Entries by Sandra Clayton

How to Start a Blog with WordPress in 20 Minutes

How long will it take? What’s involved? What’s the next step after I start? Will I need help to do it?
These are the types of questions I ask about every project I’m about to start.
Then what usually happens is I get freaked out by this huge mountain of stuff I need to do and think maybe (just maybe!) I didn’t need to know every single thing right from the beginning. Maybe all I needed to do was take the first few steps.
Starting a blog is kind of like that.
It’s easy to feel intimidated at first, but really the mountain isn’t really a mountain. It’s more like a bunny hill. You only need a handful of things, and you can set it all up pretty quickly, which I’m going to show you how to do right now!
Before we dig in, I’ve turned this post into part 1 of The Launch series, which I’m hoping will be a useful guide to help you start AND grow your blog.
Here’s what’s included in the series:

  • Part 1: How to Start a Blog with WordPress in 20 Minutes
  • Part 2: How to Choose Your Blog’s Niche and Focus
  • Part 3: 12 Blogger Plugins That’ll Skyrocket Your Blog
  • Part 4: 14 Things to Do Before You Hit Publish

Ready for it? Let’s create a website!
Wow. This step-by-step guide is insanely helpful if you want to set up a WordPress blog. Woo! Click To Tweet
This post contains affiliate links.

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO STARTING A BLOG

1) Purchase a domain

First, head over to GoDaddy and lock down your domain. This part is fun and easy! Just enter the domain name you want. You may have to try some variations if the name you want is already taken. I recommend purchasing your domain for five years. Generally speaking, Google sees that as a sign that your business is going to be around for a while and will take you more seriously than a one-year purchase.

2) Pick your platform

Now that you have your domain, decide which platform you want to use. Depending on the amount of customization you want, there are many to choose from (Blogger, WordPress, Squarespace) – some free, some paid. Just know that serious bloggers tend to migrate over to WordPress once they start to grow (I use WordPress for all of my sites). There’s a bit of a learning curve, although it’s pretty easy once you actually start a blog with WordPress.
Note: There are two different WordPress platforms, which can be confusing:

  • WordPress.com: a hosted platform which is entirely free with few customization options
  • WordPress.org: a self-hosted platform (meaning you host it yourself), which has endless options, add-ons and plugins, tons of customization if you know CSS. And because WordPress is probably the most popular platform, there are lots of beautiful themes to choose from that you won’t need to

How Songwriting Helped Me Grow My Blog (Plus 7 Tips For New Bloggers)

Stick to the structure.
That’s what my instructor would hammer into my head over and over again when I was learning how to write songs.
And every time I ignored him, I wrote lyrics that rambled on and on without a beginning or an end, or even a break in between.
In fact, one of the songs I wrote was actually three songs jumbled up into one. Back then I couldn’t understand why people weren’t in love with it! Now I can laugh about it because I get it. That song suffered from a major identity crisis. I kid you not, it’s the most confusing song I’ve ever heard.
And it’s all because I didn’t stick to a structure.
This got me thinking about the challenges of entrepreneurs and bloggers. Is there a way we can limit our rambling so we don’t confuse people? What if we used a song-structure approach to create great content that’s easy for people to digest?
Here are seven songwriting-inspired tips that helped me write better posts and grow my blog:

1. What do you want people to do?

Every great song has an unforgettable chorus or “hook”. Those are the lyrics you write first and then your intro, verses and pre-chorus lyrics all lead back to your hook. It’s the part of the song that everything leads back to.
If you apply this to blogging, you have to think about what you want people to do once they read your blog? It’s highly unlikely that they’re going to go to your Contact page and fill it in. They’re still in the get-to-know-you stage and need to build up more trust first.
The best way to lead people through your sales funnel at this stage is to include a button at the end of every blog that brings people to a premium piece of content (a content upgrade). This is probably the single biggest thing that has helped me grow my blog.
Use these tips to maximize the value of your content upgrade:

  • Turn it into a checklist. Checklists are very actionable, and although they may take a long time to apply, people can easily digest them in a couple of minutes.
  • Keep it tightly related to your blog post. Resource lists are a great option here. Let’s say you write a blog on fitness. You can create a resource list of the best online workouts, as well as sources for fitness gear, healthy recipes, the squat techniques, and more.
  • Focus on one thing. Your ebook should solve one big thing for your target audience. If you try to cover too many topics, you’ll wind up sounding vague and readers will have a hard time figuring out immediate action steps to take.

