I am a huge believer in the fact that there are learning opportunities to be found in all aspects of everyday life. So to pay homage to my past career on the ice, today we’re going to take a closer look at the sport of figure skating, and the lessons that we can learn by paying close attention and listening to the swish of the blades.
Lesson 1: Determination and perseverance pay off
By far the most heartwarming figure skating story of the Vancouver Olympics was that of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao. Married since 2007, Shen and Zhao returned from retirement to compete in their fourth Olympics at the ages of 31 and 36 (unheard of for modern figure skating). They broke through to win the Olympic gold medal.
From Xue and Hongbo, we learn that things get better with time. The couple had been skating together since 1992, but only fell in love in the last few years of their partnership, and only reached Olympic gold in 2010, after eighteen years of working towards their goal.
While hopefully it won’t take you eighteen years to reach your business goals, it’s important to know that you will continue to grow and define yourself over time. Your business and your industry will evolve and you must be willing to stick with it, work hard and work smart, and trust that the solid foundation you lay will help catapult you to success when the time is right.
Lesson 2: Healthy competition only makes you better
What do the ice dancing teams of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have in common? It used to be their coaches – Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband. Then Belbin and Agosto left Michigan and began training with Linichuk and Karponosov. Only two of these couples went on to become Olympic champions.
So why did the teams of Virtue and Moir and Davis and White (who are good friends in addition to being training partners) rise to success so quickly and ascend to the highest level in their sport? Aside from their phenomenal talent, the fact is that training together pushed them to raise their game each and every day.
Although competition might seem scary at first, it’s something you should welcome. It will raise the stakes, but that is what allows you to challenge yourself and become even better tomorrow than you were yesterday.
Lesson 3: How you handle controversy defines you
It wouldn’t be an Olympics without a figure skating controversy and Vancouver was no different. Evan Lysacek and Evgeny Plushenko were 1-2 after the short program, with the slimmest of margins separating them. In the free skate, Evan’s all around skating skills were enough to vault him to the gold medal, and Plushenko settled for silver.
The battle didn’t end on the ice. And while we won’t debate the ins and outs of the code of points here (suffice it to say that I think they both have nuggets of truth in their arguments), what we can take away from this experience is that your poise and grace under pressure – your ability to handle controversy – can define you in business.
- Do you crack under stress?
- Do you write or speak without thinking?
- How do you respond when someone lashes out at you?
As a small business, you are your own public relations, so be cognizant of your actions and their impact on your image, and on your business results.
Lesson 4: Costumes can make all of the difference
Notice, if you will, the difference between the costume on the left and the costume on the right.
Same couple, my friends.
So what can we learn from Domnina and Shabalin? Well, it’s simple. No matter how great your skills are, branding is important.
- How do you differentiate yourself?
- Is your website design consistent and pleasing to the eye?
- Do others see you as you want to be seen?
Your design, and not your talent, is the first thing that someone sees when they visit your website. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
So there you have it, four lessons that figure skating can teach us about business. What other life and business lessons can you find from my favorite sport?
Some of the most common questions people encounter as they begin blogging revolve around images: how to credit them, what the copyright regulations are, and general, proper blog image etiquette.
Images and the Fair Use Doctrine
First up, the legalities: images are copyright to the photographer. Unless you are the photographer, you have received permission from the photographer, or they have licensed their work for creative commons, you are using any images you post under the US government’s doctrine of “fair use”.
You should read this short page for the complete information about fair use but to paraphrase, there are four factors at play:
- The purpose and character of the use (commercial? non-profit?)
- The nature of the work itself
- The amount used of the work as a whole
- The effect of your use upon the market value of the work
As you can see on the copyright office’s page, the entire fair use area is gray. Here are a few things that are absolutes:
- Getting approval from the owner means you are in the clear to use the image.
- A creative commons license (which many bloggers who take their own photos provide in the terms and conditions of their site) means you are clear to use the image.
