2017: Reflections on a year of constant change and challenge

Putting aside all the things we can say about 2017 based on what's in the news, this has been a year of a lot. There are things that happened six months ago I haven't fully processed yet though I think that ship might have sailed. I stumbled on this list of reflective questions in Forbes and I like that I can shape my story of 2017 through my answers to some of the questions.

What am I most proud of?

Rising to unexpected challenges. I had a string of events that seemed neverending for a while. When a colleague mentioned I was dealing with an onion that had many layers, I had to accept that I needed to meet each new problem with a solution rather than panic (or hyperventilation).

What do I wish I did differently?

There's only one decision I regret this year. I said yes instead of no when I had to make a decision. But once I've committed, I see it through. It's a lesson learned: Go with your gut.

What or who did I learn the most from?

I have no idea. I've got a long list of people I've learned from this year, which is a pretty spectacular thing to be able to say. I don't even know where to begin to narrow it down to one. 

What did I resist the most and why?

Spending time on creative writing. I value my time with family and friends so I put that first. Circumstances are such that I don't get as much as I'd like, so I consciously chose to spend my free time with people instead of projects.

What new skills did I acquire?

I know far more about SEO now than I knew four months ago. I did some extensive research on a few dozen questions I had and it was interesting and informative. And now I know the joy of geeking out over all the analytics and the wealth of ideas for content. I want to write all the things!

What limiting belief did I let go?

I'm not sure if I let it go so much as I'm making an effort to tamp it down. Like many women, I tend to undervalue and underestimate myself and my abilities. Having worked with a few great mentors in recent years, I've come a long way in shaking that habit. I approach new challenges with a lot more confidence today than I did six years ago when I first started my business.

Who or what am I most inspired and energized by?

With all the negative media attention on events south of the border, it's been so lovely every time I hear a story about people helping people and making a difference. It's encouraging that there are still so many stories. Hope isn't lost.

What went better/harder than I expected?

I've had a lot of activities that seemed like they were going to be straightforward that ended up being bigger and more complex than they looked on the surface. So, while they may be harder to deal with, the outcome will be better than originally planned for as well. 

How did I surprise myself?

I tend to be pretty laid back, but I've had some moments of near hyperventilating panic set in at surprising times. I didn't get easily overwhelmed, but the buildup took me by surprise. But I'm also learning to deal with bigger issues more effectively.

What am I most grateful for?

Continuing to find new possibilities that enrich my life.

What negative patterns seem to be repeating?

I'm getting better at saying no, but I'm not quite good enough yet.

What did I start and not complete?

Disclaimer: I feel exactly zero guilt about this admission I'm about to make.

At about 10:00pm on November 1, I decided to register for NaNoWriMo. I've wanted to do it for years and I impulsively jumped in. I was killing it for 9 days. Then the month that I knew would be excessively hectic kicked in. I tried to regain my lost time and find my stride again, but I was struggling so much with the story I was writing it stopped being worth the mental effort. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. I also want to figure out how to salvage the characters. I like them and I think I can find the true story when I have more time to work on digging it out.

What was something I failed at and what did I learn?

I'm going to say NaNoWriMo for this one, too. I loved the challenge and the discipline required. Next time, I need to plan ahead so I have some clue of what I want to write before I start. That should help me fit it in better, even during a busy month like November. Or I could choose another month and do KaNoWriMo (Karen's Novel Writing Month).

What no longer worries me, that used to?

I've (mostly) stopped questioning whether I can do certain things. Instead, I try to remind myself that what I don't know I will figure out. And I surround myself with people who like to help. There's no reason for me not to succeed.

Storytelling gone wrong: When I can't relate, you lose me

I was doing some research for a blog post recently and came across a post that - based on the title - had exactly what I was looking for. I was trying to find practical advice for storytelling in a particular context. I eagerly started reading the post, curious to see what the author could add to my research.

The post was written in a storytelling format, offering up examples of how the author had used the tactic they were writing about. But I was lost by the second line of the blog post. 

Why?

The author was writing about how they explain the difference between two different things. I think they were describing their own products. But only the customers and users of these products would be able to relate to this blog post. 

The irony? It was a post helping others relate.

I've talked about the idea of selfish communication before and reading this post reminded me of why it's so important to avoid creating content that creates confusion. 

There's a bigger picture to content marketing

With every piece of content I create, I think about:

  • How it will be perceived by someone who doesn't know my work
  • What value I'm giving to readers who click through
  • Whether there are applications beyond my niche

You see, if you tie content too closely to your products, you're automatically limiting the audience who will be interested. You're also limiting the story you can tell about your business. 

There's a better way.

1) Focus on the problems you solve

When it comes to content, it really doesn't matter what your product does or how it works. What matters is the problem you solve. Most businesses have a big overarching problem they solve for clients and customers. 

But there are also related problems - big and small - that they solve. Talk about those problems. Talk about solutions that don't have anything to do with your products.

Assert a philosophy that fits your values and point of view. Have an opinion about what works best and why.

All of these things build a case for why you're so good at what you do.

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2) Give away all the knowledge

Don't worry about losing business because you share the what and the how of your solutions. If this is your fear, remember:

  1. People who take your content and use it on their own aren't your ideal client.
  2. Or they might not have the budget...yet.
  3. Others may ignore your content; they're also not your ideal client.

The point of showing your expertise through content is that your ideal client has a better chance of finding you. It's the marketing equivalent of the impact of compound interest. You put the regular effort in and it adds up over time.

3) Go back to the beginning of the story

You're really smart and you have a ton of knowledge about a specific subject. The audience you want to attract does not have your knowledge, which is why they need you. 

So, don't open the book in the middle and start reading as if they know what's happened in the first half. Always set your audience up to understand your message by giving enough explanation of anything that's specific to your business or expertise. 

The picture is complete when there are no more questions

Will all the questions ever truly be answered? I sure hope not. But in each piece of content, you can answer all the questions.

You'll know you've been thorough when you've accomplished the goal of the piece, there's no lingering clarity questions about the content, and you've provided value that isn't exclusively aimed at your customers.

How are you making a difference?

Your work is making a difference for someone. I know it is, because my work makes a difference too. 

You have stories in what you're doing, even if you don't yet realize it. I bet you tell your stories when you go home in the evenings, or when you're visiting with friends. If you truly don't, then why are you doing what you do?

Stories are a bridge that create a connection. In the telling, you can provide information about what you do, why you do it, the outcomes you anticipate, and the kinds of problems you can help solve.

How does a story make a difference?

What you have to say can make a difference in numerous ways:

  • Inspire ideas,
  • Spur action,
  • Provide help,
  • Incite understanding,
  • Solve problems.

These are the things I love about the work I do. What do you love about your work? That's probably one area where you're making a difference. 

Find stories to tell

Think about a time you got excited about your work. Maybe a client or customer showed appreciation for you leading them to something they needed. Maybe it's a product. Maybe it's an idea. Maybe they didn't even know they would find it helpful! 

Tell your stories

I see friends with businesses tell stories about breakthroughs with their clients every day. In fact, while I was in the middle of writing this post, one of my clients sent this in an email to me:

I didn’t even know that was do-able! You teach me something new every day.

That kind of feedback is exciting to hear, but it also tells me that I'm continuing to provide ideas and information that help, even when the client hasn't been looking for it. 

Are you thinking about the work you do in terms of how you contribute to helping others? If not, take a few minutes and write down five ways you made a difference for someone last week. It doesn't matter how big or small. You can feel good about the fact that you've helped someone else. 

And, if you're so inspired, write some content about it. (Then come let me know so I can check it out!)