2. Add a second link

The same way that some people don’t listen to an entire song, some people won’t read your post

How to Create a Branding System for Your Blog and Your Business

Let’s talk about branding.
I remember when all that “brand identity” meant was your logo and a color palette. Maybe you’d have a tagline, but that was about it.
Anything more than that was for the big brands like Coca Cola. They had (and still have) 50-page style guides for everything – logos, fonts, images, graphics, placement, scale, proportion, ads, brochures, storyboards, radio, TV, web, print…all of it.
But a style guide for a small brand? That was just redundant. As a small business your marketing was maybe a trade show booth, a brochure and a quarter-page spot in a local magazine.
Building brand awareness on a massive scale just wasn’t affordable for smaller brands.
Now everything has changed. Today every single brand is a publisher.
Think about it. You are a publishing company. It doesn’t matter if you’re a team of one or a team of one hundred. You have the potential to reach the exact same audience as Coca Cola. You can build your online brand and get massive exposure for your business on social media and search engines.
What this means is that as a brand, you need a whole lot more than an identity and a color palette. You need an entire branding system for everything so that all your brand elements work harmoniously together and are consistent everywhere.
If you look at all the places where people will experience your brand: your website, emails, landing pages, sales pages, CTAs, ads, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest… It’s a lot. And you need a documented system for things like social media posts, images, content, calls to action, web copy so that you can put everything on autopilot.
Here’s what you need in your branding system:

  • Tone. How do you want people to feel when they experience your brand? Loyal? Creative? Bold? Humorous? Pick three words you want to be known for and use them to set the overall tone of your brand.
  • Logo. Your logo should be simple, bold, and instantly recognizable (especially on profiles and favicons). It should work equally well in color and in black and white. For more on designing a logo, check out this post.
  • Fonts. Choose a font or font pairings that speak your brand. Think about what fonts you want to use for your logo, and what fonts to use for headings, body copy and emphasized text.
  • Colors. What colors support the tone of your brand? Bright and airy, warm, vibrant, dark and edgy, neutral and balanced?
  • Image library. What types of images and textures reflect your brand personality? Smooth, soft, edgy? Start creating a library of images so that you have them handy. There are tons of free or inexpensive stock photo sites with amazing images. A few of them are listed here.
  • Graphics. Same thing for graphic elements. What graphic elements will you use for your brand? Circles, squares, icons? Freepik

5 Steps to Creating Your Logo

Branding is definitely about more than your logo and brand identity, but let’s face it, your logo is going to symbolize your brand more than anything else. So it pays to ask yourself the right questions before you start creating a logo.
Keep in mind that a logo isn’t supposed to be a fancy, ornate statement that describes what you do. The purpose of a logo is to identify rather than to explain, which simply means that what’s important is what the logo represents — your brand.
Here are five steps to creating a logo that does that:

1) Know what you’re looking for

Before you start working with a designer, ask yourself these questions:

  • What product or service do you sell and who are your customers?
  • How do you want to portray yourself to others? Friendly? Professional?
  • How do you want people to feel about your image? Inspired? Happy? Energetic?
  • Where will you use your logo? Just your website and social media, or on flyers too?
  • Will you need it for signage? On t-shirts? Will you need merchandising or tags?

This is where a bit of due diligence can really pay off and save you money. By answering these questions you’ll get an idea of which fonts to work with and whether to keep the design simple or more graphic. And you’ll get designs out of the gate that are closer to what you’re looking for.

2) Make it instantly recognizable

The shapes, colors and fonts used in your logo design should be unique and noticeably different from other logos within your market. Look at your competitors’ logos and make sure you’re not infringing on any copyrights. If you think your logo design is too close to that of your competitor, make sure you make the adjustments you need to differentiate it. The last thing you want is to find out that a health club down the road has a logo that looks just like yours. Taking the extra effort to create a unique, instantly recognizable logo will pay off in the end.

3) Keep it simple

Simple is the way to go, especially when you look at your brand from a high level. A logo represents your brand, but there are other elements that weigh in. If you make your logo too ornate, you don’t leave much room for your content, posts and images to do their part. You want everything working together to tell your story, so keep it open and leave room for other elements to do their part.
Simple logos are also easy to read. If you keep your design simple and bold, it will be just as readable as a favicon as it is on a trade show banner. You want it too look good in black and white and in color, so stay away from gradients and textures.

