The Journey Journal – Five Lessons I learned in 2018

The Journey Journal – Five Lessons I learned in 2018

Never let formal education get in the way of your learning. ”
Mark Twain

Yes. Learning is a very important thing in life. I spend most of my life in some kind of learning institution. Even when I was working full-time I thought it would be a good idea to enroll in university and study psychology. What I did not do? Reflecting on what I have learned so far. That is going to change. And it is important for you because some of the lessons I learned this year can be helpful for your career change or business strategy too.

What is in this article for you:

  • Business advises to create or refine your strategy.
  • Things to consider if you plan a career change.
  • How to minimize your stress levels next year.

The top 5 lessons learned.

After two years in business as an entrepreneur, this year has been the most educational one so far. There are a lot of mindset changes I experienced and I also got to know myself more when it comes to work routines. Have you ever thought about how your work should be structured to lift your work spirit? I certainly never did. And then I realized that I don’t like working in shifts without any flexibility. On the other hand, I also realized that I don’t like my week to be unstructured and having a changing schedule every week. So much we can learn about ourselves when we take the time to look back and reflect on what is happening.

When you continue reading this post you will probably realize why I chose the Mark Twain quote. My recent learning history is a great mixture of formal education and on-the-job-learning. I am not really sure what I prefer. Have you tried both? Then it would be great if you would share your learning experiences in the comments below.

To give you a rough overview of this post, here are the lessons learned from 2018. The order is not because of their importance.

  1. SEO is still important. Even if you don’t rank on Number 1 on google.
  2. Too much can be overwhelming. Especially when it comes to learning.
  3. The art of writing is not just putting together a long string of words.
  4. Insights about your (potential) clients are essential.
  5. A business owner without a strategy is lost.

Let’s start with some thoughts on SEO.

#1: SEO is still important.

Since my first days of creating websites in HTML, SEO has come a long way. From basically just putting some keywords into the header of your HTML-code to keyword stuffing (you know the infamous 3% rule) to putting user-experience first. SEO is no longer just about the keywords you use in a text, it is also about

  • how you structure your text
  • how you structure your website
  • how you use your images
  • still about backlinks (quality over quantity, please)
  • and now more than ever: related keywords

User experience first.

Remember, I wrote: User experience. A user does not like reading a sentence like “the wedding photographer that creates stunning wedding photos at a wedding venue during a wedding ceremony on your wedding day”. So instead of using “wedding” all the time, use different but related words. As – even if this is a very striking example – whatever you do on your website is not for you. It is for your clients and visitors. Make their stay on your website as delightful as possible.

Use headlines to structure your text. Put yourself into the shoes of your website visitor. Are they slain by long text blogs? With no highlights or itemization? Help them walk through your website. Create a path for them and guide them visually. And when it comes to a good text: Use variations of your main keyword.

Keywords, keywords, everywhere.

I know keyword research can be boring and dull. And sometimes it is hard to come up with new phrases. Here is how I start searching for new keywords: For personal branding, I used Market Muse to find out which keywords I could also use. In total, Market Muse was an eye-opener. After reading their advice on what I could do differently on my future blog posts I realized: I need to take more time on keyword research.

And only after that, I should start writing my blog posts and “putting text” on my images. And especially as a photographer, I need to take the time to use correct keywords on my images. As the new year approaches fast, I was thinking about launching a new ad-words campaign. I did my market research (find out more under insights) and was setting up my landing page when I realized: I didn’t give names to a lot of my images. They were still labeled wedding-xyz-5 or something. No caption, no description and worst of all: No alt-tag. No wonder, no one is finding my wedding photography website. (In case you are curious you can find it here.)

The key takeaways for you?

  • Whatever you put on your website: Think about SEO first.
  • Don’t skip the keyword research part.
  • Always put user-experience first.

And if you want to get more into SEO, check out Neil Patel’s awesome website. Or the free google training.

#2: Too much can be overwhelming.

There are so many good learning resources out there. So many free advice, blog posts, checklists and podcast. Have you heard about the podcast “Don’t keep your day job“? Have you seen the new webinar from Jamie Kutcher? Or do you follow Sunny Lenarduzzi on youtube? You should follow all of them immediately. But be advised: One thing leads to another. If you follow one podcast, you probably hear about a guest or an online resource that helps you with a problem you have. And then you have the next podcast, webinar and online resource. And they are all equally important for you. Stop here for a minute. To listen to episode 309 from “She did it her way“.

Focus on what your business needs right now.

I get it. I really do. There are so many amazing people out there. And there are so many helpful resources out there. And you are under a lot of pressure to make money. Ideally last Saturday. But the problem with trying to do everything all at once – growing on Instagram, switching careers, launching an online course, becoming better at web design – will pull you apart. And overwhelm you.

At least, that’s what’s happened to me. I was so motivated by all these amazing podcasts, I totally lost sight of my next business steps. I didn’t approach the valuable lessons that were offered with a strategy. Or with time and an open mind (one that is actually capable of listening and processing).

