business & technology for wedding and lifestyle pros

What Makes You You?


We all work or blog in industries that require a unique perspective in order to succeed. We don’t produce commodity products. Instead, we work with clients who want a fresh and informed opinion or idea.

Due to the speed of information movement in today’s society and the low barriers to entry in many industries, competition is increasing at exponential rates.  If you create a product, that product will be copied.  If you have a wonderful blog that enjoys success, it will inspire others to blog and connect in that circle.  If you are a graphic designer, individuals with access to the same tools and technology will use your ideas.  What are you putting out there to make sure people choose you?

What makes you You?

There’s an economic principle called competitive advantage, which says that firms that succeed have some form of advantage over their competition—an ability to add more value, therefore bringing in and retaining more customers (or more readers, if you are blogging).  One of the keys to success in business is to find your competitive advantage early and exploit it.

What is your competitive advantage?

You may have a faster product assembly or access to better materials.  Or perhaps it’s more intangible than that – relationships that you have cultivated or a creative spin on an idea that you’re able to take to market with great speed.

What is your competitive advantage?  How are you exploiting it for your business?  Can it be replicated?

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The Midas Whale


Several seasons ago, there was a duo on the Voice by the name of Midas Whale. Legend has it, one member of the duo asked the other if he wanted to form a band, and he replied “Might as well”, and thus the name was born. From then on, in the office, each decision we made because we “might as well” was referred to as a Midas Whale.

The Midas Whale

Photo: © Dreams by the Sea / Etsy

Over time, I’ve come to the realization that though he may originally appear cute and harmless, the Midas Whale is a dangerous predator. It’s so easy to follow the Midas Whale that the best alternative may be left by the wayside.

Perhaps:

  • You’re going down the path of least resistance.
  • You might not truly want to take the route, but you can’t think of a reason not to.
  • Your first choice wasn’t available, so this is the next best thing.
  • Other people are doing it, so you think you should as well.

Before following the Midas Whale, ask yourself:

  • Is there another course of action with a higher potential upside?
  • Am I doing this because it’s easy, or because it’s best?
  • What do my instincts say about the choice?
  • Am I swimming with the current (pardon the pun) or simply being carried along?

Have you followed a Midas Whale? How did you feel about your decision?

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Basics of a WordPress Theme


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.

Basics of WordPress Theme

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.

English, please?

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:

<article>
     <header class="entry-header">
          <?php the_title(); ?>
     </header>

     <div class="entry-content">
          <?php the_content(); ?>
     </div>
</article>

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; ?>
</main>
</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?

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Google Analytics Advanced Segments


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.

Google Analytics Advanced Segments

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.

Google Analytics Advanced Segment Tutorial

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.

Tutorial on Google Analytics Advanced Segments

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.

Using Advanced Segments

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?

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What Figure Skating Teaches Us About Business


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.

Business Lessons from Figure Skating

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.

Domnina and Shabalin OlympicsDomnina Shablin Olympics

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?

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