Pay it Forward: The E-mail I Thought About All Night

“Nobody ever has any success in life without the help of a friend.”

That’s what a successful businessman told me back in 2008 when I was on the brink of launching a publishing business from the ground up. I’d gone to solicit his advice, and his money, by way of advertising in a new publication.

He agreed to invest several thousand dollars in our publication, not necessarily because it helped him so much, but because he cared enough to pay something forward.

I’ve never forgotten that day.

***

husband wife relationships

This is Dana. My wife and #1 helpmate. There’s not another person in the world who’s given me so much of themselves.

I receive between 150 and 200 emails on any given day. Like most, I’m selective in what I read versus what gets “xd out” at first glance.

Late yesterday an email to my personal account carried a tagline “I value your opinion,” and almost certain it was spam, it was a good candidate for a quick delete.

I reluctantly clicked it anyway.

Turns out the email was from a fellow blogger with whom I’d struck up a casual relationship a month ago. We’ll call him Tom.

Tom basically said he was looking for a writing mentor. Here’s an edited excerpt from his email:

***

“I’ve dabbled in writing for a long time. I’m at the point in my life that I’d like to get serious about it. I’ve been a “closet writer” for ages, not letting anyone see my work (including my wife) for fear of being judged, an inferiority complex and being laughed at.
I’m desperate at this point in my life to make something of myself. I would be indebted to you if you could look over my post and critique my writing. I understand your (sic) a busy person and have your own life to move forward with. And totally understand if your (sic) just to busy, or simply didn’t want to get involved.
I’ve looked at many other people and their writing on wordpress, but for some reason I keep gravitating back to your site for “pointers.” I’m sure some of it has to do with your journalism background being that I came from a newspaper background myself. I drove a newspaper truck for 22 years in Chicago. Not the same as a journalist by any stretch of the imagination. But a sense of connection just the same.
In short I’m looking for a mentor in writing and would be grateful if you would help me. I’m not sure yet how I can return the favor. I’m not very good at anything unless you needed driving directions in Chicago (I thought I needed to throw in some humor). All I ask is you think about it. And please don’t feel obligated or pressured to help. I’ll understand.
I’ve agonized for days about sending you this email. #1 I didn’t want to bother you. After all you don’t know me. #2 I’m not accustomed to asking anyone for help. It’s just something I don’t do.”
***
Tom’s right. I stay pretty busy. Overly busy. But I get what he’s saying.

mother son relationships

This is my mom. Her love and suppor have been unconditional for 46 years.

  • He’s apprehensive about writing what’s on his heart.
  • Transparency is scary.
  • He really wants to make something of himself.
  • He hates to ask anyone for help.
  • But help is precisely what he needs.
So Tom finds himself in a place to which I suspect we can all relate.
  • Have you ever desperately needed to share your heart, but bottled it all up for fear of rejection?
  • Have you found yourself in a moment when you searched your heart for your true life’s calling?
  • Are you simply too prideful or fearful to ask a friend for help?
best friends and men

This is my very best friend in the world. He helps me by making life fun, being there at a moment’s notice and defining loyalty.

Interestingly, Tom’s communicated with me at the very time when I’ve determined to say “no” to more things than I normally do.

By nature, I’m an over-extender, spread thin, and in the midst of trying to simplify life.

But I get it Tom. Been there, done that. To you, I say “yes.”
I’ll do whatever I can to help Tom. Too many people have helped me by way of pure grace. It’s true – what my helper said back in 2008 – is still true today.
“You never have any success in life without the help of a friend.”
Do you relate to Tom’s sentiments? I’m guessing so.
About transparency, fear of judgment, making something of yourself and asking for help… what would you tell Tom?
Seriously, what would you say to him?
I’d like to know. I bet he would too.
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How to Tangle a Blog Reader in a Carefully Woven Web: A Case Study in Thinking Like a Search Engine

Perhaps you’re a blogger who’s in this game for the purity of great writing. It’s admirable, and I love you for it, but if so, this post may not be your particular brand of vodka.

If you’re all-in for platform building, growing your readership, and if you get a thrill from every “hit” like me, this may be helpful.

