Should You Hire Your Relatives?

The topic of hiring friends and relatives is hotly debated.  On the one hand, hiring family is a no-brainer if you know and trust your relative implicitly.  You already know their talents and temperament, so it’s very enticing to hire a worthy family member.  On the other hand, it can set a challenging dynamic in your office environment, engendering jealousy and resentment from other great employees. There is no easy answer as to whether this is a good or a bad idea; it all depends on you, their future boss. To be an awesome manager to members of your family, you must know yourself implicitly, and be able to treat them as you would any other employee. It takes a great deal of integrity to create balance in a workplace where family and non-related employees mix, but it’s not an impossible. Assess yourself with the tips below; if you can honestly embrace each of these traits, you are well qualified to manage any member of your extended family without damaging your business’s productivity.

Why You Should Hire Your Family

Besides the obvious factor of knowing your family member’s strengths and weaknesses intimately, when this process works well, you have employees that can potentially care about your business as much as you do. If it’s a family affair, there can be a great amount of dedication and passion that is more challenging to cultivate in those that aren’t so connected to you, their leader. Trust should already be established, so there is less of a need to watch over your spouse, kids or other relatives should they come on board to assist.

Don’t Hire Relatives Without Checking Off These Traits

Read the following list of traits and procedures you must commit to following if you want to hire family members and truly have it work out. If you aren’t dedicated to these tips, you might reconsider. Remember that hiring family members that do not work out can create tremendous strain on your professional and personal relationships. Firing an employee is hard enough; when it’s family, it’s excruciating. Here are the top things to consider and commit to:

  • Be prepared to put family team members through all normal aspects of your hiring process. This means giving them a thorough interview for the actual position, drafting all the same paperwork and contracts, and giving them all perks associated with the position – and nothing more or less.
  • Pay relatives exactly the same as you would other hires; resist the temptation to create a “special” compensation agreement, as this immediately sets up a dangerous dynamic of nepotism, especially if other team members find out (and they usually do.)
  • Have a heart-to-heart discussion with your other staff members before you hire a family member. It is ultimately your decision, but letting them know ahead of time will ward off a lot of unnecessary gossip and speculation. Let your team members air their concerns, and make a sincere commitment to ensuring their fears are not realized.
  • If at all possible, have your family member report to any manager other than you. Removing yourself from their immediate daily directions will save heaps of headaches and inter-office politics.
  • Make sure to establish clear boundaries with your family member between your professional and personal lives. It is critical that you commit to fostering both your personal relationship, and your professional rapport; be mindful to preserve the connection you already have.
  • Set forth rules and protocols that create respect in the workplace. For example, if you hire your daughter, make sure she never calls you “dad” or “mom” at the office. Again, your demeanor towards each other should always be professional, not personal or informal.
  • Most importantly, do not treat your family member any differently than your other employees. You may be tempted to be either more lenient or more stringent with your relative; before you act on any impulse, make sure you can honestly tell yourself you’d perform the same action in any scenario.

Regardless of how well you can follow these tips, bear in mind that the smaller your company is, the harder this process will be. It is not recommended that you hire family members or close friends if you are a small business owner; the temptation to grant special treatment intensifies all the more. If you still proceed with hiring family to assist in your small business operations, it is exponentially critical you follow the advice above. Adhering to these behaviors will make the entire experience far more positive and balanced for everyone involved: your family member, your other team members, and especially, you.

Image source – BrowardPalmBeach

Top SEO Tips for 2013

Top-SEO-Tips-to-Run-a-Successful-SEO-Campaign1There’s not an online business person alive who doesn’t spend at least some time considering the mystery of SEO.  The landscape has evolved tremendously since the days of massive link shares and meta data, and for most, it’s hard to keep on top of the latest trends and nuances to Google’s algorithms.  The good news is, one core thing has already remained consistent:  Great content equals great SEO.  It’s a more complex equation than that, of course, but if you start out with a solid, well-designed site brimming with intriguing content, you’ve just tackled half the battle.  For the other half, keep reading.

