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The Yin Yang of Technological Advancements

Since I have been out of the field of technical communication for the last 15 years, this week’s readings framed my understanding of some of the changes that have taken place since I left.  It seems there has been a major shift to all things digital.  While I have no work experience in the field to share and relate to this week, I did find that I was able to relate my direct sales experiences to those of my mom 25 years ago.  Much has changed, and the shift has seemed natural and easy.  As a matter of fact, I am quite thankful for many of the changes and I am beginning to see that, while I have not been a professional writer over the last 15 years and I have not had experience with the changing publishing software, I have certainly kept up with the changes in digital and social media by virtue of simply keeping with the times.

Twenty-five years ago, my mom decided to begin selling Mary Kay Cosmetics on the side to supplement the income from her full-time retail management job.

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Source: candiecooper.com

I was fourteen and she would often enlist my help in handwriting her party invitations that she would give to friends in the mall where she worked.  She personally handed out each invitation and answered any questions the guest may have.  She also asked that each one RSVP if they planned to attend.  The night of the party, she would usually have each person that RSVP’d show up, occasionally with a friend, but not often.  In the end, she had a small circle of friends who purchased their make-up from her.  After a few years, she lost interest in the business and became more active in her full time career and that was the last I heard of direct sales until I was an adult, married with children, who had decided to put my career on hold.

As soon as I entered the world of direct sales, I knew much had changed since the days of helping my mom with her Mary Kay party invitations. My business is done almost completely online.  My invitations are events that I create on Facebook through my business page and share with my customers or give to my party hostesses to share with their friends and family members (see section “More on Facebook Events” below for my thoughts on this aspect).  My actual parties are done via my phone camera and broadcast as a Facebook Live video.  Gone are the days where my mom would spend hours cleaning the house and baking treats for her Mary Kay guests.  I go into my office, put a photo screen behind me to block out any mess from the day and keep my video background clean and focused, and hit “go live.”  I am also not limited to an audience of my friend circle and their friend circles.  My reach extends across the US as people share my video with their own Facebook friends and family.  While I find myself having some nostalgia for the “old way” and that “personal touch,” I admit that my business is much more successful than my mom’s because I am able to reach so many more customers due to the way I use social media to conduct my business.

I am also constantly looking for ways to use social media more effectively for my business.  As things continue to change in the world of technology, I often find that something that “worked” for me last month has stopped drawing the same response or interest.  That is when I go searching for answers online.  Check out this blog post I recently found:  42 Facebook Post Ideas from Businesses Who Know What They are Doing.  Fellow Students – I think it could also be helpful as we begin to write our final papers for this course.

More on Facebook Events

Facebook Events seem to be the social media preferred way to invite people to do almost anything.  It is simple in that the host just creates an event, fills in the details, and invites most of their Facebook friends list with the click of a few buttons.  To see just HOW easy, check out this quick YouTube Video on How to Create a Facebook Event. The drawback?  Those invitations have lost that personal touch in a way that seems to be affecting the outcome of the event.  While wedding and graduation invitations are still sacred and more personal (usually snail-mailed), I receive about fifteen invites on Facebook each week to join a direct sales online party, to come to a friend’s child’s birthday party – even to attend our family Thanksgiving dinner!

In chapter 4 of Spilka’s “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication,” authors Salvo & Rosinski discuss Johnson’s (1998) research and ask us to,

“Consider memos, parking tickets, wedding invitations, white papers, and reports for decision making: each of these genres carries part of the message in visual design and physical presentation.  The design indicates a range of possible responses to the text.  One can accept or decline an invitation…Johnson reminds technical communicators of the power of inherent design and presentation: while innovation is possible, it comes at a cost.  Innovative documents man not carry with them clear boundaries for readers” (p. 108).

This paragraph resonated with me especially as I considered the part about how, “One accept or decline an invitation…” (p. 108).  Facebook events are so impersonal and so generally disregarded by most people that, often, invitees will click “maybe” on an event and never show up.

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Source: graphjam.com

Maybe they never intended to show up, maybe they had some interest and lost that interest before the event, or maybe they forgot.  Whatever the case, Facebook events are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to any kind of RSVP or guest count abilities.

