How to Build Self-Confidence After a Bad Month: 8 Helpful Tips

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When you’ve had a really bad day, the last thing you want to do is spend the night figuring out how to rebuild for the next.

Now, imagine if it were an entire month. Your energy is sapped. You might even feel defeated. And the last thing you feel is confident. Getting up and trying again seems like an ordeal — one that requires a lot more effort than you feel like making. But you have to.

When we’ve experienced a prolonged period of negative events, one of the biggest challenges is regaining your personal morale to go back and give it another shot. That’s true of dating, and it’s true of negative fallbacks at work. We’re here to discuss the latter — and we’ve got some ideas for how you can get your professional groove back.

Download our complete productivity guide here for more tips on improving your productivity at work.

So if you’ve had a tough month and you’re not feeling so positive, chin up — we’ve got a whole collection of tips to get you back on your feet.

8 Tips for Rebuilding Self-Confidence After a Bad Month

1) Talk to your manager.

We are a society that’s afraid of looking weak, and it has a bad impact on our behavior. It makes 29% of us reluctant to ask for help at home, and 40% of us afraid to be nice at work — because we fear that people will take advantage of us.

It makes sense, then, that many of us are afraid to ask for help at work for fear of looking foolish or ill-informed. Not only can that lead to making mistakes in the first place, but it can also leave you without the necessary information to avoid them in the future.

Let your boss know that you recognize where things have fallen short, and ask for specific feedback. Chances are, your manager will appreciate your proactive attitude about mistakes.

2) Ask what “bad” means to you, compared to reality.

“I’m my own worst critic.” It’s something that many of us say, since we expect perfection from ourselves, which starts at an alarmingly young age. In one study of children in Singapore, researchers found that 60% scored remarkably high on “self-criticalness,” with 78% scoring high in “socially prescribed perfectionism.” And more than half — 59% — were reported to have both.

Yikes. With such a perfectionism epidemic, we wouldn’t be surprised if you’re perceiving your “bad” month to be worse than it actually was.

That’s another place where talking to someone else about it — like your manager — can help to put things into perspective. Personally, I have a tendency to assume the absolute worst about everything, especially when it comes to mistakes at work.

But as soon as I bring it up with a colleague or my boss, one of three things usually happen:

  1. It turns out to be a first-time mistake that everyone makes.
  2. It’s easy to fix.
  3. It’s really not that big of a deal.

When we’re so focused on being perfect, we tend to view mistakes as — at worse — fireable offenses. If that’s the assumption you make with every typo, missed deadline, or other mistake, your confidence is going to take a huge hit.

Instead, when a “crisis” occurs, try your best to step back and put it into perspective. How bad is it, really? Are you completely powerless to it, or is there something you can do to address it now? Once you’ve fully evaluated the problem — which should only require about five minutes of deep breath and de-escalation from your panic — gaining the confidence to tackle the issue might be easier than it first looked.

3) Don’t turn failure into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As we covered above, many of us allow our perfectionism to manifest as an overreaction to mistakes. If that’s how we constantly behave in the face of performance that doesn’t meet our own standards, could we start habitually expecting failure from ourselves?

Yes. That’s because 70% of us suffer from something called Imposter Syndrome — the sense that, no matter how much we’ve achieved, we don’t belong in a leadership position or deserve the success of having gotten there. And according to recent research, going through life feeling like an imposter can cause us to bring less confidence (and therefore, less quality) to our work, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s easy to discount our success as undeserving, and to easily dismiss our hard work. But if we keep sending those messages to ourselves, we’ll start to accept them as truth and it’ll reflect in our work.

However, the opposite is also true — which psychologist Amy Cuddy touched on in her wildly popular TEDGlobal talk. Since then, she’s continued her research on the power of “faking it until you become it.” That’s when we send ourselves the opposite message of failure, instead reaffirming our power, success, and worth. That approach to work can achieve a reverse self-fulfilling process, in which we learn to believe in our success, instead of feeling like we’re imposters.

Check out this helpful visual guide that explains how body language can help beat Imposter Syndrome. Even by assuming a certain stance, we can instill confidence in ourselves.

4) Evaluate how engaged you are at work.

There’s a problem in the U.S. workplace. Many people don’t really want to be there, as evidenced by the fact that only 34.2% of people are actually engaged at work. In short, that means we just don’t care. And when we don’t care, our work suffers — how can we bring quality to something for which we have so little passion?

If you feel that disengaged at work, you have a few options. First, you can speak with your manager — again. Chances are, he or she has noticed your work is suffering, and if you’re able to honestly explain why, that might lead to a productive conversation about the direction of your career. From there, it all depends on how that discussion ends. If your manager isn’t receptive, then it might be time to consider a career change.

5) Formulate a plan for how you’ll avoid another bad month.

Sometimes, there are months in which you really did screw up. It’s okay — we’ve all been there, which we’ll get to later.

The important thing is that you recognize what went wrong, and that you know how you’re going to prevent it from happening again. When I worked in event planning, we did that for every engagement. We kicked off every project by outlining every possible problem that could arise, but unexpected issues still came up. When they did, we documented all of them and, after the event, formulated a plan to avoid them in the future.

That strategy isn’t limited to events, and most workplace mistakes can be treated the same way. As soon as they’ve been resolved, record them and consider sharing them with your team — that’s the best way to ensure that they don’t happen again.

6) Know that failure is not uncommon.

‘Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try again.”

William Edward Hickson

Not too long ago, two researchers in Texas performed a study on the failure rate of new businesses. Between 1990 and 2011, they found that 92% of the 2.4 million retail businesses that opened during that period also closed during the same span of time. Among the businesses that closed, 25% did so after one year, and 50% closed after two. Roughly 75% of them were owned by first-time entrepreneurs, and 71% percent of the failed business owners didn’t bother trying again.

