business & technology for wedding and lifestyle pros

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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How To Install WordPress Plugins


Now that you’ve installed WordPress, it’s time to perk up the plain vanilla functionality by learning how to install WordPress plugins!

How to Install WordPress Plugins

What’s a Plugin?

For those of you who are just getting to know WordPress, a plugin is a piece of code that you install and activate. Plugins can be complex or simple, and they either add functionality to WordPress or change existing WordPress behavior.  Some plugins have settings that you change based upon how you want them to perform.  Some have CSS files (remember CSS?) that style their results.  Others require you to edit something in your theme.

The WordPress site has a comprehensive list of every plugin available.  From here, you can search for the functionality you’re looking for and see reviews of the plugins, number of downloads, installation notes, etc.  Chances are, if you want to do it, there is a plugin for it.

We’ll start by installing a plugin that saves some real estate on your WordPress dashboard, the Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu plugin.  By default, the WordPress dashboard menu is on your left.

WordPress Default Dashboard

When you install and activate Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu, the menu moves to the top, eliminating the need for lots of vertical scrolling.

WordPress Dashboard with Ozh Admin Plugin

There are two ways to install a plugin, through your WordPress dashboard, or through FTP.

How to install a plugin through your WordPress dashboard
  1. Navigate to Plugins » Add New
  2. In the search field, type in the plugin you want to install, in this case we’ll search for “Ozh Admin”
  3. When the search results appear, locate the plugin and click “Install Now”
  4. Click “Activate Plugin”

If you have a zipped file of your plugin, you can also install it through the WordPress dashboard.

  1. Navigate to Plugins » Add New
  2. Click “Upload Plugin”
  3. Choose your zipped file.
  4. Click “Install Now”
  5. Click “Activate Plugin”
How to install a plugin using FTP

By now, you know that I love FTP and use the Core FTP client (if you need a refresher on FTP, read this post).  To install a plugin using FTP:

  1. Download the plugin that you want to install from the WordPress plugin repository
  2. Unzip it to a folder on your computer
  3. Sign into Core FTP, or your chosen tool
  4. Navigate to www.yoursite.com/wp-content/plugins
  5. FTP the plugin folder from your computer to your server
  6. In your WordPress dashboard, navigate to Plugins » Installed Plugins » Inactive and activate your new plugin

Warning. Plugins are addictive!  However, too many plugins can slow down your site dramatically, so as amazing as they are, be judicious with their use. Coming soon, an article with my must-have plugins. Which are your favorites?

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What Las Vegas Teaches Us About Business


Ah, the land of smoke and slot machines. Las Vegas is an interesting case study, economically. Hotels are luxurious and relatively inexpensive, yet restaurants and shows are exorbitant. The casinos will give you free drinks, even at the penny slots, but a cab down the road is $20. So what can we learn from Las Vegas about how to run our business?

What Las Vegas Teaches Us About Business

Lesson 1: Get them addicted and they’ll keep coming back

Whatever it is that you’d like people to consume, you want to find a hook—something that keeps them coming back for more. Is it your amazing photography? The unique and creative product that you are selling? Your sparkling wit and dazzling intelligence?

How are you drawing people in to your blog or business website? What are you doing to keep them there? Are you:

  • Putting out good products or information on a consistent basis?
  • Creating “sticky” content? As people find your site, do you lead them through to other content by using related post functionality or backlinks to other content?
  • Providing something that gives them immediate gratification? For example, if someone reaches your website through a google search for “Seattle wedding photography”, are Seattle weddings what they see when they get there?
  • Showing them who you are, what you do, and how to get in touch with you through easy to find links?
Lesson 2: Give something away for free and they will stick around

Casinos have this one down, don’t they? Not only does the free liquor make people feel as if they are receiving some sort of value for their time and money, but it impairs their judgement. We’ll skip the fuzzy memories and the “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” attitude and focus on the giving piece of the equation.

  • Customers are more likely to buy your product if they have seen tangible proof that your work is fabulous.
  • People are more likely to pay for supplementary content if your free content rocks (think e-books, magazines, etc).
  • Give people something of value to them, whatever that something is (a discount, a sample pack, a great shopping bag — hello, lululemon!) and they are far more likely to purchase from you in the future.
Lesson 3: Objects may be further away than they appear

Anyone who’s ever walked between casinos in Las Vegas knows this one. Hence all the tourists in fanny packs and sneakers.

If you’re like me, you tend to underestimate the time it will take to get something done. “Just 5 more minutes” turns into a half-hour of editing a blog post, or responding to emails. I also overestimate the energy that I will have to devote to projects on an ongoing basis.