In my business, I will create an event for my customers who wish to host a party.  That event links me with their friends so they can invite and I can share what this party is all about and how they can go about shopping.  While this method of inviting is convenient (most of my hostesses live across the country), they aren’t always the best method when it comes to getting friends interested and to actually attend the Live party.  So many hostesses will complain after the party, “My friends said they were coming and only x showed!  I can’t believe it!”  Well, I can.  It happens every time.

Another ongoing issue with Facebook events is that sometimes the invitees never see the invitation.  Recently, a dear friend invited me to her son’s birthday party via a Facebook event.  I never saw the invite.  She called me a week after the party saying that they missed me and I was totally clueless.  Technology is awesome, but nothing beats getting a small, hand-written birthday party invitation in the mail.  It shows me that I wasn’t an afterthought to my friend – or part of her, “I’m in a hurry, click, click, click” guest list, but instead I am a treasured friend for whom she made time and gave an effort to invite.

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Source: Imagur.com

While I am appreciative of technological advancements for business purposes, I wish it wasn’t also taking over in regard to the way we communicate with true friends and family.  Where are we going to draw that line?

Put the Phone Down, Filter the CRAP, and Hit it Big!

Social Media is more than just a distraction to some.  The reading this week made me really step back and evaluate myself with regard to my own level of distraction caused by my response to the notifications from social media and e-mail.  I spent and entire day being acutely aware of my habits in a way that I had not previously, and here is what I discovered:  I am a social media addict with unchecked OCD!

Each morning, my alarm sounds (on my phone) 15 minutes before I have to get out of bed.  This is purposeful because it allows me to silence the alarm and spend those 15 minutes waking up while scrolling through my e-mail, text messages, missed calls, and of course my Facebook business page/messages.  I have been known to stay in bed doing this for 30-45 minutes, often missing my opportunity to shower and beginning my day with a coating of dry shampoo and body spray.  On days when I do have time for my  shower, I take the phone into the bathroom with me and will often prop it against the wall at the top of the shower so that I can be sure to not miss any important messages or phone calls.

When I am out of the shower, I check my phone again for the temperature and the daily weather so that I can get dressed accordingly.  By then, it is usually time for me to wake up my youngest son to begin his day (we home school).  I often Face Time him as his wake up call, you know, to save those 10 steps I would make to his bedroom.

I spend the remainder of the afternoon as a slave to the pings and bings of notifications.  If I am waiting on an important call or email, I find my (actually diagnosed) OCD pattern of checking every few minutes rears its ugly head.  I will admit that, often, this pattern does not change when I am in the car driving.  In his book, “Net Smart,” author Howard Rheingold notes that, “Texting while driving kills…(and) the fact that anyone would risk life and limb for an LOL is a clue that something about texting hooks into the human propensity to repeat pleasurable behaviors to the point of compulsion” (p. 45).  ACK!  He is right!  Try as I may over the years of driving with my son’s in the car and teaching the boys to drive, I still can’t say that I am 100% cell phone free while driving.

texting and driving

Image from quickmeme.com

My brain knows I need to be, but something almost uncontrollable begs me to check that phone at every ping.  And, turning the volume off doesn’t change that desire to check.  In fact, it almost sends it into hyper-drive as I worry that I have missed something imperative!

Most evenings I work my business by doing online Facebook parties to open oysters and sell jewelry.  During this time I am totally plugged in – working while checking a barrage of private messages, keeping up my online presence, and reading/responding to live comments as they come through my feed.

To finish my day, I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook or read articles online that interest me until I get tired enough to fall asleep.  I can’t even speak to how many times I will be reading through an article or a friend’s Facebook timeline only to find myself in the circle of links and clicks that lead me to chase a white rabbit down the social media rabbit hole.  If you aren’t sure what I mean about the rabbit hole, here is a great article I read recently after a night of chasing that rabbit for about 3 hours:  Following the White Rabbit Down the Social Media Rabbit Hole

