You Don’t Need Photoshop: Blurred Edges

If you operate a blog or a website, you know how important good images are. The only issue is that not everybody can afford fancy tools like Photoshop, so here is another lesson on editing photos with Powerpoint.

Read the first lesson here.

Adding Blurred Edges Like Instagram

Dog Original

Original

Dog After Powerpoint

After Powerpoint

First, I used the Corrections drop down menu and the Colors drop down menu to adjust brightness, contrast and saturation to make the colors more vivid. (The overhead light in my living room just wasn’t giving me the drama I wanted)

Next is the cool part.

Copy and Paste the image so you have three copies. Use the Crop to Shape tool to crop one to a medium oval and one to a small oval.

Crop to Shape

Crop to Shape

Make sure the three images are lined up correctly with each other.

ProTip: Use the arrow keys to make fine adjustments to position.

Then you can use Picture Effects to give the two ovals Soft Edges. I made all three images different colors so you can see what I mean.

Layered Pictuers

Layered Pictures

After that you’ll be able to blur the background using the Soften tool under the Corrections drop down. Use the medium-sized oval to create an intermediate level of blur so it blends nicely.

ProTip: Select all three layers (like I did above) and right click. Select Save as Picture to output all three as a single image.

That’s it!

Edits like this take 5 minutes.. and on my computer, Photoshop would still be starting up by the time I’m done with this.

If you found this helpful, leave me a comment below!

How To Accomplish Your Goals

This one is short and sweet: Write it down.

Yesterday I was challenged by Neil Patel (along with everybody else in his mailing list). Here was the challenge and I suggest you do it too. Actually do it.

  1. Go to your analytics tool and look up how many unique visitors your site had in the last month. Mine was 455.
  2. Choose your target for the next month. Neil suggests doubling your traffic.
  3. Then write “Between DateA and DateB I will bring in X unique visitors to MyWebsite.com”
  4. Tell somebody about it and make yourself accountable.

Here is mine. (JK are my initials, I’m not Just Kidding about this.)

My traffic goal for March

My traffic goal for March

Neil also has some great content out there on how you can increase your traffic. Here is his blog: http://www.quicksprout.com/blog/

Today I’m also writing down what I need to accomplish to make those 910 unique visitors a reality.

Here is my todo list to make Scrunchieleash.com a success. Coffee will be needed.

Today's todo list

Today’s todo list

Month 1 Business Review

Yesterday marked 1-month since I launched http://www.scrunchieleash.com. Here is a quick review of how the month has gone.

Sales

25 Leashes Sold

  • 0 Retailer Sales
  • 20 Scrunchieleash.com Sales
  • 5 In-Person Sales
  • 0 Etsy Sales

4 Retailers Contacted

1 Online Retailer Added (http://mrchowsemporium.com/)

Marketing

1 Blog Review (http://hismuddypawprints.blogspot.com/2014/02/scrunchie-leash-review.html)

1 Blog Review Pending

6 Facebook Posts by Customers

27 Shelter dogs walked (ahead by 2)

Outlook

This was a good first month. We got some steam on the launch and made some sales. One concerning fact is that the majority of sales and activity was in the first 2 weeks. There was a drop-off after launch so I need to figure out how to reinvigorate myself and my marketing campaign.

My biggest challenge right now is time. I work a full-time job during the day and I’ve been taking grad school classes in the evenings. As the semester has been picking up, my time and energy available to scrunchie leash has diminished. I need to rework my schedule and get back in the game.

Another huge challenge I’ve been having is developing content for the scrunchie leash blog. I’m going to go more in depth on this in a later post.

My goals for this next month include:

  1. Add 5 retailers
  2. Get 5 blog mentions from doggy blogs
  3. Write 2 scrunchie blog posts per week.

I see retailers as my best sales channel going forward and I see blogs (both mine and others) as the best way to reach new customers. As you can see with my goals, I’m planning to focus on those.

As usual, I’m always looking for feedback! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

 

4 Tricks to Building a Great Network

Networking is key to accomplishing your goals whether you’re in a corporate environment or a budding entrepreneur. You need to meet people. Unfortunately, most of the advice currently available is pretty weak. If I get told to “smile more” or “have a firm handshake” one more time, I might lose it.

