7 Ways to Handle Stress Levels

We all get stressed from time to time and have to deal with the physical discomfort stress causes: changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and muscle soreness from tension in the back, shoulders, jaw, and neck. Not to mention the extra irritability and sensitivity to emotional triggers. Whether you’re dealing with everyday troubles, a particularly stressful period or event, or you are especially susceptible to high levels of stress—like those coping with anxiety—there are some no-cost tools at your disposal to help manage your stress.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Talk With Someone You Trust

Talking about whatever is stressing you out is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress. The best people to talk to are the ones who actively listen, keep everything you say confidential, and offer no judgement. Just be sure you’re considerate of the other person before you launch into a rant: let them know if you’re looking for advice or just want to vent.

Check Your Schedule for Balance 

When your schedule has more have-to-do than want-to-do things, it doesn’t take long to feel burned out. Class, work, chores, errands, administrative tasks… They can all eat up a lot of time. It’s easy to fall into thinking you’ll relax once you have some free time, but when will that be?

Invest in your relaxation time. Schedule blocks of time where you’re unavailable to do any of those have-to-do things. You don’t necessarily have to plan an activity for that time, but it can be helpful for some people to plan and schedule their leisure time. Even if it’s only blocking out ten minutes before and after lunch where you won’t answer emails, you’ll give your mind and body a chance to relax and recharge.

Engage With Your Hobbies

When you adjust your schedule to have more time spent on things other than your responsibilities, it’s important to include your hobbies in that time. Why give yourself free time if you aren’t going to spend it on things you actually like doing? Read a book, play a game, join a group activity, whatever you want.

Prioritize Hydration and Healthy Eating

It sounds too easy to say staying hydrated can help with your stress, doesn’t it? But it’s true. When your body doesn’t have the fluids it needs, it can raise your cortisol levels (the hormone responsible for your body’s fight-or-flight feeling). If plain water doesn’t do it for you, you can always add a “water enhancer” to give you a boost of electrolytes (Patrick and I recently started using Nuun tablets, and they made a huge difference for us).

Stress can also mess with our relationship with food. For some, food is a distraction. For others, stress makes us lose our appetite and skip meals. Neither is a healthy coping mechanism, and both can cause your body further distress. Eating the right amount to fuel your body is just as important as eating the right things. High-quality proteins—eggs, salmon, tuna, chicken, turkey, tofu, and beans—support brain function and positive moods. Fermented foods that promote a healthy digestive system, like Greek yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut, also help with your body’s production of serotonin.

Distract Yourself From the Moment 

There are healthy distraction techniques taught through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) that can help ground you in a stressful situation. These techniques—like the DBT ACCEPTS method—act like a soft mental reset. Once intense negative emotions are reduced to a more manageable level, you can return your attention to dealing with whatever triggered the emotion in the first place. Some people can enact this on their own while others would benefit from practice with a therapist. 

Practice Mindfulness 

Like therapeutic distraction methods, mindfulness can help refocus your attention and regulate your emotional response. However, you don’t have to wait until you experience high stress levels to practice mindfulness. You can try meditation and breathing techniques throughout your day, and you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Many apps can walk you through different mindfulness exercises.

Take a Break

From time to time, it isn’t a five-minute breathing session or adding hobbies into the schedule that helps. Everyone needs a break from time to time; perhaps a weekend away is the right answer. It doesn’t have to be far or expensive, or even an overnight trip. All you have to do is get out of your usual environment for a little while.

What methods of reducing stress work best for you? Do you recommend a technique not on this list?

Securing Your Business Files Against Hackers

Businesses have a lot of information to keep safe. Not only do you have the files for your own products and projects, but also all the sensitive information you collect from your customers: names, billing information, addresses, and so on. If a hacker accesses this information, the consequences can be massive. That’s why it’s vital to secure your files and protect your business from hackers.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Use a strong password and dual-factor authentication

A strong password is the first line of defense against hackers. Make sure to use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters in your password. The longer, the better!

Here are some tips for creating a strong password:

  • Use a passphrase instead of a word. A passphrase is a sentence or series of words that you can easily remember but would be difficult for someone else to guess. For example, “I love blueberry pie” could be used as a passphrase.
  • Mix up your character types. For example, instead of using only lowercase letters, mix in some uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols as well.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts. Then, if one account gets hacked, the hacker will not have access to your other accounts.
  • Update your passwords regularly.

To double up on security, use a dual-factor authentication app like Duo Mobile. When you or someone else tries to log into one of your accounts, a temporary code generated by the app is required to gain access. If you get a login request that you didn’t make, you’ll know it’s time to change your passwords.

Secure your data

Hackers are always looking for new ways to gain access to people’s data. One of the most common methods they use is phishing. Phishing involves hackers sending emails or text messages that look like they’re from a legitimate company or website. The message will typically ask you to click on a link or provide personal information, such as your Social Security number or credit card number. If you click on the link or provide the requested information, the hacker then has access to your accounts or can commit identity theft.

To protect yourself from phishing scams, never click on links in emails or text messages unless you’re absolutely sure they’re from a trusted source. If you’re unsure, go to the website directly by typing the URL into your browser instead of clicking on the link. You can also copy and paste suspicious URLs into free resources like Virus Total to check if they’re dangerous without risking any of your data.

For another layer of security against malware and ransomware attacks, use a trustworthy virtual private network. A VPN, like those provided by ClearVPN (https://clearvpn.com/blog/what-is-ransomware/), can encrypt your web traffic and make it more difficult for hackers to deliver malicious code.

Keep your software up to date

One of the most important things you can do to protect your files against hacking is to keep your software up to date. Hackers are constantly finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in software, so it’s important to have the latest security updates installed. Most software programs have an automatic update feature that will install security patches as they become available. Make sure this feature is turned on, and check for updates regularly.