- If the owner of an image asks you to take it down, take it down. Period.
- You should ALWAYS credit the owner/photographer. Even if you have permission. Even if it’s creative commons. Unless it’s your image, or a stock image that does not require crediting (aka “attribution”), this rule should be followed 100% of the time. For example, the image above is a no attribution required stock image.
- Pinterest is never the source of an image. I repeat – your image credit should never be to Pinterest. There is a photographer/blogger behind that pin who brought the amazing content to light.
Tips for Bloggers
If you are a blogger yourself, it is a great idea to have a policies or terms page on your site, telling your readers whether or not they are free to use the photos (and content) that you have posted and in what manner.
When you post images that you do not own, I think it bears repeating that you should always credit the photographer. If you found the image on a blog other than the photographer’s, you should also credit the source of the information and any sources that they have named. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice and give credit where credit is due!
Bloggers and photographers, do you have tips to share on image etiquette or guidelines for usage?
Let’s face it, a lot of us are fans of horrible reality TV, including The Bachelor. But we if dive in a little closer, we can see that we can actually learn something from the “journey”…
Photo: © ABC
Lesson 1: Not everyone is your soul mate
The Bachelor has 25 amazing women to choose from. Of course, his connection will be stronger with some than with others.
So how does this translate?
- Not every client is your client.
- Not every potential sponsor is right for you.
- Not every guest blogger fits your aesthetic.
- Not every blog/website/magazine/etc is a good fit for your advertising needs.
It took me a long time to come to terms with this. It’s hard to feel comfortable with saying no! But in the long run, it’s in your best interest to know your business or your blog well enough to make an informed decision about who you should work with and where best to spend your time and money.
Lesson 2: The popular choice isn’t always the right choice
Remember Bachelor Jake? Polls showed that most viewers wanted him to choose Tenley, but he followed his heart instead and proposed to Vienna.
There will inevitably be a time where you have to choose a path for your business. Perhaps it’s a price increase, a geographic move, or a new product you want to introduce. Your decisions won’t always be popular among the masses, and that’s OK. If you have evaluated and determined your course of action – stick to your gut and believe in yourself, because what’s right in everyone else’s eyes isn’t always the right choice for you.
Lesson 3: Sometimes you just have to let go
Megan left Chris’s season of The Bachelor when she knew the “spark” wasn’t there.
One of the most difficult problems faced in business is when to let go – of an idea, of an employee, of a product line, etc. There is no right answer. It’s of course different in each situation, but the key is learning to recognize when it’s time to cut the cord, and when you make the decision, confront the problem directly, make an action plan, and follow through.
Lesson 4: First impressions are important
On episode 1 of Ben’s season of The Bachelor, the all-important initial first-impression rose went to Lindzi, who was also one of the final two ladies.
We all know the old saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. It’s cliche, but it’s true. Most first impressions are now made online, when someone is researching service providers or reading past reviews of products. Potential customers or clients may find your Twitter feed, personal blog, Facebook page, and of course your website.
- How do you present yourself online?
- How does your website/blog reflect on your business?
- Is the branding consistent with your intended message?
- Is what they see representative of what they get?
Lesson 5: It’s OK to admit you were wrong
Even if you aren’t a fan of The Bachelor, you may remember the absolutely wild After the Final Rose where Jason broke up with the winner, Melissa, only to ask Molly to date him again. Jason and Molly have now been married for 5 years and have a daughter, while Melissa married a former boyfriend and has two children.
It’s inevitable that we will all make bad decisions. Handling success is easy, but handling failure and accepting our bad outcomes is so much more important, in life and in business. It’s OK to make bad calls, to admit you were wrong, and to try, try again.
Of course, there are many other life lessons we can learn from The Bachelor, most of which are quite obvious to non-reality-TV contestants! What have you learned from watching The Bachelor?
I’m sure most if not all of you know about the awesome tool that is Google Analytics. It’s free, there are multiple wonderful plugins to integrate it with WordPress (I use Yoast’s plugin), and when used correctly, you can track all kinds of interactions with your website.