You can strategically design your posts to tangle a reader within your blog for multiple page hits, but it takes a good bit of study and experimentation. This is more about the science of blogging than the art.

To pull this off, there are certain things you must know, and it’s knowledge that comes only with time, so keep the faith. But once learned, certain strategies can help you create a daily post that snares a reader for multiple page hits on your site.

It all begins with an intimate knowledge of your followers’ reading habits.

After 150 posts in four months, here’s the most important thing I’ve learned to help build a strategy for maximizing hits – and it’s simple: Certain days are better than others for getting your reader’s attention.

The metrics prove (in order of best to worst) that these are my best days (not necessarily yours) for strategic posting: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Friday, Monday, Sunday.

As a fundamental strategy for blogging, there’s power in that knowledge.

And so, with that knowledge, I rarely miss the opportunity for a Tuesday blog post and a strategy to manipulate entice the reader to surf my blog for at least more than one hit.

Here’s a world-view look at yesterday’s results, and this is a pretty average Tuesday for me.

stevenwwatkins blogThere were 146 hits on every continent except Africa. Darn it! For the time being, I’m satisfied with that daily hit count. It’s going to require a Freshly Pressed breakthrough or a RT from Justin Bieber to make a significant jump, so I’ll wait patiently.

Now, here’s breakdown of post hits and the strategy that went into making this happen, this particular way. If it sounds a bit convoluted, message me later and we can talk it through.

steven w watkins

Fifteen of my 150 posts were viewed yesterday. That’s not bad, and it’s only possible after an extended period of blogging with frequent posts – so again – be patient and keep the faith.

Because Tuesday is a strategic day designed for “hits,” I usually think carefully about what I’ll write. I tend to write serious, objective-type posts, but also enjoy taking a stab at the humor category now and again. And so that was the focus of yesterday’s foundation post … because people like to laugh and smile.

I chose to write about 15 things I’m “so over.” Among them was the health food candy Nutella. The Nutella people have done a great job at marketing their hazelnut product, but it’s time to get real.

Out of the 15 things I’m “so over” I chose to include Nutella in the headline because I figured it would have the highest SEO ranking.

Now, here’s where the math starts to get a little fuzzy, but stay with me on this, because it works.

***

Monday night, I drafted a post for my secondary blog at www.latitudeone.wordpress.com The strategy was to publish the post there Tuesday morning, and re-blog it immediately to the primary blog. There are HUGE benefits to a secondary blog, but that’s for another time.

And here’s the third prong of the web-entanglement strategy, and it’s something I love about being part of the WordPress community.

Each Tuesday, I’ll surf my reader for a really good post. Yesterday morning I found a particularly interesting post from www.momentmatters.wordpress.com. Its topic was the history of bathing, and I thought it was really neat, so I pressed that to my  primary blog as well.

There are multiple benefits to pressing a fellow blogger: it’s a nice courtesy, a high compliment, a way to build relationships/strategic partnerships, and ultimately, brings more hits to your site.

The result of all this madness is three posts on my primary blog on my highest reading day. The posts were complete by 5:30 a.m., and from that point, you can only wait to measure the results.

Another tip about multiple posts on a single day: Include short links to every other post you’ve made that day. Readers will inevitably click and click again, and you, fellow blogger, get more bang for your buck.

Now, about those clicks. Here’s a visual of what happened in yesterday’s three-post web.

steven w watkins blog

All the short links included in yesterday’s three posts resulted in 10 additional clicks, and who knows where it went beyond that? That’s good for my blog, and for other sites as well.

There were clicks to my secondary blog, certain photos I’d tagged in previous posts, the blogger I reposted, a related article and the site of an Ecuadorian land developer with whom I have a business relationship at http://www.latitudeone.wordpress.com

All that intertwined linkage is good for everyone and maximizes SEO potential for us all.

Now about those search engines and the power of SEO referral. This is always interesting to study.

steven w watkins blog

The vast majority of my hits came from FaceBook posts. But there were also results from Google image and term searches, as well as Yahoo, Bing, email and from my secondary blog. This doesn’t necessarily mean each search was directed specifically to yesterday’s posts. Many of them were aimed at previous posts. Again, this is process that’s built over time.