4) Focus on one main graphic

,

How to Use LinkedIn to Win New Business: 9 Easy Steps

I love LinkedIn. I love its simplicity. I love that it’s all business and all professionals. I also love that I can leverage it to get clients, because almost half of its user base is C-level executives and key decision makers.
I realized just how powerful LinkedIn is after trying other databases like Google, InfoUSA, SalesGenie, and data.com. I always found myself coming back to LinkedIn and here’s why:

  • My prospects are on there (and not necessarily on Facebook or Twitter)
  • Members keep their profiles up to date, so the information is accurate, unlike other databases where the info is often outdated
  • It’s really easy to perform and save searches

My approach was to make direct contact with marketing directors and CEOs. I didn’t spend much time in LinkedIn groups, because I wasn’t sure how long it would take to build relationships through groups. Since then I’ve had also had success with LinkedIn groups.
What I love about LinkedIn is that of all of the social media channels, it’s the closest thing to live networking. As a traditional-marketer-turned-digital-marketer, networking and trade shows had worked well for me in the past, so I was just naturally drawn to it and wanted to start there.
Here’s what you will need for this system to work well, if you use the same approach I did:

  • LinkedIn premium account – starts at $47.99
  • SalesTools – $35 per month
  • Sellhack – $10 per month
  • An email emulator + Vibe – free (or a VA to do this part for you)
  • QuickMail – starts at $39 per month

What I’ve done with all of these paid tools (except for the LinkedIn premium account) is to turn them on when I’m in deep prospecting, and then turn them off when I don’t need them. SalesTools is easy enough to create an account later on, and QuickMail will let you go in sleep mode for $5 a month when you’re not actively using it.
I’ve had a LinkedIn Sales Navigator account which was $75 a month and felt that it had more features than what I needed. The Business Plus plan is more than enough.
Here’s a quick run down of the other tools:

  • SalesTools is a search extractor tool where you run your searches on LinkedIn and use Sales Tools to save them to an Excel spreadsheet. There are others out there, this is just the one I prefer.
  • Sellhack and Vibe are both Chrome extensions that will help you gather email addresses for your list. I use them both because sometimes Sellhack will find an email that Vibe can’t, and vic versa. I’ve also used Rapportive for emails, but since LinkedIn acquired them a few years back it hasn’t been as useful.
  • The email emulator is an Excel formula that creates email variations based on your prospect’s name and domain (firstlastname@domain.com, flastname@domain.com, firstname.lastname@domain.com, and so on).
  • I found an amazing VA on Upwork to help with gathering email

6 Insider Secrets For Driving Tons of Free Traffic to Your Website With Twitter

Creating successful social media campaigns can be time-consuming, especially when it’s hard to know what will work and where you should invest your time. In a perfect world, you’d have fully-automated campaigns on each platform that drive traffic to your website and provide you with great returns for the time you spend.
The good news is that when it comes to Twitter, it is a relatively easy social platform to master and can consistently drive traffic to your website once you get the basics down. The key is to know how to tap into the massive traffic and truly become part of the conversation so others will follow and promote you.
There are many factors to consider, but you can get off to a great start with these important steps.

1. Use a Customized Twitter Button

A customized Twitter button gives people a chance to promote your site on social media as they view it. These buttons have a great click-through rate and, what’s even better, all the assets are provided for free by Twitter. All you have to do is take advantage of them.

  • Start at Twitter’s button page.
  • Choose “Share a Link” and enter your URL.
  • Add a message and your own @username so you know when others tweet you.
  • Enter the auto-generated code into the HTML of your website.

If you use a CMS like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, check out the software’s development community to find free plug-ins that can help you promote your site and amplify your voice on Twitter. Not only can these generate custom buttons, but they also provide many other features.
Drive more traffic to your website with custom Twitter buttons #smm #socialmedia Click To Tweet

2. Use Hashtags

#Hashtags are like keywords. They make it easy for people to find and share your tweets and not only that, they can increase engagement by up to 200%. Use hashtags in your tweets to highlight words that you want to appear for when people conduct a Twitter search.
To find the top hashtags to help you use them well, here are 3 tools from Jeff Bullas.

