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Adventures in blogging – Does this make sense?

With the blog site in place, the fun part of blogging had begun. What a wondrous opportunity for a writer to compose, present and collect feedback, in real time. Not yet convinced blogging was the right method of exploring my writing voice, I dove in anyway. Producing content was tougher than anticipated. Finessing the words was pure joy. When rules began interrupting the creative flow, the experience became something else entirely.

I expected the odd creative block and therefore mitigated the risk by collecting an abundance of material for one to two posts weekly. My challenge was sticking to the rules for ‘successful bloggers’ gathered through internet research and referencing social media stars. After navigating the plethora of advice, I narrowed it down to 10 key points.

10 Content Rules for Successful Bloggers

1. Specialize in one topic per blog. A clear vision of content attracts a more targeted and loyal audience.

2. Catchy titles. Have yours be the enthralling headline that drives someone to click and read.

3. Consistent post frequency. Some amount of consistency is best to keep new followers, whether posts are daily, weekly or biweekly.

4. Avoid venting. Use your power for good. Very few people can garner a faithful following of their complaints.

5. Subtitles, bullets and pictures. Organization and succinct thought presentation make for easy reading, especially for those who scan first before reading.

6. Promote comments and feedback. Creating a conversation with your followers generates three benefits: valuable feedback on content, follower retention, and new followers wanting to weigh in.

7. Make it easy to share. Provide easy ability to ‘share’ and ‘promote’ within social media sites.

8. Subscribe capability. Keep RSS feeds and email notifications ‘opt in’ prominent on the page.

9. Under 1000 words. The ‘sweet spot’ for most blog readers is between 600 – 1000 words.

10. Credibility. Display relevant credentials, awards and accreditations so readers have confidence in your content.

 

Broken Rules:

The internet offers an overwhelming amount of information about social media. I have handled the abundance of advice the same way I manage parenting tips. I read through material that interested me, and decided what made sense before drawing my own conclusions.

Without creating a number of separate blogs, I could not follow rule number one and stick with one topic. Since my blog goal was to find my writing voice, I needed the ability to explore a number of avenues that were incompatible and would attract different audiences. While the blog name “JustMomSensations” suggests impressions from a Mom, it could not be a well-targeted Mom-blog alone. It also needed to include short stories, snippets of manuscripts in development, business ideas, and favourite works of other writers. I broke blog rule number one and I moved on with a chaotic collection of topics.

Rules Followed:

With the exception of rule number one, the rules were easier to follow. My posts have not been as consistent as planned but it is balancing out over time. Since my first entry in September of 2012, I have averaged 1.5 posts weekly. I’ve managed to save my venting for journals and my husband, along with the occasional leak of steam on my personal Facebook page. The remaining rules guided me to structure the site and enable gadgets, all with the purpose of maximizing promotional opportunities to gain followers.

Results:

The inconsistency of post numbers reflects my chaotic approach to topics. The most popular post is a short story called “Picture in a Wallet” – a cautionary tale about unsuccessful child abduction. Short stories top the leader board in posts and shares, providing the feedback I was looking for.

I had fewer than 100 viewers when the blog first launched. I shared posts on my personal Facebook, and emailed family and friends. To increase my audience I needed to engage my existing marketing skills, and learn new ones with social media. Social media became my late night companion for weeks. Within a month my viewers topped 500, then 800, with consistent growth from there.

At first glance, social media appears to be free. One can use most tools without spending a dollar. The real and significant cost is human resource time to create an authentic presence in each of the tools. Each site had its own nuances, tricks and etiquette rules.

My education in going social continued as I learned how to use tools to push and pull viewers to my blog. ‘Build it and they will come’ is nice dream. Commitment and persistence is the reality of gaining blog viewers.

 

Next column: The Push and Pull of Blog Promotion

Change up your cardio with interval training

I saw this on a card from a gag shop: two hamsters standing in front of wheel. One hamster is saying, “First I do one hour of cardio then I do two hours of cardio then I do one hour of cardio…”. Funny, isn’t it? There’s truth to it. So many people put in time at the gym working up a sweat, eyes glued to the calorie counter, desperately hoping that their hour of cardio is over sooner rather than later.