In addition, to keep your software up to date, you should also run regular malware scans. Many free malware scanners are available online, so there’s no excuse for not running regular scans.

Bottom line: by following these tips, you can help to secure your product against internet hacking. Keep your password strong, your data safe, and your software up to date, and you can rest assured that your product is well protected.


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5 Proven Strategies to Increase Business Profitability

The goal of any business is to make money, of course. And to keep making money—preferably more than it was. So when you want to increase your business’s profitability, what do you do? There are many strategies you can try, some simple and some more complex. But not every strategy works for every business. One of the following strategies could prove to be the most effective way for you to increase your business’s profitability.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


1. Reduce Expenses

One of the most obvious ways to increase business profitability is to reduce its expenses. This can be done by cutting unnecessary costs, such as eliminating unused office space or renegotiating supplier contracts. Every dollar you save on expenses is one more dollar that can be used to improve the bottom line.

Another way to reduce expenses is to increase efficiency. This can be done by streamlining processes and implementing new technologies that save time and money. When you work more efficiently, it can free up resources you can then reinvest elsewhere to increase your profits.

2. Increase Revenue

Increasing revenue is another obvious method. That’s the whole point, right? To do this, you must find ways to attract more customers and get them to spend more money with your company. This can be done through marketing campaigns, offering new and innovative products, or providing additional services.

3. Improve Your Marketing Strategy

An effective marketing strategy is essential. Without a good marketing plan, reaching new customers and growing your business will be difficult. There are many different aspects of marketing, so you need to make sure you are using the right mix of tactics to reach your target market.

Some common marketing strategies include online marketing, social media marketing, and content marketing. You can also use more traditional methods like print advertising or direct mail. Digital marketing can be a great way to reach new customers and grow your business. Finding the right combination of strategies that will work for your business and your budget is essential.

4. Increase Your Prices

One of the quickest ways to increase profits is to raise prices. But, of course, this needs to be done carefully, so you don’t price yourself out of the market. You can start by raising prices on your most popular items or services. You can also introduce new, higher-priced products or services. If you are worried about how your customers will react to a price increase, you can offer them a discount if they purchase a particular product or book their service in advance.

5. Improve Your Customer Service

Another way to make your business more profitable is by improving customer service. Satisfied customers are more likely to be repeat customers—or talk you up to their friends. Sometimes the defining factor between whether someone buys from you or a competitor is the buying experience itself.



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5 Tips for Improving Online Direct to Consumer Sales

One of the perks of owning a small business is you rarely have to go through a middleman to get your product or service to your customers. No worries about finding distributors or retail partners. Of course, to actually get your business in front of those customers, you have to incorporate direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing in your overall strategy. So how do you set up your e-commerce site for success and increase your sales?


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Prioritize the Right Keywords for SEO 

To get the obvious out of the way first, using the right SEO strategy is key. This is how you make sure potential customers can actually find your e-commerce site when they start searching for products or services. Do your keyword research and pay close attention to research tools that can show you related search terms. If you sell hand-knitted blankets, for example, you might find thousands of people searching “how to knit a blanket,” not just where to buy one. You could then add a page to your site that shows your knitting process, or maybe a blog post or two with tutorials, and your site is more likely to reach people looking for knitting tutorials. And maybe they’ll decide they’d much rather buy one of your lovely creations than try to make their own right now and you’ll have a sale. 

Be Smart About Using Social Media 

Social media is a powerful marketing tool that can be used to reach new audiences and promote your e-commerce store. There are a lot of major platforms out there, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But you don’t have to create a business profile on every single platform. As a DTC business, you have to think about where your audience already is and how to make it easy to get your content in front of them. Your awesome pottery business will probably do better on Instagram and TikTok than Twitter. Once you find out which platform(s) make the most sense for your business, it’s time to build a content strategy. Post regularly, budget for ads and boosted posts, and consider taking advantage of social media influencer marketing to reach for even more people.

Experiment and Fine-Tune Your Marketing Strategy 

Your marketing strategy drives traffic to your website and increases sales. You can use several different marketing channels to reach potential customers, so it’s important to experiment and find out which ones work best for your business. Once you’ve identified the most effective channels, double down on your efforts and continue to create high-quality content that will capture attention and encourage people to visit your site. If you don’t have a marketing background and you’re worried about not having the time to commit to learning it all yourself, that can be an overwhelming challenge. If you’re working with a smaller budget, you might consider looking for a coach or consultant who offers to create a strategy as part of their service package. There are inexpensive, short-term services available on sites like Fiverr, or you can get a thorough overhaul of your marketing strategy through consultants like 2Visions.org.

Simplify the Buying Process 

If you want people to buy from your e-commerce store, then you need to make the buying process as simple and straightforward as possible. That means having a user-friendly website with clear navigation, an intuitive checkout system, and offering multiple payment options. You should also provide plenty of product information so potential buyers know exactly what they’re getting before making a purchase. (Here’s a hint: the descriptions of your products are a great place to add your SEO terms!)

Provide Excellent Customer Service 

Finally, it’s important to remember that providing excellent service is essential for encouraging customers to return. So make sure you’re responsive to customer feedback — questions, complaints, and positive reviews. If it’s not practical for you to offer a return policy for products, come up with a plan for how you want to reconcile with disappointed customers.