I was at a conference recently and here are some tips I picked up. (Thanks Rick Von Feldt – https://twitter.com/hrfuturist)

Networking

1) Form Your Core Structure

Many people think networking just means meeting more and more people. I don’t know about you, but to me that just sounds exhausting! Is it even possible to develop meaningful relationships with so many people? I love meeting people, but a more strategic approach to your network will serve you better than quantity.

This is where the idea of your Core Structure comes in.

  • 1 or 2 Sponsors
  • 5 Mentors
  • 25 Allies
  • 100 Contributors
  • >500 Acquaintances

The goal isn’t to know as many people as possible, the goal is to fill your top 150 roles with the best people possible. Here are the roles you need to fill.

Sponsor (1 or 2) – A sponsor is somebody who is well above you and takes an active role in helping you along. They will provide you with more than advice and guidance, they will take action to help you along.

Mentor (5) – A good mentor is somebody who is a few steps ahead of you in wherever you’re headed. They can give you guidance and help talk you through decisions you’re struggling with. When you find a really good mentor who advocates for you and takes care of your interests, they become a sponsor.

Allies (25) – These are people who are interested in what you’re doing. They know what you’re up to and you know what they’re up to. These are your really good friends and peers.

Contributors (100) – Contributors are similar to Allies, but you don’t stay in as close of contact with them. You know the general changes that are taking place in their lives, but you aren’t involved in the day-to-day.

Acquaintances (many) – This is everybody else. Friends, family, friends of friends, coworkers, old classmates. These are people who know who you are, but you don’t necessarily keep in very close contact. You may like their pictures on facebook occasionally, but you don’t typically talk much.

2) Fill The Roles With Stellar Candidates

Now that you know what your core structure should look like. It is time to start filling the roles. I suggest being deliberate about it. Make a spreadsheet. Figure out who you currently know that reasonably fits those roles.

It can be difficult to fill the Sponsor, Mentors and even some Ally roles. Leave them blank if you don’t have anybody that really fits the bill. If you have some blanks or even if your network seems a little on the weak side, that means you have some work to do and some people to meet.

Fill your network with people who have a network greater than your own. They will help open doors for you when you need help. You don’t want your network to be a small, closed system where everybody knows the same people. Ideally, you would like them to be able to introduce you to the right person when you have a serious need. That’s the whole point.

Actively seek these well-networked people. Fill your core structure with as many as you can find.

3) Communicate With Your Network

Here are some simple communication guidelines. Again, this will work a lot better if you’re deliberate about it. Whether you use a simple CRM or even a spreadsheet, make sure you communicate.

Do a 72-hour followup. Contact people you just met 72 hours after meeting them. It could be a thank-you card or maybe even just a “it was nice to meet you” email.

Also do a 14-day followup.

You should be contacting your network’s top 150 people at least every 90 days. Many of these will happen naturally as you interact with people socially and via work, but make sure you’re doing this with people you don’t see regularly. If you regularly interact with about 60 people, then you should be sending one email each day to keep in touch with the other 90.

Again, be deliberate. Track it.

4) Provide Value

This is really fundamental. Provide the people in your network with value. Always try to give so you don’t have to feel guilty when you need something.

Here are some example ways to provide value:

  • Introduce them to somebody else in your network.
  • Learn about what they’re working on and give them some feedback.
  • Ask if they need anything. Often a facebook post or retweet can be very beneficial to their business.
  • Send them information that directly pertains to what they’re trying to do. It doesn’t have to be anything big. I have a friend who curates a music newsletter every week and when I hear a new song that fits his style, I send it to him. That’s it. Sending a link to a music video. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Also, don’t forget to think about ways that people could help YOU. If your network is good, they’ll ask.

I hope you find these suggestions to be helpful! A strong network is important. I’m refocusing on mine and am implementing everything I just shared in a spreadsheet.

Remember, you become the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose them wisely.

Do you have any tips or strategies that YOU use for networking? Share them in the comments!

 

 

How To Get Started With Social Media Automation

When you get squeezed for time, do your social media fall by the wayside? This happens to me all the time and I feel terrible when I wake up 5 days later to see my traffic has plummeted.

I do my entrepreneurial work in my free time. I also work a full-time job and take grad classes in the evenings. As the semester picks up, the amount of free time I’m able to find has all but vanished. Here is one step I’m taking to reclaim my sanity.

Putting My Social Media On Autopilot

This is something that marketing gurus talk about doing ALL THE TIME but there were various reasons I always ignored it.