Tip #1: Your Website Has to Rock

No amount of SEO prowess can ever make up for a lackluster website, so your first strategy should be building a killer online presence.  Your site should look polished and professional, have scads of relevant keyword rich content, clearly articulate who you are and what you offer, and have intuitive navigation – for starters.  If you’re an ecommerce site, that shopping cart process needs to be flawless and simple, and you should be executing smart retention tactics too, like suggesting similar products, email newsletters, and related outreach.  If your site is failing, making efforts to drive more traffic will only showcase your flaws all the more.  Resist the urge to rise the Google ranks until you have content you can crow about.

Tip #2: Outreach is Key

Once you have a site that you’re truly proud of, it’s time to make friends with like-minded sites and media hubs.  You absolutely have to get people to talk about your brand and products, and one way to do this is to connect with folks already writing about your target niche.  If you run a site that sells tires, as an example, have a comprehensive list of all automotive directories, bloggers, and related sites.  And make friends!  Offer to link to them as well, or create marketing campaigns that offer discounts to their customers.  Whatever you do, ensure your citations are credible.  If you link to someone who has questionable tactics, or even if THEY link to spammers, your ranking will subsequently suffer.  It’s imperative you choose partners that are already Google-friendly.  If they aren’t, they won’t move the needle for you at all.

Tip #3: Social Media

You should create a very strong and active presence on all related social media outlets.  Don’t think you need to tackle ALL of them, however – target only those that your audience uses most.  Sites like Pinterest, as an example, have a high volume of female users.  If female shoppers aren’t the core of your demographic, don’t waste time trying to reach them.  It’s integral that you have a clear vision of who your key customer is, and where to find them online.

Good social media needs constant care, much like a garden.  Seeds are planted through the form of consistent profiles and business data, and then cultivated by staying engaged with your audience.  Resist the temptation to use products like HootSuite to send the same status updates to all your networks.  Folks on LinkedIn, as an example, respond to different updates than Twitter.  Taking a little extra time to thoughtfully consider each demographic will increase your chances of engaging.  If you’re not engaging with your customers, you business will suffer greatly.

By following a few basic SEO principles, you can build a solid foundation that search engines and customers alike adore.  Content has been and continues to be king, so make every page count.  Search engines aim to highlight the best sites for any and all searches, so it’s on you to make your site top tier.  Have fun rising the ranks!

When to Outsource, When to DIY

outsourcing_0If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you might have a bit of a control streak.  The temptation to tackle most critical tasks yourself, when it comes to your business, is sometimes too tempting to resist.  Doing things yourself is more than just the economical choice, it’s also a way for you to feel things are done right, just as you like ’em.  That said, there’s a LOT to tackle in building an online business, and doing it all is not realistic.  You’ll burn out faster than a birthday candle, and those tasks you do tackle will probably be mediocre at best.  You’re better off focusing on what you – and your company itself – does best and finding experts to fill in the rest.

So which jobs are better left to the pros?  That all depends on your business’s core competency.  If you run a design shop, you’ll obviously not need to look elsewhere for website graphics and logos. But you would be best served to outsource development, sys admin type tasks, and perhaps even your marketing needs.  Below is a list of key roles any online business needs, and advice on when to hold it, and when to hire it out.

Design – Unless you run the aforementioned graphics agency, skimping on your website’s visual image is a bad, bad idea.  You know the old adage – you only get one chance to make a first impression.  Website’s that have poor navigation and lackluster graphics can immediately turn off and otherwise enthusiastic client/customer, so make sure you’ve got your best face forward.  Depending on your business’s focus, you may not need a designer in-house, so outsourcing these needs is a good bet, especially out of the gate.

SEO and Social Marketing – They’re the buzz words on everyone’s minds these days, and for good reason; these are the keys to the marketing kingdom.  They can be deceptive in their perceived simplicity, but don’t be fooled – both are complicated, and most often done incorrectly.  You definitely want to have a freelancer on hand that can cover these for you (or two), but the good news is that if your business is just starting out, this does not have to be a full time gig, and these professionals should not be crazy-expensive either.  But resist the temptation to think you can handle a few tweets and article crafting yourself – it’s much more complex than it may seem.