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Personal Life Challenges that can Impact Your Career

Whether you work for others at a company or you’re in your own business, there’s always a chance for something unexpected to bump you from your career’s current path. Sometimes it’s something out of your control — poor management by superiors, staff layoffs, decisions made by third-party partners, and so on. However, some factors are within your control. And ignoring them in the hopes that they’ll work themselves out isn’t an effective strategy. That sort of thinking comes from the belief that work and your career is the most important thing in your life, which is difficult to unlearn. While you might be used to compartmentalizing work and personal challenges so they don’t interfere with each other, some of these issues can cause extensive damage if left unaddressed — to your career, your personal life, your relationships, and your well-being.


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Trouble in Your Family or Support Network

Some employers are good at respecting that family is a higher priority than work for many people. Unfortunately, not all do. And if you’re running your own business, you’re in charge of setting the boundaries that protect your family time.

“Family” doesn’t just mean spouses, children, or other relatives. It can be roommates, close friends, or even pets. If you’re more solitary, though, I’d count your me-time as family time. Whoever and wherever you get your emotional support from, in this case, counts as “family.”

And when there’s a problem in that support network, the effects can bleed into different parts of your life. Don’t think of it as an issue that’s making you take time away from work. Giving your full attention to an issue that affects you and others deeply is a kindness to both you and them.

Legal Problems

Not all legal troubles are equal, and not all have an effect on your career. Forgetting to pay a few traffic violations probably won’t affect your job… unless your job requires you to drive. Then your car could get booted and towed to an impound lot, and you’re unable to work until you get your car back.

Of course, bigger brushes with the law can have a bigger impact on your career and should obviously be avoided. Your employer can fire you, future employers can decline your job applications, and potential customers or clients could avoid your business. The possible consequences on your personal life are just as obvious. So stay on the right side of the law, and if you end up involved in legal issues where you’re not at fault, take time off work to see it handled properly.

Health Matters

Another obvious place you don’t want to let things go untreated for long periods of time: your health. Both physical and mental health issues take a higher priority than your work. Whether it’s a temporary situation like a minor hand injury that can disrupt your work or a chronic condition that prevents you from sitting comfortably for long periods of time, you need to take care of yourself. Put aside the fear of missing out or falling behind and take the time you need to get yourself well again.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Unfortunately, we can all lean on unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with these issues from time to time. Sometimes we use dangerous punishment and reward systems with food, alcohol, or shopping. Maybe it takes the form of lashing out at your support network or engaging in a cycle of negative self-talk.

The important thing here is to remember there are resources to help us find better ways to cope with our issues. Reach out to a friend or trusted confidante. Look for therapists or sober living programs in your area. Whatever you need to meet the challenges of your situation.


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Learning to Cope With Anxiety in 4 Easy Steps

Anxiety is among the most common mental illnesses people struggle with at work and in their day-to-day life. Some days are harder than others, but having a coping strategy in place can make anxiety easier to live with. These four steps are a good starting place if your anxiety is at a level you’re comfortable addressing on your own.


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1. Study Your Anxiety and Learn Your Patterns

The first reaction many people have to anxiety is to try and ignore it, thinking it will go away on its own. For one-time situations, like initiating a high-stakes conversation with someone, that might work. But when you’re frequently anxious or on edge, ignoring those feelings won’t do any good. It’s time to learn what signs and symptoms your anxiety manifests in your body. When you can recognize those feelings coming on, you can take steps to calm down before you get overwhelmed.

Keep a journal to note any time you feel anxious, whether it’s just a little discomfort or a full anxiety attack. Write down your feelings, your fears, and what made you start thinking and feeling this way. Think of it as a kindness to your future self.

2. Avoid the Triggers You Can

Once you notice a pattern in what aggravates your anxiety, you can plan strategies for avoiding those triggers if at all possible. Some might be as simple as avoiding certain people or situations –or making sure a supportive person is with you if they can’t be avoided. For some unavoidable triggers, like an upcoming event that stresses you out, you can add a gratitude entry to your journal. List the positive aspects of the event, including the parts you’re looking forward to and how the experience could be good for you. Retraining your brain to focus on the positive and turn anxious energy into excitement is one coping strategy often taught through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

If you can’t avoid your anxiety triggers altogether, it’s still important to be prepared for them. This means having a plan in place for how you’ll deal with your anxiety when it does crop up. For example, if you know that public speaking makes you anxious, practice deep breathing exercises beforehand so that you’re better equipped to deal with the anxiety when it hits.

3. Challenge Your Anxiety

Another way to handle anxiety is to challenge some of your triggers head-on. Sometimes referred to as exposure therapy, this means taking small steps toward facing up to your fears. For example, if heights make you anxious, start by looking at pictures or videos of high places, then progress to standing on a chair or balcony. The more you expose yourself to your fear, the less fearful you’ll become.

It might seem counterintuitive, but confronting your anxiety head-on can be an effective strategy. Even if you never fully get over your fear, practice will build your confidence in coping with it.

4. Find a Professional

If your anxiety is overwhelming you too much for you to handle it on your own, it’s time to bring in an expert. A therapist or outpatient rehab center can help you understand and manage your anxiety, especially if you feel too close to your struggles to find the patterns. They can also provide you with tools and resources you might not have access to otherwise.

Originally, I went to a therapist for career counseling. We figured out my core values to understand why my old job left me feeling unsatisfied, and it turned out that my anxiety was most often triggered by things that didn’t align with those values. For example, a strong sense of autonomy and self-determination was one of my values. People and situations that made me feel powerless over my own choices set off my anxiety, which would often feed issues with depression, as well. We spent several sessions on how to set boundaries with others so I was more comfortable valuing and protecting my own time.

Learning to live with anxiety is far from impossible. With a few simple steps, you can be on your way to managing your anxiety so you can enjoy more of your life.


