The 2012 Plan

Planning works. A year ago, I shared The 2011 Plan and last week I shared the success story of that plan when I wrote “How to make what you write come true.” Finding a planning method that works for you is, unfortunately, not so easy. I’ve settled on a method that combines Chris Brogan’s three words method and the visual thinking approach of Sketchnotes, which results in the drawing included with this post.

The 2012 Plan dissected

Growth – One of last year’s words was “customers” and it turned out to be the key word. We learned two important pieces of information about our customers in 2011: Who they are and where to find them online. Armed with that knowledge and the other two words in this year’s plan, significant growth of the ventures I am involved in is achievable.

Automate – Late last year, I had an “ah-ha” moment related to automation. A task worth doing manually is worth automating. If it’s not, then stop doing the task entirely. Your business is not truly systemized until most – if not all – of the business processes are automated. It takes more time to delegate and train those to whom you are delegating if the process is not automated. Automated tasks have a much higher probability of being done correctly.

Teams – It’s one thing to hire people to help you. It’s quite another to empower them to manage the team without you. This year, progress must happen without my involvement. Handing over business processes that have been automated is one way to ensure this outcome. While I can and sometimes will be a player on the teams I help create, I don’t intend to ever be the coach.

Back to growth

The strategy that came out of this planning exercise is: More and more of my time must be dedicated to tasks focused on long-term enterprise growth. Some might call this sales. I’ll be out searching for the relationships that allow us to partner our technology and knowhow with new audiences in 2012.

Here’s to an awesome 2012. Lets’ do this!

WordPress Enhancement Cyber Monday Picks

This is post 674 since I started blogging in July of 2005. For all of those 674 posts, I’ve depended on the WordPress platform to power JimRaffel.com. I’ve watched WordPress grow into the feature-rich, community-supported, open source solution it is today. As great as WordPress is, if you’re goal is to run your blog as a business, premium tools have become a virtual necessity. So before you spend your entire Cyber Monday budget, consider investing some of that cash back into yourself and your blog.

Two old friends and one welcome addition to the family

Scribe SEO Optimization – I’ve used Scribe since February of 2010. I signed up during the first week that the service was publicly available. While the first couple of days were a little bit rocky, I could see the value of the service almost immediately as I wrote in “Scribe Improves Site Traffic.” That improvement continues. A review of the last 30 days of site traffic compared with the same time period two years ago (pre-Scribe) shows a 538 percent increase in search engine generated traffic. That’s 650 new visitors a month that are now navigating to this site partly thanks to Scribe SEO. Scribe subscriptions start at $17 per month and you can find out more on the Scribe SEO site (affiliate link).

StudioPress Genesis Theme – This is the new addition to the family. Over the last year, I’ve watched the sites of many friends move to the Genesis Framework and away from the Thesis Theme that powers this site and several others I control. I decided to finally get on the bandwagon after seeing their Cyber Monday deal. We’re working on redesigns for several sites over the next few months so the timing makes sense. I like what I see so far and don’t expect the transition to be overly painful. For now, I went with the Framework and one child theme because until 7 p.m. CST today that bundle costs less than $60. You can also go nuts and spend $224 to get the Genesis Framework and all the child themes now available, as well as all future child themes. For a one-time fair and reasonable investment, you will have access to everything they have to offer for all your sites. Head on over to the StudioPress site (affiliate link) for more detailed information. To take advantage of the special pricing, you need to use the promo code: THANKS when you check out!

Premise Landing Page Creation - We have only used Premise to create a few landing pages up until now, but that pace will increase in 2012. I’m also in the process of using Premise to mock up a page I’ll later have someone code as a standalone page for one of our ColorMetrix product sites. The tool is powerful and easy to use. The included image library is worth the one-time price all on its own. If you plan to do anything with landing pages, then the current sale pricing (again until 7 p.m. CST today with the promo code: THANKS) should make this a no-brainer at $95, which is a $70 savings. Here is the Premise site (affiliate link) where you can find out more.

These are my Cyber Monday recommendations for my friends in the WordPress community. These products are not going away so there is no urgency unless you are ready to make a decision and would like to save a few bucks. If you are ready, I’d act right now before your Monday gets away from you and you miss out on the specials. Once again, the promo code for the Genesis and Premise specials is THANKS at check out.

Photo Credit

How Thesis Theme makes managing blog post images easy

If you’ve been a reader here for any length of time, you know I utilize the Thesis Theme to power this site as well as several others. Because seldomly read documentation, I “discover” Thesis features almost daily. For example, I add an image to almost every post on this blog. For a few months, I have been trying to figure out how to have thumbnails of those images appear next to the post excerpts on the main page. (See the image to the left.)

