A Quick Way to Improve Your Writing Skills and Create Better Content

SPECIAL NOTE: A couple of weeks back, I did a live class on search engine optimization (SEO) for bloggers. The class was incredibly popular, and since then I’ve had tons of requests from people who couldn’t attend the live workshop, but still want a way to access the class.

Well, there’s good news – now you can get the “What Bloggers Need to Know About SEO” master class for just $37. Click here to get the details. When you buy this class, you can immediately access the recording of the class along with an informative handout and the slides from the presentation. Here’s the link one more time.

BigPencilGirlWant a quick way to improve your writing? Here’s a practical tip.

I want you to take 15 minutes and read this article from the blog BoostBlogTraffic.com. It’s called “297 Flabby Words and Phrases That Rob Your Writing of All Its Power.

As an online content creator, you may be looking for ways to improve your writing skills. But it’s surprisingly hard to do that without hiring an editor for every piece you write.

So the question is — if you’re already a good writer, how can you become a great one?

If you’re struggling with this issue, this blog post might provide a real breakthrough for you. The post’s author, Shane Arthur, is one of the best copyeditors I’ve ever known – he can take an article, cut out all the unnecessary words, and turn it into a finely tuned piece of extraordinary content. He can find fluff in places I would never even think to look. But if you don’t have Shane to edit your writing, how can you tighten up your own email content, sales pages, and blog posts? He tells you exactly how with this “297 Flabby Words” post — and you’re going to be amazed by his insights.

After you’ve read the post in its entirety, print it out and hang it above your desk. Next time you’ve completed a piece of writing and you’re ready to edit, look over Shane’s list of “flabby” words and hunt for them in your own writing. Then ruthlessly cut them. I practically guarantee you will find a whole bunch of words you can cut – and it’s going to make your writing so much clearer and easier to understand.

After you do this a couple of times, you’re going to notice that you tend to overuse certain words or phrases again and again. When you spot those words, put them on your own personal “Flabby Words” list. Then put that list right next to Shane’s blog post, on the wall above your desk.

Here’s my own personal “Flabby Words” list:

  • Just
  • In order to
  • So (especially to start sentences)
  • That
  • Exactly
  • Really
  • And (especially to start sentences)

What’s on your personal “fluff” words list? Or do you have other ways of cutting out the fat and making your writing tighter? Tell us about it in the comments.

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The Quick and Easy Way to Manage Amazon Links

There are lots of reasons you might need to share a link to an Amazon product.

Maybe you’re an author who needs to link to your book’s Amazon page on a regular basis. Or perhaps you share resources with your blog readers or email subscribers, and many of those resources are books, ebooks or CDs.

If you want to give people a quick and painless way to buy stuff online, the easiest way to do it (in many cases) is to send them to Amazon.

However you might feel about the gigantic online store Amazon (and believe me, I’ve got some mixed feelings about it myself), there’s no denying that Amazon’s website is an incredibly popular place for people to buy stuff online. Right now, Amazon sells over 200 million products in the United States, and that number will continue to increase in the next few years.

But how do you easily share a link to a product on Amazon when their URLs look like…this?=

http://www.amazon.com/Winning-Story-Wars-Stories-Future-ebook/dp/B0088Q9UX6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404937095&sr=8-1&keywords=storywars

Gah. What a mess.

Whether you’re sharing that link over email, social networking sites, text message, or even trying to tell it to someone over the phone (eek), it’s a mouthful. Amazon URLs are messy and ugly  — and even worse, it’s really easy to accidentally drop part of the URL and mess up the link entirely.

But there is a solution. There is a quick and easy way to share a simple link to ANY product on Amazon without having to do backflips in order to do it.

Just find the product you want to link to on Amazon, and go to that product’s page. That page will look like the image below.

Then, find the area on the right area of the screen that says “Share” (it will have little Facebook and Twitter logos next to it, as indicated by the big arrow below).