In the first column I wrote for Women’s Post, I put forth the idea that doing more weight training and less cardio would help women reach their typical goals (fat loss) quicker and reduce stress on their bodies comparatively. Despite favouring weight training, I still think that it’s important to train your heart. However, I think that you can do it in far less time than the typical hour of low-intensity cardio and you can do in a way that gives you a hormonal boost which will trigger fat loss.

What I’m hinting at here is interval or “burst” training. It takes no time at all to do but it sure is ugly. If you’re unfamiliar with it, interval training is alternating short bursts of intense cardio (one minute or less typically) with recovery periods of approximately equal length. Interval training is short on time and high on intensity. For example, after an adequate warm-up, you might sprint for one minute and walk for one minute (local tracks are a perfect spot for this) and repeat five times or so. An interval workout can be as short as 10 minutes. It tends to be less popular among gym-going people because the effort level is decidedly uncomfortable. Most people would rather cruise on an elliptical for an hour than endure 10 minutes of all-out effort. That’s a shame because the effects are totally different.

Firstly, interval training conditions the cardiovascular system much more effectively because it presents a legitimate challenge to the heart and lungs that requires them to adapt. When you’re cruising on the elliptical, you’re not demanding much of your body so none of your tissues are required to change for the better. Secondly, interval training prompts a cascade of hormones that give you a metabolic edge. Among them is growth hormone which is known to help the body burn fat and build muscle. Moreover, because interval workouts are so short they don’t let the body get to the point of releasing cortisol, the major stress (and fat-packing) hormone, which can happen during longer bouts of cardio.

I suggest that you give interval training a go, provided you slowly build up your intensity level so that your body can handle maximum effort. You’ll see better results in a shorter period of time. But don’t expect to look pretty doing it.

Embrace your destiny

If you’re feeling unmotivated, stuck or just unhappy about where you are in life, maybe a life coach is what you need. Embrace Your Destiny, founded by certified life coach Sandra Dawes, is a service that works to empower people to live the life they have always wanted.

Following a practice that is similar to the popular book The Secret, Dawes works to shift your mindset in order to gain a fulfilling life. She speaks about visions manifesting into reality and the benefits of simply posting positive affirmations around your home to inspire you and your mind. Starting with a helpful (complimentary) discover session, you can learn to “ uncover your greatness and live the life you’ve always imagined.”

It is certainly a fascinating concept; with 9-5 work days it may be difficult to find time to pursue your true passion(s) in life. Speaking as a student, it gets overwhelming to juggle everything life has to offer. Perhaps you are nervous to declare how badly you want “it”, whatever it may be in your life: a promising relationship, a new career or a new start in life. Through one-on-one coaching sessions, group sessions and workshops, Dawes can help. If you’re not ready to do it alone, or just want an extra supporter, Embrace Your Destiny may be the perfect place to start.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to have their own personal cheerleader?

Detoxify your body

This spring, I have decided to try a detox from May 13th to May 22nd. Not a vegetarian or vegan and always on the go, I look forward to cutting out some meat from my diet, but I think I will have the hardest time letting go of cheese.

Prior to my first detox, I was able to talk to a Certified and Registered Nutritionist (CNP, RNCP) who is overseeing the first BarreNourish Detox at Barreworks. At the moment they have just under 20 people who have signed up, but are expecting 10-20 more people.

“It is all online-based, other than picking up the detox kit, and the teleseminars are live and recorded for convenience,” she explains. “I kept the Barreworks client in mind. It isn’t too extreme and I don’t restrict on calories. They’re energizing foods with a restriction of foods that drain energy and all processed foods. There is an emphasis on the reset button. It’s about resetting your habits. There is cooking and buying healthy ingredients while thinking ahead on meal planning. “
They also decided not limit portion sizes. “Restricting portion sizes and calories is exhausting on a person’s body. I did a survey ahead of time and there was a concern that they would not being able to exercise,” she says.

In addition, she added substitutes for common food allergies. “Most are taken out including wheat and dairy, but nuts in a lot of meals. Ninety percent could be replaced with seeds. There are recommended suggestions and you can choose other meals. There are 15-16 recipes and I have provided 25. You can substitute for another recipe.”

