Saturday, May 23, 2009

Twitter Tips

One of the things I love about Twitter is that it is up to us to decide how we want to use it. I want to share with you a variety of different tips. All of these are based on how I use Twitter. Hopefully you'll discover at least one new thing & find it worth sharing with your own followers.

Replies on Twitter

About 10 days ago Twitter made a change in how replies are handled. Replies are tweets that start with @username. Previously you had the options (via your settings) whether or not you wanted to see replies your followers make to those you are not following or not. Now you can only see replies your followers make to those you are also following. 

Twitter claims that only 3% of users had this feature enabled. Personally, I think that those 3% were likely amongst the most active users. In any event, being able to see @replies was great for those of us who are looking to expand our network, find more like-minded people and to be able to find others to engage with. As my own follower base grew, I know that it helped a lot of my own followers connect with others. Now when I have an exchange with someone that I think may interest other followers, I will RT their tweet and respond to that or I will reply and put a "." in front of their user name.

The change in replies has made #followfriday a bit of a mess. Even though we've now had our second Friday since the change, many of the more active users don't understand how making recommendations to others is almost pointless if they start with @username. The reason is that only that person, those following that person already and anyone else mentioned in the tweet will see the recommendation. A way around it is to start off with anything other than @username.

Retweet is King

Aside from exchanges on Twitter, one of the great things about it is the ability to share information. Retweeting is used to pass along useful things you see your own followers tweet.

If you are a follower of mine, you'll see that I do a considerable number of retweets each day. I do it not just to pass along information to others but also so that my own followers can find other people that share useful information on Twitter.

I don't suggest going retweet crazy but try and take the time to share information you think others may be interested in. The benefit of retweeting others is that your own followers will see you do it and you just may find your own tweets get retweeted more often.

There are 2 ways to handle retweets:

RT @username [Tweet]

[Tweet] via @username

In both cases, make sure to include a space before the @username so that the person you are retweeting will see it (and it will also make their profile clickable for your followers).

I personally prefer using the second method. This makes it easier for tweets I pass along to catch the eye of those following me.

Always Acknowledge

If you see someone tweet a link, piece of info or something else, remember to acknowledge the source (via retweet examples above).  Remember the Golden Rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you want others to credit you as a source, be sure to acknowledge sources yourself.

Look in Stream 

Some days I get 500-1500 mentions. This is a lot to deal with on it's own. But I do try and take the time at least several times a day to look at my "home" page and see where:

A. I can help someone that is in need
B. I see information I can share with my own followers
C. Someone I may not have had previous exchanges with seems to be sharing a common interest
D. Something I can comment on or contribute to


New Followers

Even though I use autofollow most of the time, I DO look at each new follower - even if it is a couple of weeks behind. When I do this, I go through the same A-D I mention above. This helps build a connection with new followers and I think much better than just a simple thanks for following me.

Using DMs

Avoid auto-dms. They are a headache and in the world of Social Media are definitely not going to enhance your credibility in any way. 

Requests/Favors

Unless you have a connection established with someone already, don't DM or tweet them asking for a retweet, to look at a site or something else. Those of us with higher usage of Twitter get inundated with requests like this. It's not that we don't want to help people, it's a matter of mutual respect. On an average day I get 50 or more retweet requests. Unless I have had personal contact with the person, these DM's get deleted. It will also make me less likely to retweet something of that person I may have otherwise done.

The best thing to do - retweet and share info of others before you need their help. It will make people more responsive when you do need assistance.

Using Protected Posts

Many of my followers use protected posts. Unfortunately most of the time due to tweet volume, I need to use Twitter search to respond to tweets. This means I now miss many protected tweets since they do not show up in Twitter search. If you run into the same boat - needing to use Twitter search for responding to Tweets - keep this in mind.

When you get behind on Tweets

During the week, I often get behind with reading/responding to mentions. I go to Twitter search and will do an advanced search on tweets referencing sharonhayes AND set the parameters to a specific date. I do the date filtering because it helps me limit the tweets in my search and because Twitter search only displays 75 pages of tweets.  The nice thing with Twitter search is that you can see conversation threads so you can easily spot those tweets you didn't respond to.

Keeping your following list clean

Every few days I find out one of my followers accidentally unfollowed me because of using a tool like FriendorFollow. Many of these kinds of tools make mistakes and will show people are not following you that are. It seems to be more of an issue with those that have larger followings or who have empty pages in their following list (like I do). If you do use one of these tools to clean up who you are following, I suggest double checking before unfollowing.

