Writer’s block is a terrible thing. You know that you need new content to fill up your calendar and keep your audience engaged, but you can sit at your desk for hours, resulting in nothing but tearing your own hair out in frustration.
The good news is that even the best writers get writer’s block. The bad news is that you’ll never solve it by forcing the issue – it’s the equivalent to repeatedly slamming your head against a brick wall instead of just using the door.
After hitting that wall many times, I decided to do something about it, resulting in the following system that I (and the rest of my team) now use to generate great ideas for content month-in-month-out.
First, understand your enemy
Writer’s block is caused by one (or both) of the following:
Outside sources (stress from physical illness, bereavement, the end of a relationship, etc)
Outside sources are largely beyond your control, and so shouldn’t be worried about too much. Not only that, but it’s also the lesser of our two factors – even a calm mind will struggle to generate ideas if there’s nothing to draw from.
So the problem we’re left with is one of resources. Think of your mind as a furnace, with knowledge as coal and ideas as your flame. With nothing to fuel your fire it will (at best) produce mediocre results, but with a stockpile of knowledge you can fan the flames and produce something truly spectacular.
Still, if lack of knowledge is the issue then how the hell do you go about it? There’s almost so many ways that it’s difficult to start, and all seemingly use up valuable time which you just don’t have in your 9-5 life.
Don’t worry – I was in the same situation, and I’ll tell you exactly what worked (and still works) for me.
Listen to podcasts
By far the easiest way to top up your mind while keeping your current schedule is to listen to business podcasts when you’re otherwise stuck with naught but dead air.
For example, all of the following are great opportunities to fit in an episode or two of a podcast without spending any extra time to do so:
While exercising (daily workouts are also brilliant for productivity in general)
During the daily commute (be careful if driving while listening)
When traveling (airport queues? That’s a good 3 podcast episodes right there)
Essentially, any time where you’re not listening to anything or require a lot of focus on other tasks (such as researching/writing a blog post) you can make more productive by listening to podcasts. I honestly can’t count the number of ideas I’ve gained from just listening to an episode while walking around the shops every couple of days!
As for recommendations of which podcasts to listen to, that would depend on your purpose, type of content, and niche. However, these are a good place to start:
ProBlogger (Darren’s 31 day challenge is awesome for new and experienced bloggers alike)
So, you’re taking in information through podcasts – that’s great, but it’s not enough. You need to be keeping up to date in your niche in order to know which ideas are best to follow up on sooner rather than later.
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably subscribed to a next-to-uncountable number of blogs’ email list in an attempt to keep up to date. The problem with this is that people (myself included) are sooner or later going to slip up, especially if a distraction is available.
A distraction such as, I don’t know, the rest of your inbox?
RSS feeds, meanwhile, collect all of the posts published by the blogs you subscribe to and put them all in one place, ready for you to blast through whenever you have the time. My team, for example, tends to check their feeds in the mornings and evenings, noting down their ideas as they go.
There are obviously many ways of setting up / tracking your RSS feed, but as Drew Hendricks recently pointed out, Feedly is an incredible app for doing just that.
By attaching your RSS feed to a mobile app, showing stats such as the number of upvotes / shares, highlighting the most popular posts, and generally making it easy to read several posts in rapid succession, Feedly is our app of choice.
Record ideas ASAP
The amount of ideas you generate is completely irrelevant if you have no way of recording them when inspiration strike. I can tell you from experience that unless you record your ideasas soon as possible you’ll forget them, and if you forget them they will very rarely surface again.
So, how do you make it easy for yourself to jot down ideas the moment that magic lightning hits? Well, there are a couple of ways:
For note-taking apps you can use pretty much anything, but I’d recommend either Evernote or Do Note (by IFTTT). Evernote is a strong contender from how easy it is to create a note, and the flexibility in terms of integrating with other apps, but Do Note is the ultimate in simplicity.
Integrating your apps essentially means that any notes you make will be detected, categorized, then pushed automatically into another program. This pairs up nicely with recording your ideas in an app like Trello or Airtable.
