remedial-cat

So, recently we posted the 6 unbreakable rules for contact pages. There was the threat of death, and also a kitten.

Some time before that, we posted an idea of what to do if you don’t want to blog. This piece was borne of me being sick, and sad that the state of blogging is not what it once was.

Well, I’m sick again. This time it was my fault. I broke a cardinal rule, which is: When the question is, “That should be okay to eat still, right?” the answer is NO. I ate something knowing full well I was taking my life into my hands, with predictable results.

That leads me, once again, to pathetically cruising the internet looking at blogs and trying not to throw up. So, in honor of the previous posts, I give you:

6 Remedial Rules For A Respectable Looking Blog

For the purposes of our discussion today, there are two kinds of blogs. There are the blogs you land on automatically when you go to the website itself, like this one. And there are the blogs where you land on a home page and you have to click somewhere to get to the blog.

If you have the first kind of blog, where you land on the blog itself, your blog theme probably takes care of most of the rules automatically. Check anyway, but you’re more likely to be safe. If you have the second kind of blog, where you have to click to get to it, you’re going to want to pay more attention.

1. If your blog is not your homepage, there must be a button or link in your navigation bar that directs people to the blog. (If you do not have a navigation bar, you need a new web design.)

2. That button must say “Blog”. It could also say “Read The Blog” if you want to get your call to action on. You could say, “Our award winning blog” or “This is the blog, my mom says it’s great” or “This is the blog, my mom refuses to read it”. If it is a blog, it must say “Blog”.

If your blog is very article-y and you never write screwing around posts like this one, you may call it “Articles”. You could even snazz it up and call it [keyword] articles like S&M Articles or Banana Pancakes Articles or Candy Making Articles for a small amount of search engine love.

You may not call it Musings, Thoughts, or Resources for the same reason restaurants are not allowed to call the coffee section of the menu “Wet” or “Cups” or “Energy”. Blog is blog. Coffee is coffee. Leave it alone, Picasso.

3. If your blog is not infinite scroll (like Tumblr) where the reader can keep scrolling down and down to infinity and beyond, at the end of each page, you must have some kind of clearly marked button or link that indicates where more blog posts live. “Previous posts” or “More posts” would be good choices here.

4. At the end of each post, there should probably be a button that sends the reader to something else to read. This could be those “previous posts” buttons, or it could be “back to the blog” or it could be “read next post”. Do not leave your reader alone to die in your footer section.

5. You should probably have some way for the reader to subscribe to something. It could be your blog’s RSS feed, or it could be a newsletter, or it could be a “follow me on Twitter to hear when more posts come out”. The last is the worst possible choice, but it’s better than nothing until you get something for them to subscribe to properly.

6. If all you’ve done with your blog for the past 26 weeks is post links to your podcasts or videos, you do not have a blog anymore and you are not allowed to call it a blog because people will get mad and throw pasta at you.

This is the equivalent of a restaurant with a section on the menu called “Coffee” that is, in fact, a list of web design services. You don’t get to keep it that way just because you used to sell coffee.

If this is you, go up to your navigation bar and change “Blog” to “Podcasts” or “Videos”. Don’t lie. Lying is wrong.

There are sick people who want to read your blog. They ate bad eggs and they’re bed-ridden and they want you to entertain them.

Be nice to these people. Make it easy for them. They have money, and they might be just delirious enough to give some of it to you.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Contact Page Kitten Is Watching You

The Contact page seems like such a simple little thing, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t think that certain death was even a possibility. Well! Aren’t you glad you read IttyBiz? Let’s discuss.

We’ll start with the basics.

Do you have a website?

If so, does it have a Contact page?

If so, please go to your Contact page now and read it.

Go. Now. This will wait. The internet lasts forever. I will quietly hum in your absence.

Ok. You’re back. Good.

Now, I want you to think of the most exciting person or entity that could ever visit your website.

Perhaps it’s the New York Times.

Perhaps it’s a certain publishing house.

Perhaps it’s a famous movie director, or a magazine, or an author.

Got it?

