Living a connected life

“Living a connected life ultimately is about setting boundaries, spending less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don’t matter, and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and close friends.” – Brene Brown

There are friendships that cover great distances. Friendships worth traveling and crossing great distances to spend time together. Or that figure out how to call or text, from different countries and time zones. Friends that even if you haven’t seen or talked in weeks, or months, or maybe even years, that you would love to see again and they are thrilled to reconnect.

These are the friend who put up with you, knowing your faults and problems. These are friends worth holding onto.

Posted by shanmcf in Creativity, 0 comments

Why freelance? Why consulting?

My desk and some stuff.

By Shannon McFarland

Sitting at my computer, my eyes scanning down the screen, I felt my stomach churning. Reading some of the job descriptions, I could tell that even among the jobs I was qualified for, I didn’t want these. My heart wasn’t in it. I could not, in good conscience, sit in an interview and tell someone I wanted these jobs. Not at this time.

But if my gut was rejecting this path, the jobs available right now, what else was there? I asked myself that eternal question, what did I really want to do next?

I wanted to try working for myself.

Why consulting and freelancing?

I wanted to work for myself for the personal growth, learning, autonomy, and flexibility. I wanted more freedom. Freedom to choose the next project and pick my own clients, based on my own goals and values. As a writer, having the freedom to follow my curiosity, take on the projects where my experience is valuable, and create the work environment where I am most productive sounded very enticing.

It was something I’d thought about for several years, which I’d considered and wanted. But I hadn’t felt ready. It wasn’t the right time before. Not that there’s ever really a right time. But there are certainly better and worse times.

At this moment in my life, this was a better time. October 2017 was pretty all right.

In fact, I discovered myself answering my question with another question: why not freelance?

I have the experience. I would have a learning curve and it would be difficult, especially at first. Financially and personally, this was the best moment of my life up until this point to try starting something of my own.

I felt the work I could do, the skills I develop more, the business knowledge that I would gather would be worth it to me. Like getting a practical, life experience MBA. Self-taught education or hands-on experience are two great ways to learn. It would be a hard path, but a possible one.

Why not consulting and freelancing?

I could think of plenty of reasons. What if I fail? What if I become destitute? What if I can’t find any clients? Or worse, what if I find terrible clients that stressed me out and didn’t pay well, or at all?

All the reasons that I came up with were based on fear and the unknown. None were reasons that were certain or guaranteed either.

But when you flip fear, it can also become thrilling. The unknown is full of possibilities, beyond what you imagine. What if I am good at this? What if this can tap into each of my skills? To blend my journalism, writing, customer service, and business experience into one cohesive bundle? What if this path offered the most options? What if I succeeded at it?

What if I chickened out and never tried forging my own career path? What if I miss this opportunity and regret it forever?

It’s high risk, but also high reward.

I know what I am capable of doing. This is a risk I’m willing to take.

Posted by shanmcf in Strategy, 0 comments

Knowing when to quit

By Shannon McFarland

Sitting in the classroom and watching the professor read directly from the textbook, I had a sense on the first day that I would not learn anything in this class. It was very unfortunate because it was a psychology class, a subject that I’ve always found interesting.

But I stayed in my seat. I didn’t walk out. I didn’t drop the class. Somehow my brain seems to circulate thoughts that I can make it through anything, I’m invincible, or simply that it is not that bad.

There are some things that you can stick through. But if you know something is likely to make you miserable or get worse, why would you stay?

Knowing when to call it quits is one of the great gifts of experience and retrospect. It might seem silly, but I wish I had walked out of that very first class. It wouldn’t be until years later when I would have the experience to know when something would be a waste of my time. It is still a weakness that I’m working on, my will to work through anything, even to my own detriment.

Learning when to say no, to quit and walk away, is something I understood during that first class.

Posted by shanmcf in Creativity, 0 comments

Building your habits for long-term success

By Shannon McFarland

The habits we have rule our lives, especially when we aren’t thinking about it. Eating, sleeping, hygiene, etc. All these many little actions.