Fine Tuning my CRAP Detector

In Chapter 2, Rhinegold points out that, in order to be smart in our use of the internet, we must learn to filter out what is true and what is false.  Rhinegold says, “Don’t refuse to believe; refuse to start out believing.  Continue to pursue your investigation after you find an answer.  Chase the story rather than just accepting the first evidence you encounter” (p. 78).  I am going to take a second here and get really personal in an attempt to give an example of a broken “CRAP detector” (p. 89) and the toll it took on my quality of life for over a year.  I mentioned above that I battle OCD.  My OCD doesn’t come in the form of counting or repeating steps for fear that something bad will happen.  My OCD presents itself with health anxiety – I am a hypochondriac when I allow my mind to take off in whatever direction it chooses.  Rheingold assures us by saying, “What person doesn’t search online about their disease after they are diagnosed?”  After my youngest son was born (15 years ago), I went through a severe bout with my OCD/hypochondria where I determined from Dr. Google that I was dying from a brain tumor.  I lost a good year of my life with worry and anxiety, but I was too afraid to see a doctor or mention these concerns because I just knew I could not handle a horrible diagnosis in my fragile mental state.  According to the internet, I had every symptom.  I was dizzy, I felt my speech was stumbling and slurred at times (even though friends and relatives had no idea what I meant and had not seen/heard any issues when speaking to me), occasionally my vision was blurry and I was experiencing flashes and floaters.  I was feeling like I was in a memory fog and often felt clumsy and off balance.  I often would run to a mirror and stick my tongue out to see if it went straight down or off to the side -Google told me to try that.  Unfortunately, Dr. Internet failed to tell me that brain tumors generally affect one area of the brain at a time.  So, if I had blurry vision caused by a tumor in my brain, it would be located behind my eyes (most likely) and symptoms would all be related to that one tumor in that one place.  A tumor behind my eye would not cause me to have slurred speech, a foggy memory, or to lose my balance unless, of course, it was metastatic.  It took me a year and a Lexapro prescription to tune my crap detector enough to realize that I had been feeding my unfounded fears by seeking worst case scenario CRAP on the internet.  I am happy to report that I continued with that Lexapro prescription and I no longer live my life in fear of dying from whatever Google diagnosed illness I may have.

dr google

Image from me.me

Working to “Hit It Big”

In Chapter 3, Rheingold begins to discuss meaningful ways that we can participate in social media.  Because social media is such a great tool in my business as a network marketer, I can’t just decide to unplug completely.  Instead, I can make small changes to the way I operate on social media (perhaps beginning with locking my phone in the glove box when I drive).  My inital interest in this graduate course came from my desire to learn how to better present myself online and how to be intentional in my participation on social media.  Reingold reminds us that, “The good news is that learning to participate effectively online (like learning attention and crap detecting skills) is a matter of mindset and practice – and the payoff can be big.  Knowledgeable online participation can help you land a job, find a mate, organize a movement, or sell a product or service.  As citizens, professionals, and consumers, we hit it big, manage to get by, or fail utterly in large part because of our ability to connect and converse with others by way of digital networks…” (p. 114).  I am ready to do what it takes to “hit it big!”

 

 

 

Out with the Old – But Wait a Minute!

In this week’s readings, we take a look at how social media has changed and, in some cases, re-defined the role of a Technical Writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the research collected by Blithe, Lauer, and Curran in their article, Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World.  They point out that the job title of “Technical Writer” seems dated in this current Web 2.0 world, and the authors quote Bernhardt (2010) in saying:  “Our graduates are getting jobs, but it is becoming ever more difficult to say just what kind of jobs are out there and what kinds of skills they demand” (265).

I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in English with a Technical Communications concentration in May of 2001.  My first job out of college was a Technical Writer position with a local water heater manufacturer.  I was the sole writer at the time as the position had been created not long before I came on board and had only been filled prior to myself by a graphic design/CAD operator who had some writing aptitude.  I recall applying for positions and many companies having absolutely no idea what a Technical Writer was or what I could possibly do for their company.  I can’t even count the number of times I was asked if I was, “some kind of secretary.”  To say that our field has progressed by leaps and bounds since then is an understatement and, perhaps, social media has  played a role.

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Image from dilbert.com (August 3, 1995)

Some of the data that I found most interesting from the Blithe, Lauer, and Curran study was that most writers responding to their survey seemed to be under the age of 40 and the authors, “…admit that the survey results give us a more reliable picture of what younger alumni are doing, and a less reliable picture of what older alumni in advanced positions are doing” (270).