AmazonSharewithArrow

When you find the “Share” area, just click on the little envelope icon. You’ll see a pop-up box that looks like this:

AmazonShare2withArrow

Check out the nice, neat, SHORT link indicated by the arrow in the image above. You can use that simple URL to link to this product on Amazon. Just copy that link and paste it anywhere you want — in email, social media, or in a blog post. Anywhere you need to link to this product, use this short little link instead of the other long, ugly one.

If you regularly link to this product, you can even make a note of the URL by bookmarking or saving it somewhere on your computer. That way you will have easy access to it anytime you need it.

So now you know how to turn this:
http://www.amazon.com/Winning-Story-Wars-Stories-Future-ebook/dp/B0088Q9UX6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404937095&sr=8-1&keywords=storywars

…into this:
http://amzn.com/B0088Q9UX6

…any time you need to. Better, yes?

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What I Learned About Content Marketing From Buying Snow Tires

Snowy Road - What My Snow Tires Taught Me About Content Marketing

I have lived in Colorado for thirteen years. And every year for the past twelve winters, I have hated driving in the snow. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, where the Department of Transportation dutifully brings out the snow plows when the white stuff starts falling. In PA, the roads are consistently and quickly cleared. I never learned to love driving in the snow in Pennsylvania, but I tolerated it. I trusted that the plows would be there for me and make the roads safer and that I could get from point to point without putting my neck on the line.

When I moved to Colorado, I was completely shocked when I experienced my first major Boulder snowfall (we often get 6-12 inches of snow at a time.) During that first snowstorm, nary a snow plow could found on the roads of Boulder and the surrounding areas. And because no one was out clearing or treating the roads, the driving conditions were horrendous – huge slushy snow piles, slick ice patches, cars sliding all over the place. It was terrifying. I was also completely confused.

I asked a friend why Colorado cities don’t plow, and she told me that the Colorado snow melts so fast that it doesn’t make financial sense to clear it – if you just wait a day, it’s gone anyway! So why bother to pay for plows?

“But people have to drive in it while the snow is on the roads!” I argued. “What about the people who have to get around on the day of a big storm, and can’t just wait until the snow melts to get where they need to go?”

My friend shrugged. “Drive an SUV,” she said. “Or get snow tires.”

I privately rebelled. Studded snow tires cost an average of $400 for a small car, even more for larger vehicles. I wasn’t paying that much for tires just to compensate for Boulder and the Colorado Department of Transportation shirking their responsibilities. I would tough it out in my little car with good all-weather tires, and hope for the best. Colorado snow be damned.

I suffered through twelve – count ‘em, TWELVE – Colorado winters, stubbornly refusing to invest in snow tires and cursing CDOT (and the weather gods) every time it snowed.

I started to suffer from terrible anxiety every time I had to drive in the snow. I would avoid it at all costs, and when I did have to drive during a storm, my hands would shake. I would curse and cry and freeze up and generally fall apart (note: not the best state of mind when trying to drive on icy roads.)

The Final Straw

In December 2011, I had made a plan to drive up to a mountain town to meet a friend. When I was halfway up the mountain, the forecasted snow flurries changed to several inches of icy snow, creating slick and dangerous road conditions. I got stuck four times, my car completely unable to get traction on the snow. I finally turned around, realizing I just had to give up on reaching my destination that night.

The next day, I complaining to a friend about my horrible night getting stuck in the snow, and she confronted me about my snow tire avoidance. She told me having snow tires wasn’t a luxury in Colorado – it was a necessity. “Listening to you complain about getting stuck in the snow when you don’t have good snow tires is like hearing you complain that you’re cold in a sub-zero day when you’re not wearing a coat. Enough is enough. Get yourself some snow tires.

With gritted teeth, I did so, the next day. I paid a ridiculous amount for top-of-the-line studded snow tires. I was mad, but finally willing to just bite the bullet and do it.

The next time it snowed, I started my engine with suspicion in my heart. “How can these tires possibly be worth it? They won’t make that much of a difference,” I said to myself. “I wasted my money.”

I wasn’t even five minutes away from my house when I realized that my snow tires had changed my life.