The more I examine my own habits, the more that I discover little things I do that work well (or don’t!). Writing is one of the most intentional habits that I have, so it is an easy example of what works for me.

1. Build cues for the habit

This is pretty much habit building 101. For me and my writing habit, making a cup of tea and getting a small snack is all part of my routine. At this point, ten years down the road, these are cues to my brain that I am about to sit down and not get distracted while writing and working.

I’m usually drinking green tea and nibbling on dark chocolate. Both of these happen to be foods that influence dopamine too, the neurotransmitter that controls the “reward” and “pleasure” parts of your brain, which could very well help. But really, these snacks are out of habit too, they were often my “study snacks” when I was in college. The tea was because it was cheap (as a cash-strapped student, I stopped putting honey in my tea just because it cost more) and I could drink cup after cup without getting coffee jitters. The chocolate, because it tasted good and I could nibble at a square or two for an hour while I worked.

2. Listening to chill, instrumental background music.

Music and art have a proven impact on your brain. I used to listen to certain CDs on a loop, now it’s often a Spotify mood playlist that I get obsessed with.

Or even wearing my headphones without any music or sound whatsoever. Having the noise around me muffled slightly helps me block it out, focusing more deeply on my task at hand.

3. Make it into a winning streak

You can check it off on a calendar or just make a tick mark on a page. Those little things add up.

These days, I keep track of my daily writing by putting the date at the top of the page each day. I feel like giving myself a tiny pat on the back each day that I’m keeping up the habit streak. For 2017 I had one document, which I started adding to every day starting last September (averaging about one page per day). I started a new document for 2018, and with this month’s writing challenge, am publishing more here on my personal blog.

The simple act of tracking progress makes a big difference. Think about it like a person tracking sobriety, changing deeply ingrained habits. Each sober day or year feels like a bigger victory. You feel good every time you hit a milestone.

4. Pick something to look forward to afterward.

For me, it that can be many things. A good fiction book, social event, or anything outdoors. Rock climbing, skiing, hiking, whatever. Even just a good book. A positive incentive for wrapping up the task at hand.

5. Telling someone else what I am doing.

It is especially helpful for me to tell people about what I am doing. My fiance, friends, family, and colleagues are all very helpful check-points for me. Even a simple question about how this-or-that is going gives me a short moment to evaluate and verbalize. Am I stuck? Am I making progress?

Even sharing these thoughts on my blog helps keep me accountable. Publically stating that I would post every day of the month, even if no one else is really tracking, is just one more little tweak toward big things. Toward creating habits for long-term impact.

Posted by shanmcf in Creativity, 0 comments

When everything is new, searching for the constant

By Shannon McFarland

In a world where everything feels like it is in flux and change is constant, it is tough to feel like you can keep up.

In a field like marketing, there is massive upheaval, as more businesses are online and search for new ways to reach customers. Everything is different! There’s always new tools and updates that move the buttons! Voice search will take over! VR will be the next television! 5G! Blockchain!

The future and change are inevitable. You can expect that. You just can’t always guess what it will bring, when, and how.

Preparing for the future

It’s one of the ironies of the universe that looking to the past is one of the best ways to prepare for the future. Understanding where we have been, the stories behind us, give us particular insight to understand what is coming.

It’s something I love about reading books that are a few years old, or might seems outdated, or have survived as old classics. Even “obsolete” nonfiction is useful, putting into context the things that have changed. And also the things that have not.

Even in a field that feels like it is under massive turmoil like marketing, or totally new like virtual reality, there are things that do not change. Looking back to writers, storytellers, and advertisers of the shows how we got where we are.

Why are we attracted to the design of one object, but not another? Why do we want to go to the gym, but not go? Why do we crave entertainment? Why do we trust one candidate over another?

We may learn more about these areas, which changes our approach. But as a whole, people are slow to change. Our habits, fears, desires, and reactions change at an extremely slow pace.

Posted by shanmcf in Creativity, 0 comments

3 habits that changed my life

By Shannon McFarland

When I was about 13 years old, I made a few rules for myself that changed the trajectory of my life.