Thanks to Thesis Theme functionality that extends the WordPress framework, it’s actually easier to accomplish than I thought. Instead of inserting the image into the post (as I had been doing), I started completing the section shown below that Thesis adds to the WordPress edit post page.

image of Thesis Theme edit post pages additions

By letting Thesis do the heavy lifting related to image rendering, the appearance of this site has improved. In addition to the automatic creation and display of thumbnail images for each post, the Tweet button and Facebook “Like” button I include at the beginning of each post are now displayed below the image. It’s always bothered me that those elements did not appear after the image. Having pretty much left my days of being a coder behind me, I just couldn’t see taking the time to resolve the issue.

I’ve been using Thesis for more than a year and half now and continue to be extremely pleased with my purchase decision. There are other premium WordPress themes and, by all means, I suggest you investigate each before picking one. If Thesis is interesting to you, please click on the affiliate link I’ve included below to head over to their site and check out more of the features in greater detail.

Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support Community

Establishing Online Authority

After presenting Selling at (and to) a Higher Level for the first time last week, many of the audience followup questions centered around establishing online authority. I’m going to run through the steps I have used to increase traffic on this site, over at ColorMetrix and on Qip.com, which we recently sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

My online authority toolbox

As this post goes on I am going to recommend three of the products I have affiliate relationships with. Because we just sold Qip.com for a significant sum, I can confidently tell you these tools all work and contributed to that success.

WordPress Premium Theme Framework – I suggest a premium theme for a couple of reasons. First, most of the theme frameworks I am familiar with build in significant search engine optimization(SEO) features. Second, while the default framework makes design easier even for a novice (like myself a year ago) the mature theme frameworks have hundreds of add-on skins you can utilize to achieve almost any design goal.

I’ve used the Thesis Theme(affiliate link) for over a year now and have been impressed with the theme and the improvements added over the past year as well. I had the opportunity to meet Chris Pearson (the man behind Thesis) at BlogWorld this year. After meeting and conversing with Chris I have even greater confidence in Thesis because, like I always say, people do business with people they like. I like Chris.

Search Engine Optimization Tools – A premium theme framework like Thesis will only get your SEO so far if you are new to writing for the internet. I’ve been using Scribe SEO(affiliate link) to improve the SEO of my sites for about ten months now. Following the SEO recommendations of Scribe we moved Qip.com from the bottom of Google page one search results all the way to the top. We did that in about six months. I’m convinced that move was crucial to the amount of money we were able to sell the domain for.

Online Marketing Ideation – I’m one guy. I work closely with a few more people. When I sign in to Third Tribe Marketing(affiliate link) I have access to about 2000 of the smartest marketeers on the internet. It’s really that simple. I read what they are talking about. I jump in the conversations. I ask questions and get amazing answers worth many multiples of my monthly subscription. If you are only able to act on one of these suggestions I’d start with Third Tribe. The ideas you get from the forums, seminars and Question and Answer phone calls will further convince you to move ahead with an online marketing idea that fits your knowledge, skills and abilities.

Success is not free

None of the tools listed above are overly expensive. Over the last year my total investment in the above is less than $1000. Less than $100/month to have the tools critical to establishing online authority. I subscribed to Third Tribe Marketing at a rate lower than you will pay, but I also subscribed when there was ONE seminar available. There are now a dozen or more you can listen to and download in your first month. If these dollars are daunting, that’s OK. Perhaps for now the internet is a hobby for you and not a business. For me it’s a business and these are the tools I use to make my business go.

21 days to a (better) blog – part 3

This is the third Installment of the 21 days to a (better) blog series. It will make a great deal more sense if you have read week 1: up and running and week 2: the devil is in the details. This week I am leaving out the redundant writing, posting and editing schedule. By now you should have settled into a posting schedule that works for you. We’ll stay focused on fine tuning and fun stuff.

Week 3: Fine tuning

Day 15 Back it up baby. Backing up your WordPress database and applications directory is absolutely essential. If you self-host, as I do and have command line access it’s actually quite simple (see code below). If you don’t I recommend taking a look at these WordPress.org search results for backup and database backup plugins.

If you do backup with the command line method you also need to copy these two files to a second location in case your server ever crashes. With these two files you can be back up and running in minutes (not including server setup and DNS resolution time).

Day 16 Blog security . If you self-host locking down the WordPress installation is your responsibility. I’d start by looking at Login lockdown and WP Security Scan both of which I discussed in 18 useful WordPress plugins. WP Security Scan in particular will make many recommendations I recommend following.

Day 17 Add support for mobile devices. Consumption of blogs on mobile devices is already big and growing fast. I make use of two mobile theme plugins. WPtouch and WordPress Mobile Pack. One works better here and the other on ColorMetrix.com. It’s probably worth taking a look at both of them.

