business & technology for wedding and lifestyle pros

So You Think You Want To Blog?


As small business owners, entrepreneurs, or hobbyists, if you are considering adding a blog to your business the first question that you should ask yourself is:

“Why am I blogging and what do I hope to gain?”

Read This Before You Start a Blog

Bloggers are:

  • Writers
  • Developers
  • Librarians
  • Social media managers
  • Intellectual property experts
  • Editors
  • Graphic designers
  • Advertising execs
  • Marketing gurus

Blogging offers lots of amazing rewards but comes with a great deal of responsibility, and each time you put a post, a tweet, or an email out into the blogiverse you are representing yourself or your business… that’s a lot of pressure!

Sit down to think for a moment about the blog you hope to create, the audience you want to reach, and the true reason you want to start a blog.  Make a pro/con list.  Consult your business plan.  Read other people’s blogs to get an idea of the audience you may want to reach and the network you want to join.  Then ask yourself…

“Am I qualified to blog about _____?”

Whatever your chosen topic, you should be a subject matter expert in that field.  Your field may be yourself.  It may be your business.  It may be your own taste.  Clearly you are an expert in all of those!  But let’s say you want to start a blog about gardening.  What can you add to the gardening blog industry?  Do you personally garden?  What do you know about growing specific plants, vegetables, or flowers?  Are you prepared to answer questions from readers and advise them on making their garden grow?  If the answer to these questions is no, stop here.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and do not start a gardening blog.  But if you’re a bona fide gardening pro, then the last and most important question is…

“Do I have time for this?”

For many of us, blogging is a full-time job (on top of our full-time job).  It’s a huge commitment.  You must take the time to realistically assess whether or not you will have the time and energy to devote to your site.

If you’re a brave soul and are ready to jump in feet first, I’m going to be doing a series of posts to help you get started building your WordPress blog. I remember vividly how it feels to be brand-new to the blog world and tackle the setup of a website, so we will go back to basics, answer all of your burning questions, and you will be blogging in no time.

If you’re on the fence, well, that’s OK, too.  Starting a blog is not a decision to be made lightly, and we’ll have much more discussion on the realities and benefits of blogging, and why it may or may not be for you.

For all of you experienced bloggers reading, what other factors should those who are thinking about creating a blog take under consideration?

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You Need a Test Site


Big red flashing word of warning!

Be super-careful when you are following these instructions and be very sure not to edit the web server or database for your actual website!  Always be sure that you have backed up your database and web server before doing this, just in case.

You need a test site.

Creating a WordPress Test Site

Photo: © Studio Firma / Stocksy

So how do you set up a test site for your WordPress blog?  First, purchase a separate domain name (anything works) and set it up for hosting.  Then, take the following steps to copy your production site (the techie term for your user-visited website) to your test site.

If you are using VaultPress, you can use their automated restore to a new site feature. However, if you have a large number of uploads, the restore will take a bit of time.

Let’s say your production site is www.mycookingsite.com/blog and your test site is www.mytestsite.com/blog.

Step 1: Copy your web server
  1. FTP the following files and folders from www.mycookingsite.com/blog/ to your computer or hard drive Note that I’m ignoring your wp-content/uploads folder, as there is really no need to upload your image library):
    • wp-admin
    • wp-content/themes
    • wp-content/plugins
    • wp-content/upgrade
    • wp-content/index.php
    • wp-includes
  2. On your computer or hard drive, delete the plugin folder for Jetpack if you have it enabled.  This is to insure that you do not confuse the WordPress stat engine when you create your test site.
  3. FTP all of the individual files that are at the same level as the wp-admin, wp-content, and wp-includes folder to your computer or hard drive.
  4. FTP all of the files from your computer or hard drive into www.mytestsite.com/blog/.

You’ve now made a copy of everything on your web server except your images (no need to have these on your test site).

Step 2: Copy your database

If you are using VaultPress:

  1. Navigate to your Backups.
  2. View your most recent backup.
  3. Click the Download button and select only the Database.
  4. Prepare backup and wait for VaultPress to email you with the link to your backup.
  5. You will receive a gzip file containing your database tables.