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3 Steps of Business Planning You Shouldn’t Rush

It’s exciting to start your own business! To take something you’re passionate about and build a career out of it on your terms can be a dream come true. But that excitement to get things up and running as soon as possible can tempt you to rush through some steps, promising you’ll figure it out later. But there are some areas where rushing through the early stages can cause serious problems. They might even create circumstances where you might lose your business. While you’re building up your new business, make sure you give these areas the full time they need to give your business a strong foundation.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Marketing Strategy

Some businesses can get by with minimal marketing effort. There’s usually enough organic word of mouth doing the heavy lifting for them. However, for a business in its infancy, a solid marketing strategy is essential. No one knows about you and your business yet. Putting some muscle into your marketing will help introduce you to your audience and prospective clients or customers.

If budget is a concern, you can start small with social media marketing. Free to use, social media is the most cost-efficient marketing tool at your disposal. There are also a variety of other free and low-cost tools–both built-in to platforms and provided by third parties–to help you manage a successful business social media presence.

Target Audience Research

Audience research is time-consuming and, let’s face it, rarely the most fun part of managing your business. If your target audience is vague, like “people with money who like my stuff,” you can’t build a good strategy to put your stuff in front of those people. But even that isn’t enough.

There is a difference between “people with money who like my stuff” and “people with money who buy my stuff.” A smart business-owner learns to tell them apart and appeal to the right group.

If you’ve done your research and you have a strategy to reach your target group, but you’re not getting as many sales/conversions/bookings as you’d like, check if you can further refine who will be more inclined to buy from you.

Budgeting

It’s not enough to just say you want to make money from your business. You need to find a balance in the amount of money coming and going. After all, you can’t turn a profit until after you’ve subtracted the cost of staying in business. And you can’t really stay in business if you don’t factor in the cost over time. Ideally, you’d start with enough money to support your business for the first six months. After six months, you should be generating a reliable income stream. If you don’t plan well here, you could end up borrowing more money than you can afford just to try to keep your business afloat–and that could get you in hot water with a commercial debt collection company.


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4 Lessons on Defining Your Business’s Audience

Are you struggling to identify the right audience for your new business? It’s important to understand the market is competitive and consumers will always have other people they can buy from. So, let’s explore how to hit the right marks here with your early marketing strategy.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Research Your Buyer Persona

First comes research. Investigate your competitors to see what sort of customers they serve. Check their reviews to see if there are any pain points you address–or could address, with some tweaks–that your competitors don’t. All this should take place before you even open the doors (real or virtual) for your business. Once you’ve done a healthy amount of research, you can synthesize all that information together to create a buyer persona. This persona will inform your marketing strategies so you can reach more of the people who would benefit most from your products or services.

Engage Your Audience

Once your message and marketing are out in the world and reaching people, stay engaged with the audience you’re building. Practice social listening to stay on top of how people feel about your business. Are problems surfacing that you can address? Or maybe there’s a convenience factor someone mentions that you can expand upon. By engaging people, you build and maintain relationships with people more interested in investing in the products or services you have available. 

In terms of how you engage an audience, there are several strategies you can explore. Many of these work best on social media platforms, where many businesses create discussion groups. You could also use a live feed. Live feeds are more immersive and can have an incredible impact. If you’re wondering how to go live on TikTok or a similar network, there are lots of guides you can follow online. 

Push Your Creative Limits 

Next, you should think about exploring creative options to get your message across and ensure that you hit the right mark. Creativity will often mean using different types of content instead of the basic marketing messages. You might also want to think about exploring guerilla marketing tactics. In doing so, marketing can turn into a fun practice while increasing engagement with your brand. It’s a tactic that is used by small companies and larger brands alike. 

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Stories

Finally, you might want to focus on telling stories to find your audience. Stories are one of the most engaging tools in your arsenal. By telling stories, you can address the pain points that your audience is experiencing while also showing them who you are and what you can deliver. Stories can take various different forms from written word to video content. It’s just about finding the right angle or option for your brand based on the message or image that you want to create. There’s a good story behind every successful marketing strategy that is tied to the brand. 


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How Ham Made Me Learn More About Instagram Shadowbanning

A sudden, consistent drop in reach and engagement on Instagram usually means one of two things. Either Instagram’s algorithm changed recently or you’ve been shadowbanned. Since I spent last two weeks trying to figure out which one had happened to me after a funny incident involving ham (hamcident?), I wanted to share what I’ve learned.



What does it mean when your Instagram account is shadowbanned?

Your account is still active and accessible, but your content appears less often or not at all in Instagram’s different feeds: the home page, the explorer page, and specific hashtag feeds.

Removing or limiting your content from these feeds means fewer people will see and engage with it. It might not sound dire at first, but it can have a severe impact on brands and businesses. Being discoverable to new audiences (particularly through the explorer page) is part of an effective strategy for Instagram growth. A shadowban limits your account’s growth and can even cause you to start losing followers.

Reasons Instagram accounts get shadowbanned

  • Your content or your account has been reported for “inappropriate” inappropriate content enough times to reach the reporting threshold for Instagram’s automated community-safety policies
  • You’re using a bot/automation service to gain followers

What happened with my account? And why was there ham?

First, I have to point out that I still use a personal account on Instagram, not a business one. That means I don’t have access to analytics data. I started wondering if I’d been shadowbanned after I posted a picture that didn’t get a single like after 4 hours. I immediately suspected it was due to the hamcident.

You see, I was researching some restaurants for an article I was writing and came across one where some menu items had descriptions that mentioned “ham powder.” The discovery of this horrifying-sounding seasoning led to an exchange of ham puns with a friend on Facebook Messenger. They were so delightful that I took screenshots and posted them to my Instagram story for all to enjoy.