Ok. Now. Imagine that person or entity came to your website, and that they wanted to contact you.

Could they do that?

This seems like a silly question, but it bears thoughtful consideration.

In order for them to contact you, a few things need to be in place.

First, you need to have a Contact page. Don’t laugh. You’d be surprised.

Second, it has to be called Contact. (If you fancy yourself a creative type, I’ll make a few allowances. You could go a little crazy and call it Contact Us, Contact Me, or even something truly off the wall like Get In Touch.)

Third, this page must be visible above the fold. That means I can see it as soon as the page loads, without scrolling.

Fourth, all critical information must be available in text format. If you took B-School and they told you they’d put you in the stocks if you didn’t have a video on every page of your site, fine. Go ahead. But remember the when not to use video rules? “When you are transmitting critical information, you cannot do it exclusively by video.” You can have a video. You just can’t only have a video.

Fifth, there must be at least two ways to contact you privately. You need two in case one doesn’t work. Most people choose email and a contact box.

And they must be private. The editor at Little, Brown doesn’t want to send you a public @ reply on Twitter. Add Twitter on there if you feel possessed, give a shout out to your Instagram homies, cram a picture of your third grade teacher on there if you want, I don’t care. But I want two private ways to get in touch with you. Two. Private.

Six, there must be a general way to contact you that does not fit in a preassigned box. If you have a techie supporty kind of site, it is very en vogue to have a button for new support tickets and another for existing support tickets. And that’s it. Nothing else. The idea is, they don’t want to be overrun by annoying customers asking annoying questions via annoying email when there is a perfectly valid system in place for that.

Lovely. Great. But unless you also have a button for “I’d like to offer your founder a three book deal” and another for “We’d like to put you on the front page of the Technology section” and another for “It turns out you’re the only living relation of a Botswanian bunny farm mogul”, you must have a way to get in touch for reasons not predicted. An email address would be a nice choice here.

Ok. Let’s recap. Contact page rules in 137 characters:

1. Dedicated page.
2. Called something obvious.
3. No scrolling.
4. In text.
5. Two private methods.
6. Option for unpredictable contact.

Make sense? Awesome. Now go check out our Double Your Sales workshop. It’s $29 and the sales page is very pretty.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Unschooling while running a business

For the beautiful Ali Luke, who requested a post about unschooling while running a business.

If we’ve never met, and you got here because some lovely unschooler forwarded this to you, hello, and welcome! I’m Naomi, one half of Naomi-and-Dave. I’ve been running IttyBiz since 2006, and we’re unschoolers. The boys - Jack and Michael – are 7 and 15.

So. Unschooling and business. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Embrace multitasking.

There is a lot of advice out there saying that when you multitask, you’re less productive. I would agree with that. Single-minded focus on one task at a time is, in many peoples’ experience, the most effective way to get things done.

When unschooling, multitasking is often the only way you’re going to get anything done. So the question is not “is unitasking better than multitasking?” The question is “is multitasking better than getting nothing done whatsoever?”

When you have twins or triplets or quads, you would snort milk out your nose if anyone ever told you not to multitask. The very idea would be hilarious. Well, think of your business / unschooling combo as having twins. Upgrade it to triplets if you’re on social media. Quads if you do client work.

(If you actually have twins, triplets or quads, I take my hat off to you. Or I will, if I can ever find my hat. My son made a bed for the cat out of it – yes, at the office – and I haven’t seen it since.)

2. Lack of order does not mean lack of rhythm.

Most of us, on one level or another, dream of a day when there will be order. We have different visions of what that order looks like, but there is an idea, fueled by the self-help industry, that one day, if you tweak this and change that and ditch the other thing, the chaos will stop and a semblance of order will reign.

The more we focus on what is not orderly, the more we see a lack of order. Peace can be found if you focus less on orderliness and more on rhythm.

Focus on the cadence that’s building, not the order you see on Pinterest.

3. Hard deadlines are probably best avoided.

When you don’t have full advance knowledge of how your time will be spent, it’s probably a good idea to avoid making commitments that require committing blocks of time, even small ones. If you’re going to write a book, by all means, write a book. You just might want to reconsider splashing the launch date all over the internet.