Don’t forget the huge benefit of “thinking” like a search engine. Look at these terms searched in the 24 hour period.

blog steven w watkins

You never know who’s gonna search what, or where they’ll end up. Creative tagging is important and a learned skill, but you also have to think like a search engine. The searches above are pretty random, but they did get readers to previous posts I’ve written.

You may have the greatest prose and the snappiest title on the blogosphere on a given day, but if you don’t include some frequently used search terms, your results will be diminished. Note the key words in the title of this blog: “blog,” “web,” “case study” and “search engine.” More than likely, those terms will result in a few extra hits.

Did you know “Justin Bieber” is one of the highest ranking Google search terms? It’s the ONLY reason I included his name in this post.

Hope this helps. Blog on, baby.

(Steve Watkins is a journalist and author of the developing non-fiction series: The Trilogy of Light. For information about writing or blog coaching, and a free 45-minute consultation contact him at: stevewatkins71@yahoo.com)

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Intentional Blogging in the Magnificent Medium: 7 Tips for Newbies

oscar meyer

This photo, taken just this weekend, captures the essence of two of my cardinal rules for intentional blogging: Always carry a camera, and NEVER take yourself too seriously!

Occasionally, readers will ask how I come up with ideas for blog posts.

For those who write on a regular basis we know the answer to this question. It’s just not easily conveyed in words.

In its purest form, writing is art, and it’s difficult for any artist to explain how they do exactly what they do.

My answer is found somewhere among a few simple philosophies:

  1. Everyone has a story.
  2. People enjoy reading about other people, and taking a look into their lives.
  3. We don’t talk enough about the uncomfortable issues in life.
  4. The world would be a better place if we could all be more transparent.
  5. Down deep in our hearts, we’re all pretty much the same.

My primary blog is relatively diverse. That comes mostly from a background in journalism. I tend to focus on issues of faith, politics, humor and stories about others.

But the idea of intentional blogging, i.e., blogging with purpose, frequency and readership benefit, has a learning curve for any writer. Strange as it sounds, I see life through the blog, and come across dozens of ideas daily that are blog-worthy.

If you’re a blogging newbie, struggling with how you’ll define yourself in this magnificent medium, consider some of the following practices that have helped me along the way.

1.  CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS INSIDE THE BLOGOSPHERE: I may never meet many of the bloggers with whom I’ve communicated over time, but they are relationships I treasure, and many of us carry a mutual admiration for the others’ work. Thank people for their “likes” and “follows.” Read their work and compliment them when you’re impressed. Just yesterday, a former PGA Tour professional followed my blog after reading a random post about a weekend round of golf. That follow was an honor for me. I sent him a “thank you” note of sincere appreciation and wished him luck on his pursuit on the Senior Tour. I appreciated his reading, and I bet he appreciated my thank you, and I bet we’ll talk again somewhere down the line. See Ian Hardie’s fine blog here: www.golfhabits.com

2. MAKE NOTE OF YOUR IDEAS: Writing ideas come at the most inconvenient of moments. Mine come while I’m driving, in meetings, or in the middle of an important conversation. Make a quick mental note, and at the first opportunity, take

Teva shoes

NOTES ON A SHOEBOX: I really do stuff like this, and it works for me.

your idea and WRITE IT DOWN. I’ve learned that moments matter, and moments lost, are not easily recaptured. Throughout the day, I jot my ideas down on paper, napkins or whatever is handy, and at the end of the day, a rough title is entered onto my dashboard.  That way, I have an ongoing resource of posts. The post I’m writing now comes literally from notes I took on the top of a shoe box.

3. ALWAYS CARRY A CAMERA: There’s no substitute for great writing, but it’s the visual elements that draw readers into your site. People love looking at photos of other people. Anyone who goes on a road trip with me knows there will be several unscheduled stops along the way. I vowed months ago that whenever I saw a photo worth taking, I’d stop and take it. Many of those photos become blog topics, and most readers enjoy them.