Let me set the scene: At social events, I would hunker down in a corner with a book and observe people, while I hid between the pages like it was a shield to protect me.

I was uncomfortably shy. I took books with me everywhere, including events and social activities. Besides the usual awkwardness of being a teen, I was homeschooled, which made me feel like an outsider at nearly extracurricular activity and club.

I might feel outgoing around people I knew closely, but even then usually just in small groups.   I wasn’t comfortable in conversations with people, especially group conversations.

But I realized that I didn’t want to be left out and hiding for my whole life. So I made a few rules for myself, which became habits, and eventually changed my life.

1. I was not allowed to bring books to social events.

No books. If I was somewhere with people, I needed to be present in the moment. To talk with people and interact.  I had to talk and participate. No hiding.

2. If I was having a conversation with someone, I had to make eye contact.

To make sure I was doing it, I made it into a game: if I could remember someone’s eye color after a conversation, I won. If I couldn’t remember their eye color, with certainty, I lost. I played this game in conversation for years. It impacted my conversational style so much, that I sometimes remind myself not to look people in the eye too much. I had someone once tell me that my deep soul-staring

3. If someone on a stage asked for a volunteer, I had to raise my hand.

Every time. No exceptions. Someone said “We need a volunteer!” and my hand went up. Speaker at a youth event, magic show, or whatever.

This had the hilarious and sometimes unfortunate effect of putting me on stages a lot. Often for tasks that were embarrassing and I did not want to be involved with at all. But I did this through all of high school.

It threw me into the deep end of the uncomfortable zone. But through constant exposure to being on stage, having people stare at me, and being frequently embarrassed all the time, it had the enormous benefit of making me much less shy. I even had fun. I learned everyone else had fun the times when I played up the activity and participated with gusto. Later, when it came to public speaking later in high school and college, when I had prepared for the event and probably a script, it felt like a breeze. At some point in my professional career, I was on television a few times — still incredibly uncomfortable, but I got through it easier.

The real reason that each of these little tricks worked, enough to change my life and be memorable fifteen years later, is that I committed to them. I made these rules for myself and stuck to it. They become habits, actions I took without thinking.

With consistency and persistence, there are many things you can change about yourself or the world around you.

Posted by shanmcf in Creativity, 0 comments

I hate marketing

Yes, I hate marketing. Yes, this is supposedly my field. That’s what I do, right? Why would I say I hate it?

Because there is a lot of marketing out there that is worth hating. We’ve all seen it. Especially online. It pops up on our screens, flashing, or wiggling to interrupt us and capture our attention. Or maybe worse, we hand over some money and discover we’re disappointed that whatever we bought does not live up to the marketing hype.

Let me cover the basics, two awful extremes that I’ve observed in marketing.

  1. Over-marketing. This is often marketing pushing a marginal or sub-par product, which wouldn’t sell well without such aggressive sales and marketing tactics. At it’s worst, it is intentionally manipulative and shady tactics.
  2. Under-marketing. This is the flip side — not marketing a good product well or at all, effectively hiding it while toiling away at a possibly great business not many people know about.

Pushy marketing: Spying, stalking, and harassing customers

Back to why I hate marketing.

The unfortunate thing is that companies using shady marketing tactics may get name recognition and make boatloads of money. People will even invest or buy from them, because they know the company name and assume it must be good. All those other people bought it, must be okay, right?

This marketing might also involve a bunch of hype and “white lies,” misleading customers to think it is groundbreaking or selling it to the wrong customers (who didn’t read the fine print about your product/service).

These companies can be tricky because they often believe their own hype. They wear the branded t-shirt and sound like a happy cheerleader. This kind of marketing might also involve an abundance of words like “growth hack” and “awesome.” The business might even resemble a cult.

Let’s take another example: the doublespeak online marketers use to describe the everlasting, third-party tracking cookies they leave on your browser as “listening” to the customer. By listening, what they really mean is eavesdropping, spying, and stalking you online.

