Baring All

I plonked my wibbly wobbly stretch-marked belly (maybe NSFW, features underboob) on Instagram last night. It came off the back of a conversation with a gorgeous, sexy friend who mentioned that she had issues with her tummy. It’s a common one, especially for mums.

I spent a long time hung up on my stomach. I’ve had stretch marks (all over) for as long as I can remember but during pregnancy they multiplied by the dozen. I have weird bits of skin from where it was stretched to the obscene and didn’t quite recover. I have some lines that look as wide as they are long. I’d been with Gaz for close to two years before I stopped flinching every time his hand brushed past my stomach; before I stopped pushing it away, swallowing hard and holding my breath until he was out of the ‘danger zone’.

It’s so easy to look down at myself and see this ‘mess’ and then compare it to instagram models and “just bounced back” celebs and wonder where I went wrong. But comparison is the thief of joy (according to Theodore Roosevelt) and although he probably wasn’t talking about bellies, I can see his point. When we compare our untouched naked skin to the Photoshopped elite we stop seeing the things these soft, squishy, wondrous tummies have done for us. For those of us who are lucky enough to have been able to grow babies, they have protected new life, shielding it from the elements, giving it space to grow.

When I had my little self-love epiphany after my gallbladder issues, I promised myself that come what may I would not slip back into the habit of negative self-talk, of filtering out my flaws and avoiding the scars and marks that cover my skin. I told myself that I would use my platform & my confidence & my ‘fuck you’ attitude to normalise the wobbles and bulges, dips and bumps and lines. Despite this, despite finding comfort in my jiggles, I still hesitated before sharing. That familiar deep breath, hard swallow. Why is it hard? It shouldn’t be hard.

There is beauty in imperfection, in vulnerability, in accepting who we are and how we got there. If that means baring all and shouting “I LOVE MYSELF” from the rooftops so as to reiterate that and encourage other people to do the same? So be it.

Insta fitness and chasing tiny

(This post doesn’t have an image attached to it because the search for “thinspiration” to demonstrate what I am getting at turned up some fucking horrific images and I don’t want to contribute to that.)

Despite being a late adopter to Instagram (as per usual; I only downloaded snapchat this week) it is easily my favourite social network for procrastination. As well as engaging with the people I follow multiple times a day, I also frequently make use of their ‘discover’ feed and randomly like/comment on other people’s photos. It’s actually a good way to find new people with similar interests (which I guess is the whole point).

Unfortunately, because I use Instagram as a half-hearted fitness log, and as such follow other fitness folk, my insta discovery feed is absolutely rammed with weight loss posts and “transformations”: picture after picture after picture of women — always women — before their “magical transformation” and after. The before pictures usually feature someone obese or significantly overweight, and the after can be anything up to and including skeletal women (that quite possibly have an eating disorder).

Sometimes the women are even the same person & it’s hilarious how bad some of the fakes are, but that’s another post for another day…

And people LOVE it. They lap it up. Thousands of likes and comments applauding the desire to shrink, to be smaller, to better fit into society’s normal. “Thinspiration!” they cry. Lots of supportive comments, but as is the norm on the Internet, a whole fuckton of fat shaming too.

Why? Why do we — women — strive to take up less space in a world that tries so hard to keep us small and meek and fearful? And I don’t mean the act of weight loss in itself: I am happy to support anyone that wants to lose weight if they so desire, whatever their motivation for doing so. I have obviously pursued my own weight loss goals to better fit the way I feel most comfortable and confident… but chasing “tiny” just for the sake of being tiny?

In a world that has us fighting to exist on an equal footing for pay, for health care, and in some countries for access to basic human rights; in a world that is led by men who brag openly about sexual assault so that we know our place? Deliberately shrinking ourselves seems so counter-productive.

Where are my insta-fitness shots of growth: growing muscles? Growing more confident? Growing competence in a discipline that pleases you? Growing more secure, or growing capacity for fitness? Growing the distance you run or the friends you make through a mutual enjoyment of a sport?

Fuck, grow your plate of cookies for all I care – just demand more. Be MORE. Not less. Never less.

6 things you should be doing with your business website

1. Phone number on every page

I know it can seem intimidating to list a phone number on your website when you’re a work at home parent but many suppliers and customers prefer to talk rather than e-mail, even in this day and age. In fact, one of my favourite clients came to me because the first person he’d been recommended refused to chat on the telephone. My willingness to talk earned me work, and his word of mouth referrals continue to benefit my business in a huge way.

A phone number gives an appearance of ‘real-ness’ and transparency. It takes you from “internet nobody” to someone tangible.

If you only have a personal number and don’t want to invest in a work phone, consider paying for a virtual phone number to mask yours.