That last figure is a shame, since the same study also found that the 29% of business owners who decided to try again were more likely to be successful on subsequent tries.

Two things about this study stand out to us:

  1. The commonality and high rate of failure.
  2. The success rate of people who try again.

To the first point, don’t feel isolated in your failure. And as long as you’re acknowledging that making mistakes — and maybe even failing — happen to almost everyone, don’t give up, either. As the numbers show, you likely have more to lose by not trying again.

7) Evaluate what you can control.

When things are going so well, it’s easy for us to stop taking care of ourselves. That could be why 39% of adults indulge in unhealthy food when they’re stressed.

While an occasional treat is fine, treating chronic stress with poor nutrition or a lack of exercise will only make matters worse. And here’s the thing — those are parts of your life that you can control. It’s easy to feel like stressful work situations spiral beyond a solution that you can reach on your own. But self-care? You’ve got this.

Much of the time, constant business travel is blamed for an unhealthy lifestyle, but we’ve got some tips to keep that in check, too — many of which can also be applied to a busy life at home. Plus, what you eat plays a vital role in your productivity. Check out my colleague Lindsay Kolowich’s guidelines for eating to get more done.

8) Take a break.

Here’s a thought. Could you be making more mistakes than usual because you’re burned out?

In Germany, for example, 24% of employees report feeling burned out. When we’re feeling such a high level of stress from overworking, it achieves the opposite of getting more done — it actually starts to negatively impact our cognitive function. We start to get forgetful, make mindless errors, and might even have stronger emotional responses to negative situations.

In other words, you need a break. Guilt can get in the way of that — after all, 55% of us feel bad about leaving our desks just for a breather, and 47% of us are ashamed of taking time off. But the longer we let that trend continue, the closer we get to complete burnout, and the more likely our work is to suffer as a result.

Seriously — take a break. And maybe even put that vacation time to use. When you come back, you’ll have a renewed perspective that can help you tackle your goals.

Starting to Rebuild

Feel better?

We certainly hope so. As you begin to regain your confidence after a bad month — or making the effort to do so — take your time. Evaluate your priorities, and see which of these tips best fits in with them. Don’t try to tackle them all at once, or else you might end up feeling overwhelmed, which would defeat the purpose.

Here’s to the new year ahead. Best of luck — we know you’ve got this.

What do you do to rebuild confidence after a bad month? Let us know in the comments.

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Forget Networking: Become a Connector

ThinkstockPhotos-532049662-483225-edited.jpgNo matter how far you advance your career, networking is likely never going to be something you enjoy. And for the introverted among us, it can feel like we’re being forced back into those endless icebreaker exercises we had to do at corporate retreats while we were coming up. So, let’s stop.

Wait, what?

You read that correctly. Let’s stop networking. Instead, let’s start connecting and helping. 

When you start looking at networking as a way to help people, it gets a lot easier. Remember what Jim Rohn once said: “If you help enough people get what they want, inevitably you get what you want.” Here’s how you do it.

Be Approachable

Networking and industry meet-and-greets are inherently uncomfortable, even for the extroverted out there. Thankfully, as someone who has already worked her way up the ladder, you are now the connection people hope to gain. This means that, while you are getting your bearings, you can let people come to you. This is far easier than trying to force yourself to start conversations before you’re ready to do so.

The Buddy System

You’re never too old or too high up the food chain to eschew the buddy system. In this instance, what you’re going to do is pair up with someone extroverted. The extroverts among us are fantastic at taking the leap to make introductions and striking up conversations in uncomfortable environments. As someone more introverted, your strength is keeping the conversation going by asking questions and paying close attention to how the person responds. It’s a symbiotic relationship and can help your extroverted “buddy” as much as it helps you.

Step it Up a Notch

By now you know that networking is about more than the initial meeting. It is about following up on that meeting. The simplest way to do this is to follow each other on social media. The casual nature of social media allows you to keep up with each other without a ton of effort. The connection can grow at its own pace. Reply to their posts. Promote their posts. Inevitably you’ll see one of your connections need something. This is when you make your move. Suggest a solution, offer to help, offer to connect that person with someone you know who can help them, etc.

Build Credibility

This works so well because you’ve already built up trust with your connection. You feel like you know each other already, so helping them solve a problem won’t feel strange or awkward. And it increases the likelihood that your offer will be seen and, more importantly, taken seriously.

Now what you must do is follow through on your offers. The hard part is not promising more than you know you can deliver. One of the best parts of making progress in your career is having the means to lend a hand to those who are still working their way up. Mentoring and helping others advance can become almost an addiction. Therefore, you need to be objective. Apply your business know-how to your urge to help and remember: it is better to promise small and deliver big than to promise big and deliver small.

Grow, Baby, Grow

The nice thing about this approach is that it takes the awkwardness of networking and turns it into an introvert-friendly and organic connection process. Best of all, your initial success will build upon itself naturally over time. It will be the best automated process you’ve ever developed.

People who actually enjoy networking are the unicorns of the business world. Most of the people you meet will be just like you: forcing themselves to do something incredibly awkward that they hate because they know it will help grow their companies. Your urge to avoid it is understandable. Still, try using the method we’ve outlined here. It’s awkwardness reduction properties will make networking much easier to endure.

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Why Your Company Might Need a Content Audit

ThinkstockPhotos-506147556-568616-edited.jpgContent is used as a valuable marketing tool across all industries. From social media content to long-form evergreen content, marketers constantly write to build awareness and nurture  relationships. While the goal of content marketing is clear, many companies forget to track what type of content is actually working.

Even powerhouse Microsoft fell into that habit. At one point the Microsoft.com website had 10 million pages of content but 3 million of them had never been visited. By removing unnecessary and irrelevant content, Microsoft made its customers much happier and learned what type of content works in attracting consumers. And all of that happened by conducting a content audit.