This is the wrong way of listening to people.

Wishful marketing: Dreaming success will fall into your lap

These are the folks who build a good product or service, but don’t brag about it. They know their worth and can sell their stuff, if they believe it is the right fit. Customers will recommend them and new business will meander in the door. If it doesn’t seem like the right fit for the customer, these businesses might even recommend a solution someone else sells.

There are at least two reasons under-marketing happens: one is simply fear of putting yourself out there. What if the wrong people find you, weirdos, or even bad people? Or you irritate people? Won’t the haters come out of the woodwork? If you’re a very small business or personal brand, putting yourself out there (especially authentically, as you are) is scary. It can magnify the impact of imposter syndrome, feeling like someone will say you’re a fake. Suddenly it’s like you’re on a stage in front of an auditorium of people who are live-tweeting mean comments and shooting video with zoom lenses. Also, someone ripped your notes out of your hand.

The other reason for under-marketing is a result of not enough time and choice overload. You’re busy, marketing feels like a waste of time and money. Besides, there are a million companies out there hawking their sales and marketing solutions. Just having to wade into the hype, evaluate and choose among them sounds like torture.

Under-marketing a business can still lead to some success, sometimes a slow to moderate growth, or long plateau. But at it’s worst, it makes a good business look terrible. Failure to communicate as the silent death knell of a business.

And yet. Somewhere in the middle, in between aggressively pushing products and services at people, or wishing people will discover your business, there is a balance. A strategic line, hidden between the egregious examples of over-marketing and hidden failures to communicate.

Posted by shanmcf in Strategy, 0 comments

A terrible blog strategy you should probably avoid (but I’m doing anyway)

Publishing on your blog every single day is often a terrible content strategy. Even among prolific bloggers, it’s rare to find someone publishing every day. Daily fresh content is not for the faint of heart and there’s a number of reasons why.  Unless you have a ton of time, an endless well of ideas, or a team of writers/editors, then you should probably leave this tactic out of your marketing plan. Just off the top of my head, I came up with five reasons not to blog every day.

Despite several great reasons not to blog every day, I’ve made the public commitment to blog every single day in January. But first, let me try to convince you not to do this.

Why you should (probably) not blog every single day

  1. You don’t have enough time to post once a week (let alone every day). It sounds like a terrible chore. Maybe you hate writing. Don’t torture yourself.
  2. You haven’t come up with any ideas about what to post. You don’t know where to start when you’re facing a blank page.
  3. You don’t have time to properly edit and publish. You have a few people who might want to read and approve posts before you publish. There’s no way you could get all that done in one day.
  4. Plus, what if you rush it and say something stupid? What will people think if you put your thoughts out there? What if someone disagrees or says you aren’t credible?
  5. You have high standards and always push yourself to do great work… but you’re afraid you’ll fail. Or just burn yourself out.
  6. Your readers/audience/customers will just get annoyed. There’s no point in putting out tons of information that will get buried or overload people.

If even a few of those sound like your situation, do not attempt to blog every day. Not every circumstance makes sense for daily blogging. Unless you can work through these issues, it is not a good idea. For most companies (and my clients too), daily blogging is just a terrible strategy.

If you’re trying to get content on your blog consistently (the not-so-secret secret of all great bloggers), there are some fantastic resources out there. Developing an editorial calendar and keeping a consistent schedule is a foundational part of good content marketing. Diana Adams, the founder of Adams Consulting Group, wrote a straight-forward post about setting a consistent blogging schedule that you might want to check out.

But before you even think about a schedule, you’ll want to brainstorm some ideas and get clear on the core “why” underlying your strategy.

Why you should definitely blog every single day

This is my list, the reasons why I’m posting for every single day in January. It wasn’t a resolution in the typical sense and, well, I didn’t even think through all these reasons until today. These are reasons I felt in my gut. I made an impulse decision to jump-start my year and blogging by doing committing to posting every day.