Less deadline, more guideline.

4. Learn to love the whirlpool method.

I have a theory about the world that I call “the whirlpool method”. I think of getting things done not like an ocean, with waves that ebb and flow, back and forth, all in the same place and predictably. Instead, I think of it like a river.

The river just keeps flowing, regardless of your opinion. It goes on and on and on, always forward, always changing. And in the river, there are little whirlpools, little vortexes. Sometimes you get sucked into a “let’s look up what Vitamin D does” whirlpool, and that takes some time. But then you get sucked into a “holy COW I’ve never been this productive in my life!” whirlpool, and that takes some time as well. (Sometimes you say that out loud and somebody wants to look up the origins of “holy cow” on Wikipedia and you wish you’d kept your mouth shut.)

Sometimes it’s bumpy, but full of momentum. Sometimes it’s torturously slow.

It’s all part of the river, dude.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

5. Give up on “shutting the office door”.

Speaking of dreams, many people – especially those who come from a corporate background – are accustomed to a time in their day when they can shut off. They say things like, “I just want to be able to close the office door, shut off for a while, you know?” Yes. Yes, I do know.

That shut-the-door time is elusive when you’re running a business. It’s also elusive when you’re unschooling. When you’re unschooling AND running a business? For many, it’s no longer a reasonable expectation.

If you would like to work towards this, by all means, work towards it. But frothing yourself up in a mess of pain because you JUST get no TIME for yourSELF helps nobody.

6. There is no such thing as a top priority.

It’s very fashionable to say, “my kids are my top priority” when we’re considering running a business while unschooling. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when everything is blended – when work and learning and eating and laundry and romance are all mixed up in the same place – domains lose their boundaries. The pieces of your life cease to be discrete, and because of that, there are no pieces to prioritize.

It’s nice to say, “I’ll drop everything for my kids”, but it’s a mercurial concept. I’ll drop everything when my children need me, yes – but they also need a roof over their head, and I’m not going to put that in jeopardy because they’re bored.

Prioritizing – nice, neat lists of the things we value and commit to, in a nice, neat order that never changes – is for people with nice, neat lives, full of nice, neat categories. If that is you, I commend you. If that is not, please don’t feel guilty.

7. Empower your children.

Give them the power to look after themselves. When my oldest was two and I was pregnant and on bed-rest, I created a zone in the fridge where he could get his own food. Everything on that shelf he was allowed to eat at any time, and most of it he could open and navigate on his own.

The more you empower your children in age appropriate ways – and you’d be surprised how much they can do, especially when you consider that for many centuries, seven-year-olds worked side-by-side with blacksmiths – the more you serve both of your goals. You will have more space for your business, and your children will be more independent and self-directed. Isn’t that one of the reasons you were unschooling in the first place?

If you have a spouse that could use empowering, do that, too. And pets, come to that. Get a dog door, a cat door, and one of those food dispenser things.

8. Work towards systems.

Dave went to school at North Carolina State University. (Dave: “NC STATE WOLFPACK WOOT!!!”) There’s a story from the college that, when they were designing the campus, instead of laying down paths right away, the designers waited until the buildings were already in place and people were already walking on the grass. When enough footsteps had worn down the grass, they knew where the paths should go, because they knew where people were already inclined to walk.

It would be a good idea to do this with your systems. Yes, work towards systems, but you might want to avoid rushing them. Systems work better when they’re based around what people do, not what you want them to do. (See: observe the user in the field here.)

9. The trick is finding things that blend well.

The other day, my youngest son Jack (aged very nearly eight) was sitting on his bed, playing a game on his iPad, cuddling me with one arm, and stroking the cat with his foot. “You’re good at doing lots of things at once,” I remarked. He replied:

“The trick is finding things that blend well.”

The simple brilliance of this statement astounds me.

When you are trying to build a business and a life and an education for your children all at the same time and in the same location, it’s helpful if you design a business that blends well with life and education. One of the advantages of unschooling is that there’s an awful lot that can fall under the heading of education, but it might be helpful to design your business with blending in mind.