Limit yourself to a few. Limit your options.

I am not saying “Don’t listen to podcasts” or “don’t try to learn something new or grow”. What I am saying is: Do one thing after the other. And only one thing at a time. Look at your schedule. If you need to have a new website up and running, you can’t spend your amount on time diving into the realms of Instagram growth. If you are planning a new online course you don’t have time to read up on web design. Everything you do needs your full attention and can’t be done while watching the latest re-run of Bones.

I tried to get as much knowledge as I could. So I was listening to podcasts while traveling from Chemnitz to Berlin (and vice versa). The end result? Every time when I had a new and really relevant idea, I was driving. I couldn’t take notes. So I had to re-listen everything. When I had the time and quiet to actually made something out of the offered help. Lessons learned for 2019? Only listen to educational podcasts when I can sit down and take notes. No more podcast-binging. I have my Bones-re-runs for that.

Educational resources everywhere.

Same goes for online educational programmes. I recently discovered Skillshare. After I discovered google free training for business owners and Udemy. I still have to finish my Java programming course which I really liked doing but started and then didn’t finish because a new programme came up. Same goes for the Skillshare copywrite course I started to refine my copywriting skills. My mantra for next year: Only one education at a time. I can’t write a thesis on the depiction of Maria on the tympanum of the South portal of the Strasbourg cathedral when I simultaneously try to improve my programming and writing skills. My brain just goes into an unstructured overload.

The key takeaways for you?

  • Focus on max. 5 relevant podcasts.
    (Mark your calendar as we are starting our freelancer podcast in 2019.)
  • If you want to get the best out of a free course, webinar or podcast, treat it like a class in school.
  • Never try to do more than one education programme at a time. Unless you have a lot of downtime.

#3: Writing is more than just a string of good words.

After leaving my corporate job for a career in photography and journalism I was under the impression that there are only three kinds of writing. Writing for magazines, newspapers, and editorials as in writing as a journalist. Creating amazing fiction and new worlds as in being a book author. And finally writing scientifically, cause you have to finish university at some point. Boy, have I been wrong.

The art of writing.

Everything started when I took my blogging seriously. I knew that I wanted to promote my idea of personal branding. And also share the lessons I learned from switching careers and starting something new. And so, in the beginning, I only blogged every once in a while. I knew I could write, I mean, I never got criticized for my text at the university radio, only for my way of speaking and being. Then I wanted to blog more and realized that it was getting harder to find new topics to blog about.

One thing led to another. At first, I read an article about the art of creating spectacular headlines. Then a how-to on how to create enticing copytext. After that, I stumbled upon a podcast episode about the three ways to create a story that captivates listeners and readers. And a whole new world revealed itself in front of me.

The new demand for writing.

Some of you might be already laughing or rolling their eyes. When I think about it, in retrospect, with a change in communication (from the analog to digital) comes a different demand in writing skills. New opportunities and new job descriptions. So, of course, there are different and new rules for different types of content.

For example when you write a blog post for entertainment make sure it uses storytelling techniques. I found this source here that gives a great overview of the 8 most common ways to tell a story. Also, there is a very good episode on Amy Porterfield’s “Online marketing made easy” podcast about storytelling. (I love the whole podcast as a resource for online marketing.)

A different kind of text is a copy text, so basically, text that should sell something. It’s not just that you have to get your message through within two sentences. No, you also have to do a different kind of research for this kind of text. It is way more focused on the transformation your customer is aspiring than it is on good sounding words. Though good wording is plus. Both kinds of texts have their own set of writing skills you need to develop. Both have a different audience, a different style in language and a different goal.

It’s not about you.

Another thing that was a key takeaway from 2018 is that you don’t write for yourself. Unless you really really really like to listen to yourself and don’t care what other people think of anything. Then you can write only for the purpose of entertaining yourself. But in general: You have a message that you want to get through. But, and that’s a huge but, you want people to listen to you. So don’t shout at them. People listen to you if you speak their language and offer them something of value. Of value for them. A good advice, some freebies, a message that helps them transform from the state they are in right now to the state they want to be in. Always focus on your readers and think about what is useful for them.

The key takeaways for you?

  • Writing is not writing. Be aware of what kind of text you are working on.
  • There is a special language for everything and you have to use it accordingly.
  • Invest in grammar-correction programmes. I love Grammarly and I am not ashamed of it.

#4:  Get. Some. Insights.

For two years now I offer my services as a wedding photographer. For me the idea was simple. You want to marry and you want to have photos of your special day. Period. Or maybe not. So my first step to designing my ideal client was to go and create a persona on a whiteboard. All on my own. Which worked out okay, but not really good. I hit a roadblock when I was trying to sell couple sessions. I know that they would be pricey but I couldn’t really find the right sales argument to make people want them. And then I did something I was really afraid of: I asked the couples around me why they would want and buy images of them as a couple. I asked my potential clients.

Get out of your head.