For example, you could use Zapier to integrate Evernote with Trello. Then, when a new note is created in Evernote with the tag “idea”, Zapier could be told to push a link to that note into a new Trello card in your “Ideas” column.
It may sound like a massive undertaking, but everything I’ve talked about in this post can be achieved in your “dead time” – I’ve even found that having a podcast episode at the beginning and end of work is a great way to firmly stamp out your work/life balance, and ease into each side as needed.
How do you generate your own ideas? Have you tried anything I’ve talked about? I’d love to hear from your in the comments below!
If you’re building a startup of any kind, chances are you’ll need an explainer video.
Explainer videos are short 1-3 minute videos that help spread your message and teach people what your product and company is all about. A startup video can help explain difficult to understand concepts and, if you’re lucky, can go viral and give you a bunch of traction — as was the case with Dropbox.
In this post, I will break down how I created our explainer video (above) for less than $300, and how you can make your own for even cheaper.
There is a huge benefit to being in control of your own explainer video. The first and obvious benefit is cost. Doing it yourself is much cheaper than hiring a professional firm like Revolution Productions which can charge between $500-$20,000 for a video. Not that these companies don’t have their place — a great explainer video can significantly boost your conversions and sales. But be careful investing that kind of money into your video before you have product market fit and some traction.
Another reason is, as a new startup, the chances that your company, product or idea will be exactly the same in 6 or 12 months are pretty small. If you’re doing product demos in your explainer video, it is likely you will have updated the look and feel of your product. For example, maybe you’ve added extra features you want to show off, or you’ve discovered a new lucrative market to go after. Whatever the case, startups iterate quickly and pivot often. Paying $5,000 every time you launch a new feature or target a different market can get expensive quickly. But, if you control the video yourself, you can easily swap out new screen captures or slot in new features, allowing your videos to grow with your startup.
Ninja Tip: Upload your explainer videos to YouTube and title them with keywords you are targeting for your business. Don’t call the video “Product Name Explainer Video”. Here you can see the first explainer video I made (which I actually did at the same time as my Startup Chile video), is ranking on the first page in Google for its term “business systemization”. Since your explainer video will get lots of views from the homepage of your website and will be embedded around the web (in your Angel List profile, for example) it should rank relatively high in Google and YouTube search results and will continue to bring in leads even after you stop using that version of the video on your homepage.
Double Ninja Tip: Add an annotation to your video telling people they are looking at an “old version of the product” and linking to your homepage. This will significantly increase click throughs to your site and will give you some grace if your early videos are lower quality.
With that being said, let me get into the details of how I made our explainer video.
The script of your explainer video is easily the most important part. Even if you’re paying an experienced company to make your video, you will still want to write the script, or at least be heavily involved in its design, since nobody knows your product and market better than you.
The two most common types of scripts in the startup world are “the user story” script and the “problem and solution” script.
The user, or “Meet Bob”, story takes a viewer through the journey of a user like this video from Med Climate:
A “problem, solution” video is similar to the one I did for Process Street. State the problem your customers are facing then show how your product can solve that problem.
Here is another problem-solution video by Zen Cash.
In both cases, you’re first stating the problem, then the solution derived by your product. The rest of the script will depend on your product, but focusing on the benefits and uses of your product rather than the features is a good rule of thumb.
If you’re really creative and super pro, you can do something new and exciting like the Dollar Shave Club video below, but careful with these: if executed poorly they can look amateur. If you’re not a video pro, it’s best to keep it simple.
Neil Patel at Quicksprout wrote a great article on how to write a script for your explainer video, check it out here. If you want some inspiration, check out Startup Videos, they have 100+ pages of videos you can browse through.
Audio is the second most important element after the script. A great video can be ruined by poor audio. For the Process Street video, I recorded the audio myself. I mostly did this because I had recently purchased a new microphone to make various videos and was itching to use it. If you’re interested, the microphone I bought was the Yeti Blu — I got it from Techworld in Santiago for about $180 USD but they go for about $100 on Amazon.