Some things blend easily, like petting the cat and playing the iPad. Petting the cat while playing the viola, on the other hand, takes more doing. It might be a good idea to find the parts of your business that don’t blend well and eliminate or modify them until they do.

10. Find the times you work best.

There are articles saying smart people stay up later. There are articles saying successful people wake up earlier. My handsome colleague with the sunglasses up there was infamous for saying anything and everything should occur on your “next available lunch”. (Worry not – he has been duly mocked.)

Everybody has an opinion on when you should work. The prevailing belief system on the internet seems to be that if Jeff Bezos gets up at 5 am, you should get up at 5 am, too. Then you can build Amazon, whether you’re trying to build Amazon or not.

Find the times you work the best, and do what you can to create an environment in which those times are protected. I can’t really imagine a world in which you will attain a level of success greater than 80% on this one. If 5-7 is your writing time, do your best to protect that, but understand that 100% success is unattainable.

(About this: Talk to your children. Have a business meeting with them. Get their opinions.)

(If you’re new to unschooling, they will probably look at you like you have three heads when you first try this. They are children and have been taught by society that their opinions are worthless. They might find the process stressful, like you’re expecting a certain answer. If this happens, drop it for a month and try again. Eventually, when they realize it’s not a test, they’ll open up.)

(Also about this: As an ittybiz owner, “work” has multiple meanings, and as such, “the times you work best” will have multiple meanings also. The times you network best in social media may not be the times you’re best at email, or the times you’re best at client work. The world may say “early mornings are best for writing content because then you won’t be distracted”. Maybe, but for me, it doesn’t distract, it inspires. This blog post came from an email I got… this morning. Tomorrow’s comes from a conversation I had on Facebook… this morning. Different strokes, folks.)

11. Practice selective ignoring.

Because of the choices you have made, almost all of the advice about business, about parenting, and about productivity will not apply to you. That’s not some rallying cry, saying, “WOOT! Look how rebellious we are! **** the system, man!”

No. It’s not that. It’s simply practical. If your kids are army brats, you should probably avoid reading child-rearing advice saying children need a stable house that they live in for years and years and years. You’re just going to stress yourself out.

Learn what doesn’t apply to you and do everything you can to stop feeling guilty about it. You will fail, of course. The objective is not “never feel guilty” or “never do things differently”. The objective is to see yourself feeling guilty, or stressed, or striving too much, and gently bring yourself back to your reality.

12. Teach them about your business.

Very young children can understand how your business works. The more they understand, the more they integrate your business into their life and worldview, and the more accommodating they tend to become.

“Mummy’s working right now” often gets an ever-escalating clang of neediness. “Would you like to help me load up this newsletter?” either gets interest and a connection opportunity, or your child running away from you as fast as they can move, generally to an unobtrusive corner where they will not be found, and therefore not expected to work.

Either way, your newsletter goes up, and the whining goes down.

(Also? Talk to them about money. “X number of people bought this class for Y dollars totaling Z in revenue, or A in profit” is much more interesting to the average greedy middle-schooler than “Jimmy and his brother both had 8 apples, and then somebody stole 2.”)

13. Ask for their opinion.

All the new stuff going on around here? This new website? The (currently ridiculous) Instagram account? The Facebook and Twitter activity? The pictures on the blog posts? The pretty roundup newsletters using a template instead of our legendary plain text? Those were all my kids’ ideas.

Things got a lot better around here when I stopped thinking I was the smartest person in the room.

One of the reasons we unschool is because we want to drop “doing what everybody says”. We want our child to have the opportunity to use their own mind in a non-regimented way. We want them to have the opportunity to be creative, to think for themselves, and to reject “the way it’s always been done”.

As a result, your unschooled child is the most unsullied mind you will ever have access to. Mine it.

Thank you so much for reading.

If you know someone who might enjoy this – an unschooler thinking of starting a business, maybe, or an ittybiz owner playing with the idea of unschooling – we’d be delighted if you shared this article. Thank you!

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.