Day 18 Consider the Disqus comment engine. Your goal should be building a community you own and control. As such you need a robust comment system. The built in WordPress system is a bit limiting from a community growth perspective. (In my humble opinion). Take a look at the comments here and compare them to your blog. There is a WordPress plugin that makes the Disqus install fairly simple and straight forward.

Day 19 Is this blog going to be a place I have ads and affiliate sales relationships or not? Until you have literally tens of thousands of loyal readers the money won’t amount to much. So, my suggestion is be careful what you promote on your blog. I’m down to three affiliate programs I truly believe in and use the products. If they generate a few bucks great, if not that’s OK as well. Consider letting you blog be a representation of you. By doing that the speaking and consulting revenue (or a job offer if you are hunting) will be infinitely more valuable than a few affiliate bucks. A solid readership of one thousand might be all you need to develop four or five paying clients for a lucrative consulting business.

Day 20 Consider a premium theme and professional design assistance. Premium themes like Thesis (aff link) extend the functionality and versatility of WordPress. Thesis does great things for both SEO and typography. Don’t, however, spend the money until you know it’s the right thing and you plan to stick with this whole blogging business.

Day 21 First, pat yourself on the back, you’ve made it 21 days! Now, Consider a writing/SEO improvement tool like Scribe (aff link). Now’s the time to give Scribe a free try. You’ve got 21 days of posts you can run through the Scribe engine. You are already a good writer if you got this far. Now, it’s time to find out how well you write for SEO.  After eight months of using Scribe and tracking my stats and analytics I can simply tell you it works. Over time your traffic coming from search engines will grow with this tool.

So, who has followed through on part or all of the 21 days to a (better) blog series? Did you start or improve a blog over the past three weeks? Please share your site in the comments and we can all go take a look!

WordPress Theme Frameworks and Child Themes (Skins)

Over the last few weeks I’ve been asked by several people how do you pick a WordPress theme. The real answer is I got lucky and fell into one of the best ones, Thesis(aff link) about a year ago when I was redesigning ColorMetrix.com. Recently I discovered the power of a child theme or skin combined with a theme framework like Thesis.

Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support CommunityFirst things first. In order to be able to achieve the results I am presenting here you will first need to purchase the Thesis theme. I’ve provided an affiliate link in the paragraph above and the “ad” to the left is also an affiliate link. That being said there are other theme frameworks out there that have large communities contributing child themes or skins. If you don’t choose Thesis at least make sure to pick a theme that fits those criteria.

The Thesis Community

I began realizing the value of the community that grew up around Thesis almost immediately. With 20,000 plus developers utilizing the theme there was nothing I wanted to accomplish on the new ColorMetrix site that I could not find advice and how-to information about. The help came in two flavors.

Private Forums. As a paying owner of the Thesis theme you are granted access to a community with tutorials and forums chocked full of advice and how-to articles.

Other Blogs. Because of the affiliate financial incentive many bloggers (like me with this post) write about Thesis. I write about how the product has made my use of WordPress easier. Many of the cool effects and features I added to the blog I found by googling for the answer. The incentive of a few bucks in affiliate revenue drives the desire to share what works.

The community support behind the product is more valuable than the product itself. That’s what I’ve learned in the almost year of utilizing Thesis.

Skins: Better Design, More Easily Achieved.

That brings me to the latest redesign in my family of web properties (There’s only like five or six but family sounds cool). For several years I have assisted some colleagues who brought the Molkky tossing game to the USA. I helped them setup their first website for the product which you can see below.

MolkkyUSA.com original Site

Please be kind, I’m not a designer. As you can see the site was in serious need of some modernization. The biggest thing to me was lack of calls to action on the main page to “Buy now.”

Time is my enemy. My partners kept pushing for a redesign and I kept pushing back that the revenue involved, for now, is fairly small and the time required to do a quality redesign is fairly great. Enter ThesisThemes.com Straight Shooter – FREE Thesis Skin. Yes, unless you want to have permission to remove their footer on your site the skin is 100% free. (As I mentioned before you need Thesis(aff link)for the skin to work). They also have a host of premium skins you can purchase if one of the free ones does not fulfill your needs. (I have no affiliate relationship with ThesisThemes.com)

The Results. With the Straight Shooter skin and about 6 lines of CSS I was able to accomplish the redesign below in less than a day.

Above the fold

MolkkyUSA.com redesign above the fold

Below the fold


Picture 3.png

Is it awesome? No, I’m not a designer but for a non-designer to produce those results in less than a day I say is pretty impressive. Now there are “Buy Now” calls to action at the top and bottom of the page. There is a “Follow Us On Twitter” call to action. Most importantly a whole new look that doesn’t look so 90′s web-site in a weekend. (or so I hope.)