One of the easy features to implement is the Advanced Segment feature. Advanced Segments require no updates to the Analytics code on your site, only a little bit of configuration within Google Analytics. I use Advanced Segments for a variety of things, but one important use is to track how readers from a specific referring source interact with your website.
Creating an Advanced Segment
Let’s say I want to see how readers from Pinterest interact with my website. First, log in to Google Analytics and access your website profile. Click on Add Segment.
Click the red New Segment button and give your segment a name. We’ll call ours “Pinterest Visits”. Select Traffic Sources. In the Source field, leave the condition as “contains” and in the value field type pinterest.com. Click save.
Now, navigate back to your Google Analytics dashboard. Click on the Add Segment button again. Search for pinterest, find your recently added segment, and click apply.
Your Dashboard will now show you how “All Sessions” and “Pinterest Visits” stack up to each other!
Analyzing Data with Advanced Segments
Now to take it even further, let’s say you sell a product and have a checkout page on your site. If people successfully check out, they are taken to a “thank you” page. That thank you page represents your sales conversion page. With Advanced Segments you can now see how many visitors from Pinterest are converting into sales.
Navigate to Behavior » Site Content » All Pages. In the search field, type /thank-you/ (or the slug of your order success page) and click the magnifying glass. Voila! Data showing you how many sales conversations you received from Pinterest visitors.
Of course, this is also useful for other page views, such as how many visitors are viewing your contact page, and other referring sources, such as external advertising you might purchase. Coming soon, we will talk about Google Analytics Event Tracking and how to combine Event Tracking with Advanced Segments, which is where the real fun comes in!
So have I inspired you to try out Advanced Segments? How will you apply them to your site analytics?
Now that you have installed WordPress and know how to install WordPress plugins, it’s time to learn the basics of a WordPress theme! Themes hold the files that tell the browser what to display and how it should look. If you remember from this post, PHP gets turned into HTML and that tells the browser what to display. In coding language PHP = “get”. CSS tells the browser how the html you have coded should look.
Photo: © Studio Firma / Stocksy
WordPress comes pre-installed with three themes, including the latest default theme, Twenty Fifteen. Let’s take a look at the files in the Twenty Fifteen theme and see what they do. Don’t worry if all of this is very confusing now!
PHP files control what is displayed
index.php – Displays your main blog page. Includes PHP calls for all of the files that control how your main blog page is displayed. Includes code for your main blog pagination.
header.php – The header file essentially sets up the page and includes PHP calls to “get” the CSS files for the theme, the blog information and title from your WordPress options, and your header image. It also calls WordPress itself from your server and includes the opening html for the body of your page. There can be much more included in here (and we’ll get to that when we talk about more complex coding).
footer.php – “Closes” your page in the browser. Calls the WordPress footer. Also typically includes any credits, copyright info, etc that you want to display.
single.php – Displays a single post. Includes PHP calls for all of the other page elements that you display on a single post type. The post type’s content is called in content-[POST-TYPE].php.
content.php – Displays the content of a WordPress post with the “standard” post format, including its title and body. The author bio is called in author-bio.php.
author-bio.php – Displays information about the post’s author. Pulls from the WordPress user information fields.
content-link.php – Displays the content of a WordPress post with a “link” post format, including its title and body.
content-none.php – This file is called when a user performs an action where no results are found, including searches with no results.
page.php – Displays the framework for a WordPress page and includes PHP calls for all of the other page elements that you want to display on that WordPress page. This file usually looks a lot like single.php, but typically does not include a call to the comments template. The page content is called in content-page.php.
content-page.php – Displays the content of a WordPress page, including its title and body.
comments.php – Displays and formats the comments for a post. This file is typically only called from single.php.
archive.php – Displays category, tag, taxonomy, and date archives. Includes PHP calls for all of the other page elements that you display on your archive page.