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5 Reasons for a Content Audit

There are a variety of reasons that a company might need a content audit. Here are some of the problems that plague companies because of the lack of a content audit.

Lots of Traffic Coming in But Not Many Qualified Leads

Here’s a scary stat: one-third of B2B marketers don’t track where their leads come from. This clearly needs to be corrected in order to figure out what marketing channels work and which should be eliminated. Once your company takes a look at lead generation, you may find that while more and more traffic comes in, none if it is really relevant to your brand.

This is oftentimes a content problem. The content could be attracting the wrong target and therefore no one converts. 56% of survey respondents said they were doing content marketing without a plan. When qualified leads are not coming in, maybe the content was not written with a clear buyer persona; therefore, the content does not address a specific need or pain point of that audience.

Unclear Value Proposition = Unclear Content

Only 7% of leadership teams can explain a clear, common value proposition, but 85% of CEOs say their employees can state the company’s value proposition. This dichotomy leads to very unclear content. If writers do not have a clear picture of the company’s value, then the content will reflect this and appear confusing to the reader. A value proposition helps build relevance for target buyer personas, helping to improve engagement, shares, conversions, and trust.  

Blog Doesn’t Play a Role in Sales

B2B marketers that use blogs receive 67% more leads than those who do not. Many companies, however, do not use the blog as part of the sales process, which means no leads or opportunities come through because of the blog. 

This can be because the sales and content marketing teams are not aligned. The blog should help push leads down the sales funnel, helping to produce qualified leads. A company’s blog can also help provide sales teams useful nurturing content as they help prospects navigate the awareness, consideration, and decision stages of the buying process.

Leads or Sales Goals Aren’t Met

If leads or sales metrics are falling behind, surprisingly this could be because the content strategy is not tied to the sales strategy. Before revising the sales process, performing a content audit could uncover why certain goals aren’t met. Content must aid the sales process, as 41% of businesses say curated content increased the number and/or quality of sales-ready leads.

Blog Subscribers Don’t Read Your Content

If people that actively subscribed to your blog content are not reading it, then a content audit is desperately needed. By finding out why these people subscribed, you can start to get your content back on track. Perhaps with different team members writing, blog content began to drift from its original purpose, making it no longer useful for the audience.

What To Do Next

Before launching into a full scale content audit, take a step back and ask some key questions about the content being created.

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  • Is the Content Value-Driven? Does the content align with the company’s value proposition? What are the key value points that relate to your customer and does the content reflect this?
  • Is the Content Persona-Driven? Does your content align to the needs, interests, and opportunities associated with target buyer personas or an ideal buyer profile?
  • Is the Content Results-Driven? Does your content assist in the conversion of leads and sales opportunities? Does the marketing team align efforts with results? Which content assists in conversions of leads and which content does not? Using Hubspot, identify which content directly influencers sales qualified leads.
  • Have You Invested in a Content Strategy? Have time and resources been fully invested to craft the best content strategy? Has this content team continually updated and improve and build upon top-performing content?
  • Are the Sales and Marketing Teams Aligned? Content can play a huge role in sales, so identify the weak points in the sales process and align marketing strategies along those points. Have you found opportunities to support, educate, inspire, and guide buyers through the sales funnel? Content can help with each step, so marketing and sales teams should meet on a consistent basis.

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You Probably Need a Content Audit

If you answered no to any of these questions, then it is time for a content audit. A content audit can help improve sales, make your customers happier, and get rid of unnecessary pages that can be bogging down your website, so if you have fallen into any of the traps listed above, it’s time to audit the content on your website.

View more content marketing stats and trends.  

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Using Content Marketing in the Professional Services Industry

ThinkstockPhotos-179768055-848177-edited.jpgYour content marketing strategy should be approached a little differently if your business offers professional services, like practicing law, medicine, or performing some form of consulting work.

This is because you’re largely capitalizing on expertise to serve your clients, not just pushing product benefits. Demonstrating that expertise is going to be crucial to building trust with your audience, which in turn leads to inbound inquiries.

That being said, let’s nail down who your audiences are, since there are actually TWO primary groups you’ll want to target. From there, we’ll look at some tactical strategies you can employ to start using content marketing for professional services on different media channels.

First Up: Who Are You Attracting?

“Clients” is the obvious answer here. You’re definitely going to need messages going straight to the people who are going to be writing checks for you. It’s the other, not-so-obvious target that may actually bring the most value to your business development, however: referral partners. This group is going to be made up of professionals just like you. They won’t be in the same industry (those are competitors), but tangential ones. Here are a couple of examples of these symbiotic, “you help me, I help you” relationships:

  1. Estate Attorney + Financial Planner
  2. Cardiac Surgeon + Family Practice Physician
  3. Business Consultant + Enterprise Software Salesperson

You can see a trend in these relationships, where one professional is usually a specialist and the other provides more general services. In the case of the first example, a single financial planner may have a variety of go-to attorneys in different practice areas so they can best serve their client when the need for legal assistance arises. Alternatively, the estate attorney probably has relationships with a number of financial planners in the same role, so that he or she is maximizing the probability of a referral coming through. Think about which role you can play for your network – the generalist or specialist.

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Don’t think you’re fooling anyone, fish. We all know you swim better than you climb. Stick with what you’re good at!

In both cases of communication (client or referral partner), the main goal is to advocate that you have the audience’s best interests at heart. For clients, that means solving their problems thoroughly and quickly. Referral partners are going to need assurance that you know what you’re doing, and, when they hand off their client, that you’re going to reflect positively on them… by solving the client’s problems thoroughly and quickly.

Now, you and I know that you’re wholly capable of meeting those needs without a problem. The issue is that they don’t know. In content marketing for professional services, your main goal for messaging is to demonstrate that you’re the expert. Another name for this type of communication is authority positioning.