Soon after, I got a notification from Instagram that my content looked branded, and I needed to appropriately mark any content that was sponsored. I tapped the option that said it wasn’t sponsored content, but the notification still remains at the top of my feed two weeks later.

Instagram screenshot. "Review branded content. If your post is branded content, add a paid partnership label to show your followers who you're working with. See branded content policies. Add paid partnership label or this isn't branded content.

The first post I put up after that happened was the one that had no likes after 4 hours. It was very sad. My husband worked hard on making me a mojito, and he thought it came out so pretty that I needed to post it. He was sad when no one liked it.

Since the notification about sponsored content wasn’t going away, I thought the lack of engagement on that post was related. So I experimented with my content a little, using the universally loved content of cat pictures as my litmus test. That post, too, barely got any attention. Bianca’s feelings were very hurt.

Then I set out to learn about shadowbanning and discovered that it’s actually really easy to test your account. Thankfully, it turned out I hadn’t been shadowbanned. The August 2022 Instagram algorithm update just happened to roll out while I was in ham land.

How to check if you’ve been shadowbanned on Instagram

  1. Reach out to someone who has an Instagram account that doesn’t follow yours to help with the test. (I asked a friend who doesn’t have her own account, but manages one for her work.)
  2. Create a new Instagram post using hashtags you regularly use. (It’s helpful and an overall good practice to not use tags that are insanely popular with millions of uses; opt for something still in the thousands.)
  3. As soon as the post goes live, ask your test partner to check the recent feeds for the hashtags you used.

If your partner sees your post, congratulations! You are not shadowbanned. But if they don’t, bad news.

Infographic on how to test if you've been shadowbanned on Instagram
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Check if your content could legitimately be causing your audience to report you and stop posting that kind of content. If there’s nothing objectively offensive about your content and you believe you’re being reported unjustly, get in touch with the customer support team and bring lots of screenshots to support your case.


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Pros and Cons of Unfold, the Bio Site Tool from Squarespace

Earlier this week, a promo email from Squarespace (which hosts my portfolio/business site) shared their approach to a link in bio site. Creating one has been on my to-do list for a few months, so I decided there was no time like the present to try it out.


Please note: This is my honest opinion based on my user experience. I received no compensation for writing this, nor was I asked by any entity to share my experience with this.


What is a link in bio site?

A link in bio site is a mini mobile-friendly landing page where you can share multiple relevant links to key destinations for your brand. It’s handy on social media platforms like Instagram, which doesn’t allow clickable links in post captions and only allows one link in your bio.

This can feel very limiting if you’re trying to make it easy for your followers to get to certain key URLs as you build your audience. When you have multiple pages you want to direct people to–a website, blog, new product page, Patreon, other social media accounts, affiliates, etc.–how do you pick which one to use?

A link in bio site gives you a single URL to put in your bio and give your followers access to a centralized list to navigate from.

Link in bio tools

There are a lot out there. Sprout Social has SproutLink available for those with a paid plan. Feedlink, Lnk.Bio, and Linktree are a few others with free versions with additional features available behind a paywall.

An example of a Linktree bio site pulled from someone I follow: @saralubrattwrites on Instagram

Squarespace has Unfold. In addition to creating a bio site, you can also create different feed and story posts with their templates. There’s also a tool for planning and organizing your Instagram feed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t test this feature yet due to account connection errors. For now, I’m just going to focus on the bio site feature.

What I like about Unfold’s Bio Site tool

The free version gives you four templates to work with, all of which have clean designs with customizable elements, including a profile or logo image, cover image, and background color.

You can add sections like a text box (which allows more characters than the bio section), social icon links, website links, a payment processor for tips, and an NFT gallery. What’s really cool is the option to add an embed from another platform.

Sections and embeds you can add to a bio site on Unfold.

The embeds allow you to add a full piece of content, like a tweet, Instagram post, Pinterest pin, or video. I’m not sure what I’d put there, but the possibilities are exciting and worth playing around. It would be easy to go overboard and put in too much which would make the bio site more complicated than it should be. It’s also nice that you can change the order everything appears in.

You can also create a custom color palette with your brand colors, but that feature is only available on a paid plan.

You do also get access to some activity analytics with the free version: views, clicks, and clickthrough rate (CTR). These can be filtered to view all-time, one month, one week, and one day. More detailed analytics are available with paid plans.

What I don’t like about Unfold

The customization options feel extremely limited, even for a free version. There are 35 options for background colors, seven of which are bright gradients. However, choosing a specific color with an eyedropper tool or by entering the hexadecimal value are only available with a paid plan. There’s no rule that says you have to match the background to one of your brand colors–you could always stick with something neutral like black or white and use your branding in the image spaces–but the number of available values is disappointing.

The font you get depends on which template you use (unless you upgrade to the Plus or Pro plans), and you can’t even choose whether you want a serif or sans-serif font. You also can’t change the text color. Depending on the background color you select, it automatically chooses either black or white text for maximum contrast. That is a nice feature to prevent users from creating something unreadable, but there is one big drawback.

One of the templates puts your name or brand name over the cover image. Say you wanted the background to be black. All of the text would automatically be white. That means your cover image HAS to be dark enough to contrast against the white text. You can see what I mean in action in the video below.

That might not cause problems for some, and you can always choose a different template. But remember, there are only 4 available on the free version.

The main source of my frustration with Unfold has to be the cover image feature. Each template displays the cover image in different dimensions. One of them uses a portrait crop rather than landscape. But when you select a cover photo, it only shows you a landscape crop. In my video, you can see me moving the image around as I try unsuccessfully to change the crop dimensions.

The random stock photo of flowers I chose for this video happens to work well with all the templates because it doesn’t really matter exactly what’s in the frame. I had previously tried to use a graphic I created in Canva for a more branded look with my color palette, but it quickly became tedious. Without having the exact image dimensions that will display, my best bet was to create a square graphic and try to force anything important into the upper third of the image.