If you don’t want to spend that kind of money on a microphone just to do one 2 minute video, you can easily pay someone on Elance to record it for you. The quality will be better and it will be MUCH cheaper. For $20-50 you can get a 2 minute video recorded. Just post a job looking for voice talent and you will get a bunch of applications from real professionals who have done commercials for Fortune 500 brands. They will submit their ‘demo reels’ from which you can decide on the type of voice you want.
For most people, paying a specialist is the way to go. I think the audio quality on my video is the major weak point. While it’s still pretty good (I’d give it an 8 out of 10) it’s not AS good as professional voice over done in a studio. One benefit of doing it myself is that it is easier to make changes when needed so it really depends on your situation and what you want.
3. Video Storyboard
The storyboard is a series of images that make up the scenes in your video. Here is where you’ll decide what visuals you want to match with the audio track you produced in the above step. This will differ depending on how you decide to create your video: animations, real humans, slides and screencasts are the most common elements in an explainer video.
Check out the below video to see how Pixar storyboards entire animated movies:
http://www.youtube.com/embed/7LKPVAIcDXYwidth=”550″ height=”420″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”>
For the Process Street video, I broke it down into two elements, animations and screencasts. I then decided which screencasts I wanted for which parts of the script. For inspiration on animations, I turned to VideoMakerFX. I basically browsed through their templates looking at kinetic words and clips that I thought would fit into my script.
Animations in startup explainer videos are very popular these days. For the Process Street video I used VideoMakerFX, a great tool that makes it simple to create cool-looking animations. It has hundreds of pre-designed animations targeted at explainer videos that you can easily customize the look of, changing the text, colors, backgrounds and animations.
VideoMakerFX costs $97 which is relatively cheap compared to paying for a professional video. It lets you create as many videos as you want, and you can even use it for other videos, like this one I did on how to create a blog.
There are a number of other tools that do animations as well. The powerhouse is Adobe After Effects, an expensive, complex tool targeted at professionals. You can make the process less painful by using pre-made templates, but there is still a decent learning curve. Other tools to check out include PowToon, GoAnimate and Wideo.
If you really want to go ghetto you can use Powerpoint and record your screen (see screencasts below) as you go through the slides, or better yet, use SlideBean (also a Startup Chile company) to add a bit of animation to the slides.
A screencast video is basically a video recording of your computer screen. Screencasts a great way to show off your product, they speak a thousand words when trying to convey features in the short time-frame of your explainer video. I make a lot of screencast videos, they are great for demo and marketing videos.
I use Camtasia to record my screen generally on a PC, but TechsSmith also offers a free product called Jing which lets you record up to 5 minutes of video. This is more than enough for a 2 min explainer video. A quick search and you will find a bunch of other free tools for screen recording on both Windows and Mac.
For your screencasts, record the actions you want based on how you designed your script. Typically showing off various features of your product as the audio track explains it. You can speed up the video and add effects such as tilts and zooms pretty easily in most editing software. I recommend doing this, as a little bit of movement makes things look professional and hold the viewers interest.
6. Music Track
To polish off your video you will want to pick a music track to play in the background. A background music track will keep people entertained and give your video a consistent, less choppy feel.
Pick something with a tempo and theme that matches your video and product. Don’t pick some overly fast happy music if you are selling a serious B2B product, and don’t pick a dull slow track if you have a cool, fun consumer product.
If you want something more specific, the guys over at Envato have you covered again with their premium audio library Audio Jungle that has a ton of cool tracks you can buy for around $10 each. VideoMakerFX also includes a small library of audio tracks you can use for free once you own the product. That’s actually where I found the track for our video.
7. Putting it all together
To edit everything I used Adobe Premiere, part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. I already pay for Adobe so this was the obvious choice. I have also edited videos in the past using Camtaisa — it’s quicker for screencasts and the interface is easy to use.
Otherwise, Windows Movie Maker and iMovie will both get the job done. All you need is basic scene arrangement, clip speed control and transitions. There are probably a bunch of apps on the iPad that can do this too, but I haven’t tested any of them.