How to Show that You’re Top Dog

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Fact: When you’re on top, you tend to smile more.

There are three primary messages that fall under the umbrella of authority positioning. The overarching intent of getting your messages out there is to draw attention to your business, but each message actually has its own sub-objective for showing that you’re the market expert. Let’s look at these types, then expand on the best ways to deliver each to your audience.

Authority Message #1: Tips & Advice

This first one is a no-brainer. How can you best show that you know the solution to a problem? By sharing that solution! You have the perfect sample to draw from when identifying these problems, too: real-life, existing clients.

Every now and then you’ll work with a completely unique and challenging case, but for the most part, a lot of people (read: more than you’re currently working with) are asking the same core questions. Offering answers to common client questions helps you capitalize on where they’re already looking. As for those unique curveballs, share the occasional example to show that you can overcome any problem. They’ll also help differentiate you and keep your content interesting.

Sub-Objective: Show that you’re ready and willing to be helpful.

Authority Message #2: Case Studies

When you share advice, some content will click for your audience and be useful just based on context. The majority of clients and referral partners are going to need some more convincing, however.

Case studies act as a vehicle for you to deliver concrete evidence that your services have helped others. In a more subtle way, they also serve as a testament to your process and show that you’re results-driven. If you’re keeping track of your clients’ success, it means you care about the actual outcomes – not just about signing agreements.

Sub-Objective: Show that you care about the end result – and that you can achieve it.

Authority Message #3: Analysis of Relevant Current Events

Considering the events of 2016, the world is crazy and literally anything can happen. That has an effect on your clients. Take a fixed event, like, I don’t know, the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Without even taking a political stance, it’s easy to see that a central event like that sends out ripples in every direction, holding implications for economics and lifestyle changes for pretty much everyone.

If you can think critically about what that event can mean for your clients, you can deliver some professional insights on the subject. That way, you’re capitalizing on a hot conversational topic and demonstrating your problem-solving skills.

Sub-Objective: Show that you’re in touch with what’s impacting clients’ lives, and that you’re prepared serve in any situation.

Now even if you build these types of messages, you have to make sure your audience is going to see them. Starting an advice column in your local paper may be an option, but unless you’re specifically aiming to serve just local folks, you’re going to want to try some different channels.

How to Spread the Word

While the messaging may be unique when you’re looking at content marketing for professional services vs. something like e-commerce, you’re going to use similar platforms.

Remember, you want to put your message in a spot where the right people are already looking. That means capitalizing on SEO via website content, weighing in on social media, and promoting your business at events that are concentrated hubs for building your referral network.

Blogging

Writing blog articles with specific content in response to a highly-trafficked keyword is still going to be your best bet for getting seen organically. We haven’t incorporated Google into our lexicon as a verb for no reason, people.

The best way that you can explain what your business does and how you can serve clients is by directing them to your website. Write up blogs that fit into the messaging types described above, and then include links in them that lead to the next useful piece of information.

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Just like the Arc de Triomphe, all roads should lead to one place: the sale.

Depending on the topic you’ve written about, you can send visitors to another useful blog topic and continue to build trust, or get them to a conversion point, if they’re ready. Putting your case studies into a downloadable PDF format and gating them behind a form is a good way to do that if they’re still not ready to schedule a consultation.

If you don’t currently have a blog set up on your website, the LinkedIn Publishing tool is a good workaround, though you’re going to be limiting your audience to only people active on LinkedIn. Even if you do have a blog, it’s a good idea to use LinkedIn for any topics that are focused on attracting referral partners.

Social Media Posting

Speaking of LinkedIn’s usefulness for network building, LinkedIn Groups are also a powerful medium for reaching specific professional groups. You can find a Group in your own market and use it as a collaboration platform to overcome tricky client problems, but consider moving to ones outside your industry.

Remember from the first section, professionals in tangential fields are going to be good candidates for referral sources. Head into one of those threads and share your own (relevant!!!) posts to generate traffic, or comment on others’ posts to build familiarity until you can start a conversation with them one-on-one.

To speak directly to your clients, sharing your advice articles will be great on Facebook or Twitter, but that’s the same old stuff you already know. If you want to go the extra mile, consider shooting some videos where you talk through specific client problems and post them to YouTube.

Video continues to rise in popularity as a content medium, and it helps clients get a better feel for who you really are than any article can. The best part is that, while you want to be wary of things like good lighting and sound quality, you don’t need studio access to make a decent clip – just grab a colleague and use your smartphone’s camera. Make sure they shoot horizontally, though!

Events & Webinars

We’ve all been attending grand events like HubSpot’s INBOUND conference for years, hoping to come away with some nuggets of knowledge that can enhance our businesses. Attendees all view the speakers at those events as thought leaders and pioneers in their space. So if that’s your own goal, how about you host one of those talks?

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Pay no attention to the haters, people. You can do it. Source: SomeEECards (someeecards.com)

Granted, there’s always an application process, and speaking in front of a ballroom of people is intimidating. It’s not for everyone. Webinars, however, are a lot easier to manage and execute, and they make gathering registrants’ information very simple.

The important part that’s often forgotten, however, is that you want to stick to your authority message. Do not pitch your services, except maybe right near the end. Webinars and speaking events are the perfect platforms to actually do some educating and establish yourself as a leader.

Finally, if speaking isn’t really your gig, simply attend some webinars or events where you already have some knowledge on the subject. From there, you can use a webinar chat tool or just do some live Tweeting to add commentary to the subjects presented. Show that you understand the presenter, and share takeaways with the group.

This way, you’re participating in the conversation, assisting members of your network who aren’t attending, and catching the attention of people seeking answers who you have yet to connect with. This works best if the event has an associated hashtag for attendees to join the conversation, since you know you’ll catch someone’s eye in that shared space.