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Image courtesy of http://www.prepary.com

So, what does this suggest for someone like me – someone who graduated in the field 17 years ago, took a great deal of time off, returned to graduate school, and will graduate and return to the field in the next few years as someone in the over 40-years-old category?  While I feel that my current job with Vantel Pearls has helped me to gain some social media skills and aptitude, I question whether it will be enough – or whether I will be skilled enough in the advancing trends in social media to prove competitive with my younger colleagues vying for the same positions.  I had better get to work learning these social media nuances!

But – Where is this Headed for the Social Media Illiterate?

In her article, Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South, author Bernadette Longo states that, “We in technical communication applied our expertise in what Maggiani (2009) described as ‘one-to-many’ communication” (p. 23).  “In contrast, …Maggiani argued:

In a social setting, the skill set of the technical communicator grows.  The ability to successfully apply these skills, however, become more transparent.  Ultimately, though, while the line of authorship blurs, content would become richer, deeper, more useful, and would include multiple ownership or collaboration.  A collaboration through social media, properly undertaken, results in the truest form of audience-centered content” (p. 24).

During my time as a technical writer for the water heater manufacturer, we went through an issue where I was only receiving feedback from the engineer and the voice of the user was not being heard when it came to the manual design and content.  We tried bringing in representatives from the customer service department to help bridge the gap, but it never was quite enough to make the voice of the people fully heard.  I left the position in 2003, but a few years ago, they decided to use social media to allow customers to give feedback on the usability of their current manuals.  Much has changed since this was done and the manuals have become much more novice user friendly with actual photos (rather than CAD art), larger print, online access, etc.  – check it out:   Residential Electric Water Heater Manual – Photos/online. While this social media outreach was successful, some voices were still not “heard.”

Longo speaks mostly to the way that social media is not available to everyone around the world (in developing countries) the way that it is here in the US.  But, she fails to mention that many people in the US still do not have access.  I know families in my area who still live “too deep in the woods” or “too high in the mountains” for internet providers to be able to connect them to a line – or cell phone tower signals to be able to reach their remote locations.  Then we also have to consider age as well as expense when it comes to constant connectedness.  My mom is almost 70.  She has a cell phone but feels she can’t afford monthly internet access on her fixed income.  She doesn’t own a laptop or PC and she uses her cell phone date for anything she may want to do online.  While that does mean that she is “connected,” she does not have the benefit of a a large screen or keyboard, and some companies have very unusable mobile websites.  As social media takes center stage in the lives of the current generations, some in the older generations are being left behind.  My momma would much rather make a phone call or go by and visit someone than to go find them on social media or send them a personal message through the messenger app.  As a human, that matters to me.  When we are discussing peoples’ “voices being heard,” I don’t like to think that we are phasing out the elderly and the poorer people and nations.

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Image courtesy of 11point.com

I suppose you could say that, in my advanced age, I am accepting change a lot more slowly than I once did.

Always Open for Business

In chapter 9 of Mary Chayco’s book SuperConntected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life, the author discusses the subject of “constant availability” with regard to digital and social media connectedness.  Chayco says, “People who live in tech-intensive societies can come to truly depend not just on digital technologies, but on the convenience they afford” (p.183).  She quotes an interviewee of hers that said, “The pro-side is I’m available, and that is the downside, also” (p. 183).

Fortunately, and unfortunately, this rings true for an online, social media based business as well.  If I need to contact a local store, someone at the post office, or even a restaurant, I have to wait until they are open again for business.  For instance, yesterday (a Saturday), I visited my son and found that the cat he recently adopted from the Humane Society is having some sneezing.  Of course, I wanted him to take her to our veterinarian for a check-up.  Unfortunately, the vet we use does not open again until Monday morning.  Considering that sneezing is not a medical emergency, there was no warranted reason for him to take her to a special 24-hour Emergency Vet Clinic.  So, alas, we will call on Monday.

My online business operates much differently.  One might say, I am always open – even though my hours are clearly posted on my website.

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Image from: Rebecca Snyder, Vantel Pearls Silver Leader Facebook business page.

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Image from Vectorstock.com

My posted hours do not stop customers from messaging my business page AND my personal page all hours of the day, every day of the week.  …And, I am guilty of doing the same.