  • Hashtags.org
  • Twubs.com
  • Tagdef.com

Once you launch a full-scale social media campaign, hashtags become even more vital. As you build a strong following on Twitter, it’s time to try your own custom hashtag. Any word you set off with the pound symbol will become a hashtag, but your followers will have to retweet and promote it aggressively for it to be “trending” – that is, for it to be recognized as one of the most-used hashtags at any given time.
A custom #hashtag helps people stay engaged with your brand’s conversation and locate your latest content even if they’ve been away from Twitter for a while. Make sure your hashtag is memorable and short: A long tag will be more difficult to fit in around your message. Use your tag

6 Tips to Make Sure Your Email Lands in The Inbox Every Time

You know that if you want more subscribers to read your emails, you have to become a bit of an expert at writing persuasive copy. So you spend hours comparing subject lines and preheaders before you publish. Then you track the number of subscribers who opened each one, because you know that those open rates are the holy grail of email marketing.
But what happens when your email doesn’t make it to the inbox? Both you and your readers miss out. It’s hard to track open rates accurately when your emails go straight to spam, so how will you really know what you need to improve? Your subscribers miss out too. They lose an opportunity to learn and grow from your communications.
I ran into this issue with a newsletter campaign recently. I use Constant Contact for my health & fitness business. Not because it’s my email marketing tool of choice, but because it integrates well with a member portal we use and I can automate communications with new member sign-ups.
I ran a slew of tests on our newsletter and noticed that emails were landing in Gmail’s promotion tab more than a few times. This is basically Google’s way of marking your email as junk mail. So if you’re noticing a significant decrease in open rate, it may be directly related to the way this filtering works. And it isn’t limited to Google – some emails were going straight to Outlook’s junk folder also.
After hunting down answers and doing some A/B testing, I finally got them out of the promotions folder and into Gmail’s primary folder. Here’s what one email looked like initially:

 
We had an image in the top to capture people’s attention right away. And further down, I added a link to the post, my brother’s image and bio with more links, and prominent buttons going to our website:

 
It turns out that we had to ditch those creative elements and calls to action in order to make it to the primary inbox. Here’s what it looked liked after editing, reshaping, tweaking, and testing:

 
That’s it. A plain text email and bingo – it was in the inbox on both Gmail and Outlook. When I stripped away everything else but text and one simple link, the email had a much better chance of landing in the primary folder.
Two other things seemed to make a difference:
It goes without saying that you can’t remove the Unsubscribe link because email marketing tools must conform to spam laws. But there’s a difference between using one simple unsubscribe link at the end of your email, and a whole slew of links that Constant Contact includes. Here’s an example:

That adds a total of five links to my email instead of just one. In Google’s eyes, multiple links are an indication that your email is promotional. How many links would you really send to a friend, right? At the same time, you need to include a link to your post or product in your email.

The 6×1 Formula to Getting Your First High Paying Clients

The ultimate goal of any business is to get a solid base of customers who are hugely profitable for your business AND who you absolutely love working with. We all know this. But if you take it a step further, the way you convert customers is really more about coaching them to become your clients.
Think of yourself as a teacher and a mentor who has the best interests of your customers at heart. Your job as a business owner is to make people feel empowered to shape a better version of themselves.
How?
The formula for attracting and converting high paying clients is what I’m covering today.
I call it the 6×1 formula because it really is just that: a formula. It focuses on the six “ones” that you must implement in order to take your business to the next level. They are:
1) One person
2) One problem
3) One solution
4) One package/offer
5) One webinar
6) One marketing system

Getting into the mindset of your ideal customers

The first part of the formula will help you shake off the fuzzy, unclear or uncertain ideas you have about your target audience. We’re going to uncover the real value you provide and paint a picture of your ideal customer.
This involves getting into the mindset of your ideal customers. This will help you know how to speak them and what they need to hear. Getting into the mindset of your ideal customers forces you to get out of your own head too. We all have ideas about what we think customers want, and it’s largely based on the conversations we’re having inside our own heads. This is especially true for entrepreneurs who build a business by creating a product that was missing in the marketplace. There’s a reason you came up with your idea (because you wanted it and couldn’t find it), but you still need to validate it. Validating it means understanding what your customers think about it. You have to communicate things for them in a way that they really feel that you get them. They need to feel that you’re talking directly to them and you’re saying exactly what they need to hear, not what you want to hear.
In order to do this, you must forget everything you think you know about your brand. You’re going to step out of the conversations you’re having, and into the conversations that your customers are having.
Ready? Here we go:

Your One Person

We’re digging into your target audience, and more importantly, your one ideal customer. The reason you want to narrow it down to only one is because you don’t want to get caught trying to be all things to all people. When you do this, you confuse yourself and others. When you’re confused, there’s no way it’s going to translate into a clear message for anyone