  1. I’m a writer and crave time to write. I want to write every single day. In fact, I already have a successful writing habit and made the time ingrained in my days. I’m at the point when my habits even travel well.
  2. I have so many ideas that I just don’t know where to start. My worst problem when I face a blank page is picking which idea to start with and then sticking with it. I have to stop myself from voyaging into one topic, abandoning ship, and jumping aboard the next shiny boat that floats through my mind.
  3. I don’t need permission from anyone. I set my own schedule and work by myself (other than client meetings and such). There’s no one to approve my posts and Grammarly is my only editor for the moment. I have time to tack on publishing to my regular writing habit.
  4. I want to speak write in a real, unfiltered voice. I’m okay working through ideas in public and accepting feedback. I also want to work with people who are honest with me and will accept honest advice. That’s the basis of a good client/consultant relationship: if either the client or consultant are withholding information or refusing to listen, it just won’t work out. If anything, I’m trying to break out of people-pleasing thought patterns that hold me back. I don’t want to hide who I am.
  5. I’ve worked hard at “curing” myself of perfectionism. While I have high standards, I have also learned not to push beyond my limits, not to fear failure, and how to give myself a break. I’ve learned the hard way about pushing myself too far and burning out.
  6. I don’t care if people are reading my blog. In fact, I don’t really have many readers yet. At the moment (January 2018), I’m still at the beginning of my freelance/consulting career and can’t expect to have anything resembling an “audience.” I’m doing this for myself.

In general, I want to develop the voice and ideas on my blog. I want to follow my curiosity and keep myself from “overplanning.” I can fall into “choice overload” and overthinking patterns that are absolutely paralyzing. I want to kill my fears about putting my own ideas out into the world. To allow myself to be open and vulnerable.

It’s easier for me to do good work for someone else and clients because it’s not a direct reflection of myself and my thoughts. But when you’re writing your ideas, from the heart, or telling your own story, I find that is the most difficult thing.

Find what is right for you

There are also some notable examples of daily blogging, including Seth Godin. He built his brand on sharing simple, bite-size expertise on his blog — everyday observations and ideas. It’s worth noting that he doesn’t tag, categorize, keyword optimize, and add photos to every blog post. I don’t even know if he has a content calendar.

The strategy that works for one person or company, probably not work for the next. It’s one of the huge limitations of “best practices,” that if everyone just imitates each other, then everyone is just the same. Being unique, customizing your content and schedule for your goals, and staying true to your “why” for being in business… that’s a better strategy.

Posted by shanmcf in Creativity, 0 comments

Habits that travel

View from the hot tub at Sunday River, ME

By Shannon McFarland

Little habits can change your life. I’ve been a writer for the last decade. Even then, there were a few years when writing was not a primary part of my daily job. When I did write, it was inconsistently and for my eyes only.

In the last year, I set a goal to start writing. Every single day. The kind of writing didn’t matter: fiction or nonfiction, rambling thoughts or deeply working through a chosen subject. I didn’t have anything in particular in mind. My intention was to just to develop the habit.

I’ve written on a daily deadline before, as well as completed a 50,000 word first draft of a work of fiction for Nanowrimo, so it’s really just a habit that needed resurrecting. Once you’ve developed a habit, it’s much easier to fall back into the routine.

In times of change

Having ingrained habits also helps me when I leave my regular circumstances. Some habits can travel with me! Which is wonderful, being able to maintain a habit in times of change. It’s also important if it’s a habit you want to keep because a break in your routine — travel, holidays, really any life event — can upend everything.

Like this weekend, when I’m away for a ski weekend in Maine. Although for today at least, “skiing” was the intention and not the reality. The lifts got shut down by severe wind and cold, as a result of Winter Storm Grayson. While the blizzard hit Boston hard, we’re lucky that it was just a lot of snow in our Somerville neighborhood. No flooding for us.

We shoveled ourselves out, packed up, and tried to hit the slopes. But it was not to be! We will try again tomorrow. The forecast says less wind and temperatures above zero at least. At the base of the mountain, the thermometers said 8 below zero F today and we can hear gusts of wind outside ramming against the lodge.