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Jimmy knows how to live tweet. Source: Giphy (giphy.com)

Follow the Expert’s Lead

I searched pretty heartily for examples of businesses who are executing these techniques really well, and found a great model in Practice Alchemy. Practice Alchemy is a niche marketing firm run by legal experts, and they apply their industry knowledge to help law firms to build a marketing strategy. It’s apparent that they practice what they preach. At the head of Practice Alchemy is Raj Jha, a former Silicon Valley attorney and clear thought leader in his space.

That’s right, clear thought leader. You know it from the second you land on the website because of all the information sharing Practice Alchemy has done. They have an extensive resource library that lawyers can look to for actionable information, including a Complete Guide to Building a Marketing Strategy at Your Law Firm. They have a blog full of more than 150 articles, all of which are clearly made for their appropriate audience (lawyers at small law firms). Raj has even hosted a number of videos online to position Practice Alchemy as an authority – and even has one that explains exactly how to do that.

Seriously, though, if there are any lawyers reading this, you’re going to want to download that Complete Guide: 

The Bottom Line?

The biggest takeaway that you can draw from this article and from Practice Alchemy’s example is that content marketing for professional services is not about pitching and closing (still important, but that’s sales). Instead, it’s about sharing expertise and just showing that you give a damn about whether the client – or referral partner – is successful. If you centralize your marketing communications around that goal, you’re almost guaranteed to find success yourself. 

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The Introvert’s Guide to Running a Meeting

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What do you think of when you see the word “introvert”?

“Shy,” “quiet,” and even “antisocial” might be some qualities that come to mind. But we’ve got news for you: How we think of introverts is pretty misconstrued from the actual definition. An introvert, according to Dictionary.com, is “a person characterized by concern primarily with his or her own thoughts and feelings.” Let’s explore that.

Looking at that definition, introverts aren’t necessarily the timid lambs that stereotypes make them out to be. Rather, they’re introspective individuals who can still be outgoing — they just don’t crave being around other people, speaking and presenting, all the time. Download our leadership guide for actionable advice & guidelines from HubSpot's Dharmesh Shah. 

That’s why it might be a bit trickier for introverts to run a meeting — not because they’re reticent, but because they take extra time to process their internal thoughts and surroundings, according to Quiet Revolution, an organization dedicated to the science of psychological introversion.

But “tricky” certainly doesn’t translate to “impossible.” So if you’re an introvert who’s been charged with a running a meeting, check out these tips.

But First, a Little More on Introversion

I’ll never forget the day I found out that I might be an introvert. I came across an article that described the characteristics of introverts, and realized that they many of my social patterns — things like enjoying quiet time to myself, or in a social situation, opting for longer conversations with fewer people (rather than small talk with tons of strangers).

But how could I be an introvert? I was a theatre minor. I used to sing with a punk band. Those were not things that introverts do, right?

Wrong. The more research I do on introversion, the more I realize that it’s a vastly misunderstood population. And it’s a big population. According to the Quiet Leadership Institute (an extension of Quiet Revolution), half of the U.S. workforce identifies as introverts.

Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution, explored these misconceptions in her 2012 TED talk. I, like many others, had introversion confused with shyness, or maybe even stage fright — neither of which I’ve ever possessed. But introversion, she explained, is “different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about, how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation.

That’s what makes us different from extroverts, who “crave large amounts of stimulation,” noted Cain. It’s not that introverts are afraid to lead meetings — or speak in public, sing with a punk band, or go to parties alone. The distinction is how we prepare for or function in those situations.

But when it comes to introverts and extroverts, one isn’t better than the other. Plus, according to Cain, the “best performing teams are a mix [of] introverts and extroverts.

So when it comes to those meetings, here are our tips for how introverts can run them in an effective way.

The Introvert’s Guide to Running a Meeting

1) Know where you stand.

First things first: You might not even be sure where you stand on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Guess what — Quiet Revolution has a quiz for that.

For the purposes of this post, the assessment is probably most helpful for folks who don’t think — or don’t want to accept — that they’re introverts. But a quiz like this one can help you learn a lot about your behavioral patterns, and perhaps avoid a case of mistaken identity.

Introversion Extroversion Quiz

Source: Quiet Revolution

For example, according to the Quiet Leadership Institute, 96% of workforce leaders identify as extroverts. That implies a staggering imbalance among management, but could that number be the result of personal misconceptions similar to my own? Perhaps these leaders identify as such because they enjoy taking charge and overseeing groups. As we covered, introverts can still possess those qualities.

You might even be an ambivert — someone who falls in the middle of the spectrum — which after taking the quiz, I learned is the bucket into which I fall. In any case, having this information can help you recognize certain habits, which in turn can help you lead more effectively.

2) Set aside (quiet) time to form an agenda.

When I asked my team for meeting leadership tips, my colleague, Janessa Lantz, made an excellent point.

“Introverts often need time to prepare thoughts,” she told me. “By sending out an agenda in advance, you’re designing a more inclusive meeting.”

But planning a meeting this way doesn’t just benefit the attendees — as considerate at that might be — it also works to your advantage. Nearly 86% of people with introverted qualities agree that they “pay a lot of attention to the meaning of [their] thoughts and actions.” And while that can lead to a more thoughtful approach to things, it also requires extra time.

That’s where being the designated leader of a meeting is a good thing. You have the luxury of time to yourself, hopefully, to plan the meeting and put the necessary consideration into it. So don’t look at the task as a setback — it’s actually an opportunity.

3) Lead with the topics you’re passionate about.

Many introverted leaders admit that while social interaction doesn’t frighten them, prolonged exposure to it can leave them feeling less energized, due to their sensitivities to stimulation. That’s why, during a panel discussion on introversion at the 2016 New Work Summit, LinkedIn Chief Human Resources Officer — and self-proclaimed introvert — Pat Wadors recommended starting the meeting off with topics you’re most passionate about.