The results were amazing. I got a lot better feel for my customers and I understood what they were really looking after. I made the same experiences when it came to wedding photography. Have you heard about the method where you go on amazon and look up a book on a specific topic, read the reviews and find out how your potential clients speak and what they are struggling with? This method is actually very helpful and brings you a lot closer to your clients. In my case, I realized that the main problem for a couple who plan their wedding is their overwhelm with everything they have to keep in mind. How good would it be to have a photographer on their wedding day at their side that has a lot of wedding experience?

You design your services for them. Not you.

I can’t stretch this enough. Get into the heads of your potential clients. You will be amazed. Same goes for designing your products and services. I am currently in the process of creating an online photography course for Moms with small children. I don’t have children and I am an experienced photographer. There is a demand for photography courses but do you know what Moms are really looking for? I sure do not and am now pretty happy with what the Moms I interviewed so far shared with me. Otherwise, I would have created an intense module on technical help. Although they are more looking for photo ideas than technical help.

The key takeaways for you?

  • Don’t ever think that you know what other people really want.
  • Get into your clients’ lingo.
  • Customer insights are the most important thing for designing a product or service that sells.

#5: Make a strategy.

I started my wedding photography business two years ago. In a spur of a moment as my then-boyfriend was convinced it was the easiest way to go. For my future life, I had two reference points. First, I didn’t want to have a classical 9-5 office job again. Secondly, I want to either work as a photographer or a journalist. Besides me not knowing what life offers in regards to photography or writing, I listened to the plan of my boyfriend and just went with it. From where I stand now: Not a smart move. Let me show you why.

The boat analogy.

Think of your business as a boat in the open sea. When you use your compass and set for a destination, you are actually going in that direction. Now imagine being a sailor who lives through the day. Every once in a while you moor your boat, on other days you just let the waves take you somewhere. Now on this particular day, you start on a clear day. There is just a small breeze going, the weather is fine, you lie down on your deck and fall asleep. Next time you wake up because you are getting wet and the sky is dark and you can see a storm in the distance. Unfortunately, your boat was going on its own, so you have no clue where you are and where you should be heading. Because you are still on that boat. And the storm is not looking really friendly. Going overboard is one option. Your boat getting seriously damaged another. Is that how you want to run your business?

Finding your anchor.

Although I thought about my ideal client and did attract some clients, I let my business run to where its course would take it. Meaning: I took for granted that wedding photography is a highly competitive field and that I can’t get enough clients there. That changed after I made some interesting discoveries about brand strategy this year. in short: I didn’t have one. As the topic of having a child was coming up earlier this year, I was forced to really think about my business. Look at all my options and then limit them. My anchor for next year: I want to niche-down wedding-wise. I will develop my writing and programming skills so that I can expand my personal branding services. And last but not least: I want to invest more into public speaking. Four pillars for sustainable growth.

Find your own three to max. four growth pillars for next year. And then start building a strategy how you can get there. Here is how I did it. I knew that I want to work as a guest speaker on the topic of personal branding. So, therefore, I need a) opportunities to speak, b) presentation skills and c) a reputation as a personal brand expert. The biggest challenge right now is to get opportunities to speak but as I know this, I can work backward from here and start designing the steps I need to take. I know now that I need more references and for that, I am going to contact organizations that might be interested in the topic of Personal Branding. For that, I would need some sort of “small pitch” to get them interested in letting me speak. And so on and so forth. Same works for the other pillars.

The key takeaways for you?

  • A clear strategy makes your business operation easier and more relaxed.
  • Make space in your calendar, sit down and write a basic outline before you start next year’s business operations.
  • Get back to the boat example: Without a direction, you are not steering. You are floating and not in charge.

A bonus lesson from 2018.

Don’t be afraid if everybody is jumping on the same train. When I heard about Personal Branding back in November 2017 (so more than a year ago) it was fairly unknown here in Germany. Of course, everyone had heard about influencers and making money on social media. And sure, there were books about self-pr and creating a brand. But as personal branding is more than just brand designing I wasn’t worried about too many services in this niche.

This has now changed. Or at least for me. As I read up on everything personal branding related I realized there are already some magazines (mostly from the marketing sphere) that write about this topic. And soon there are going to be more personal branding coaches. You might have experienced something similar in your niche. The feeling of being in a huge crowd of competitors. But fear not. They are not competitors. Everyone has their own spin on your topic.

Personal branding is a good example of this. You can promote it as

  • a way to create the brand called you
  • a way to make an already established brand more personal
  • a way to make you a part of the Social Media conversation
  • a way to do self-pr
  • a way to start a conversation with your audience
  • a guideline to develop your business strategy around your core values (before entering a market)

And so on and so forth. You see, every service and every punchline can be interpreted in many ways. And behind every interpretation, there is a different set of potential clients and customers. So there is enough on the table for everyone. Don’t be discouraged because someone has already made their mark. Find your own interpretation and problem-solving method. And grow your business from there.

After years of working in the automobile sector Anna Christina Harms decided that she should stick to would she really loves: Writing, taking pictures and strategize. She is now living in Berlin and supporting future freelancers to take the next step in their career.

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