

Sometimes I wonder if the left hand knows what the right is doing. I’m all for teamwork, but it starts to look scattered. (also see #10 below)

5. Do:Offer a clear call to action

I don’t mind media releases but tend to skim and delete them. What do you want from me?

6. Do: Check their social media engagement

I believe that comments on a blog don’t tell the whole story. Some blogs have disabled comments because they found they got better engagement on social media and, for the bigger blogs, moderating comments took up valuable time.

People comment on my blog posts via Twitter and Facebook and in person. My Klout score is 63 with a high of 64.1 in the last 3 months (Klout measures influence across social media and brands with influencers). It appears that more people read my tweets on a regular basis than my blog, and people retweet, extending reach.

Sometimes I go to an event and tweet the heck out of it but then find no place for it in my blog. The tweets are still a valid promotional tool, especially in conjunction with Instagram, which I can cross post to other social media platforms.

7.  Do: Supply information in a timely manner

Be accessible. If we have questions answer them asap. If you can’t, get someone who can.

8.  Do: Maintain relationships

This goes for blogger and PR agency. Don’t just contact me when you want something. One of my favourite agencies is run by a woman that I consider a colleague because she interacts with her bloggers on Twitter on a regular basis. This is also Networking 101.

Don’t

9. Don’t: Send too many emails. Don’t sound desperate.

We get it. You’re enthusiastic. You want to follow up. However, I know some bloggers who get dozens of pitches a day. If you email me and I don’t respond it’s possible that it’s gotten lost in the pile, or I’m not interested, or I’ve forgotten. Feel free to follow up, but only do it so many times. Twice should suffice.

10. Don’t: Have multiple people in your agency send the same email

It looks unprofessional, again, like one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.

11. Don’t: Be secretive or play games

Don’t email me about a “secret” campaign, a “private” client, or a “surprise gift” that you want to send me, unless you’re willing to reveal it when asked.

A while back I had a multi-email exchange with a PR company about a “secret new product” that they wanted to send me. They were emailing me for my mailing address. Not to offer the product, not to pitch, but for my mailing address. When I asked about the product I got shipping dimensions. I eventually learned what they wanted to send me after I pressed them for product literature, and it wasn’t something that I’d want.

To me this suggests that perhaps you’re not confident in your product or your ability to sell it. Maybe you don’t think I’ll like it so you fear asking permission. Perhaps you think that I won’t think I’ll like it, but that after I try it anyway it will be my favourite thing ever.

Why this is a don’t in my opinion:

  1. My mailing address is my home. I live above a business on a major street. No doorman, no buzzer. There is no safe place out front to leave stuff and I occasionally wonder if my regular mail will get stolen. I don’t use the front door on a regular basis. Therefore, I need to know when I’m expecting anything that won’t fit in the mailbox. I used to have packages sent to my office when I had one. That was fun because my colleagues would gather ’round and ooh and ah.
  2. I’m conscious of the environment and your client’s budget. I don’t want packaging wasted on me for something I won’t use and I don’t think that it’s an efficient use of your client’s budget. By declining your product I’m not implying that said product isn’t good, it means that I don’t want it. It’s rather presumptuous to think I do. There are other bloggers I can refer you to who will take it if it’s not a good fit for me or my blog. This also links back to point #1, knowing your blogger.
  3. Clutter.

Writer/blogger Stephanie Dickison addressed this last one in her book The 30-Second Commute: A Non-Fiction Comedy about Writing and Working From Home. After four months of writing her product review blog she started receiving a couple packages a week. Then she was getting so much that she began begging people to take her extra swag. After awhile they didn’t want it either.

It got to the point where I had piles of boxes teetering behind our bedroom door and was constantly rearranging them. Currently the linen trunk at the foot of our bed houses some of the products, along with spillover still left behind the door…. There is more where a shelf of CDs use to be….

She also lists an inventory of products “lurking behind the door” at the time of writing. I counted 44. My favourites from her list: Ultra-sonic toothbrushes, tea (which I’d forget to drink), high end sipping tequila in bottles so big that she had to put 5 “u”s in “huge”. That doesn’t include the food items and gadgets in the kitchen.