“It’s really impersonal if it’s planned.” ~Me

Disappearing for a week at a time is impersonal. You can still respond to comments and interact.

“Generating the content is the hard part, not remembering to post it.” ~Me

Creating content is easier when you do a lot at once. Take a picture, add a funny phrase. Tell a joke. Link to a blog post. Comment on relevant current events.

postSchedule

Sitting down and writing 1 post takes me about 30 minutes. Sitting down and writing 10 posts takes me about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Due to necessity, I finally took the plunge and I wish I had a LONG time ago. It’s FREE. There are some limitations to the free account, but don’t let that be an excuse. Did I mention it’s free?

Here are the steps I took that you can easily copy.

  1. Go to https://bufferapp.com/
  2. Add your social media accounts. I’m using the Scrunchie Leash facebook page and twitter account.
  3. Choose a posting schedule. Choose time. Choose days. Don’t get hung up on this. You can change it tomorrow if you change your mind. I picked the evening every day on facebook and the afternoon every day on twitter.
  4.  Write a post and click “Buffer”
  5. Continue writing posts until your buffer queue is full (10 posts)

That’s it! Your social media is covered for the next 10 days. You can always post more if inspiration hits or you think of something that is time-dependent, but your minimum is covered.

The Key to Small Business Contracting Success

“Above all, success in business requires two things: a winning competitive strategy, and superb organizational execution. Distrust is the enemy of both. I submit that while high trust won’t necessarily rescue a poor strategy, low trust will almost always derail a good one.” ~ Stephen M.R. Covey

Abamath Series – This is the 6th in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath. (read the 1st , 2nd3rd4th and 5th)

Signature

 

Some Businesses Will Happily Neglect Your Best Interests

Being a small business often leaves you with less negotiating heft. You aren’t anyone’s biggest client. You don’t have a massive legal team. Sometimes the way you’re treated is just terrible, but you do have some control over how much of that treatment you allow.

6 days after we opened our first location, we received a letter that the mall would be undergoing serious construction within the next year. Not once during contracting did the landlord mention the multi-million dollar construction project that they had been planning for over a year. They had completely misled me, and when I asked for more information, they had no comment. We would be required to move some time, but wouldn’t know when.

Obviously that was awful. Fortunately, my friend’s mother had encouraged me to push for 60 days construction notice instead of 24 hours, and for a way out of the contract. So, given the chance to leave early, we did. We officially left on December 31. We timed things correctly. Every business that stayed was given a letter on January 1 saying they had 60 days to move.

Thanks to my contact, we dodged a much more devastating blow, but needing to relocate after just opening is not good for business. Granted, most of our clients stuck with us, and we moved to a nicer place with lower rent, but we got lucky.

The Work Starts Before the Contract is Drafted

I was lucky to have a legal connection like my friend’s mom, but the point isn’t only that you should read the small print (of course you should). At the end of the day, being forced to move 5 months after opening is pretty miserable, even if the contract gives you some protection. That’s not good enough.

The point is that you should work with people and businesses you can trust. Since that initial misstep, I have been working almost exclusively with business partners who have been referred to me by trustworthy people.

Use Your Network

If you have a friend who does business in your area, ask them who they work with. What software do they use for accounting? Who is their insurance agent? They might run a completely different business, but all businesses have some basic needs. Before you move into a new location, ask other tenants what they think of the management. Life is a lot easier when you can stop worrying about having the rug pulled out from under you. This is where that all-important “network” becomes your most valuable asset. Use it.

Trustworthiness might seem subjective and fluffy, but it can save a lot of very real money.

Luke Schlangen is the founder and president of Abamath: A Better Approach to Math

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

Are You Wasting Your Ad Dollars?

Abamath Series – This is the fourth in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath. (read the 1st , 2nd3rd and 4th)

I hate losing money (you too?). There are few things as frustrating as throwing money at advertising and seeing no impact on your customer base. Here’s the rundown on the first three months advertising my math tutoring startup.

  • Method: Local Newspapers, Google adwords, Facebook Ads
  • Cost: $15,000
  • Timeline: 3 Months
  • New Clients: 1

You read that correctly. I only gained a single new client from the ads. You could argue that we didn’t execute correctly or maybe it wasn’t the right channels. Regardless of why it failed, a small company can’t afford to spend and see no conversions. It was time for a change.

Advertisements aren’t the only way to advertise.