My son and I decided we wanted to get similar tattoos recently.  We knew that the tattoo shop was closed at 2am when we were discussing this idea, but that did not stop me from contacting the shop that came most highly recommended (by my local Facebook friends) via private message (yes, at 2am) and asking about availability for the next day.  To my surprise, the reply came almost instantly with the tattoo artist who was available to do our artwork and what time we should plan to show up as walk-ins.  And, when we showed up that next morning, the owner remembered our message and got us right in for our tattoos.

 

 

As users of  24/7 social media, where do we draw the line?  Or better yet, are most even aware that they could be crossing a line?  An argument can be made that, anyone who does not want to be contacted outside of business hours can simply ignore the messages until they are back “in the office.”  However, as simple as that seems, Facebook has made it complicated to ignore a message.  It dings, it sits in the notifications and haunts us with that little red number at the top of the app letting us know that we have UNREAD MESSAGES, and, if that isn’t enough, Facebook also shows our customers that we have read the message by having our little profile picture circle move down the message thread.  No denying we received it – or even what time we read it!  Thanks Facebook!

 

I suppose the worst that could happen is that I lose a customer for not responding quickly enough to a message she may feel is urgent enough to send at 2 am.  For some businesses, that probably would not matter as they have many customers and many more to come.  In my smaller customer base (around 400 buyers total), it takes each one to make this work for me.  So, I truly can’t afford to lose even one customer – and I find myself jumping through hoops and answering messages as quickly as I receive them, even if that is in the middle of the night.  Chayco speaks to this and suggest perhaps it is not the fault of digital technology.  She says, “Keeping up with a flood of stimuli and information can be challenging and burdensome.  Tasks may start to snowball;  people can feel they need to work and/or be digitally connected day and night, lest they fall behind the curve…but…these stresses are not caused by digital technology us.  In fact some of these stresses are simply the ‘cost of caring'” (p. 191).

 

 

Crowdsourcing is Key in my Social Media Based Business

Before I discuss crowdsourcing and its necessity in my social media based, direct sales business, let me give a bit of background.  I work for Vantel Pearls as an independent consultant and team leader.  This company began as an in-home party sales company much like Tupperware or Thirty-One Gifts.  However, with Facebook’s invent of the Live Video Streaming feature, Vantel Pearls consultants began to take their parties from the living room to the live video platform, thus allowing them to reach an audience well outside of their local social circle.

During my live videos, the customer makes a purchase, selects the oyster they would like to open, and I shuck the oyster, live, to reveal the pearl inside.  That pearl is then sent to our home office to be set into the jewelry piece they selected and they will receive their jewelry in 2-3 weeks via US Mail.  It may seem simple – Hit the “Go Live” button and voila, everyone in the USA sees your party, hops on, and makes a purchase!  Right?  Well, no.  As a matter of fact, Facebook algorithms make it virtually impossible to reach more than a small handful of even your Facebook friend’s list, much less those outside of your circle.  This is what makes crowdsourcing so important in my business.

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life discusses crowdsourcing in depth in Chapter 4.  She says, ” Online attention can take the shape of a single glance at a photo or a more active step: a like, a follow, a share, a comment” (76).  It takes time and effort to build a social media presence.  My business began with my local social circle and a select few of my Facebook friends who had interest in the product and experience I was selling.  I encouraged those friends to host a party with me; they became the “hostess” with the promise of earning free jewelry based upon the purchases made by their friends and family (their circle).  They invited these friends and family members to the party and by doing so, increased my “circle” a bit more.

During my live parties, I spend time engaging with my customers and making sure they are having fun.  I wear silly hats, play games, bring on special guests and offer prizes to buyers as well as to people who SHARE my video on their personal pages.

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Image from: Grad School Pearl Girl VIPs Group Page

By having them comment a phrase with the hashtag sign in front of it  (#Just1morepearl),  I am able to randomly choose a “Share Winner” though FB feature called “Woobox.”  I ask that they make all shares public so that I can verify the share was made once the winner is chosen.