Non-VaultPress Option:

  1. Download the nifty WordPress Database Backup plugin.
  2. Go to Tools » Backup and run a backup of your entire database.

Step 3: Import your database

  1. Create a new SQL database through your web hosting company.
  2. Through your web hosting company, there should be a service called phpMyAdmin.  Log into phpMyAdmin using the username and password for your database.
  3. Select your newly-created database in phpMyAdmin and click on the “Import” tab.
  4. Browse for your backup file, be sure that the format selected is “SQL”, and click Go.
Step 4: Update your test database’s WordPress options
  1. In phpMyAdmin, click on your test database, and the table wp_options (or wp_xxxxxx_options).  BE SURE YOU ARE IN YOUR TEST DATABASE.
  2. Find the option name “siteurl”.
  3. Click the pencil on the siteurl line to edit the information.
  4. Change the siteurl to your test site.
Step 5: Update your wp-config file
  1. In FTP, navigate to the root of your TEST WordPress installation.  In our example this would be www.mytestsite.com/blog.
  2. Open the file called wp-config.php
  3. Change the values for DB_NAME, DB_USER, and DB_PASSWORD to your test database information.
Step 6: Validate
  1. Visit www.mytestsite.com/blog/wp-admin and log into your test site.  You will log in with the same username and password as your production site.
  2. Verify that your test site is visible at www.mytestsite.com/blog.

Voila!  A perfect copy of your blog.  Use your test site to edit your theme, install new plugins to play with, develop new functionality, test upgrades of WordPress or plugins, etc before applying the changes in production.

A few notes:

  • If you aren’t on WordPress, but instead have an HTML website, you should still have a test site.  Simply FTP the files from your web server to your computer, and then FTP back up to your new domain.
  • Your web hosting provider should also allow you to easily password-protect your test site’s domain.
  • You should also read the WordPress Codex articles about Restoring Your Database From Backup and phpMyAdmin.

Edited To Add: See comments below for some reasons why you need a test site – this can include changes to your WP theme, or testing out plugins and new functionality, and creating new page templates – and also a shortcut method that doesn’t involve a whole backup of your production site.

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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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Images In Blog Posts: The Technical Side


We’ve talked about the legalities and etiquette of images in your blog posts.  Today, let’s chat about some of the tech tips for blog images.

Tech Tips for Images in Blog Posts

Size matters

High resolution images are a no-no.  Not only will it kill the speed of your site to host high resolution images, but it’s also bad blogging etiquette. Use WordPress’s built-in Media resizing functionality to help you out with resizing.  Under Settings -> Media you can supply a thumbnail size, a medium size (I use this for vertical images) and a large size (horizontal).  As you upload photos, WordPress will automatically create copies of the image resized to each of your specified dimensions.

Because most people are viewing your site on a widescreen monitor, portrait/vertical photos should be sized to about half of the width of landscape/horizontal photos.  This will help to keep the file sizes smaller, as well as keep each image within the viewable area of everyone’s screen.  For aesthetic reasons, this is why many blogs choose to “pair up” verticals in their posts.

What’s in a name?

A lot actually.  Search engines can’t “see” images, they simply recognize the caption (aka alt text), title, and image name and read those to index the image.  Name your images something descriptive and WordPress will automatically fill in the alt text with your image name.

When deciding on a file name, put yourself in the shoes of the searcher. “Juli and Jon Wedding.jpg” likely won’t produce any search hits. But “Yellow Sunflower Bouquet.jpg” might. Your alt text will also become your default Pinterest text when a reader pins an image from your site, so choose wisely!

A helpful hint

Using a Content Delivery Network (“CDN”) helps to speed up the delivery of images. A CDN makes copies of your images (along with stylesheets, javascript files, and the like) and places them on their servers worldwide. This way, your visitors are served up a file from the location closest to them. Cloudflare is a great choice for starting out with a CDN, as they have a free plan. WordPress’ Jetpack plugin also includes the option to use their Photon service.

In future posts, we’ll cover more advanced WordPress image issues, such as custom fields for image photography credits, media tagging, and the like. What other image tips and tricks do you have to share?

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What The Bachelor Teaches Us About Business


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”…

Business-Lessons-from-The-Bachelor

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?

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