Or just, you know, find a pretty photo of some leaves that I took last summer and call it a day.

Final Thoughts on Unfold’s Bio Site

It’s a neat tool and I’m looking forward to playing around with it. I might even eventually do the three-day trial of the Plus plan or the seven-day trial of the Pro plan to see if all the extra bells and whistles are worth it. But at an annual cost of $19.99 and $99.99 respectively, it’s incredibly unlikely I’d be able to justify a paid plan unless I received a significant amount of traffic that made customization a worthwhile investment. For now, it gets the job done. In another month or so, I might give one of the other bio site tools a try to see how it compares.

Do you use a link in bio site tool? Which do you use and what do you like about it?


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Tips To Help Your Business Push Itself And Stay On Top Of Its Game

There’s no shortage of advice out there on how to fast-track your business to success or stand out from your competition. Plenty of people have suggestions on growing your business once you’ve hit the maximum success you can at its current scale. And while not every trick will work the same for everyone, there are a few good practices to keep your business at the top of its game that apply no matter your niche.  


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Upgrade Your Site to a Virtual Private Server (VPS)

Most businesses use a website to market themselves, sell their products, and more. Using the right server to host your website ensures your data is secure and your website functions reliably. 

Among other things, using a VPS means you’re the only one using it. Why would that matter? Well, let’s say your site is one of several hosted on the same shared server. Everything’s going great on your end and your site has no technical issues. But something happens with one of those other sites on your server. Maybe they have an unexpected surge in traffic that overwhelms the server, causing it to crash. Through no fault of your own, your site is now down.

Using a private server means you don’t have to worry that someone else’s website troubles could inadvertently slow yours down or make it temporarily inaccessible to your customers or clients.

Keep Learning and Developing Professional Skills

Sure, everyone knows one of the ingredients to success is making sure you’re up to date on the best practices in different areas. Marketing, design, accessibility, etc.–not to mention any relevant developments in your own niche. But why stop there?

There are different workflow processes, management styles, and even physical organizing strategies that could improve efficiency. Take an online course or work with a coach to learn something new or refine your understanding of something familiar. It doesn’t have to be about keeping up with the latest trends. It’s about encouraging growth in yourself or your team to support your business’s success.

And if you learn anything you want to put into practice right away, it’s an easy change that you can make for your team.

View Setbacks as Challenges, Not Failures

“Failure” has an unfortunate sense of finality to it. Think about your inner script when something doesn’t work out. If it sounds something like “I’m a terrible salesperson; my work isn’t that great; it just never works out for me,” you’ve got some work to do on your mentality.

"The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking." - Albert Einstein

Rewrite that script around challenges and goals:

“I’m a terrible salesperson” becomes “I want to improve my selling skills to increase sales.”

“My work isn’t that great” becomes “my work is awesome and I want to share it with the people who will love it as much as I do.”

And “it just never works out for me” can be “it didn’t work out the way I hoped, but I have the opportunity to keep seeking a better outcome.”

Your attitude on a personal level affects you on the business level, too. If you convince yourself your setbacks are failures, it’s harder to do what it takes to push through and push forward. Training yourself and your business to be more resilient will help you not only achieve success, but it makes staying on top of your game and maintaining that success much easier. 


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Common Branding Mistakes that Make Your Website Too Generic

When you first launched your website, you probably didn’t have the time or budget (yet) to spend on making it totally unique. The important thing was to get the website going so you could start your marketing efforts, drawing in visitors, and making money. Now, maybe you aren’t drawing in as many visitors you want. Or you are, but your bounce rate shows they’re leaving quickly. One of the reasons could be your site looks too generic.

It’s important to visually set your site apart from others. While it’s good to follow some rules when it comes to website design and content creation, you also need to know when to deviate from the norm. This post offers a few examples of ways a website can become generic, and what you can do to give it a unique edge.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Your Site Design Relies Too Much on a Cookie Cutter Template

Who doesn’t love a good template to make a task or project a little easier? Especially with website designs. If you don’t have the skills to build a site from scratch, they’re great for ensuring your site isn’t a total mess while you’re getting started.

When using a template, customize it as much as you can to help distinguish it from others using the exact same layout. As your business grows, try to find more room in your budget to pay for some premium theme templates and plug-ins to create a unique experience for your online visitors. If you can afford it, you could also hire a web designer to create a site built according to your specific needs.

You Only Use Stock Photos

Look, free stock photos are great. They’re quick and easy to use, they add visual interest to blog posts and, hey, they’re free. But you aren’t the only one using them. That’s why you shouldn’t rely on them for your homepage, and definitely not for all your social media content.

Only using stock photos will, at best, make your website seem dull and cheap. A site visitor might take one look and decide your business isn’t profitable enough to afford unique images, so their money is probably best spent elsewhere. At best, they might not think your business is legitimate and trustworthy. Thankfully, you have a few options:

  • Pay for premium stock photos. There will still be other sites using the same images, but not nearly as many as the free stuff.
  • Invest in growing your own photography skills. Buy a decent camera, take a course (believe it or not, there’s a lot more to quality photography than just hitting the shutter button), and get some editing software.
  • Hire a photographer to create a brand image bank. These photos will be totally unique to you and fit your visual brand perfectly.

Unique photos are particularly important when it comes to products. Even if you’re selling third-party products, you should consider taking your own photos of them.  

Your Branding is Too Similar to Someone Else

Your website needs to have a distinct visual brand. At some point, you probably did your research on how comparable brands have set themselves up visually. After all, there’s a reason why you see similar colors and symbols used within each industry.