Not that she or I are complaining about the gesture – there are worse problems to have – but think about the clutter, the environment and the expense. At least I don’t live in a little shoebox apartment in Manhattan.

12. Don’t: Obligate the blogger to make the blogger to write about the product or event

A colleague that I respect that also runs an online magazine once gave me this random, unsolicited piece of advice at an event: “Never feel obligated to write about it.” In my experience we usually will (or tweet it – see #6) but there are reasons I won’t: It wasn’t what I expected. I don’t see what I can add that the other dozen bloggers at your event haven’t written already. I don’t like your product and don’t want to be negative. You didn’t supply me with the information I asked for. And so forth.

Further reading:

  • Dave Fleet has a page of “pitching tips” on his website. He’s also got a post called Blogger Relations – You’re Doing it Wrong that I’ve commented on a few times. He posted it in August and this topic has been on my list of things to write about since.
  • My friend Eden wrote an article called Ten tips to help you get the most out of working with brands for the Food Bloggers of Canada website. I’m mentioned a few times.

What do you think? Weigh in below.

Old Post: How to Network Without Knowing It & Have Fun

Originally posted 2013-12-02

How to network without knowing it & have fun

Last week, like a 6 year old, I asked a fellow blogger if he wanted to be my friend. I said it without any self-consciousness whatsoever, but acknowledged to myself that he might find it odd. Adults don’t do that.

I didn’t say it exactly like that at first, but I’ll get to that.

Have you found that it’s harder to make friends and to generally meet people after you graduate college/university? Have you noticed that the same advice is used whether you want to make friends or find someone to date?

“Go where people who share your interests are.”

This is the premise behind Meetup and social groups that bring people together online for offline activities such as hobbies and sports.

I used to have dating profiles on a couple of dating websites. For awhile my profile said something like this:

“I’m not necessarily looking for “the one”, but ‘expanding the network’. If it doesn’t work out between us, maybe we have friends who we can set each other up with.”

Pair of CoffeesI once went on a date with a guy who I didn’t see it happening with. I told him that I’d be interested in being friends. I meant it. I never said that if I didn’t mean it. In response he got huffy and informed me that he doesn’t “need any more friends”. When I pointed out what I’d written in my profile, he told me that he thought I was just saying that. Not my problem. Most people lie, I guess. I’ve been socializing online for about 20 years and I’ve always been my true self. No bullshit. The difference is, offline me is more shy. Introverts like me are drawn to blogging.

One of my best friends is someone I met on a dating website. We got along great but for whatever reason, I decided not to date him. He’s an awesome networker though and keeps in touch. We were in sporadic contact for years before meeting at a party (he shouted my email address across the room because he blanked on my name) and became friends. My current boyfriend, with whom I was friends first, is a lot like him.

Another thing I’ve found: Often when I meet people in groups there’s little time to talk, and sometimes I meet the same person repeatedly in groups of people but don’t really talk to them. Then, what could be months or years later, we finally click. I recently had my first one-on-on conversation with someone I’ve known for over two years.

Every time I go to a professional networking event – tweetups, meetups, “-camps”, “-cons” – I inevitably say to someone regarding networking events:

You never know if you'll meet your new best friend, your next business partner or the love of your… Click To Tweet

So back to the story I began telling at the top, here’s a transcription of the instant messaging conversation with this fellow blogger:


Me: “Let’s meet up for lunch in the next couple of weeks. Been meaning to propose it for awhile. I feel like we’d hit it off.”
(I considered saying something like “I feel like we should be friends”.)

Him: “you wanna be my girlfriend? go steady?”
(I was so glad he said that because it’s the exactly the kind of smart-ass comment I’d have made and even though this was text, I detected a smile – no emoticon necessary. )

Me: “I was afraid it would sound that way but I have a boyfriend and I’m not your type.”
(He’s gay.)

Him: “I expected so haha”

Me: “I almost added that it sounded awkwardly like ‘want to be my friend?’ ”

Then he started asking me some questions about my blogging and working style and while answering them, I was still on the real “friend request” with messages,

“I kind of was asking if you wanted to be my friend.” and
“People are too busy to turn acquaintances into friends. Gotta integrate it into work!”