Don’t get scared by the editing part. Some of these programs can seem confusing, but really it’s quite simple.
First, record your audio and import it into your editing tool. Next, add your screencast segments in the correct positions making sure to match up audio to the time of the clip (you will probably need to speed up your screencast clips to do this effectively). Then, fill in the gaps with animations or slides until you fill out the whole audio script.
Once the animations match up to the audio you’ll want to do a few quality control runs before you continue further (with transitions, music, etc).
Watch the video 2-3 times and look for things like thin lines around the edge, image quality and brightness consistency. If you are using different audio tracks (like a video intro for example) make sure your audio volume is level across the whole video.
If you get stuck on any of these parts, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials teaching you the different controls in most video editing programs.
Next, you should add a call to action to the end of your video. This should be fairly long, somewhere between 15-45 seconds. If you watch through my explainer video above until the end, you’ll see that I prompt the viewer to enter their email. This is important for two reasons. First, it tells the viewer what to do next, increasing conversions. Second, it stops the YouTube suggested videos from popping up and distracting your viewer with what is probably one of your competitors videos. Actually lots of people don’t use YouTube to host their explainer videos for this reason and instead opt for a service like Wistia or Vimeo. Personally, I like to host my video on YouTube until it is ranking for my target keyword, then either release a new video or switch it to Wistia.
Once you’re happy with the core structure of the video, add your final zooms, tilts and transitions.
Finish up by adding in your audio track, reducing the volume and fading in and out at the beginning and the end.
And there you have it, a completed explainer video! If you calculate all the expenses above you might come to something like this:
I’m currently working on launching my new site which is a complete, free video guide to building an online store as mentioned in this post.
The site is coming along nicely with the core 7 lessons already developed, the email auto responder is set up using aweber so you get a nice email in your inbox with a link to each lesson (the lessons are delivered over 8 days). There is a blog that is coming along nicely, kind of. There are a bunch of sales pages up at the moment. I’m testing different subscription boxes. I have a sales video made, but need to make another one or two so I can have them rotating for testing by the time launch date comes… I don’t like making sales videos so I’ve been putting this off.
The site is already running, it’s been ‘soft launched’ meaning I have done some mild marketing for it and have a fair few subscribers but it’s still a little rough around the edges so need to smooth things out for the official launch.
One thing I’m very excited about is the launch article I’ve been working on. I think a post article can be very important as a solid kick start to any new site. If done properly, it could really blow out and create a viral effect. If it doesn’t work, it will result in a great post with not much traffic so either way it’s not so bad.
For my launch post I’ve been contacting influential figures in the ecommerce space and asking them this question:
“What is one unconventional piece of advice you would give someone looking to start their own ecommerce store”
So far the feedback has been exceptional! I have had feedback from a number of prominent CEOs, top bloggers and even a guy who has a radio and TV show. I won’t reveal the details just yet but there is some pretty juicy stuff. The goal here is that not only is this turning out to be a great post – which might even turn into a free eBook if I keep getting content like this – but hopefully the people I’m contacting will help me promote the article/ebook and it will go viral. I will write a post on how I went about contacting these people in the future. I cant take credit for this idea however, It was actually something I picked up from listening to this podcast between Pat Flyn (Smart Passive Income) and Corbett Barr (Think Traffic).
I plan to do some pretty hefty marketing to friends and people on my social media networks to try and get Diggs and Stumbles up. By hefty I mean one email asking them to Digg and Stumble the post. I’ve NEVER marketed to my friends before so I’m a little nervous about this, but this factor is driving me to ensure the quality of the content is as high as possible.
The whole process is turning out to be much more coordination than I originally thought. I also need to write a press release or two and push it out to the press release sites. I’ve never done that before… I just put a request up on HARO to see if I can get more contributors to my article so will see if that brings back anything useful. And I’m sure there are plenty of other things I need to do that I have either forgotten or haven’t thought of yet. Either way this post is kind of a check list for myself.