“If there’s passion around a topic, I don’t want to be in my head worried about, ‘Will I be called on?’” Wadors explained. “I have a point of view. I will speak early. And then, my energy is spent really actively listening and being present.” Check out the full discussion:

Here’s another opportunity for you to use running a meeting to your advantage. If there’s something that you strongly feel needs to be discussed, consider proactively scheduling a meeting that will be entirely dedicated to it. That allows you to dedicate extra time to a specific topic or project that’s important to you, and thoughtfully form an agenda with points that are vital to it.

But scheduling meetings comes with its own set of parameters, which brings us to our next point.

4) Invite only those who absolutely need to be present.

As we noted earlier, introverts tend to value quality over quantity in social situations. Meetings are no different. Instead of inviting the entire team, only invite the people who absolutely need to be there, and focus on having a productive conversation with them.

That technique goes beyond introversion — after all, there’s a book out there called Meetings Suck for a reason. They’re a huge culprit when it comes to wasting time. Just look at these statistics from the Wrike Work Management Survey:

  • 24% of employees cite meetings as their biggest productivity roadblock.
  • 34% say that they attend six or more meetings per week.
  • Only 9% of meeting attendees believe they always walk away with clear, actionable outcomes.

When you’re tasked with running a meeting, make sure it’s done efficiently, and help conserve the time of others wherever you can. Since introverts tend to thrive in situations that permit a higher-quality discussion with a fewer number of people, this approach should help make the meeting more productive and thoughtful.

5) Take your time during the meeting.

In the article “An Introvert’s Guide to Communicating With Results,” entrepreneur and CEO Caren Merrick writes, “It is perfectly acceptable to not immediately answer a question.”

As long as we’re being honest, I’ll confess that I sometimes have a bad habit of speaking up in meetings or discussions, just for the sake of looking like I’m engaged. Trust me — Don’t do that.

As per Merrick’s advice, it’s better to take your time to contribute something thoughtful to a conversation, even if you do so after the fact in a follow-up email or chat. In fact, you can even build that into your agenda, by dedicating a portion of the meeting to outlining next steps and “questions to be answered.” Then, make sure you schedule time for yourself to personally debrief what you took away from the meeting, and any further commentary you’d like to provide afterward.

That said, don’t take too long to follow up. With our growing to-do lists and shrinking attention spans, you’ll want to make sure the meeting is still somewhat fresh in your colleagues’ minds when they receive your notes.

6) Schedule time to decompress after the meeting.

In addition to setting aside post-meeting time to debrief, you might want to clear your schedule for time to decompress. Because of an introvert’s aforementioned sensitivity to stimulation, it’s often helpful to schedule a meeting and organize your day around it so that low-energy tasks follow it, or a re-charging activity, like having a quiet lunch break.

Permitting yourself that time to refuel — even if it’s the rest of the work day — will allow you to revisit items from your meeting when you’re clear-minded and energized. Chances are, your colleagues would prefer that your follow-up communication is thought-out, rather than immediate.

You’ve Got This

Now that you know what it really means to be an introvert, you might feel a little bit more empowered. With this information, not only can you go forward with a renewed sense of confidence, but also, you have a greater understanding of what helps you to be a strong leader.

And again — Maybe you’re not actually an introvert, or you’re a mix of both. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it’s important to understand what allows you to succeed.

Understanding these work styles won’t just give you introspective insights — it can also make you a better leader with a greater comprehension of what’s best for your colleagues. As you plan and run these meetings, do so with your team in mind, and see how these approaches fit into the way they work.

So go ahead, do a little research. Next time you’re asked to run a meeting, you’ll be glad you did.

What helps you lead a meeting — especially as an introvert? Let us know in the comments.

Productivity Guide

5 Personal Assistant Tools That Actually Make Life Easier

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With the recent release of Google Home in the U.S., voice-activated devices are a big topic du jour lately. But which personal assistant tools are the most helpful? What do you need for each one? And how much do they cost?

While a simple search for “personal assistant apps” seems to yield countless results, shifting through them can be a task.

Today, consider us your digital personal assistant. We narrowed the options down to our very own top five. Read on, and discover which ones will best fit your needs.

5 Personal Assistant Tools That Actually Make Life Easier

1) Operator

  • Price: Free
  • Requirements: iOS

Vacations are great. Holiday parties are, too. But scheduling the former immediately after the latter? Well, it’s a prescription for stress. There are people to feed, wines to buy, and bags to pack.

But wait. There’s an app for that. With a packed work schedule, who has the time to deal with the aforementioned items, let alone to find special decorative lights? The experts at Operator — that’s who.

Once you download Operator, you’ll see a blue dialogue bubble in the lower right corner of your screen. Tap that, then choose where you need help.

Operator_Start.gif

From there, you’ll be asked a series of questions about what exactly you need. Here’s a chat that I had with a real person — Holly — when I needed help finding some decorative lights for that party.

Operator_HanukkahLights.gif

Holly later went on to ask me about my price range, shipping preferences, and sent me several lighting options. And look, she even laughed at my joke.

2) Charlie

  • Price: Free
  • Requirements: Google Calendar, iOS

Knowing your audience is something on which we place great importance. That’s why we do things like create buyer personas and perform other user research.

That’s important in marketing — and in meetings. After all, if an important contact with whom you’re not completely familiar agrees to meet with you, it’s best to avoid walking in without any knowledge of what the person does. That’s where Charlie comes in.

Charlie connects to your calendar to see who you have meetings with over the next week. Then, it identifies the person and asks if you’d like some background information on them.