With my new tires, I didn’t slide or skid. I didn’t fishtail around corners. I didn’t need to worry that I couldn’t stop at the bottom of a hill or start again after stopping at a red light. I could just….drive. My anxiety disappeared completely, and my entire relationship with snow (and Colorado) transformed. I actually LIKED the snow and could recognize how beautiful and peaceful it was. It was incredible.

What I Learned from My Snow Tires

What’s the lesson in this? What do snow tires have to do with content marketing?

Whatever it is that you are resisting – starting a blog, beginning your Facebook business page, starting an email list, buying a new tool for your business – ask yourself WHY you are resisting. Are you scared? Stubborn? Unconvinced? Resisting just for the sake of resisting? All of the above?

There are content marketing strategies and tools that can completely transform your business. If you are dragging your feet about using them, investing in them, or putting them into practice, do whatever you need to do to get past your resistance.

Start that blog. Put up that Facebook Page. Buy that new software that will save you hours and hours of wasted time. Sign up with a business coach.

Get past your pattern of denying yourself something that can make a huge different in your business and your life.

Once you get started, you’ll likely love the result and ask yourself why you waited so long. I know I did.

So take it from me – survivor of many a Colorado winter. Not doing something – when you are resisting just for the sake of resisting – causes far more suffering than just biting the bullet and doing it. Because once you get started, it will be like sledding down a steep hill – exhilarating, enjoyable, and totally worth it.

Thoughts on this article? Stories about getting past resistance that you’d love to share? Leave your comments below!

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Are You Afraid of the Big Bad Blog (Comment)?: An Introduction to Comment Etiquette

Gray WolfNOTE: This is a guest post from Stephanie Adams, MA, LPC of Beginnings Counseling and Consulting.

Have you ever seen a blog comment that just made you cringe? Maybe it was spelled poorly. Or it might have been so absurdly off-topic that you felt sorry for the writer. Or perhaps – heavens! – it was just plain rude.

If you’re like me, you’ve seen bad blog comments before. Additionally, you may have reacted like I did, by backing off from interacting with the blog world for a while. If other people thought (incorrectly) that their comments were appropriate, what if I were to make similar mistakes? How embarrassing!

That simply won’t do!

Fear not, gentle readers. You don’t have to sit on the sidelines of the blog world! Blog commenting etiquette is simpler than you might think! Ultimately, it’s about courtesy and friendliness. With that in mind, I’ve listed some Do’s and Don’ts for you below to help you bring both to your blog communication.

DO’s

  • DO read the blog post before you comment, and make sure you understand it. I can’t count how many times I was glad I did another quick read-through before clicking “Post Comment.”
  • DO read the comments already posted before you write yours, to make sure other people haven’t already said the same thing. Is there an echo in here?
  • DO list your website if the comment box has a space for it, but DON’T put it in the body of your message, which can make it look spammy and self-serving. Okay, so that’s technically a “don’t.”
  • DO contribute useful information, which means not repeating and rephrasing the same things. It’s repetitive and redundant.
  • DO ask questions if you have them. It keeps the conversation going, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
  • DO have a photo as your avatar whenever possible. It keeps it personal! It’s not absolutely necessary that it be blue and speak Naavi.
  • DO reply to a blog comment back to you as soon as you see it, or it’s likely you will forget. Plus, people will be so impressed by how involved you are! Tip: check the box that says “Notify me of follow up comments via email.”
  • DO be complimentary – the blogger worked hard to produce this article for you!
  • DO comment back on comments others make on your own blog. Good opener: Thanks for your comment! Bad opener: O lowly blog reader, congratulations on reading my post.
  • DO comply with any posted rules, like no foul language.
  • DO politely and privately contact the blogger if you have a concern about the content or integrity of their post. This leads in to my one and ONLY (OFFICIAL) DON’T, and it’s a big one.

DON’Ts

  • Don’t argue with people in comments – your commentary will be publicly available on the web for a long, long time. Want someone looking you up for a job someday to see ranting and raving? No! It’s not cool, and it defeats the whole point of commenting on blogs, which is to have a conversation. Once people start being rude, it stops being a conversation, and becomes a fight.