The one thing I still haven’t come close to deciding and that is super important is a title for the launch post. Without a title I’m 100% happy with, the launch isn’t happening. Because as you may know from here, here or here the headline of a post/book is the most important part. Here’s a few I just thought of:
Unconventional Advice from Ecommerce Geniuses?
Want Larger Breasts, a Super Model Girlfriend or a Million Bucks?
Captains of Industry Reveal their Tips to Conquering the E-commerce World?
F*&% I don’t know… Maybe it will come to me in a dream. Got any ideas?
One of the more interesting events that happened during the day at Blogworld was a keynote by Mark Burnett and his following publicity stunt.
If you don’t know, who Mark Burnett is, here is a Wikipedia excerpt:
Mark Burnett (born 17 July 1960) is a British television producer, known for creating and/or producing competition-based reality television shows such as the American edition of Survivor, The Apprentice and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
Mark Burnett’s international productions include: Amne$ia Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?, which has been produced in over 55 foreign countries, The Contender-Asia (a Thai kick-boxing version of the American Boxing-Competition show), and The Apprentice which has been produced in over 21 foreign countries.
Mark Burnett is pacting with casino and resorts giant Genting Intl. to launch a $20 million joint production venture. Mark Burnett Prods. Asia will produce original content for Asian broadcasters and license those formats in markets around the world, including the U.S. The TV venture, the first for Genting, marks the latest overseas expansion for Burnett.
For a guy who use to be in the military and worked as a nanny, his talk sounded awfully familiar to a Tony Robins presentation. Which is not a bad thing in any way as Tony Robins is a gangster (the cool kind) and I’m a self help junkie.
The interesting portion of the talk was at the end when he launched his new TV show: Sarah Palin’s Alaska.
While I am no fan of Sarah Palin, I am a fan of Mark Burnett. For his TV shows, his marketing skillz and most recently his gangster Tony Robins like jargon.
During his keynote at Blogworld, he announced this TV show for the first time by having stevegarfieldwhom I don’t who, but seems to have a decent sized Youtube channel, upload the first copy of the TV Trailer to his Youtube channel, tweet it out then asked everyone in the room to also tweet it out.
This is the video that was uploaded to Youtube.
At the time of writing this video is currently on ~82,000 views. Not bad for 10 days.
Who knows if this tactic will work or not but I like his innovation and guts for giving it a shot. Plus its Sarah Palin so no one really gives a sh!t if it works anyway…
I was a lucky SOB and managed to win myself a full access pass to Blogoworld last week. It was an awesome experience. I have been to many trade shows in the past but nothing like this. And none since I set out on my own last year. I used to go representing my company which is a little different.
I had also never been to a multi-day event, which had parties too.
One thing I have learned about myself over the last year, is that I suck at networking online. I just don’t have the patience for it. I know this may be a bit of a negative being in the online space as there is no better place to meet people who work online than online… But I just don’t like doing it. I don’t like hanging out on Facebook, I don’t like tweeting stuff, I think its weird meeting and connecting with people online.
But hey, that’s just my opinion and personally, I think its a pretty stupid one. I should do more of it. I just feel that the computer is a place of work and learning. When I am on my computer, I am almost always doing one of those things. If I am not doing one of those things, I quickly start to feel uncomfortable and need to get outside, meet some people, do some exercise, do something!
I also know this challenge I have is the opposite of many other bloggers / internet markets who find it awkward to meet and connect with people in person but have no troubles online. I guess its the salesman in me.
So when Blogworld came about, I was like a kid in a candy store. Admittedly, I only went to the full first day, then the clubs afterwards. Even though I didn’t make it to too many events the next couple of days (partly due to the seductive beckoning of the pool, partly due to my hangover), I made it to every party – and after party. I know this was almost the reverse schedule of lots of the attendees who made it to Blogworld. Whichever way you prefer to use your time, you need to make sure you use your time.
I didn’t feel there were too many advanced content courses being taught during the days, but lots of great stuff if you are just getting into new and social media.
The nights were where it was at. I met so many interesting people. Had so much fun. Spammed business cards, collected business cards, pumped my LinkedIn account oh and did I mention the fun?