4. KEEP A JOURNALISTS‘ MINDSET, BECAUSE IF YOU BLOG, YOU ARE A JOURNALIST: You don’t need a degree on your wall to be a journalist. The trick is learning to think like a journalist. Because I’m a news junkie, I’ll often take national news stories, localize them in some fashion, and provide commentary on the general topic. This previous post is just one example. It addresses the very real topic of why the cost of beef will skyrocket in the next two months: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-xR

My blog posts come in two forms: OBJECTIVE and OPINION. Important blog post topics call for objectivity – presenting both, or all sides, of an issue. Fair comment and criticism also has its place, and is a great way to generate activity on your blog.

5. FEAR NOTHING: Some of the greatest bloggers I read, examine the most controversial of topics and pour transparency into their work. You may be in the midst of the most tumultuous time of your life, or be witness to a horrible injustice. Here’s my advice: WRITE ABOUT IT. If you don’t, who will? And what good will come if the topic is never addressed? As a blogger, you can make a difference in the world, one blog post at a time.

6. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF: If you’ve ever had this thought: (my petty little blog will never make a difference) STOP IT. You are now part of a magnificent medium – a collective community of unparalleled talent. You’ve chosen to be here, and there’s a reason. You have a purpose.

AND THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL

7. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY: You may be nominated for awards across the blog-spectrum; you may be Freshly Pressed; you may be re-tweeted by Rick Warren; and paid opportunities may flock your way. But NEVER take yourself too seriously. Keep your ego in check. Stay humble. Never stop learning. Be thankful for every follower … and blog on, baby.

(Steve Watkins is a former newspaper journalist and magazine editor with more than 15,000 interviews to his credit. He is the author of a developing series of non-fiction books: The Trilogy of Light, and he currently serves as a freelance writing and blogging coach. For more information, inquire @ stevewatkins71@yahoo.com)

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Celebrating Blogging and 10 Reasons I Just Do It

Countries where I’ve had hits since the inception of http://www.stevenwwatkins just four months ago. I love looking at this and thinking about the vastness of the world, but just how close we can really be.

“Writing is a socially accepted form of schizophrenia.” ~ E.L. Doctorow

Yesterday was a milestone of sorts at www.stevenwwatkins.com

As my primary blog established back in February of this year the total hits surpassed 5,000 with readers in 39 countries across the world.

Honestly, it’s a little embarrassing to put that number out there as a milestone. I read of bloggers who get 10’s of thousands of visits a month. I long to know your secret. Oh, how I long to be Freshly Pressed at www.wordpress.com. Maybe one day…

A graphic list of the countries where I’ve been “hit.” This is something I track every day.

Five thousand is a small number for the all-star bloggers across www.wordpress.com but nevertheless I counted it as a personal achievement.

So much so that I launched a second blog allowing more specific focus on another project adventure in which I’m currently engaged … and you can view the new blog here at http://wp.me/P2tJ80-2

www.stevenwwatkins has evolved into a simple, relatively unfocused blog that allows me to share opinions and ideas and thoughts about any number of topics on any given day.

It got me thinking on a basic level about the reasons why blogging is an important piece of my life’s puzzle and a cornerstone of my life every day.

So without paper handy, a used napkin worked just fine, and I jotted down the Top 10 Reasons I Blog. Oftentimes asking certain questions of myself helps me better understand who I am … and I suppose that notion’s at the heart of why I’m a blogger.

10 Reasons I Blog:

1. TIME: There’s no schedule to my sleep pattern. Consistently I go to bed around 8:30 p.m., watch a little “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and then fall off. But waking is a different story. It may be 2 a.m. It may be 6 a.m. There’s only so much CMT, HGTV and Discovery Channel a guy can watch. Because my best thinking comes early in the morning, it’s a good time to think and write and simply fill the void of time.

2. EGO: If you’re a reader, I’ll admit this up front. I have an ego. If you’re a blogger, please go ahead and acknowledge you have an ego too. YOU KNOW YOU DO!!! It’s a thrill to post your work and put it out there for the world to see. www.wordpress.com puts us out there, literally all over the world. When I go to my stats page and see that someone in Gibraltar or Tunisia or Morocco has read my blog, well, it’s the cheapest, most natural and legal high I can get.