This list of color palette generators includes several tools (many of them free) I personally use and recommend, like Paletton’s science-based color generator.


While looking at what elements will identify your brand’s industry is good, you should avoid outright copying things like your logo or color scheme from competitor websites. Not only will that stop your website from standing out, but it could also leave you open to a lawsuit (particularly if a competitor has trademarked their logo or color scheme). This also includes slogans and taglines. 

It’s Not Clear What You Do Differently

Every business needs a USP (unique selling proposition). This is something you offer that is unique to your competitors. Maybe you focus on a specific product or service. It could be a particular location you serve. Or you might appeal to a specific audience that your comparable businesses don’t.

When a visitor arrives at your site, they should see what your USP is right away. For example, if you’re a wood crafter using only recycled wood for your creations, put that on your homepage. And don’t make it small, either. Remember, it’s what sets you apart from others in your field–so make a big deal out of it.

Your SEO Strategy Relies Only on Popular Keywords

SEO strategy is a finicky thing. What worked six months ago might not be as effective now. So it might seem like a fool-proof plan to focus on popular the most popular keywords when writing copy for your site. After all, these keywords have higher monthly search volumes, so a lot of people are searching for them.

However, most of your competitors will do the same thing. A better strategy for smaller and newer businesses is to focus on the slightly less popular keywords that are still being searched but aren’t being focused on by your competitors. You are much more likely to outrank your competitors when focusing on these. Working out exactly which keywords to focus on could require you to work with an SEO marketing company that knows your niche. For example, if you run an HVAC company and you want to identify the best keywords, it could be worth hiring a company that specializes in HVAC marketing. You can also use keyword research tools to help.


I like to use the free tools by Moz for myself. While you’re limited to 10 queries per month for the free version, it’s easy to work with. I keep notes of each search, then schedule one day each month to explore new keywords.


Your Product or Service Categories are Too Broad

When categorizing products and pages on your site, try to avoid lumping everything into generic labels. Yes, you want everything clear and easy to understand so people can navigate your site easily. But try to think outside the box and look for ways you can improve this experience for your site visitors.

Say, for example, you have an online clothing store that also sells shoes. Think of how most people use filters to narrow down what they’re looking for: gender, color, occasion, style, and size. What other sub-categories might your customers appreciate? Heel height, narrow or wide fit, laces, vegan-friendly materials? Try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes (ha!) and browse a competitor’s site. Figure out what frustrates you or slows you down, then tweak your website to fix those problems.

Your Brand’s Backstory Doesn’t Inspire a Connection

Your website may also feel generic if there is no attempt to build a backstory to your brand. Providing a personal bio or an about us page can be a chance to tell people about who you are, why you started your business, and what you stand for. This can help to give your brand a personality rather than just being another faceless company.


For those in creative industries, it can be especially hard to turn yourself into a brand and talk about your creative work as something people should invest in. I like to help creative entrepreneurs define their brand’s story so they can share their amazing work with the world.

The Bottom Line

When you’re starting to figure out your business, it’s smart to look at other brands who do what you want to do and draw inspiration from them. But once you have your feet under you, take a look for opportunities to make yourself stand out more. If it’s something you struggle with, hire an expert who will take all the guesswork out of it.


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Why Do I Hate Annoying Follow for Follow Requests?

When it comes to growing your audience, the practice of “follow for follow” is a grey area for me. On the one hand, you build your network, foster connections, and make your social media channels work for you. However, it can also take you down the path of being inauthentic.

At face value, follow for follow is just mutually subscribing to one another’s content. Pretty self-explanatory. No harm or foul, right? I like your stuff and you like mine, and it’s so great we connected!

Well, it’s great when that’s why it happens. It’s wonderful when you set out with the intention to make that kind of connection. An authentic connection.

Every now and then, I get a message from a new follower. Completely out of the blue. No previous interaction. “Follow me and I’ll give you a follow back.”

Often it really is that blunt. Other times, it’s couched in a more friendly invitation. But the meaning is the same. “I don’t know/care who you are, but I’ll add to your numbers if you add to mine.”

Demanding Follow-for-Follow is Just Rude

Have you ever had someone randomly come up to you, business card in hand? They ask rapid-fire questions, seemingly interested in getting to know you. What’s your name? What do you do? But there’s no genuine response to your answers. They wait for you to finish talking before getting to what they really want to talk about: them.

I’ve had it happen at journalism conferences, book conventions, New York Comic Con, at the grocery store, and even while walking to my car after work. While I can appreciate the need to hustle for clients when you’re in business for yourself, I’ve never had a good feeling about anyone who approached me this way. It always makes me want to channel my inner Wednesday Addams.

When you do this over social media, there’s another element to be concerned about. This bargain requires trust between complete strangers. I follow you, you follow me, and we both assume neither will welch once we decide to be honest about our lack of interest in the other.

Of course, there’s always the option to mute these people. But if you follow someone just so they’ll reciprocate, then mute all of their content, what is the actual point? You’re not getting anything out of this connection!

Asking for Follows

To be clear, asking people to subscribe to your blog, channel, or social media isn’t a problem. It may come with normal icky feelings of self-promotion, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad. It’s no different than asking people to share your content if they like it. People are more likely to share and follow when you ask them nicely.

By nicely, I mean without being obnoxious. You make it easy for people to follow you. A link on the sidebar and/or footer of your website, or in the description on your YouTube uploads, or your bio on Instagram. A call to action in your posts.

The point is to invite people to be part of your community. A good invitation uses good manners. A bad invitation comes in the form of the people at kiosks in the mall who chase after you with their questions and free samples. Don’t be like that.

If you have no problem being that rude, then at least think about your brand. Do you want people to associate your brand with this kind of behavior?