It’s not as creepy as it sounds, though. The only information it finds is what’s publicly available online, like on LinkedIn and Twitter. For example, here’s what it would look like if someone had a meeting with me:

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Notice that there’s a section on “ways to start the conversation.” That contains news pieces about the person that can help you open a dialogue with the person. Plus, in case you’ve been in touch with this contact before, Charlie allows you to review any previous communication you’ve had with him or her.

3) Google Home

  • Price: Allo (free), Google Home ($129)
  • Requirements: Android 4.1 and higher, iOS 8 and higher (only available in English and for purchase in the U.S.)

When I asked my team for personal assistant app recommendations, HubSpot’s Web Team Tech Lead, Dmitry Shamis, immediately pointed to Google Home.

What does he love about it? Well, it does the same thing that a lot of similar devices on the market do — things like responding to hands-free voice prompts, for example — but it also incorporates many elements of Google that many we use day-to-day, including search.

“The real benefit is how it integrates into my Google life,” Shamis told me. “My trips, my calendar, my shopping list.”

Google Home is less of an app, however, and more of a device. It’s powered by Google Assistant — the technology used to answer questions in the search engine’s Allo app, which is configured to respond to search queries, set reminders, and engage in everyday chit chat. Have a look:

Google Assistant.gif

Imagine if I could have that entire conversation without all the typing. Sure, the Assistant technology alone is great, but the whole hands-free help thing offered by Google Home? That’s just awesome. I mean, just look at its list of features.

4) Amazon Echo

  • Price: $179
  • Requirements: Wi-Fi. Compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices and accessible via web browser.

Before there was Google Home, there was Amazon Echo — which Shamis tells me is what he used first. The Echo is powered by Alexa, Amazon’s voice recognition technology, which is used less for search engine capabilities, and more for instant information like sports scores, weather, and news.

Despite his happiness with Google Home, there are still some things about the Amazon Echo that Shamis misses. He’s particularly nostalgic, he told me, for the ability to quickly buy things with the Echo. For example, he told me, “Things like, ‘Alexa, buy more dog food’ were extremely helpful.”

And another key differentiator for him? Echo’s Spotify integration. “‘Alexa, play Spotify’ would pick up where I left off on my phone,” he explained. “’Hey Google, play Spotify’ will play something completely random.”

But when I asked Shamis if he’d advise someone to get both, his answer was a resounding “no.”

“It’s one or the other,” he said, since “there’s enough overlap that you don’t need both. I think it becomes a personal preference.”

That’s not to say it’s impossible to use both, especially for one’s personal entertainment — like in this video of the two devices speaking to each other.

 

5) Julie Desk

  • Price: Pro ($99.99 month/per user), Manager ($149.99 month/per user), Executive ($199.99 month/per user)
  • Requirements: Any email client

Visit the official website for Julie Desk, and you’ll be faced with a question: “Want to get back 1 hour in your work day?”

Um, yes. That’s what Julie Desk was created to do — to save us the countless time we spent on managing our respective calendars. And admittedly, for me, that’s a lot.

But starting with that question, Julie Desk’s website is a compelling example of great user experience — which hints at its capacity to work on behalf of, well, you, the user. Have a look:

JulieDesk.gif

There are are few things about Julie Desk that delight us. To start, there are no downloads required, since Julie — as she’s casually called — works with your existing email client.

When you first sign up for the service, you’ll be asked for your meeting preferences, like time of day, location, and mode of transportation.

It takes about 24 hours for Julie to get you completely enrolled in the service, probably because there’s a human element — the service is constantly monitored by actual people to make sure nothing goes awry. But once you’re set up, that’s when the fun begins. Every time you receive an email requesting a meeting, just copy Julie on your reply — she’ll take it from there.

Here’s more on how it works:

 

Appy, Healthy, More Productive

From online human interaction, to digital voice recognition, to a virtual meeting scheduler, these apps might not cover everything, but they certainly make life easier.

Sure, it would be nice if there was a tool out there to, say, virtually clean the entire house. Until that becomes available, we’re not entirely far off. And some of these resources could at least provide information on home-cleaning-made-easy hacks — but only if you ask.

Remember when any of these tools seemed like “a thing of the future”? They’re here — and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

What are your favorite personal assistant apps? Let us know in the comments.

Productivity Guide

Blogging for SEO: How to Write Blogs that Rank on Page One

ThinkstockPhotos-493335634-608582-edited.jpgDid you know that the search result in #1 position on Google gets 33% of search traffic? And that page 1 search engine results resulted in 92% of all traffic, dropping off by 95% for page 2?

Numbers don’t lie. If you want to climb to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), well-written, engaging content alone won’t cut it. You also need to focus on writing SEO-driven, keyword-focused content that attracts not only website traffic, but the right kind of traffic. You might be thinking, “That sounds great, Courtney! But, how do I get started?”

We’re sharing 5 essential tips for creating SEO-friendly blog posts without sacrificing user experience and engagement, tips you can start using today: 

1) Pick highly-effective keywords

Google handles over 40,000 search queries a second. Staggering, right? If you want to cut through search result clutter and outrank your competitors, you need to target the specific keywords and phrases your potential customers are searching. How else will they find your content and website?

To identify those hot keywords, head on over to the social platforms your target audience frequents and see what’s trending. Pay close attention to the exact phrases they use and monitor popular industry terms and topics.

Google Trends can also give you a feel for what keywords are popular at any given time. If you see searches are steadily declining over time for a specific keyword, you know that’s probably not the right keyword to target for your marketing and vice versa for increasing trends.

If you’re ever running low on keyword ideas, get inspiration from your competition. Use tools to see what keywords they’re currently ranking for – if these keywords are relevant to your business, consider using them too! SEMRush lets you enter a competitor and see the keywords they’re ranking for, their position in search results, traffic received for that keyword and other key metrics.