Mary Chayco says, “This is, indeed, a kind of economy, and it is one that has come to matter to many of us.  Attention is attracted as something shared is acknowledged online.  A kind of compensation follows in the form of likes, follows and comments.  More tangible rewards like social connections, jobs, and money can even follow” (76).  Facebook allows me to keep track of likes, shares, and follows via “Insights” that can be found on my Facebook Business Page.  It keeps track of the trends week-by-week so I can see the ebbs and flows in the number of people who are seeing and interacting with my page.

Mary Chayco points out that, “Attention online is subject to increasing returns.  That is, the more one has of it, the easier it is to get more.  …To succeed in such an economy, it helps to create or re-mix attention getting content and then to rapidly capitalize on bursts of attention as soon as they occur in hopes they will follow back and engage in return” (76).  This is something I find myself doing often.  When I change the times I go live, or the prizes I give away on a given night, sometimes my live viewers will jump dramatically.  When they do, I immediately take that cue to mention liking and following my page, joining my VIP group, or signing up to receive my text notifications.  I rev up the energy, start singing – anything to get those people to take it one step further and like or follow my page in hopes that they will, over time, see me pop up in their feed and ultimately, become interested enough to make a purchase.

However, all of this has been more that I can do alone.  Around Christmas, I enlisted the help of four “Admins” to help me run my Facebook Business and VIP pages.  These four individuals are responsible for making posts to increase interaction on my pages during times when I am not live, booting trolls from my live videos who, as Mary Chaco describes them, are “individuals who… “hijack”…and provide extreme, irrelevant responses in an attempt to pull focus away from the…original intent” (74), and sharing my live videos in groups to increase viewers.  I suppose you could say I outsourced crowdsourcing.

In March, Vantel Pearls sent me to Rivera Maya, Mexico in an all expense paid trip for being in the 125 top in sales.  My gratitude went to my customers, because, without their constant shares, post interactions, and purchases, I would not have a business.  While I am certainly not famous nor the absolute top seller in the company, I count my business a success because of my customers’, Admins’, followers’ willingness to share me with their friends and family – their willingness to crowdsource!

My Experiences – Paid vs Free Blogs & How My Customers Reacted

I have had a few blogs over the years. The first couple of blogs were owned by the blogging website, and since I did not want to pay for a blog, the blogging website had advertisements everywhere. I used these blogs until people started to complain about the advertisements, so I paid a blogging website (LiveJournal) a fee to never have advertising on my blog again. I still use this blog today, maybe once or twice a month.

A few years later, WordPress became wildly popular because of how easily you can customize it with themes and widgets. I believe that people can also sell things with a merchant shopping cart on there too. For this WordPress blog, I paid someone to set it up so that it was on my own server. I had even purchased a new domain url for it. Sadly, the WordPress theme that I was using was retired, rendering my website useless. Since I did not have time to find a new tech person to update my website, my website currently sits defunct online.

So, what did I do with my blogs? My blogs were to promote my business and gather a loyal customer base. I would post photos and videos of my products, as well as cartoons and news about my industry. These postings automatically fed into my Facebook news feed. I found that when I posted stories of my adventures with my business, I would get the most replies on those postings. When I would post a video of my product, I would get the most sales. Photos were a hit or a miss. With photos, I would get the most criticism – positive and negative – responses. When I posted news or cartoons, people really did not respond much.

However, when I shared content links from others, my customers enjoyed those and would share those with others. This made me take a look at how other companies were engaging their customers with their Facebook news feeds. I began taking screen shots of things that I found to be quite clever and fun, so that I could do something similar later. Unfortunately, with what little time I have now, I have not tried anything of these ideas, but I hope to test the ideas out maybe next year or two. This should give me plenty of time to create nice content that will be ready when I want to use it.

Now that I have touched upon my experience with my own blogs, I will talk about my experience with other blogs. The only other blogs that interest me are those that give me ideas to make my business more successful. I personally do not care if there are photos or not, I just want good information that I can put to use right away. I do not want filler or fluff. That stuff does have its place, and I have done it for my own blogs once in awhile, but when I want answers, I want answers immediately.

So what have I learned through all my experiences? I learned that blogging is a lot of work, so if I was going to blog, I wanted to make it count and send sales my way, as paying my bills was the goal instead of writing just to write. Thus, I did not spend any time reading blogs that could not help me with my goal. My goal was to succeed with my customers and my business. It still is.