I base these particular recommendations on my experiences reading blog comments and commenting myself. But keep in mind that if you just focus on maintaining a genuine connection with others, you’re already halfway to your goal.

After all, you write comments because you want to exchange ideas with the blogger. You want to contribute to the conversation – and conversation is based on connection! By using thoughtful, connection-focused commenting etiquette, it becomes much more likely that people will listen to you, allowing you to continue contributing and conversing!

As a professional counselor by trade, I have learned that when someone makes the relationship the priority, everyone wins. So with blog commenting, and with life in general, focus on connection. Other people will feel valued, and you will find yourself feeling more confident in your comment savvy. Then you don’t have to be afraid of the Big Bad Blog Comment…or of anything else!

Stephanie Ann Adams, MA, LPC is the co-author of “The Beginning Counselor’s Survival Guide: The New Counselor’s Plan for Success from Practicum to Licensure” (available now in paperback and e-book) and the owner of Beginnings Counseling & Consulting, where she provides counselor innovation consulting and life counseling for emerging adults.

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How to Use Pinterest

I have a confession to make. I’m totally hooked on Pinterest.

Pinterest (rhymes with “interest”) is a social tool that allows users to create online vision boards (those cool collages you make from cut-up newspaper images and put up on your walls for inspiration) and share your collages with other Pinterest users.

Here’s how to use Pinterest:

  • Go to Pinterest.com and request an invitation by clicking on “Request an Invite” at the top of the page.
  • When you get your invitation, create your free account (be mindful of your username – other people are going to see it!)
  • Fill out your account with some basic details about you, and decide whether or not you want to link your Facebook account to your Pinterest account – I recommend that you do.
  • Check out other people’s boards and look at what they’ve pinned to get a ideas about what people are doing with Pinterest. Rebecca Self was my inspiration when I started.
  • Most pinned images are clickable and lead back to the original web page where they were found, so you can read more about the image.
  • When you find an image you love that someone else has pinned, you can “repin” it onto one of your boards by clicking “repin.”
  • Organize your images in different categories, or “boards.” You can name the boards anything you want. Usually the names are based on the themes of the images on that board.
  • Connect with other Pinterest users and follow them so you can see what they pin every day. Your Pinterest home page works a lot like your Facebook home page – it’s a running feed of all your friend’s activity from the last couple of days.
  • You can get this cool little widget that lets you pin other stuff around the web. It lets you put a “Pin it” button at the top of your browser, so you can go crazy pinning all kinds of stuff!

Here’s what Pinterest is about, quoted from the Pinterest About page:

“Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes.

Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.

…Our goal is to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting. We think that a favorite book, toy, or recipe can reveal a common link between two people. With millions of new pins added every week, Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests.”

Sounds pretty great, right?

Plus, it’s pretty. :)

I like using Pinterest because it’s beautiful and positive. People post stuff that makes them happy. Or they pin pictures of beautiful rooms and furniture they’d like to buy for their houses. Or they post images of fashion that they love.

It’s GORGEOUS. And it’s a marvelous way to spend time on the Internet and connect with people.

You rarely see a Pinterest pin that says “My day sucks. My dog ran away and I totaled my car, and then my kids threw a temper tantrum.” There’s no bitching on Pinterest. It’s all just lovely images, positive thoughts, beautiful images, and love and kindness and heart.

That’s why I love it. How about you?

You can follow me on Pinterest at @bethhayden.

Note: Let me know in the comment if you’re on Pinterest, and I’ll follow you! And if you need an invitation, I can hook you up! Just leave a comment with the email address you want me to send it to, and I’ll get it in your hot little hands. :)

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Using Content to Build Your Business

I’m a big fan of Duct Tape Marketing, a terrific marketing blog. John Jantsch, the Duct Tape blogger, also has two books that are fantastic if you’re looking for actionable marketing advice that REALLY works. This morning John’s got an article about how to look at content building in your business as a crucial strategy.