2. Examples of your work

Although difficult if you’re bound by NDAs, showing examples of your work is crucial to quickly show your potential customers that you can do what you say you can. This is especially true if you work in an industry that relies on creativity or visual ‘stuff’ – design, writing, etc.

If your work is all protected by NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements) or you’re just starting out and don’t have any “real” work to show, put examples and dummy work on your website. As long as you make it clear to your potential clients that it’s fictional work, you’ll be fine.

3. Contact form

Although there are still lots of people who like a good chat on the phone before handing over business, there are just as many — if not more — people who want to make contact via the web. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  • They’re making enquiries at work and don’t want to have to take a personal call during work time (or shouldn’t be on the internet in the first place!)
  • They have anxiety issues or dislike talking on the phone: this is incredibly common
  • It’s quicker to describe their query or give requirements in text format than it is to explain on the telephone
  • They want a written record of communication
  • Laziness! (Guilty as charged…)

For this reason I highly recommend you have a working contact form on your website. But — and this is hugely important — don’t add a ton of required fields. Name, e-mail address and enquiry are all that you need to reply to the submission. You can ask for more details later on if it seems relevant.

4. Social media links

If you’re on social media (and if not, why not?) then make sure that you link your social media profiles from your website. Like many people now, if I have a quick question for an item I want to buy or about a venue etc, I always reach out first on twitter or facebook before I resort to emailing, purely because people generally respond faster via social media than they do via email.

5. Make it clear what benefit you have over competition

Every business should have a USP (Unique Selling Point), some reason or another why customers should buy your product or services over the competition. If you don’t make it clear to your website visitors what that USP is, and why they should use you, you run the risk of losing them before they’ve even left your home page.

If you can make it look like you have the perfect solution to your client’s problem, you have a guaranteed sale.

6. Testimonials

Testimonials (or product reviews, if you are selling something physical) sound cheesy and are easy to fake (NEVER do this!) but people still read them before spending their hard earned cash. As someone who does their shopping almost exclusively online, I avoid anything with zero reviews or things rated poorly.

To give your testimonials or reviews authenticity and make them feel more powerful, make sure you use a name and — where possible — a picture or image to represent the person behind the words. Use the testimonials on appropriate pages, e.g. from an existing customer of ABC Widgets on the page selling Widgets.

Don’t forget, your customers and clients are unlikely to offer up a testimonial, so make sure you ask. Give them some guidance: ask for specific reasons why your product or services worked for them, ask for figures or stats to back it up if appropriate, and then bask in the warm glow that comes from being told how awesome you are.

Image credit: anna maria lopez lopez

How I got 20,000 hits a day (and lost them all again)

Once upon a time, in a period best described as responsibility-free and with plenty of disposable income (AKA before I had children), I had a “reasonably” popular blog. Yes, this one. As crazy as it sounds to those of you who’re new readers (i.e. started reading within the past few years), it’s true, and you only have to look at the triple-figure comments on some of my old posts to get an inkling of what that meant. This was in a time where Twitter and Facebook were in their infancy, not capable of making a post viral worldwide in the blink of an eye like today, but niche interest posts could pull in 20,000 or more unique hits through StumbleUpon, Digg and the like.

So how did I achieve 20,000 unique hits in one day?

I blogged regularly

I would often blog daily (without having to set myself daft challenges) and sometimes even more than once a day. Not just short pieces either, some of my older entries were thousands of words long. Frequent updates meant people regularly came back to read new posts because they knew I would have updated.

What went wrong: after having Isabel, when time at the keyboard was in short supply, I favoured quick bursts of social media posts over my blog. People stopped checking for new posts, Google’s bot popped in less regularly, and hits slowly dropped.

I was active on StumbleUpon

stumbleupon_logoI would easily spend hours several times a week clicking through page after page on StumbleUpon, leaving thumbs-ups and reviews. Because of this I gained authority and a small following, which meant that when I had something I knew would pique interest to share from my own blog I could easily have it distributed to hundreds of people very quickly. Because StumbleUpon works by finding pages based on user-submitted interests, it was almost guaranteed that the content you submit would end up in front of the audience it was aimed at. Targeted content meant happier visitors.

su-tshirt-hits

What went wrong: I stopped using StumbleUpon (again, time was the issue) which meant I lost my following, and this meant that there was no ‘power’ behind my shares when I tried to boost my own content.

I read (and commented on) a lot of blogs

Commenting was the number one way to get a blogger’s attention, and there was a big “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” attitude to commenting. Generally if you left a comment on a blog, that blogger would make an effort to comment back on one of your posts. That’s not to say it was perfect, and when I was receiving 50-100 comments on a post returning all comments was virtually impossible, but you could expect around a 50% return rate for your efforts.