  • Budget your time as well as you budget your money.
  • Make sure that you accurately assess the effort it will take to reach your goals, or complete your daily tasks.
  • Pushing to reach the finish line is a great thing, but not if you are exhausted and tapped out in the end.

I’m not an advocate of “slow and steady wins the race”, more like “focused and controlled helps you reach your goals faster”.

Lesson 4: To succeed, you must take risks

You shouldn’t be gambling your life savings away. We’re not even talking huge leaps of faith here, although it could be.

It may be the daily risk of putting yourself out there on your blog. Or the risk of creating a new product line that stretches your business boundaries. Or even something as simple as taking a small capital risk by advertising on a new website or attending a conference.

  • How are you taking risks in your business?
  • What are you doing to invest in your success?
  • Are you committed to your business strategy, even if there are obstacles?

What else can Las Vegas teach us about business?

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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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Servers and The Basics of Hosting


Now that you’ve taken the preliminary steps of designing your blog and purchased your domain name(s), it’s time to select a hosting solution.  If you have a website for your business already, you likely already have a web hosting provider and either space on a server or your own server. If you are setting things up for the first time, you will contract with your chosen web hosting provider who will allot you website space on a server and set you up with a FTP (file transfer protocol – this is the way you upload and download files from your server) account.

Servers and Hosting

Photo: © F.Schmidt / Shutterstock
What are the basics of hosting and which type is right for me?

Basics: A server is essentially a large computer that is held in a hosting provider’s data center. Your hosting plan determines how much of the server your account “owns”. There are three main types of hosting services: shared server, virtual private server, and private server.

Shared Server: The most economical option.  Your website is hosted on a server along with multiple other websites.  The hosting provider that you choose will set limits for your account so that you do not overload the server and cause the rest of your server’s websites to go down.  This option is great for those of you just getting started, as the memory and bandwidth that you will be provided is likely sufficient for your needs.  However, if you expect several thousand visitors per day (at peak times), you may experience slowness with shared server hosting and your web host even has the ability to take your site down to steady the server.

Best for: Just getting started; Non-complex sites; Static websites (non-blogs); Sites without a rush of traffic at peak times

Virtual Private Server: Picture a server as a packing box for glassware.  You get the space for one glass and share the box with multiple other glasses.

The server is partitioned off so that you have full control over only your piece.  No other website can touch your area of the server, and vice versa.  Advantage: your own place to play, guaranteed server resources up to your partition’s cap.  Disadvantage: you can’t take advantage of the resources that the other partitions aren’t using like you can with the shared server.

Best for: I personally don’t recommend VPS hosting.  I tried it for a while and was completely unimpressed.  In for a penny in for a pound, I say, and if I’m spending money and getting dedicated resources, I’d rather have…

Private (Dedicated) Server: Your very own home for your website.  With dedicated hosting, you will have full control over your entire server.  There are differences between private server plans, so you should do your homework and speak with potential hosting companies to see where your website fits in with their offerings.  Be sure to know:

  1. Exactly what type of server you will receive and how much horsepower it has
  2. The level of support you receive from the hosting provider
  3. What you will be charged for (bandwidth, number of databases, disc usage, FTP accounts, etc)

Best for: High-traffic websites, those who want lots of control over their site and the resources it consumes.

Which hosting company is right for me?

As I’ve previously mentioned, each of my domains are registered with DreamHost, but my hosting is with LiquidWeb. I have a dedicated server. LiquidWeb is the third hosting provider that I’ve used, and I could not be more pleased with their service. Real, live people pick up the phone, ya’ll! They are incredibly responsive, my move over from my previous hosting provider was painless, and I experience very few issues. No hosting company is perfect, but LiquidWeb was recommended to me by a trusted friend, and I have personally recommended LiquidWeb to other bloggers who have also experienced the same stellar service.

I also know bloggers who use and enjoy Bluehost, though I have no experience with them.

Managed hosting providers

There are several commonly-used managed hosting providers, such as WP Engine and Synthesis. Managed hosting providers typically offer standard pricing plans, with certain levels falling under either shared, VPS, or dedicated server hosting. The benefit of a managed hosting provider is that their servers and architecture are optimized for WordPress. The downside is that some plugins and other functionality are disabled by default. Many plans also place limits on bandwidth transfer, storage space, and the number of WordPress installations you can run on your account. WP Beginner has a great article on managed WordPress hosting, which I highly recommend that you read if you’re thinking of going this route.

For experienced website owners: what type of hosting do you use and what hosting companies do you recommend? Have you had good experiences with Virtual Private Servers? If you have a high traffic site, when did you switch to a dedicated server, or, have you been able to stick with shared hosting and save money?

Coming up in this series: Setting Up Your Server, Installing WordPress

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