The Nitty Gritty

Yes, really less than a day. Now, to be fair I already had a year of Thesis “learning curve” under my belt. Also, to be fair about three or four hours was spent researching child themes/skins and trying a few of the free ones out. In order to use the chosen ThesisThemes.com theme I was required to install their Skins Manager on top of WordPress and Thesis. Not real difficult if you know how to FTP files and follow directions. The Skins manager is actually a pretty nifty feature once you have it installed.

Picture 4.png

The problem of layers. My only real issue with the entire solution is this.

1. WordPress – New Release.

2. Thesis – Have to wait for compatible release.

3. Skin – Can’t be upgraded until the other two are.

It’s not really that big an issue if #2 and #3 are ongoing concerns servicing their customer base.

Closing Thoughts

I wish I’d done some more digging a year ago and figured out that skins existed for Thesis. Or maybe not, by knowing the ins and outs of the feature rich theme I can tweak almost anything on my sites without any code. When code is needed it’s typically a line or two of CSS. I’m glad to know that now I can create a new or upgrade an existing site with less than a days work using the theme framework and a child theme or skin.

Help Me Out – Two Small Favors

1. If you found this post useful and are thinking about purchasing Thesis please click on one of the affiliate links now so that if you do decide to buy in the next 30 days I’ll get credit for your sale. – Thanks in advance for that.

2. If you follow the advice above (even if you already own Thesis and are just trying the Skin idea out) please post a link to your site in the comments. I’d love to see your results.

Stuff I Like About WordPress

Not too long ago I wrote “Stuff I Like About My Mac“, and it was well received based upon Google Analytics. So, this will be my second “Stuff I Like” post with more to come on appropriate topics.

I have been using WordPress for about four years now. Early on I was simply an author on a system one of my team members built for me. As time went on I started installing WordPress myself and adding plugins and sometimes even hacking PHP or CSS code to do what I needed to do.

Now, this site and ColorMetrix both run on the latest and greatest versions of WordPress (no, I’m not telling that a security no no) with several spiffy plugins and several hacks of my own creation. I plan to get more detailed in subsequent posts, but here are the basics of what I like about WordPress.

  1. Ability to install and upgrade using Subversion. In my opinion if you are running on your own server and have command line access it is the only way to go.
  2. A HUGE user community that writes all kinds of how-to articles. I have yet to Google the problem or issue I am trying to resolve and not find multiple articles that at least lead me in the direction of solving the problem.
  3. Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support Community

  4. Thesis Theme. After four years of struggling to make WordPress sites look the way I want, it is now pretty darn simple. The entire look and feel of this site is pure thesis theme right out of the box. I did use the Thesis interface to tweak a few things to achieve my look and feel. Over on the ColorMetrix site I got a bit more involved but Thesis makes that easy as well by keeping all customer PHP and CSS in two files so upgrading is a snap. Thesis is a premium theme and worth every single penny I paid for it. Disclaimer: I purchased my copy of thesis with my money. The link above is an affiliate link. If you click on the link to check Thesis out and then purchase I will be compensated. Let me say thank you in advance should you choose that route. This is the first and only product I have taken the time to sign up for an affiliate marketing program. As of today it’s the only possible way I can generate dime one on this site, I feel that strongly about Thesis.
  5. Thesis Theme for WordPress:  Options Galore and a Helpful Support Community

  6. For locking down your WordPress install I strongly recommend these plugins; WP Security Scan and Login LockDown. It is also critical that you protect your wp-admin folder with an .htaccess file. For security reasons I am not going to tell you how mine is configured but again, Google it. Please do not ignore this point in my list, hackers are out there and they do want to attack your WordPress site (Yes, I unfortunately, have first hand knowledge).
  7. For social media interaction I use Twitter For WordPress which allows me to display my recent tweets over there in the far right hand column.
  8. Social bookmarking of all posts on this site (including this post) is accomplished via  Tweet This. Very cool way to get your post mentioned on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  9. Shopp e-commerce plugin. Because it’s not for the WordPress beginner I have left this plugin for last. The Shop over on ColorMetrix is powered by Shopp which is a robust powerful e-commerce engine that like Thesis you have to pay for. This is NOT a plug and play plugin like most of those listed above. It took me the better part of four days to learn, tweak and configure Shopp the way I wanted it.

There you have what I like about WordPress and what makes WordPress work for the sites I build and maintain. I am by no means a WordPress expert but I am a practitioner of the craft that has found the above ideas and tools useful.