Although this is a mild detox and all whole-food based, it is not without side effects. The largest is cravings as well as headaches, fatigue, bloating and skin eruptions that last a day. In order to prevent them, participants can use a dry brush, drink more water, go to an infrared sauna and exercise to increase the elimination.

The most common cravings include caffeine, sugar, wheat and meat, although meat is not usually a strong craving. “Healthy snacks, especially deliciously sweet dates and raw white chocolate, are good for sugar. It is important to increase portion sizes and eat enough to decrease cravings,” she says. “It is hardest during the first three to four days and then you feel amazing.”

My nutritionist assures me that there are numerous benefits. They include weight loss, clear skin and increased energy. You will be more focused and creative.

Join me as I go through the BarreNourish 10-Day Detox.  Visit again soon to hear about my experiences as I go through the detox process.

RELATIONSHIPS: The double standard of talking about the future

When men reveal their secrets, I listen carefully. After all, it isn’t everyday that they’re willing to break the code and allow a woman into their mind. So when I found out about the double standard that may actually be responsible for sending men packing early in relationships, I knew it had to be shared.

I found out this tidbit on a first date of all places. We were talking about relationships over dinner. Ok, the fact that we were on a date and talking about past relationships is bad form, I know. But that’s how it usually goes when they fall into the friend category right away.

He’d asked me about my last relationship. The good girl in me said, avoid the topic. The realistic girl said, he’s the friendship guy so it’s ok to get his opinion. Since my breakup was still raw, I was all too eager to spill the details.

The future was responsible for the breakup, I confessed. Apparently I’d talked about the future too much and it put pressure on my former beau. Mr. Friend asked for details so I complied.

It was early on in the relationship, I’d explained. The stage where infatuation was at its peak and new couples, drinking from the same cup of amour, fantasized about being together forever. Could this be it? Could the long, search finally be over?

So when my past boyfriend talked about kids and homes together and trips we could take, I figured it was ok to jump in and reciprocate. Besides, a girlfriend told me, if he wasn’t serious about you, he wouldn’t talk this way! Men don’t say these things so early on unless they were serious. Uh huh. Words of wisdom from a woman’s point of view? Take heed ladies, this is not the case.

But as soon as I joined in the future talk, I saw the eyes widen. I saw the fear rise and I watched my beau turn and duck into the cave. His reason? I was rushing things. It was too much pressure.

I stood there, stunned, running over the conversations in my head. Didn’t he ask me on the second date if I wanted kids? What about the nice houses that he wanted us to look at? And the colours for the rooms…what was that all about?

I poured out my confusion to Mr. Friend and saw his eyes widen and palms rise as he shook them, jazz style, singing, “No no…NEVER talk about the future! Never mention the future to a guy who you just started dating!!”

But, I stammered. I was following his lead! It doesn’t matter, Mr. Friend said. You just don’t do it. Men live for the moment and they say what they feel at the time.

Ohhh, so it’s  a double standard?

Yes, Mr. Friend confessed. It was and it will always be that way. Accept it.

I shared this interesting revelation with my girlfriend. When men talked about the future, they didn’t really mean it. They were living in the moment. Ah ha! The secret revealed!

Weeks after I’d found out the secret, I had a chance to test this theory. The former beau poked his head out of the cave and looked around.  He wanted to live in the moment he said. Uh huh. I agreed. No talk of the future. Ok, I admitted that maybe I did talk about the future and it wouldn’t happen again.

But as time went on, and euphoria set in, the future talk resurfaced. I listened, I smiled and I nodded. I made no plans. I did not reciprocate and I did not build on it. I smiled and I lived in the moment.

My girlfriend, amazed at the theory, tried the tactic with her new boyfriend. When he talked of living together, she smiled and nodded. She said it changed her whole way of thinking because no longer was she that woman who jumped too far ahead in a relationship when men lived in the moment.

No, it’s not fair. In fact, it’s downright annoying! But at the end of the day I realize that it’s not about fair. It’s about understanding the difference between men and women so we can walk though this uneven playing field with grace.

So the next time you have a date with a man and he starts talking paint colours for the bedroom, smile, nod, and change the topic. Never bring it up again until the day you actually move in together. Only then will he be ready to paint together.