404.php – If someone is searching for something on your site and goes to a permalink that doesn’t exist, they will see this 404 page. Includes PHP calls for all of the other page elements that you display on your 404 page.
functions.php – A super-important file that you don’t want to edit until you know what you’re doing. functions.php basically performs like a plugin, and any PHP code in this file will be executed when you call the function from your other template files.
image.php – Displays a single image attachment and includes PHP calls for all of the other page elements that you display on a single image.
search.php – Displays the framework for search results and includes PHP calls for all of the other page elements that you want to display on the search results. Typically looks quite a bit like archive.php. The search results content is called in content-search.php.
content-search.php – Displays the content of a WordPress post when it appears in search results, including its title and body.
sidebar.php – Displays the sidebar widgets that you have defined; if no widgets are defined, displays a default sidebar.
back-compat.php – Contains functions to help with the theme running on WordPress versions before 4.1.
customizer.php – Contains the functionality that allows for customizations to the Twenty Fifteen theme (under Appearance » Customize).
custom-header.php – Contains the functionality that allows for a custom header in the Twenty Fifteen theme (under Appearance » Header).
CSS files control how things look
style.css – a theme’s stylesheet is where the CSS for a theme is held. Themes can have one or many stylesheets. CSS is pretty complicated, so for right now know that each little section of CSS is called a selector, and selectors control how whatever is inside them is displayed.
rtl.css – If you are publishing in a language that reads right to left, this stylesheet will be used.
Let’s look at an example and maybe this will start to make more sense. Remember single.php? It’s the file that displays your single post page. We’ll use a common single.php format, with the content on the left and sidebar on the right.
single.php is going to start by doing a PHP call for header.php. Remember, the header.php has already called in all of your stylesheets and WordPress itself.
<?php get_header(); ?>
Each section of your page is styled using CSS selectors inside either <div> or <span> tags. Think of a <div> tag as a section of your page and a <span> tag as a portion of a section. Div tags (“divs”) can either be IDs (noted with a #) or classes (noted with a .). IDs are meant to be used once on a page, while classes are intended for items to used multiple times. Divs are opened with <div> and closed with </div>. The header.php file probably had several divs to display your header image, menu bar, etc. In single.php the main content area of your page is also enclosed in a div tag. Let’s call it “primary”. When you include a div or span tag in your php file, WordPress will look in your stylesheet for the div or span tag name and display the results using the CSS selectors assigned to that tag. Because we are calling a single post, the class of this primary div will be “content-area”. We’ll also tell the browser that this is the main content area.
<div id="primary" class="content-area">
<main id="main" class="site-main" role="main">
The template is then going to ask the WordPress database for the data from the post itself. This portion is referred to as “starting the loop”.
<?php while (have_posts()) : the_post(); ?>
Once it knows what the post is, the theme calls the appropriate content template file for the post’s format.
<?php get_template_part( 'content', get_post_format() ); ?>
If the post has no post format (let’s say it’s just a standard blog post), it will look to the file content.php. content.php lets the browser know that this is an article, with both header and content sections. The WordPress function the_title(); calls the post title and the WordPress function the_content(); calls the post content. To simplify:
<?php the_title(); ?>
<?php the_content(); ?>
That’s pretty much it for content.php. Once content.php has finished its display, we return to single.php. single.php would next typically include a call to your comments.php file.
<?php comments_template(); ?>
Now we’ve “looped” through a complete post, so we’ll tell WordPress we are done.
<?php endwhile; ?>
</div><!-- closes .content-area #primary -->
Lastly, we’ll call the sidebar and the footer. Remember, the footer closes the page, so after the footer is called, single.php has done its job.
<?php get_sidebar(); ?>
<?php get_footer(); ?>
This is a lot to wrap your arms around, I know! But I hope it’s starting to make some sense, because we’re going to be talking a lot more about themes as we start to edit each of the theme files, make new theme files, and add in awesome new functionality!
Any questions so far?