Personally, I prefer just scrolling through my following pages. Here's an easy way to do it: take the number of people you are following and divide it by 20. That will tell you how many pages worth of people you are following. Click on the link on your profile page for "following". Go to previous page. In the URL bar of your browser, you'll see http://twitter.com/friends?page=2 . Change the 2 to the number of pages you need to go back. You can then scroll through the pages and unfollow those you see who aren't following back who you may want to unfollow. Your following pages are in chronological order so on the very last page are the first people you followed. On the first page are the latest you followed.

If someone is following you back, it will show a "Direct Message" link below their user name. If they are not following you back, you will not see this.

It really doesn't take that long to do. I go through my entire list every 4-6 weeks. The last time I did it (with around 25,000 following), it took me around 2 hours around doing other things. So maybe an hour of actual time.  Note for techies: I did try to do it once by backing up both my following and follower list then comparing the two. It actually took me longer this way since I'm fast on the computer than to manually do it. If you are slower on the computer, comparing backups may save you time and be more reliable.

Please remember to give people time to follow back before you unfollow them. Not everyone checks their new followers daily. I suggest a minimum of 3-4 days, preferably a week.

There are a few different websites that will tell you the last time people tweeted. The idea being that this can help see who you should unfollow. *Many* people I do business with via Twitter are not actively tweeting but they do send DMs and read tweets. I have some people who have followed me for months that I actively engage with privately who have never tweeted at all. From a business perspective, I don't consider the idea of unfollowing someone based on their last tweet date to be a sound one.


Following Limits

For the Twitter pros, this is old news, but since I have at least one person a day asking me about this, I thought it was worth explaining.

Twitter allows you to follow up to 2000 people without restrictions. Once you hit 2000 following, you can only follow 10% more than are following you. If you find yourself stuck at the 2000 limit, you may want to look at the followbacks and unfollow some of those not returning the follow.

Recently Twitter imposed an additional restriction: you can only have 1000 follow actions per day. This includes unfollows. If you hit this limit, you need to wait for the 24 hour period to be up to follow more people. Note: there are no limits on unfollows, but when you unfollow, it reduces how many you can follow.

Being Unfollowed/Unfollowing

I think that on Twitter, friendships can develop much faster than in the offline world. At the same time, friendships can cycle through quickly. The inevitable will happen to each of you - people that you have exchanged tweets with and you may have liked - for whatever reason, unfollow you. Don't take this personally. Just as in the offline world, friends come in and out of your life. Are you still friends with everyone you talked with in elementary school, high school, college, etc? 

There are also a lot of people that game Twitter - I've blogged about this previously. To circumvent the follow limits and build their following base faster, they will unfollow people that have followed them. Some of these people appear to be legitimate users too and keep their following/follower numbers in balance. Again, don't take it personally. When I come across people that are gaming and who have unfollowed me, I simply block them when I unfollow them to stop them from refollowing again.

Deciding when to follow back

There are many different approaches people take about following others back. What you decide to do should be based on your own usage of Twitter. My own rule of thumb is that I follow everyone back. Although my tweets are not self-promoting or about my own business activities, I do generate a lot of business from Twitter. I don't want to close doors by not following someone back.

One interesting thing here to consider: many of the most valuable business contacts I have made have had NO tweets and follow very few people. Consequently if you are using Twitter for business, you may want to consider the reasons why someone with no/few tweets may have chosen to follow you & if they are worth a followback. From a strictly business side, if I were to limit who I follow back, I would definitely follow someone with no tweets before someone tweeting a bunch of garbage.

I hope that you found these tips useful.  :)


Thanks to Joshua Denney for input.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Excel problem

Problem I tweeted about:

Column A consists of a data string
Column B contains a value relating to each data string
Column E contains if statement to compare one row against another like this:

=IF(A3614=A3613,"STOP","")

What I need to do is in column E have a formula that returns another
STOP *if* column E contains STOP and column B is not equal to D

My brain is so dead - this should be simple and I'm just not getting it.

I realize there is deduping in Excel 2007 but the client wants the
data in this specific format.

Answer: =IF(E8="STOP",IF(B8<>"D","STOP",""),"")


Thanks to @mrrichardson for helping me out!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Can Your Business Model Help You Reach Your Goals? Part 1: Service Professionals

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been shifting my priorities to working with small business owners.  One of the first things I’ll discuss with them is where they are now versus where they want to be. This helps us establish a path for them to take – what they need to do in order to grow their business to the desired level. Almost without exception, I’ve come to one startling conclusion:

Most small business owners do not have a business model that can help them reach their goals!