On January 25th, we hosted our first “Abamath Invitational,” a 90-minute math competition for middle school students.  This gave me a great excuse to talk to the schools in the area and spread the word. On the day of the event, 8 potential clients and 5 current clients came to Abamath and had an awesome experience.

  • Method: Math Competition
  • Cost: $500 (including my time, employee time, and the computer)
  • Timeline: 1 Month (including planning)
  • New Clients: 4 and growing (already paid for itself)

Bonus: Kids from the area experienced math insanity, and the winner got a brand new laptop!  I got tons of pictures for our website, and an excuse to build relationships and credibility with local schools. I also had the chance to plug our robotics league.

Everybody wins.

Abamath Competition

Abamath Competition

Give out free high-fives on a street corner, smash a car, sponsor a mission to Mars. Do anything! Companies like Red Bull have mastered event marketing! (anybody heard of Flugtag?) The good news is you don’t need to be Red Bull to pull off an event. This applies to any business, you just need to get creative.

The Bottom Line

Give an advertiser $15,000 and you can get a couple thousand views. Spend $15,000 on a pizza party, and you can get a couple thousand real people in your doors to talk to and interact with on a personal level.

Spend your ad dollars on awesomeness, not on clicks.

Luke Schlangen is the founder and president of Abamath: A Better Approach to Math

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

Trust Yourself and Keep It Simple

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” ~Albert Einstein

Simple-Pricing

Abamath Series – This is the fourth in a series of blogposts by Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath. (read the 1st , 2nd and 3rd)

Be Careful Who You Listen To

As a new company, you will do anything to get even a single sale. Don’t let that temptation degrade your company.

I started Abamath with the idea that people wanted something better from tutoring. I believed there was more value in tutoring as a gym-style membership. One price, unlimited tutoring. Students can come in whenever they want help, not pre-scheduled times whether they need help or not. What’s not to love?

People had never seen gym-style membership tutoring before. They kept insisting that they wanted an hourly rate like other centers. So finally, I caved. I offered hourly options. How many new customers did that net me? Zero.

Nobody actually wanted that option, they felt entitled to it. The people who suggested it weren’t potential customers, just people who thought that is how a tutoring business should be run.

We offered private tutoring for $49/hour and membership for $199/month. Just having these two products caused a lot of confusion. Did that mean $199/month and then $49/hour on top of that?

Help Customers See Your Value

If you’re still experimenting with price (and who isn’t), here is a fun experiment to run.

When someone tells you to offer something you don’t, ask them, “If we did offer that, would you buy it today?” It’s a simple test to tell the difference between serious customers and those with no intention of buying.

Unless they’re using that option with a competitor or would consider buying it today, they probably aren’t going to pay you for it. Cluttering your communication with confusing pricing destroys the clarity of your key message: your value.

After 3 months of messing with it, I was done. We took the hourly tutoring option off the brochure. When potential customers are considering our service, we offer our one-week free trial membership to see if an Abamath membership is what they want. It always is.

Keep it simple. It’s not easy when you feel potential customers are slipping through your fingers, but you need to trust your value proposition.

Simple and easy aren’t synonyms in business, but complex and difficult definitely are.

Luke Schlangen is the founder and president of Abamath: A Better Approach to Math

Luke Schlangen, Founder of Abamath

Breaking Down The Launch

Launching the business last week had a set of ups and downs and some potent lessons learned that I spent a little time reviewing this weekend.  First, let me give you a overview of the launch.

How The Launch Played Out

My plan was to offer a 20% discount to those who enter their email address before the launch.  This allows us to contact them when the product launches and convert them to purchases.

For driving traffic to the site, I set up the scrunchie leash facebook page and twitter account and began producing content and build traffic. I also tried contacting some bloggers to try getting publicity elsewhere.

The traffic results were pretty weak. Most of the traffic came from this blog and posts to my personal facebook page. That traffic is interested in the business (not the leashes) or family and friends who are interested in what I’ve been up to (not the leashes).

After going through a few revisions on the site, I felt it really had some good converting potential, but I wasn’t getting the traffic to prove it. So, 2 days before the launch and made a BIG last ditch effort push, kickstarter style.

I messaged 10 to 15 friends/family and asked them to share the site on their facebook pages. BOOM. Traffic. To me, it was awe inspiring.