 

 

Everyone loves chicken wings

By Marcia Barhydt

How could there be a football game on TV without chicken wings? Or a poker night for the guys? Or any impromptu party for either guys or girls?

This year, however, this culinary treat was severely threatened for the Super Bowl, possibly the ultimate wing event of the year.

According to WSB-TV, “Two storage workers in Georgia are accused of stealing $65,000 worth of frozen chicken wings amid a high nationwide demand for the delicious Super Bowl snack. Dewayne Patterson, 35, and Renaldo Jackson, 26, allegedly used a rental truck on Jan. 12 to steal 10 warehouse pallets of frozen wings from Nordic Cold Storage.”

Ten pallets? I have no idea how many wings a pallet holds, but 10 pallets certainly seems to be a plethora of wings to me.

Don’t you have to wonder just how these two stored those 10 pallets to keep them frozen and in top black market condition? I think this may have been more wings than would fit into my little kitchen freezer. Did they borrow freezers from their pals? Maybe they rented freezers the way you can rent tables and chairs for a banquet. I just think that 10 pallets of wings would be a hefty amount to secretly store and I’m not sure that DeWayne and Renaldo would have been up to the task.

And there’s another question here. Wings come, of course, coated with various sauces: zesty, hot, super-hot, blow-your-head-off hot. Were the stolen wings pre-coated in their pallets of storage boxes? That just seems unlikely to me. So did these two bright bulb thieves also steal the sauces? How did they decide which strength of sauce would be the most popular for their…clients? Do purchasers of stolen wings even have a preference or are they just delighted to have a huge stash of these chicken delights?

How much would you pay for a box of heisted wings? Or a pallet of them, for that matter? Would you buy wings out of the trunk of someone’s car parked at the side of the road advertising “Wings – Cheap”?

Maybe I need to stop laughing at this ridiculous heist, because the brazen theft took place on January 12 and the date of the news article is January 28, so there was some wiggle time there for the sticky-fingered thieves to dispose of their wings in the most profitable manner before this year’s Super Bowl Sunday.

These two innovative thieves did the nasty deed in broad daylight with little concern of being caught – so caught they were. They were later released on $2,950 bond.

The wings, however, were never found. Pass the napkins please.

 

Real life real estate

I’m a sucker for real estate reality television. Property Virgins, House Hunters, and 2 a.m. reruns of the Property Shop – I live for these shows, and always love watching couples and families go through the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, all to finally find the property of their dreams, and right on budget too.

As a real estate agent though, sometimes I have to giggle at how easy it seems. House showings to key pickup, all wrapped up in a 22 minute time slot. Of course, with the time limitations, there isn’t enough time to get into the intricacies of a normal, average real estate transaction, but I imagine that most viewers who haven’t actually been through the process might romanticize the experience with the information provided on these shows.

In the real world, the process can take months. Buyers have to talk to financial professionals to apply and qualify for financing or a mortgage, and then find the right agent with knowledge of their circumstances, their needs, and the area that they’re looking to purchase in. Then there are the house showings. On television, they show three houses and decide between the given options. I’ve had clients go on as many as 15 showings before deciding on a property, and rightly so. This is not a pair of shoes, this is a home, for families with children, dogs named Rover and cats named Meow. While timing can be of the essence when it comes to getting your home once you’ve decided on a property, finding the right home for you is a process that in my opinion shouldn’t be rushed or double-guessed.

Even after getting an approved offer, we’re often not ready to pick up the keys just yet. Accepted offers are usually “conditional”, meaning we now have to deal with home inspectors, appraisals, and final steps for financing. Your dream home might end up being a nightmare property if an inspector turns up foundation issues or termites, so there’s usually a period of time when a buyer can walk away from a property.

But I’ve seen firsthand how these shows have affected the real estate market in a very real way. Buyers and sellers are more educated now, and real estate professionals have been forced to step up their game. Sellers understand the value of “curb appeal” and not having animals or dirty laundry in the home during showings. Buyers are learning to see past superficial things like bad paint colours and minor improvements to see how a home can be made to fit them. Knowledge is power, and in the real estate game it can be the difference between a make or break deal.