And that’s it. People are too busy, or they’re focused on one end goal. In this case, I see this blogger at the occasional PR event. I think he’s an awesome photographer. I have a business idea and I’ve been thinking of asking him if he wants to be a part of it, though I didn’t get to that in our conversation.

I’ll say it again:

“You never know if you’ll meet your new best friend, your next business partner or the love of your life.”

And to me, that’s networking.

As I advised a friend two years ago, “Get out, meet people and eat cupcakes”. Hell, just say “hi”.

Jumping Without a Net

AvivaQuote

In my last post I wrote, “The Universe has been bashing me over the head with the “leave your day-job industry and go out on your own” message recently.”

This is yet another example, sent last Tuesday. My friend Aviva started her newsletter with this quote and attributed it to a former theatre school professor. I don’t usually reply to people’s newsletters but I replied with this:

Beautiful! The quote you started with made me laugh because it’s one more examples of synchronicity in my life right now, another sign of the Universe/my inner guide metaphorically grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me. It’s as if the Universe is saying, “In case you haven’t been listening, LOOK AT THIS!” 🙂 The Universe is turning into a nagging Jewish mother. I inwardly answered with an eye roll.

The quote spoke to me.

This is Aviva, a JUNO Award nominated musician (the Canadian music awards) that matter to people over th eage of 20. This is the newsletter it was in.

Steve Jobs on being fulfilled

Steve Jobs on being fulfilled

Steve Jobs on being fulfilledNew-old website post #2: I suppose I could use it Tumblr-style.

I found this post about a week and a half ago, days before my birthday. You know the idea of the universe sending you messages, and synchronicity? This quote came when I needed it. So did the next one I’ll post. The Universe has been bashing me over the head with the “leave your day-job industry and go out on your own” message recently. The Universe wins.

 

Andrea Writes Two Point… Ohhhh

Hello world, again,

I went and did something crazy.

This website, which has existed since around 2012, which is on business cards, on about.com, AngelList (a platform for startups), on resumes, is blank now. On purpose.

It wasn’t going to be.

Changing of the host

I’m easy distracted. In January as my hosting was about to end with my previous hosting company, I bought hosting with a different company. And while I began to export my food and wellness website to import under the new host, I got distracted and never completed it. I clicked one button, then stopped because squirrel! I subsequently, after changing the settings necessary, realized when it was too late and that I hadn’t exported this site either.

This in itself didn’t kill the content forever, it just meant that I had to transfer my sites via file transfer (FTP) and importing my databases. More time consuming, it is.

I did export my databases from the previous host, so I had the content. This content needed to move to their new homes. It took me 3 weeks to get my food and wellness site back up with all of its content dating back to 2008 because I was having database issues and tech support for my new host isn’t well educated in mySQL databases, under the belief that mySQL is WordPress’s area (I think they should have the ability to adequately support it, but anyway…). Because that’s the site I used most often, I sat on this one for awhile until I decided to commence the migration. This site is on business cards and such, but it wasn’t priority yet. I was going to migrate all the old content over as if this was the same old site.

This week something occurred to me: I didn’t WANT to migrate the old content. It’s not that I didn’t want to put in the effort, it’s that I set up this site as my “portfolio” or “business” site but didn’t do much with it. I wrote a couple dozen posts over a couple of years and changed its focus – it’s a business blog – no, it’s a place to sell myself as a writer – no, it’s a blog for everything that doesn’t belong on my other site – no… but it mostly stayed dormant. Some of those posts were excellent, I thought. I enjoyed my “to date or not to date” blog posts, and the version of “15 Ways to Pitch Your Blogger”, a slightly different version of which I also published on my food & wellness blog. That one got a bunch of comments and shares here.

But now I see that Andrea Writes has potential and I’m not certain what that is. I recently determined that one of the things missing from my other website is a brand, and have determined that if I’m going to keep this site, I should have some form of brand consistency.

So if you’re holding onto my business card right now, or got here from a link on a professional networking site, welcome and know that this site – like my life – is in transition. More on that last part later.

And there you go. Exciting changes are afoot.