Traffic Around the 1/23 Launch

Traffic Around the 1/23 Launch

The Results

  • 112 likes on facebook
  • 450 followers on twitter
  • 1 small blog post
  • 65 signups

To me these numbers suggest there was some success considering I made the website, developed the plan and created the social media campaign from scratch in the 3 weeks leading up to the launch. Let’s take a closer look.

The facebook likes are about 50% my friends, 25% purchased likes and 25% organic.

I’m working on growing and targeting the twitter audience a little more, but I think it might be a little heavy in spam-bots and businesses. It hasn’t been very productive.

I decided to look at the few days leading up to the launch, to get a better idea on whether or not my site actually converted. Here are my findings for Jan 18 through Jan 22.

Signup-Rates

 

In that 5-day time frame, I managed an 8.27% signup rate. Then, if we look at purchases and total signups (there were some signups before this 5-day period), we see there was a 12.31% conversion to sales.

Both of these rates are good. The problem is, when you multiply the two rates, you find that only about 1% of people visiting the site are going to buy the leash. Not good.

I still think there are a few more purchases in the prelaunch group, so I’m hoping to bring those rates up, but I do think the purchase rate is a little disappointing.

Lessons Learned

  1. Social media pages are a long-term strategy. Don’t expect results in 3 weeks.
  2. Good friends more than willing to help. Use them.
  3. A facebook post can drive a small spike in traffic. 15 posts from different people can make that spike higher and wider.
  4. Conversion rates matter. Know them. They decide whether or not advertising will be profitable.

Future Work

  1. Now that launch traffic has died back down. Place targeted ads on facebook and find out what my direct purchase conversion rate is. (I think the two steps, signup and purchase, lowered my conversion rate)
  2. Test targeting different age groups and different interests.
  3. Build web presence to drive organic traffic.

As usual, hit me up with questions and comments if you have any. The purpose of this blog is to get feedback from others! :)

Is Expert Advice Worth The Price?

I follow a lot of business gurus and most of them offer consulting services for startups. Some come in the form of a direct consultation, others offer classes and communities for you to join. The question that always nags at me: Is it worth the price?

That nagging question always stopped me from signing up for anything up until this point. Then this happened on twitter.

Twitter Convo With @Pracly

Twitter Convo with @Pracly

I went to their website to check it out and found a landing page with an email input box. No other info, so I threw my email in the box. Next, they contact me and asked me to fill out a survey about what I specifically needed help with. I said “sure!” But I also informed them that my startup budget was very small and I probably wouldn’t be able to pay for their services.  I didn’t want them to waste their time on me since I had no intention of paying.

They reassured me that the first call was free with no strings attached. So I decided to give it a try. My call was last Thursday.

So How Was The Call?

The call was great. They made the expert (@faheems) aware of my business and situation before the call, so I didn’t have to waste a lot of time telling him what I was trying to do. My needs were digital marketing on a tiny budget.

My fear was that he would tell me, “you need to give engaging content to attract customers, then you can occasionally pitch to them.” I was afraid of this because I’d read it a million times online. He didn’t do that.

He actually showed me different ways to use facebook. He introduced me to facebook groups. He showed me strategies for getting other people to my page. We discussed content strategies for my website and how to launch a google adwords campaign. He gave me suggestions on tools to improve my effectiveness as well as links to some great content online. He gave me some new ideas on who to target to get my leashes out there in the public eye.

We spoke for an hour and I took notes feverishly. By the end of the call, I had a strategy in place for the next 4 to 6 weeks. All I have to do now is execute.

Will I Do Another Call?

I think the call is worth it. In a few weeks I plan to do another one. For the second call, I’ll probably only need a half hour. I want to make sure I have a chance to implement and use everything he told me before we speak again. I want to come to a new call with new questions and new roadblocks – not the same ones I was dealing with last time we spoke.

Here is how I view the value of a business consultation:

Effect of Consultation on Business Growth

Effect of Consultation on Business Growth

You could probably get there by yourself. You could probably learn all this stuff from trial and error and reading lots of business blogs. The problem with being inexperienced is it is hard to abstract the messages in blogs and advice and actually apply it effectively to your business. That’s where a consultation comes in. They’ve seen it done in many businesses and can tell you how to apply it in yours.

Good luck! and if you’re curious about it, talk to the folks at http://www.pracly.com/  (No, they aren’t paying me for this post.)

If you have any specific questions about the consultation, please leave a comment!