All in all, these shows, by necessity due to timing and probably in large part entertainment, are condensed versions of what to expect when you’re purchasing a property. I take whatever lessons I can from real estate powerhouses like Tatiana Londono, but in the end, I really just take it for what it is: entertainment. Good, clean, funny, exciting, licorice and white cheddar popcorn on a Thursday night entertainment, and I love every second.

Parental seal of approval

Last Friday I finally made the parental introduction. Mr. Unexpected and I joined my mum and her husband for dinner on King West.

As we walked from my condo to the restaurant I could feel my heart pounding; I’ve never wanted my mum to like someone so much in my life and I honestly didn’t know how it would go. But when we arrived at the restaurant all of my nerves and fear melted away as Boyfriend fell into an easy rhythm and immediately got along with both my mum and her husband.

At one point Boyfriend looked at me and just said, “Get over it,” in reference to something silly. It made my mum howl because according to her if my brother ever told me to just, “Get over it” I would probably deck him. This is mostly true except that my little brother is about 9 inches taller than me and a rugby player and I’m about 100% sure I’d lose that fight.

A lot of our dinner conversation revolved around a new job that I’ve recently accepted and the support coming from both my mum, her husband and Boyfriend made me feel like I’ve finally got the family I’ve always wanted. Because my mum only remarried last year we don’t refer to her husband as our stepdad, but he’s more loving and supportive that my birth father ever was and I think that stems from his deep love for my mother. Their relationship is the kind I want for myself. I never once looked at my parents and thought “I want that,” because things were never that good, but looking at my mum and how happy she is now I finally understand what people with happy parents were saying – I want what they have.

But the best part of the whole dinner was the email that came from my mum a few days later letting me know how happy she was, how proud of me she was and how nice it was to see me with someone who is good for me and good to me. Boyfriend and I complement each other but because I’m in it sometimes I forget that, so it’s nice to hear from someone on the outside that we work well together.

I was nervous for nothing, I was afraid for nothing; I was a complete spaz for nothing because in the end introducing someone I love to my mum felt good and right. I wanted her to love him and she does – because according to her he’s lovely, kind and charming none of that was relayed to him though; I don’t want him to get a big head.

Now that he has every possible approval necessary, my best friend, my mum and boy bestie I think it’s time that I start calling him Boyfriend here officially instead of Mr. Unexpected. He was unexpected in October, he was a complete surprise, but now he’s earned the Boyfriend title. And while he still surprises me daily mostly I just realize exactly how lucky I am to have found someone who isn’t perfect but is perfect for me.

The push and pull of blog promotion: Part 2

After making progress with the art of pushing blog content to readers, it was time to drag more people directly to my blog. I required readers on my blog in order to increase the odds of collecting valuable feedback about the writing content, and to build momentum for future advertising revenue opportunities. To drag readers to my blog, I employed the strategies of pull marketing, with a ’social’ flare.

Social-izing Pull Marketing

Including the post link in a communication is intended to pull viewers directly to your content. An interest-sparking headline or lead-in prompts the reader to click to follow the content. If the writing fulfills its promise, visitors might be motivated to read other posts and become dedicated followers. If there are ads on the site that entice, viewer clicks may earn income for blog ads that represent a revenue source.

Pulling readers to your blog site provides the opportunity to create more loyal followers and potential for ad clicks. Since most advertising deals pay per click, more volume equals greater revenue. Once a viewer is on your site, they may also ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘tweet’ your content so that other members of their network learn about the blog. Referrals are a great way to gain new readers. Having the credibility of the source contact increases the odds of connecting with their network audience.

The downside of pull marketing is relying on continued revisits from your readers. Since they will not be receiving an email or RSS feed notifying of the new post, their loyalty must be relied upon. This strategy requires them to make a decision to view each time they see notice of a new post through social media. To increase the odds they will continue to make an affirmative choice, quality post announcements are essential.

With pull promotion, the pitch that entices a reader to click must be enticing and succinct. For example, I recently wrote a blog post asking for opinions about telling my 8 year old how the Easter Bunny really delivers goodies to our home. The other option I have to deal with the truth is waiting until she hears something at school and decides to ask me. My actual question to readers was, “Do I tell my daughter the truth about the Easter Bunny?” My social media pitch, along with the blog link was, “Do I tell?”