What went wrong: although I’ve never stopped reading blogs, I simply don’t prioritise time for commenting any more. That, combined with a general decrease in blog-commenting as a method of communicating, meant that I wasn’t getting the same click-through from potential new eyes and other bloggers. Hence including commenting in Septemblog

I used multiple online forums

I was active in multiple niches all relevant to the topics I would cover on my blog (I have never, and will never stick to just one topic) which meant that no matter what I posted, I could potentially draw eyes from forums on to my posts with a bit of shameless promo. Of course this privilege came at a cost, having built up a reputation on the boards in question: nobody would have clicked my links if I’d joined, posted twice and then spammed the crap out of the forum with links to my website.

online-forums

What went wrong: as the growth of Facebook and its groups increased, a lot of forums stopped being relevant or necessary leading to their closure. Although I use several that remain, I don’t do so as actively as I used to and rarely publish something I feel worth sharing on those I do use.

I provided something of use

Because I had free time, and a genuine interest in furthering my knowledge, I invested time in learning new code and creating useful tools and scripts for other bloggers and webmasters. This meant that not only did people visit my blog to find these tools and scripts, but it earned me a reputation for knowing my stuff which enabled me to release trusted tutorials to teach others how to do the same thing, which in turn also got shared and so on and so forth. I have been approached at web conferences by people who used my stuff to get started 10 years ago, and that is incredibly fulfilling.

What went wrong: the Internet and website-creation as a hobby grew and changed, rendering a lot of my early scripts redundant. My primary blog audience also changed, and those that do still read don’t know or care what my scripts do, let alone want to use and share them. I haven’t bothered to invest time in my scripts to increase their relevancy and so their usefulness — and as such the amount of traffic I get for them — decreases day by day.

I wasn’t afraid to have an opinion

jem-turner-logoI’ve always been a gobby know-it-all cow and once upon a time that reflected quite clearly in my blog. My tagline for years — “Ultimately better than you” — which now is, in part, the strapline for my business was a tongue-in-cheek reference to it. I talked about anything and everything that took my fancy, courting controversy and even attracting the odd hate letter and death threat. People love to disagree, and in particular people love to write reaaally long comments telling you exactly how much they disagree.

What went wrong: after Isabel I didn’t really have time to deal with the throwback from my more controversial pieces, and after Oliver I had to focus on my professional presence online which meant toning down the more er… outrageous opinion pieces. I still have opinions of course, I just keep them to myself unless otherwise asked!

Nowadays 20,000 hits in one day should be easier to achieve: you have a greater number of people online, a much bigger pool of bloggers to collaborate and communciate with, and a huuuuuuge array of social networking sites to create a following and gain authority on. What’s stopping you?

Crappy Facebook “Like” Bug

I finally got round to tweaking my sidebar and bringing individual sidebars for posts back (with just related posts for now, but with more post info coming soon). Anyway, I also added a Facebook like button as a temporary thing until I re-code the original share buttons I had, only to find my logs ram-packed with weird requests from facebook with ?fb_xd_fragment appended to the URL.

It’s something to do with outdated Flash players and Internet Explorer; I skim-read the bug report on it to find no real solution (just a multitude of crappy hacks). What surprises me is that this bug is a year old and hasn’t been sorted yet!

Anyway, my apologies if you had problems loading the site in IE earlier.

How to Make Money Off Gullible Fools

I’ve just been checking my Facebook activity feed and noticed a friend who’d “Like”ed a page called “This Formspring Question led to the SUICIDE of a 15-year-old girl”. It’s one of those annoying “click Like to see the content!” pages, which makes use of CSS to hide the content (pro-tip: the web developer toolbar for Firefox has an option to disable styles; scroll down to see the content).

The page hides a link to an external page with the supposed formspring question on it. Now, ignoring the stupidity of clicking links to websites you don’t trust, within seconds of the page loading I was redirected to an ‘Adscend Media’ page telling me I *must* enable JavaScript to see the content, X browsers support it, etc etc. Odd, I don’t remember clicking an Adscend Media page, I wanted to see this so-called cyberbullying! So, back-up a second, reload the content, view-source before the refresh kicks in (web dev toolbar also disables those, btw) and lo and behold… amongst the hideous bloated mark-up that can only be generated by a Microsoft Office product, is a JavaScript reference to Adscend Media. An external JavaScript file which loads an ad-ridden affiliate iframe onto the page.

When you click “Like” to “bring exposure to cyberbullying”, you’re promoting a page that is making money through the stupidity of Facebook users who don’t know any better than to click links to 3rd party pages. The fact that this page, and others like it, only have dodgy adverts is a small mercy… think about what you could be loading on to your computer by opening pages you don’t know and can’t trust. Nice, eh?