If you’re looking for content ideas, check out this cool diagram from the folks at Eloqua and JESS3 that John includes at the end of his post -  it gives you a ton of ideas for types of content to create! Pay special attention to the colored dots next to each item – they let you know what tools you can use to publish that content (your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)! This should keep you busy this summer!

(double click on this image to see detail)

The Content Grid

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Colorado Blogettes Meeting – Guest Posting!

The Colorado Blogettes, a women’s blogging group, will be meeting again this Thursday night, April 14th from 6:30 – 8:30 PM t Boulder Digital Arts.

At this month’s  meeting, we’ll be discussing Guest Posting – what is is, why it’s important, and how you can go about getting awesome guest posting gigs on other people’s blog so you can start driving lots of traffic back to your site! Bring your suggestions and stories – we’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Admission is $5 at the door. If you live a woman blogger in Colorado and you’d like to attend, please email me directly to RSVP.

Boulder Digital Arts is located at 1600 Range Street, on the corner of Arapahoe and Range Street in Boulder.

If you’d like to get announcements about Blogettes events in your inbox (as well as blogging tips from me) please sign up here.

Hope to see you there!

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A Royally Cool Blog

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey - The Royal Wedding will take place here! Sweet!

I stumbled upon an unexpectedly cool blog this week. It’s called The Royal Wedding, and it’s the official site of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, which is happening event in London on Friday, April 29, 2011.

Whether or not you’re interested in the Royal Family of England, this blog is still a good example of how to build a cool site around a big event. The blog features regular updates about the wedding (in a “Latest News” section), photos and videos of Westminster Abby and the bride and groom, a slide who of the procession route, and even links to Like the wedding on Facebook or follow news of the event on Twitter using the hashtag #rw2011.

I personally love the idea that the PR department of the Royal Family decided to include a blog in their efforts to build buzz for the wedding. Can you just picture THAT meeting??

And the royal PR department is smart to do this – polls in the UK are indicating that the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is doing wonders to increase support of and interest in the Royal Family, and by creating blogs about big (BIG!) events like the wedding, the media folks for the Royal Family are making the Queen and her family look cooler, hipper, and more likeable than they have in decades. And that translates directly into even MORE good opinion poll ratings.

The blog is well thought out and well executed, and it makes the Royal Wedding look like an event you’d like to attend (or watch, for the mere mortal Americans who need to watch from afar.)

Contrast the uber-cool Royal Wedding blog with the official website of the British Monarchy.  While the official site does feature a YouTube video, which is a step in the right direction, it feels decidedly stodgier than the wedding blog. There’s lots of great information on the site – and lots of pictures – but there are far fewer ways to connect.

I must admit, the blog convinced me – I’ve got my calendar marked for April 29, 2011, and I’m going to watch the whole affair!

So if you’ve got an event coming up that ties in to your business or your personal blog, consider starting a new blog (or creating a special section of your existing blog) to put up special occasion content. Then publicize the heck out of your event using that new content. People love parties and events, so take advantage of that with your web strategy. You’ll be royally glad you did.

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Switch: How to Make Your Blog Better with Storytelling

Switch Book CoverThis is Part One of  series about the book Switch: Making Change When Change is Hard by Dan Heath and Chip Heath. Look for other posts in the series next week.

I’m currently halfway through reading a compulsively-readable book. I can’t seem to put it down. I’ve been reading in bank lines, in the car, in restaurants, and in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.

The book is called Switch: Making Change When Change is Hard, and it’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. Heck, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, period. And one of the things that makes it great is that most of the content of the book is stories.  I love books like this.

I’m a big fan of author Malcolm Gladwell. In Gladwell’s books – The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers – he uses real-life stories to introduce his concepts and illustrate points. His books are so much fun to read that don’t even realize you’re learning a ton of information as you’re reading his stuff. He sort of sneaks it in. :)

Chip and Dan Heath (who are brothers) have a similar writing style in “Switch.” And story-telling doesn’t just make a piece of writing fun to read – it actually makes the author more convincing, too! It’s hard not to buy into a concept when you’ve just read a really interesting story that illustrates that concept perfectly and shows you how it works in real life.