Keep in mind that the most obvious keywords aren’t always the best keywords. Searchers tend to use very specific “long-tail” keywords, keyword phrases and questions when they’re looking for something. Long-tail keywords comprise up to 70% of all search traffic and can unlock the door to successful SEO. When WPBeginner, the largest WordPress resource site for WordPress beginners, adopted a long-tail SEO strategy, they increased their organic search traffic by 20% in just two months!

Because you face fierce competition for shorter, more general keywords, you often have a better chance of ranking in the top results for long-tail keywords. And, long-tail keywords allow you to zero in on higher quality website traffic that often knows what they’re looking for and may be farther along in the buyer’s journey.

Once you’ve done your research and built a list of what you think are the most valuable, relevant keywords, plug them into a keyword research tool like Google’s Keyword Planner, Moz’s Keyword Explorer, Ubersuggest, Keyword Tool and so on. Many keyword research tools give you the monthly volume for any given keyword. Test out different keyword tools – marketers are drawn to different ones for different reasons.   

Depending on your business or industry (or budget or bandwidth for SEO efforts), it may be important to rank for high competition, short tail keywords. Still, try to also optimize for a healthy dose of long-tail keywords that are high in search volume but low in competition. You may find it’s much easier to rank for these words.

Remember that your focus keywords will evolve over time as trends shift, terminology changes or your product/service line changes. Be sure to conduct keyword research periodically to ensure you’re still focusing on the right keywords for your target audience and not missing out on vital ranking opportunities.

2) Naturally integrate keywords throughout your posts

Once you’ve decided on a list of target keywords, it’s time to write a blog post focused on one of these keywords. Brainstorm blog topics with your team and decide on a topic that will entice and engage your target audience.

Keep your buyer personas, their motivations, challenges, interests, etc. in mind throughout the brainstorming process. Choose a topic that will emotionally resonate with your potential customers and their needs, desires or pains.

As you write your blog, your keyword and natural variations should be regularly interspersed throughout the post. Your primary keyword should appear in these key places:

  • Title
  • Headings and subheadings
  • URL if possible
  • Image alt text (search engines can’t read images)
  • Meta description
  • Throughout the content

Remember that you’re writing for humans, not search engines. Focus on engaging readers with a natural writing style that takes their needs and interests into account.

Be sure to avoid overusing any keyword (also known as “keyword stuffing”) at all costs. Keyword stuffing may lead to a website being penalized or banned in search engine results pages either temporarily or permanently. But even more importantly, if your keyword appears too often and feels forced, you sacrifice a reader’s experience, insult their intelligence and compromise the article’s quality. Don’t give readers any reason to hit the back button and turn to a competitor’s blog for answers.

3) Link to influencers

As you build out your blog post, don’t be afraid to link to other articles or blogs. Linking to applicable and reputable websites not only offers blog readers additional reading material to expand their knowledge, but it also shows Google and other search engines that you’ve done your research. And the blogger or writer may even return the favor and link to your site.

Nothing strengthens a blog post like hard-to-argue-with, research-backed statistics from influential websites. Compelling stats help you build a more convincing and concrete argument that will get your readers thinking (especially when they’re from trustworthy sites they know and love).

4) Aim for scannable, longer posts

In an age of short attention spans (average of 8 seconds for humans), you would think shorter blog posts are the way to go. But search engines actually prefer longer, in-depth blog posts.

The longer your blog post, the greater its chance of appearing in the top search engine results. SerpIQ found that the 10th position pages have 400 fewer words than 1st position pages. Longer posts will rank more easily for your target keyword.

Think about it: the more content on the page, the more clues search engines have to figure out what your blog is about. We recommend writing a minimum of 300 words per blog post. This length gives search engines plenty of keywords and text to crawl and helps them understand what your blog is about.

The downside to longer blogs is that they may scare off your readers. We live in a world of skimmers and scanners. In a heat map analysis, CoSchedule learned that only 10-20% of their readers were making it to the bottom of their posts. So, the million dollar question is, how can longer blog posts appeal to today’s online readers?

You can write scannable, readable blog posts that hook online readers by tightening up your sentences and paragraphs. Turn a long-winded sentence into two. Keep your paragraphs to 2-3 sentences max.

Also, take full advantage of bulleted lists and subheadings that grab reader’s attention. By following these tactics, you’ll create blogs that are easier to read (especially on a mobile device!) and less intimidating to the scanner’s eye.

5) Don’t forget internal links

Linking to other pages or blog posts on your website helps search engines crawl your website and create a more accurate sitemap. It also helps your audience discover more of your content and get to know you as a trustworthy, credible source of information. Internal links to other valuable content keep users on your site longer, reducing bounce rate and increasing your potential for a conversion (and isn’t that what it’s all about?).

When linking to any pages on your website, or even outside sources, use natural language for your anchor text. Avoid using spammy or generic text such as “top-rated cheap laptops” or “click here.” Instead, use descriptive keywords that give readers a sense of what they will find when they click on the hyperlink, such as a search engine optimization guide.

Never force feed links to your top webpages, featured products or discounted items. These types of links will only turn off readers and could lead to search engines penalizing your website.

A word of caution: don’t overdo your internal linking or any linking. We know it’s tempting to link to all of your blogs and webpages, but only choose the ones that best enhance the point or insight you’re writing about in any particular blog. Always think about whether or not these links naturally tie in with the subject matter and if they will offer significant value to your readers.

Bottom Line

If you want your blogs to rank at the top of page one (and why wouldn’t you?), your main focus should be on creating blogs that both users and search engines will love. By optimizing your blogs for both, you can earn higher rankings in SERPs, get more qualified web traffic and increase conversion rates. And wasn’t that the exact reason you started blogging to begin with?

What are your strategies for optimizing your blogs for SEO? Did we miss any? Share with us in the comments below.

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