While I knew there would be days this month when I would have less time, and not write any brilliant strings of words, that is okay. My goal this month is to write and publish every day, even it’s a short little post.

In the meantime, we get a cozy day indoors, just relaxing with friends. Time for me to write. Also, time for hanging in the hot tub.

Published Jan. 6, 2018

Posted by shanmcf in Creativity, 0 comments

Is your blog neglected? Start with brainstorming ideas

By Shannon McFarland

You have a blog, but you haven’t updated it in months. Or even a year.

This is not unusual. When I say that I’m a writer and content manager for clients’ blogs, I frequently meet people who tell me about their company blog. And often, the lack of active blogging. Many company websites have a blog, news, or “updates” page that is rarely updated.

Updating a blog or website regularly is tough. It’s common to start, then get bogged down by the grind of keeping up with fresh content. But it’s not impossible!

Barriers to blogging: Choosing a topic

There’s a number of barriers that might keep you from keeping your blog updated. You don’t have enough time, that’s very common (and why people outsource blog writing and management). Let’s say you’ve made the time: now you have a new problem. What should you post?

This is a sneaky problem because you probably have tons of ideas. I’ve definitely caught myself thinking, “Oh, I need to get that in a blog post!” But then when you sit down to make a new post, you’re overcome with the burden of choosing your topic. You’re looking at the blank page thinking about all the possibilities, overcome by the task of picking the right one. You can actually have writer’s block from having too many ideas (or from having no ideas).

Psychologists call this “choice overload.” We feel it in the grocery store when there are too many jars of jam for us to choose between. We give up and leave the store without any jam.

For a blog, this choice overload can be lethal. It kills your blog before you’ve even started.

Start with brainstorming

Don’t sit down with a blank page, expecting you’ll remember that brilliant topic. In my experience, it is exactly the opposite. When you sit down with a white, empty page, it’s like you’ve been shoved up on stage and told to say something genius.

Everything thought you’ve had even approaching genius probably disappears with a “poof.”

The trick is to start with a blank page (I like to use pen and sheet of notebook paper) and make a long list of ideas. Brainstorm, asking yourself a few key questions.

Get all the options, choices, and topics you can think of on paper. Then you can circle the best ones. Prioritize, which of these topics would be good to start with? Which of these branch off of each other and would naturally come later?

Try a mind map

An alternative to your basic list, which can be extremely helpful for blogging, is to organize your topics as a mind map. Write out the main categories (generally these should align with the categories you choose for your blog) and branch out with sub-categories and topics for posts from there.

A mind map helps keep your blog ideas on track, creating an over-arching umbrella category that ties together the smaller pieces in each post. This keeps your blog cohesive, allowing the ideas to build on each other and get deeper into each subject. It can also help you prioritize subjects from the start.

Even if you started with a simple list, you might want to shift that, organizing those topics into a mind map to help you figure out your larger categories.

Darren Rowse, the founder of ProBlogger, has an excellent breakdown of using mind maps for generating blog ideas. One way that Rowse uses mind maps is to find ideas that branch out from his existing posts. This can be especially useful for creating a series of posts.

Beyond using a mind map to generate ideas, you might also find mind maps can serve as a source of content for a complex topic too. Rowse says in his podcast episode on mind maps that people have shared his map on ways to make money blogging tens of thousands of times on the internet.

Ask for help

A list or mind map can be simple do-it-yourself tactics, but sometimes having someone listen to your ideas and bounce them back and forth can be helpful. If you’re working on a team, you might have someone that you would naturally work with to generate new ideas. You might also consider enlisting a professional like myself, a consultant who can guide you through generating and choosing the right content for your blog. This can help you work on your own schedule while having an expert making sure your website gets updated regularly.

Otherwise, you might have a friend or colleague you can ask to help. Someone willing to listen and simply nod their head can be surprisingly helpful!

What about you? What’s your biggest barrier to keeping your website content or blog updated?

Posted by shanmcf in Creativity, 0 comments
Schedule your free consultationPick a time