3. TRANSPARENCY: It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to us all. Personally, I’m transparent to a fault. (I just told you I have an ego, right?) And the blogosphere is a great place to be transparent regardless of your extraverted or introverted personality. Saying certain things on a keyboard is oftentimes easier than saying them in a more personal or intimate situation.

4. RELATIONSHIPS: I’m moving upwards to a hundred followers now and I follow almost equally as many. Blogging has been a great tool to help develop relationships here at home and across the world. I once thought the art of writing was a dying art, and perhaps it is to some degree, but there are some absolutely brilliant and wonderful writers and thinkers out there in the B-Sphere. God designed us for relationships, and I’ve encountered some good ones at WordPress.

5. I’M OPINIONATED: …interestingly about some of the most controversial topics. I love writing about religion and politics. Those topics have probably generated the highest number of hits on my blog. When you have a certain type personality and that personality is highly opinionated, you really need somewhere to put it out there. The B-Sphere is a great place to do just that.

6. TO MAKE YOU THINK: There’s something about causing people to stop and think. If you’ve had a profound experience with something such as death, divorce, charity or loss or success of any kind, there’s a great reward in sharing that with others, so at some point they may stop for a brief moment and consider a change of heart in their thinking. For me, the highest reward is a blog comment that tells me my post caused them to do just that, and take action to do something differently and work to be better.

7. TO HONE MY WRITING SKILLS: That’s a given, right. On average, I blog 4-5 times weekly. I’m not caught up in the notion as some are, that I have something important to say every day. Blogging is great practice for other means of writing or similar communication. Simply said, blogging makes me a better writer.

8. TESTING AND MEASURING: Some of my posts are designed as tests. When I have an idea for a significant writing project, I’ll often test the notion in the B-Sphere. It’s a cheap method for testing, there’s feedback at your fingertips and it’s a great way to see that even what you view as a brilliant idea – well it can fall flat on its face in the marketplace.

9. BOOK PROMOTION AND IDEA GATHERING: I’m now about 5 months into writing my first book manuscript and many of my posts tease concepts of the book so I can get a reaction. For most of you this is a no-brainer, but a blog is essential to your social media platform in promoting and selling books.

10. TO SIMPLY LEARN: While I follow a hundred or so bloggers, there are a handful I always read. With the right approach everyone in the blogging world makes everyone else better at what they do. It’s win-win.

Blogging Outside Your Comfort Zone: 7 Tips

(Blogger’s Note: If you’re a blogger or writer, I’d love to hear your own experiences about writing outside your comfort zone. Please share away!)

Traditional tips you’ll read about effective blogging will typically tell you to write about the things you know, choose a niche and pitch yourself as an expert and an authority.

It’s good advice. Everyone’s an expert in something, and there’s definitely something to be said for consistency in your blogging topics. It’s the best way to build a strong platform and a loyal audience. Your readers should come to expect a certain style in your work.

But the adventuresome blogger, will, from time to time, will make a gutsy move and go outside his comfort zone for the sake of curiosity, and just to see what happens. That’s exactly what I did yesterday.

My brand of writing is designed to make people think. Not necessarily to change their minds, but to think differently with new perspectives about certain things. Mostly, I enjoy using Biblical metaphors and writing about the application they have in our present lives. But every so often, I’ll jump outside my writer’s comfort zone to experiment, and yesterday’s blog, titled Here in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm http://wp.me/p2bjEC-8j …. was just that. An experiment that proved interesting.

The blog’s topic was the national attention that’s been drawn to the University of Arkansas’ football program and the subsequent firing of head coach Bobby Petrino. Moreover, it speculated the Razorbacks would attempt to lure Arkansas State University coach Gus Malzahn (just 300 miles down the road) as his replacement.

It’s a topic ripe for speculation and controversy, and so I ventured into the unknown to see what attention might be drawn to my theory of how the scenario might play over the next few days.

The results: A record number of hits for a single post with readers in seven countries.