Both are truthful, which is vital. A pitch that suggests something untrue about the content will make the reader feel they have been tricked into visiting your blog. The second pitch is more tempting for a wider audience of readers. If a reader is not interested in weighing in on the Easter Bunny decision, there is still the opportunity to entice them with another post on the site, since the pitch pulled them to your vast collection of content.

To push or to pull – that is the question. The answer is both. A balanced combination of both strategies will maximize the outcome. The size and quality of the promotion investment will be reflected in the results. The cost of marketing your blog content is almost entirely human resources. It takes a significant amount of time on the social media sites to organically develop relationships that are authentic.

Each site has its communication methods, language and etiquette. Social media experts debate the pros and cons of repeating content on multiple social media platforms. One point all social savvy individuals seem to agree on is the inevitable importance of these platforms for any business to compete.

 

Next column: Tweet to Compete

The push and pull of blog promotion: Part 1

How could I grow my blog audience? Outside of the following of friends, family and colleagues, it was time to source methods of attracting new readers. I had been using Facebook for the sole purpose of social connecting. I had registered a Twitter handle months before, but had sent fewer than a dozen tweets. I was intimidated by the new language and etiquette that were quite foreign.

It was time to marry my traditional marketing experience with practical use of social media. I needed to find ways to both get the posts out to readers and bring them directly to the blog site. This stage of “going social” started to feel like I was driving in my own lane again.

I went to my marketing roots for direction. Traditional marketing defines the push and pull strategy as the seller’s push of a product or service to the consumer, compared to the pull of said commodity by that consumer. The push could be a store sending me a flyer to sell shoes, versus my pull of calling the store to inquire about a sale of shiny red pumps.

Social media adds a new layer to push and pull marketing. It drives consumers to action from the convenience of their own computer, tablet or smartphone. Books are downloaded and read without ever visiting the bookstore. Travel is arranged over the internet and via email communications. Merchants for clothing, jewelry and so much more rely on the ability to both push offers to buyers and pull buyers to their sites for instant deals to be closed.

TIP: In this era of immediate gratification, it is more critical than ever for sellers to have a succinct pitch to ignite that deal. After much trial and error, I learned to spark interest in 100 words or less.

Social-izing my push marketing

Posting a picture or details of a promotion pushes product over social media to potential buyers. One may choose to receive information from a supplier by being a Twitter follower or ‘liking’ a business page on Facebook. A seller may expect you are a partially qualified purchaser, in that you have indicated an interest by agreeing to participate.

In order for a prospect to gain qualifications, a seller needs to know if they are interested in the product or service, do they have the authority to make a purchase decision, and do they have the funds to buy. If the supplier has created a “sponsored post” on Facebook or a “promoted Tweet” on Twitter, the audience is unqualified and considered mass market, with which the deal close ratio is much smaller.

I wasn’t ready to invest cash into a sponsored promotion. Since I needed the practical experience with Facebook and Twitter, I invested many hours of my time learning the tricks of the tools. Once the skills started to develop, both sites became rather addicting. Making likeminded connections is a natural activity. Learning to authentically attract followers to push content toward took more time.

Communicating on ‘The Social’ needs to be true to its name, social communication. The conversation is friendly chitchat where people with common interests share thoughts, quotes and resources that might be of importance to the audience. The goal is motivating people to sign up for your blog without sounding like you are begging for followers or being too pushy.

The benefit of pushing content out is the consistency of reader contact. The blogger maintains control of how often content is viewed. It is critical to achieve balance between keeping the audience interested and informed, yet avoiding inundating them with an overwhelming amount of information and risking pushing them away. Empathy is a key quality in achieving that balance. Put yourself in the position of your audience. Does your content offer something beneficial or is it completely self-serving? Followers want to know that they are being put first.

The downside of push marketing is that you are playing on the purchaser’s turf, as opposed to your own. For example, pushing out an email or RSS feed sends the most current content to a reader, but it does not entice the audience with other posts or advertisements that might be seen if the reader was pulled to your own blog site.

Part two of promotion will explore how I went from “being pushy” to dragging people to my blog with pull marketing tactics. Subtlety is not my greatest strength, but I’m adjusting.

 

Next column: The Push and Pull of Blog Promotion: Part 2