Whatever the type of person you are, if you work in the internet space I think Blogworld is worth checking out. I will definitely be back there next year if I am on this side of the planet.
So what did I get out of Blogworld (besides the ability to party for a few nights in Vegas?) – contacts. I met people. Lots of interesting people. And its all about who you know right?
Here are some photos including some great content slides from Blogworld:
A blog is becoming a pretty standard tool for those looking to do…. anything really. There are so many stories of product launches, networking, new jobs, new businesses any many other opportunities spawning off the success of bogs. A perfect tool in the building of an abstract lifestyle. And even if its not a massive success, a blog is still useful for personal branding so there really is no loss.
This isn’t really a tech blog but I recently moved my WordPress account to a new host and domain and thought I would share the process. I had to look through a few different posts to figure it out so I thought I would combine them into one. And because blogs may be of interest to many lifestyle designs I thought I would chuck in this post.
Moving to a New Host
Backing Up your Blog
First thing you should do is backup your blog. The easiest way to do this is FTP into your blog and copy the whole folder down onto your computer. Hopefully you wont need to touch this but its just in case. I use FileZilla, a free FTP program. Once you have FileZilla, connect useing your ip address, username and password. Settings may differ depending on your host so check out their website if you are having troubles.
Install WordPress on your New Host with your New Domain
Depending on your host, will depend on how you do this. Godaddy is very simple, you just select a wordpress hosting plan and it will walk you through the setup of your new account. I use godaddy.com hosting to manage my blog. I was using a dedicated server but it ended up being more expensive and more work with no really reward so I switched. I was changing domains anyways so I thought it was a good time. Using a hosing service like godaddy, Blue Host or Host Gator will give you easy one click WordPress install. Perfect for the non-technical. Remember to use the new domain you are choosing for the setup. At this point you should have a new basic install of WordPress attached to your new domain. I am assuming you have done this before if you are migrating a blog.
Export and Import your Posts, Pages and Comments
The export / import process is VERY simple thanks to WordPress integrating this into the platform. Simply select export from the tools menu as below.
To import, just select the import option from the tools menu and select the file you downloaded. And that’s it, all posts, pages and comments will have moved over.
Install and run Search and Replace
Install the Search and Replace plugin. This plugin will allow you to search for all content in your blog and replace it with new content. To do this you should search for your old blog, so for me it was “wordplaywithvinay” and replace it with “abstract-living”. This will fix all the links to other posts within your blog and tie up any other loose ends.
Copy your Theme and Plugins
To copy your theme and plugins, you will need to copy the wp-content folder from your old host to your new one. You can find this one directly in from the folder you have your blog installed in. You can replace the files that exist in the new directory because you only have a base install so far.
Unfortunately this method will not copy over the configuration of your old theme or plugins and you will need to manually go through each of them and reconfigure them.
The easiest way to copy over your widgets will be to open the wordpress dashboard of both of your blogs, go to the widgets tab and copy over the contents of each widget individually. You will need to change any URLs or RSS links.
Change your Permalinks
Make sure you change your permalinks to the same structure to what they were before. To do this, check the settings in your old blog under Settings –> Permalinks and copy the same settings over.
Migrate your Feedburner Feed
To migrate your Feedburner feed, the easiest solution is to change the name and address of your existing feed to the new one without changing the extension so your existing subscribers don’t see a change.
You can create a second feed for new subscribers or just continue using the old feed, its up to you.
Redirecting your Old Blog
After you’ve tested everything twice (three or four times) its time to move over your domain, the final step. To do this you will create a 301 redirect from your old blog to your new one. This step is important for two reasons.
It will redirect any old links that exist to your blog from external sites, including individual post links.
It will move all the link value from your old blog to your new one. Very important to keep your ranking in Google.
To do this you will have to modify your .htaccess file. You will find this file in the root directory where wordpress is installed. You want to edit the .htaccess file in your OLD blog.
To do this, you will need to download it, make a backup, then open it in notepad. Replace everything inside with the following lines (changing out the respective domains):