In thinking about writing outside our comfort zones, I wanted to offer seven tips, lessons learned, if you will, for how this post generated record traffic. Consider these tips in a future venture outside your own blogging comfort zone.

  • LOOK FOR A HOT TOPIC – Even if you’re not an expert, it’s okay to jump in the middle of something. Sports, especially college football, is a big deal. In the SEC, some call it Saturday Down South. Take advantage of writing directly to a well-defined audience. SEC football fans are pretty well-defined.
  • SPECULATE – That you are not an expert – it matters not. Opinion piece writing generates more opinions, and more hits on your blog. It creates conversation and back-and-forth dialogue. Everyone has an opinion. Share yours.
  • TAG TAG TAGHere in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm http://wp.me/p2bjEC-8j had some 50 tags attached, and the search engine results showed the tags worked.

  • USE POWERFUL VISUALS – It was an easy choice for this particular post. Choose an image of a Razorback and one of an Arkansas State University Redwolf, and the collective blood pressure of football fans across the state skyrockets.

  • GO PLACES YOU’VE NEVER GONE BEFORE – I placed this post on Facebook pages everywhere … official pages of both universities, football blogs across the South, media outlet blogs, and it worked.
  • USE POWERFUL METAPHORS – The Perfect Storm perfectly described the possible scenario for the outcome of this unique situation. All the elements are perfectly lined up for a monumental fight if UA even breathes on Malzahn.
  • BE INTENTIONAL IN LOOKING FOR RIVALRIES – For your post it may be politics, education, religion or whatever. College football in the South is ripe with rivalries and putting yesterday’s post in the middle of it all just added a small bit of flame to the fire. That’s what writers love, right?

Niche, consistency, expertise – yes – it’s the best way to blog. But stretch yourself sometimes and get in the thick of something wild.

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Snickers “Gets” Forgiveness

My dog, Snickers and I, have a love-hate relationship.

Not really. It’s mostly all love …  but unfortunately she’s been unintentionally trained to sleep on the same schedule as me which generally is 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. And a 5-month-old cocker spaniel pup likes to be a little more active at 3 a.m. than me. The biting from her razor-sharp teeth has yet to subside.

Over the weekend in the early morning hours as I was stumbling through the kitchen for the first of a dozen cups of coffee, I accidentally stepped on Snicker’s paw in a way that really hurt. She let out a yelp such as I’ve never heard.

Seconds later, she was in my lap giving me a kiss. Oh, to be more like Snickers.

Why do we have such a terribly difficult time with forgiveness?

“Forgive” is mentioned 53 times in the King James version of the Bible. That doesn’t include forms of the word such as forgiveness, forgave, forgiven, etc. And certainly, it’s the permeating theme of the New  Testament as we’re told not to forgive seven times, but rather 70 times seven.

Snickers’ lesson came in handy over the weekend, and if you’re a blogger, you’ll understand this, in particular.

Several days ago, I posted on the results of a DISC assessment I’d recently taken. After a careful read, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about how terrible I was as the DISC described in me certain traits such as aggressiveness, abrasiveness, forcefulness, etc.

If you can’t poke a little fun at yourself on your own blog, what’s it worth anyway, right?

Yesterday to my surprise, a relatively close family member apparently read the post and submitted a passive-aggressive comment for approval with a desire to tell the world just how bad a guy I am. I expect her expression was a result of unfortunate family circumstances that surrounded my dad’s death about 6 weeks ago. It’s all a crying shame.

Nobody loves a good fight more than me, dude. I’ll watch Gladiator and Braveheart from dawn ’til dusk. I may even change my name to Maximus before this thing is done.

So there’s the comment – right in front of me. I want to react immediately, but I walk away for several hours – contemplating.

Time passes, anger subsides, and I come back and simply hit the “unapprove” button and move on. I wanted to fight. I wanted to engage (and maybe this is my way of doing so) but I walked away.

I want to forgive, because I need much forgiveness. My Savior died for me and has forgiven my sins. I’m nowhere near experiencing the agony of crucifixion, so I can let a rude comment slide, right?

I’ll go fight somewhere else, and hopefully, it will be for a higher cause.

Oh, to be more like Snickers.