Social Media Image Sizes [Profile Pics, Cover Photos & Shared Images]

Seems like there are so many different cheat sheets out there when it comes to social media image sizes. I was actually a bit stumped gathering these dimensions because there’s so many sources out there with completely different info.
The reason is that things change on each network, and each network has a completely different set of dimensions, viewable area, positioning and requirements for cover photos, profile pics and shared images.  It can be overwhelming knowing where to start.
So I put this resource with information together to help you make sense of it all. I’m hoping these are current and accurate. If not, please let me know and I’ll update it right away.
My top recommended sizes are:
For profile pics: 500 x 500. You can edit, crop and resize inside each platform.
For cover photos: See below – varies for Twitter, LinkedIn and Google +
For shared + link images:
1200px square for Instagram
1200 x 600 for Facebook & Twitter *
736 x 1102 (up to 2061) for Pinterest
*Even though Facebook and Twitter dimensions have slightly different proportions, following a 2:1 aspect ratio for both has worked fine for me. Also, since Twitter updated its tweet image size to 506px square, you can use the same 1200px square image instead of the horizontal image. Keep in mind that if you’ve enabled Twitter cards on your site, when you post a URL to Twitter the image will still crop to horizontal. So 1200 x 600 may still be the way to go for FB and Twitter, at least for now.
Part of the decision here is your blog design and sizing of your featured image. If your blog is designed for horizontal images, go with the 1200 x 600 as a template size. If you’re using a masonry type grid, a square might work well. And if Pinterest is important to your brand, a vertical image will work well. I use a horizontal image as the main featured image and add a vertical image inside the post for pins.

Facebook Image Sizes

Cover photo: 828 x 315 desktop / 828 x 462 mobile
Profile pic: 180 x 180
Link image: 1200 x 630
For Facebook profiles, your profile image will cover a good part of the lower left side of the cover, so if your cover photo incorporates text like mine, make sure you placement clears these areas. Keep in mind that mobile cover photos are taller and extend to 462px, so if you don’t want the left and right margins to be cropped, use 828 x 462 for your cover photo and adjust the placement of your images and text so they clear the difference. For instance, on the desktop my cover photo is cropped to 351px, but on mobile shows the full image:

For Facebook pages, you don’t have to worry about your profile pic interfering with

6 Sources Of Free Images For Bloggers

Finding good sources for photos to include with your blog posts and social media can be challenging. As personalization becomes more and more important to connecting with audiences, using the same old stock images of suits shaking hands or smiling faces isn’t going to help your blog stand out from the crowd. On top of that, if you’ve managed to stick to a regular blogging schedule of 2 or 3 times per week, paying for photos starts to dig in to your overall marketing budget.
Luckily, there’s a growing number of free stock photo websites available. Most of these are curated by photographers and designers who want to share their work and feel the same way we do about stock houses like iStockphoto and Shutterstock. We want something different and original!
Generally speaking, the free photography on these sites skews toward lifestyle and travel. They’re great resources if your company targets industries such as general business, tech, health, nature, architecture, or travel. For other fields like dentistry, they may not work but are certainly worth a look.
In this post, I’ve curated a list of websites that have free images for blogs  and social media updates. Most of these images listed here are public domain and are free for personal or commercial use, with the exception of model releases needed for images of recognizable people. Be sure to double-check the license agreement that comes with the image.
You’ll need to ensure that your images of recognizable people or locations have model and/or property release.
 

Picjumbo

Picjumbo is free to use in commercial and public works. The only restriction is that you can’t sell the images or publish them in another stock photo collection. The search function is easy to use, and you can also browse by category. This site is financed by advertisers, so you’ll have to have some patience while browsing.
Picjumbo offers a monthly premium membership for $6, for which you’ll receive image packs delivered to you monthly. They also accept donations if you’d like to support their website.
 

Pixabay

Pixabay is a really great site, with over 400,000 photos and vector art to choose from. On Pixabay you may find and share images free of copyright restrictions. All pictures are published under the creative commons public domain. Attribution is appreciated but not required. You’re free to use them personally or commercially, even in social media blogs.
Pixabay finances their site with sponsored images. Stay away from images on the top row of a search. They’ll take you to another paid stock house, so be cautious. Be careful when selecting images from the top row.
In terms of usability, Pixabay is the closest to paid stock houses with its huge selection. It also boasts some pretty sophisticated search options, with filters for editors’ picks, most popular and most recent. When you select a photo,