First, let me start off by sharing the most common goals most people cited:

·         More free time during the regular work week and weekends off

·         More time off from work entirely

·         Less work-related travel and more personal/family travel

·         More time and money to indulge in recreational activities

·         Specific income goals – usually in the $150,000 to $250,000 range

·         Debt-free

·         Own a new home, mortgage-free

Basically, the most important goals for the bulk of these people were either related to having more free time or having more money.  Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It is until I started to look at the plan – or lack of plan – these business owners had in order to reach their goals.

I’ll share with you some details on a client I am working with. Dan is a fairly solid programmer. He has a full-time job and does between 10 and 20 hours of work each week freelance. His rate is $45 per hour. He has around 3 months living expenses set aside and is ready to take the leap to going on his own. He and his wife have 2 young children. His wife is returning to teaching this fall and will be earning just under $30,000 a year. Dan wants to be able to take summers off starting in 2010 to spend with his family.  He would need to earn an estimated $110,000 in 2010 to reach his family’s financial goals. Since he’s been freelancing along with his full-time job for the past 3 years now, he wants to be able to have weekends off to spend time with the family. Before we spent some time together, Dan had planned on only increasing his hourly rate to $50.

Let’s say that Dan ended up increasing his rate instead to $75 per hour. That would mean he’d need to work about 1467 billable hours per year.  If Dan works  40 weeks per year that would mean almost 37 hours a week of billable time. This doesn’t take into account time between jobs (it’s rare a freelancer is booked solid), other work that isn’t billable, bookkeeping, invoicing, etc – all of which Dan planned to do on his own. Oh and where will all these clients come from? Who will handle the pre-sales, sales and quoting? When we had a look at this, Dan certainly felt discouraged. But then it got worse when I pointed out a few things to him:

What if he gets the flu and is unable to work for a couple of weeks? What if one or both of the children are off school due to illness? These are things that do happen.

His game plan didn’t take into account saving for his children’s college fund.  With his children being 9 and 11 years of age, it was something he needed to start planning for soon.

Although his wife’s financial contribution was nominal under their current game plan, one big thing she was bringing to the table was health care benefits for the family. What if her job didn’t go through or if she lost it due to lack of seniority?

Did Dan want to continue coding for the rest of his life – or even the foreseeable future? The problem with any kind of service-based business like this is that you are trading time for money. When you don’t work, you cease to continue earning money.

I think at this point Dan started to feel sick. It became blatantly clear that his business model sucked. His goals are more important to him than how he gets there.

Fortunately all was not lost. We were able to structure a new business model for him that should allow him to easily reach all of his goals in 2010 and over time allow him to continue to see increases in his income. Hopefully he’ll find himself with more free time too.

Dan’s original approach to starting a business is pretty common amongst most service providers and professionals. Trading time for money is a linear model. It’s simply not an entrepreneurial one. With rare exceptions, there are always ceilings to potential earnings.

In the next instalment I’ll be looking at other types of business models.

P.S. Name and personal information was modified to protect the client.

How to Get What You Want as an Entrepreneur

Over the past 20 years, I have had the chance to have a glimpse at the inner workings of literally tens of thousands of businesses – ranging from one-person shows to many of the world’s largest companies. I’ve also built several successful businesses of my own – both online and offline. I don’t have all of the answers to what makes one business succeed while another fails. However, I do believe that the insight I have goes beyond what you could find in any single book, course or even a full business school program.

In June, I’ll be rolling out a coaching program geared to small business owners and start-ups. This will be the first time I’ve done something like this. I’m not doing it for the money. I can make money more easily doing other things. The last thing I want at this stage of my life is to have more work. I am just feeling frustrated with the preponderance of misinformation when it comes to doing business online. I know there are a lot of good, decent people out there that genuinely want to create a business of substance. I feel confident I can provide the keys to unlock the magic kingdom for these people. The focus will be on becoming a true entrepreneur as opposed to being merely a self-employed technician or professional.

Before the program is launched, I’ll be sharing some general thoughts via my blog and eventually through the program’s website. This will give people who may be interested in the program a better idea of what they can expect if they choose to participate. Unlike the actual program, the content won't be provided in any particular order; i.e. you can expect me to jump around a lot. :)