Quality Assurance – Most business owners can take on the task of owning QA in-house, and even themselves.  The exception to this is if you’re building complex technologies, applications or video games that have intricacies only an expert engineer can help identify.  If it’s a matter of testing your website, navigation and ecommerce platform, you and your team can and should keep this task to yourselves.  Knowing every nook and cranny is critical to your business’s success anyway; QA is a great way to keep yourself truly connected to your audience.

Development – Top programming chops are in very high demand, because unless you are a developer yourself, learning a language is no easy task.  If you’re in launch-mode with your business, outsourcing development is not just a wise move, it’s a necessity.  Until you have stable profits and a clear technology road map, hiring engineers in-house is too expensive and complicated.  The same goes for Systems Administration.  Trust a professional firm or freelancer to guard and format your hardware, and focus on what you do best.

Marketing – Most of your marketing efforts should be a hybrid between internal and external employees.  Keep your core marketing strategies in-house, but don’t be afraid to hire a consultant that is an expert in your niche to advise you on how to best reach your audience.  Most companies go through intermittent phases of intense marketing rollouts, followed by more head-down planning.  Keep the former in the hands of the pros, and the latter close to you.  If you own the big picture vision for marketing your company, you can be well-guided by those who get what you’re after and can help you properly execute.

Deciding whether to do it yourself or find a trusted professional is a burden every business owner must bear.  Be honest about your own talents and capabilities, and known what you don’t know.  By letting your business do what it does best, you are better poised to succeed in your target market.

Does Panda Hate Bloggers?

urlSometime in March, Panda appears to have released it’s 25th version.  What is Panda?  It’s the aspect of Google’s mysterious algorithm that focuses solely on quality content, and weeds out those sites it deems unworthy.  For businesses, this is actually great news – Panda is certainly your friend.  Business sites should be very targeted and focused on their core niche, with no extemporaneous content.  If you have a business selling eyeglasses, for example, you won’t stray and post things about foot braces or pitchforks – your content will be conceivably concise, on point, and current.  At least that’s the idea.  Panda helps to identify those link spammers that are attempting to skirt the quality-not-quantity adage, and therefore tends to reward businesses that are truly creating a great customer experience, and not trying to fool search engines.  Again, that’s a good thing.

For bloggers, this is a much more slippery slope.  As a writer that’s been keeping a blog about shamanism and enlightenment since 2006, I’ve got hundreds of pages of content.  Although I try to stay on point, sometimes what’s flowing through my heart brings me to all manner of topics.  And let’s face it, there’s nothing enlightenment does not touch.  Unfortunately, this means that Panda has smacked me with duplicate content accusations.  How do I know?  Run a test in Google for site:poetkitty.com inurl:page – then skip to the last page of results.  You’ll see Google is repressing additional results because it deems them “duplicates”.  It isn’t duplicate content at all – all are original posts.  But there’s too much waxing poetic for Google’s liking, so my SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) are severely damaged.  I used to rank super high for searches that involved “enlightenment blog” or “Ayahuasca blog” – now, not so much.

In a way, it’s fine, as I don’t have blogs, and am not currently seeking any profit from my blogging.  But I had intended that to change in the near future – now I have my work cut out for me.  Not only do I need to launch a smart and concise marketing strategy, I have to redo the whole structure of the site for Panda’s sake, and hope that over time, organically my rankings will improve.

Search engines have become the hub of how we navigate the web, so nowadays, we simply must play by their rules.  I trust they are doing their best to reward people giving quality content and sites, but it’s subjective how this is determined.  But it doesn’t do any good to whine about what is, now does it?  It’s lovely to just be informed, and play within the system we are dealt.  It may take a bit more persistent, but the good guys will prevail.

The Telecommuting Backlash

urlThis week, Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer issued an internal memo prohibiting employees from telecommuting.  As if the shaky dotcom dynamo needed any more proof they are internet dinosaurs.  Apparently, Meyer feels employees need to be a part of the exciting energy of the workplace to be efficient and successful.  Me?  I call bullshit.

I’ve been a telecommuter for 4 years now, and have blissfully noted an uptick in the following kickass traits: efficiency, productivity, and happiness.  My employers would echo these results, as I’ve never heard a complaint about not getting the work done.  And my exuberance is uber-evident.