Forging Authentic Connections

When you’re starting out on building your social audience, you want to look for people who talk about things you want to talk about. We’re not talking about sniffing out the competition, though. You want to look for a conversation to join.

On Twitter, I like to cruise through what’s new under #writingcommunity posts, but also #writerslife. I want to sympathize with people who forgot to save their edits, or who had one of those conversations that’s totally normal for a writer to have but otherwise would be very concerning to outsiders (such as several chats with my Brazilian jujitsu-doing partner about proper non-lethal choking techniques for a fight scene I was stuck on).

I see and listen to others. Maybe I comment or retweet. If I like what they say, I follow them because I want to see more of them in my feed. (But I rarely get push notifications about anyone; that’s way too overwhelming.)

Or I see one of the many tweets about writers giving other writers a lift. You introduce yourself in the thread, mention what you write about, and maybe drop a link. And you talk to some others and find some people to follow. Some follow you back.

But that is more of a digital social networking event. There are no requirements to follow everyone in the thread. Absolutely zero pressure to follow people you’re not interested in.

The Bottom Line

Choosing to subscribe to someone’s content should be a personal expression of interest and an investment of time and attention. Yes, there is networking value in following others. But brands and businesses need an engaged audience.


Without engagement, your followers are just a number of people not listening to you.


If the only way you’re able to gain new followers is by trading follows for follows, maybe you need to spend more time on your content. If your content isn’t of good quality and value, no one will engage with it.


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How to Make Changes Easy for Your Team

As your business grows and adapts to industry changes, you’ll probably implement some internal changes along the way to help your team keep up their amazing work. Whether it’s a new workflow, software, or policy, there’s bound to be some growing pains. Part of being a good manager is preparing for the challenges of growth and facilitating a good transition for the whole team. There’s no better way to do that than to get everyone on the same page and make a plan for making change as painless as possible.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Accommodate Different Learning Styles

Many changes bring with them a lot of new information for your people. Some will take to it faster than others. What’s important is to remember that everyone learns differently.

When coming up with a strategy to introduce your team to their new process, make use of the four learning styles in any training materials. When you understand which learning style each of your employees benefits from the most, you can set them up for success by making the most effective methods available. Once everyone is given new information in a way they can easily digest, everyone can confidently move forward together. 

Be Open and Patient with Followup Questions

It can be efficient to bring everyone in for a big group meeting about the future vision of your business, giving everyone the news all at once. But when everyone is together, hearing the same things at the same time, it can be hard to absorb all the details on the spot. Be honest, be open, and be available to answer any questions your team has. Even if they don’t have questions now, a good manager makes it clear they’re always available for clarification as needed.

When you keep the doors to communication open, no one will feel lost or stressed about the risk of making a mistake. When people know management is there to help–and not just leave them to figure things out on their own–the transition always goes smoother. 

Keep Everyone in the Loop as Changes are Ongoing

After you share the vision with your team, keep the communication going. Share every change, every stop, and every step with the team so no one is left behind. The more your team knows, the easier it is for them to keep up with changes without any problems. Whether it’s daily update emails or weekly newsletters, just keep them posted. 

Start Teaching the New Changes ASAP

Worst case scenario: something new is brought into daily business practice, but no one understands it. Your team is left scrambling to meet expectations while figuring out the new process through trial and error. And they’re not going to be happy about it. As soon as you can, train your employees in the new protocols so they can hit the ground running on day one. 

Designate Change Leaders

When you’re about to bring in any new elements, designate a few trusted team members to help facilitate the changes by being leaders in the process. These change leaders can be trained first, then break your team down into smaller groups.

This will give you point people to answer questions and solve problems that may arise. This frees you up to oversee the changes and provide additional support if your team needs it.

Test the Changes

The best way for your team to understand new ideas is to see these changes in action. If time permits, create role-play demonstrations where employees can see what-if scenarios played out. If your employees would benefit from a more interactive version, you can give them training exercises where they put their new knowledge to work in their own role-play demo. It will take a lot of planning, but it will be well worth it when your new changes start taking effect. 

Ask for Feedback

Once training has begun for the new changes occurring in your business, take a poll of how things are going. When you take the time to sit with your team and ask how things are going, you may learn something new. 

Your team will let you know what potential pitfalls you may face as your new changes take effect. They will be able to let you know what it’s like performing these changes and what you can do to make the transition easier and more efficient.

Share In the Success of the Changes

Don’t take all the credit, and don’t take all the spoils–share with the team! When the changes start working and start becoming a part of your everyday business, let everyone have a piece of the success pie. When employees feel appreciated for their hard work, you will retain them longer and your business has a better chance of higher success than you ever imagined. 

Conclusion

Growing a business means change is inevitable. Whether you oversee a team of three or 50, do your part to make changes easier for them to implement. Not only will your team thank you for it, but they’ll be better equipped to help your business reach new levels of success.


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Newly Published Articles: Summer 2022

As a writer, few things compare to the sheer joy of seeing your name alongside your work in print. Even though I’m now a transplant to the Midwest, I remain a proud contributor to South Magazine. The summer 2022 issue marks the most pieces I’ve contributed to a single issue to date (six pieces!).

There are partial versions of my articles available online with the full articles available in the print and digital editions.


Food

New Hotspots

Brew Your Heart Out

Travel

GOSOUTH // CHARLOTTE

GOSOUTH // CHARLESTON

Advertorials

Sheila Doney’s Buyers Edge

Family Recipes, Casual Dining


If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw my stories a few weeks ago about drooling over menus and my eternal struggle to write about food without it sounding dirty. This is the final product of that hard work.

I’m already looking forward to what I might write about this fall!


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