Let’s do the math – for obvious reasons, telecommuters often report that working from home just makes life easier.  No insane car commute through traffic and smog, no massive food bills for restaurant lunches, no needless water cooler talk with that guy that gives you the heebies – the list goes on.  Telecommuting, for those that do it well, is a huge blessing.  More time with the family, more opportunities to get up and stretch and keep the blood running, and less pressure that big brother is watching.  And there is the rub.  Employers feel like they can’t control telecommuters as well as the cube-bound office peons, and this brings up their every trust issue.  I also tell future telecommuting bosses that the proof is in the pudding – they obviously will not have to take my word that I am an excellent at-home worker; my results will confirm or deny.

I do understand the backlash to a certain extent – managing remote workers is no easy task.  The actual hiring process has to be modified, because it takes a different kind of person to rock a telecommuting gig over a stellar office performer.  One must be highly disciplined, and oozing with integrity.  Without that dynamic duo, they will indeed be a dud, even with a bundle o’ talent.  And as managers, we can’t be slackers when it comes to our remote employees.  Because the personal connection is lacking, it’s up to US to engender a sense of belonging for the team, to communicate like a fiend, and to be proactive about issues, expectations and frustrations.  It is a lot to ask for the management teams, but the rewards are plenty.  A happier, more productive, more loyal team – so worth it!

Thankfully, Yahoo’s recent ignorance is not the industry trend.  IT companies worldwide are opening up their talent pools and their chances at huge success by saying yes to remote employees.  Some companies have actually gone entirely virtual.  In fact, March 4-8 has been set aside as Telework Week – it’s a full on celebration of at-home-ness!  There will always be old timers who whine about a lack of personal connecting in the digital sphere, but again, it’s up to us to create the brave new world.  Communication tools do indeed make it possible to connect with any one, any where – and the depth of which this is achieved relies entirely on the parties connecting.

I am so freaking happy to be working in an age when home-based brilliance is welcomed by many employers.  I spent 15 years in the office world, and while I can sing those praises too, a remote life makes this heart so much happier.  I’ll just tick off Yahoo from the list of possible future employers, and all is still right with the world.

From Across Town to Two Rooms Away: Becoming a Freelancer

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After 17 years of brutal work hours, wack-tackstic LA commutes, gritty office politics and the day to day grind, I have taken the plunge into freelance fun.  I am a part time healer’s apprentice and part time freelance Web Producer and Writer, applying my almost 2 decades of experience into short term and remote client projects.  Sure, it’s an added stress to chase the next project as you’re knocking out the current one, but the flexibility this lifestyle offers is priceless to me at this stage of the game.  With a teenager at home (starting high school this year!) and a husband that travels 1/3 of every month, it’s so ridiculously wonderful to have plenty of time to spend at the homestead, and not in a cubby hole office.

I have had THE most amazing office experiences, however – starting with 8 years of craziness at the Walt Disney Internet Group.  I feel like I grew up at the North Hollywood building, getting a full on crash course in bureaucracy and creativity at one of the most infamous .dot com’s in the biz.  We launched the very first subscription gaming site – and the second overall subscription site – EVER on the web (Disney’s Blast).  The Wall Street Journal beat us by just a few weeks.  I spent many an all-nighter in the QA and Production departments, eventually landing the sweetest gig in the massive building – Premium Products Producer.  I saw us grow to over 4,000, and then slice our force in half during the early 2000’s bubble burst.  The time spent at Disney was truly invaluable, and although I’ve been gone the same length of time I actually spent in those walls, I still remember every moment fondly, and stay in touch with many fellow Mousers.

Since then, I’ve been blessed to land in many smaller offices, preferring to offer my talents to teams not quite large enough to form a country :)  Card Player was a personal fav; the team there made me smile every single day, and I never experienced any personal office drama.  And the last gig at Rivet was my dream job; I really only stopped working with them because the money dried up (the most significant hazard of playing with the up and comers!)

This is absolutely the right time for me to branch out on my own, however, and I am so honored and happy to do so.  Not knowing where the next check will come from is difficult, but it’s a challenge I’m up for.  Is it true what they say?  Once you go Freelance, you never go back?  I could definitely live with that :)