Storytelling-style writing is also easy and fun to pass around. It can be fun, memorable, sometimes funny, moving, emotional and inspiring – all things you’d potentially want to tell your friends and family about (or post on Facebook!)

So how can you introduce more stories into your online writing?

1. Include a story in a blog post. Instead of saying “My life is different than it was when I was 21,” show your readers HOW it’s different. Add a lot of relevant detail and make the story really come alive.

2. Use a case study. If you’re blogging for your business, tell your readers a story about one of your recent clients and how they used your product or service. Give background on the client and talk about where they were before they used your service. What difficulties were they having and how did your service fix their problem? Hint: This is a great way to include a client testimonial, too! And why do you think testimonials are so powerful?? Because they’re STORIES!

3. Create a video that uses storytelling. Use Powerpoint slides, screencasting or just point a Flip camera at yourself and start talking. Tell a story in the video the same way you would tell it if you were talking to a friend.

Stories are powerful. Incorporate them into your posts whenever you can, and you’ll be well on your way to creating highly compelling content that people will pass around and link to on their own sites!

Check out Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. The Heath brothers also have a very cool blog.

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Introducing Beth’s Blogging Byte!

This week, I started doing something I’ve been wanting to do for YEARS – I starting sending out a weekly blogging tip to my mailing list. It’s called “Beth Blogging Byte”, and if you’re on my list, you’ll see it every Wednesday in your inbox. Each issue of the Blogging Byte will give you a specific action to take that will make your blog or social media presence better. Most weeks, this content is ONLY going to be available to the people on my mailing list, so if you’d like to make sure you get these actions, please sign up for my list here. When you sign up, you’ll also get access to my super-awesome Blogging with Beth Library, which includes advice on blog post ideas, using RSS on your site, and traffic-building!

This week, though, I’ve decided to share the Blogging Byte content with you, so you can see what you’ll get when you sign up for my list. If you like this article, please retweet it or share it on Facebook!

This Week: How Being Vulnerable Can Make You a Better (and More Successful) Blogger

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the TED conferences. The TED events are a global set of conferences, formed to disseminate “ideas worth spreading,” and there are over 700 presentations and talks you can view online at TED.com. One of my all-time favorite TED talks is a presentation by researcher/storyteller Brene Brown. Here’s her incredible talk about connection, vulnerability, and what it means to be human.

If you haven’t seen this video yet, please take a few moments and watch it now. It will change your life. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you to watch it. I’ll be here when you get back.

Okay – assuming you went and watched it – I want to talk about why Ms. Brown’s discussion on connection is so important for bloggers. It’s important because I believe the greatness and popularity of a blog are in direct proportion to the ability of that blogger to be vulnerable in her writing.

Want an example of the kind of vulnerability I’m talking about? Read this post by one of my current favorite bloggers, Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Girl.

I’ll practically guarantee that unless you have a heart of stone (and I know you don’t, dear readers), you will moved by this post. Yes, it’s sentimental, and yes, she’s really putting her emotions and her baggage out there for everyone to see. And that is what makes it GREAT.

Ree Drummond is not afraid to write from the heart. And writing from the heart is the reason The Pioneer Girl has landed two book deals. It’s the reason she been on the Today show many, MANY times. And it’s the reason that her blog receives several million hits a month. She is coy about publishing her traffic stats, so I don’t have exact numbers. Suffice it to say that The Pioneer Girl makes a very nice living from her blog.

Writing from the heart is what connects you with your readers, and it is what will keep them coming back to your site again and again and again. They come back because they like YOU and want you to be vulnerable in your writing. So give your readers what they want. It will be good for you, too.

Here’s your action for this week – Be vulnerable on your blog. Write a post about something a little more personal than you normally do. Share something with your readers that they don’t know about you. And yes, business bloggers, this DOES include you, too! Your business is about YOU, and your customers do want you to be open and vulnerable with them.

After you’ve completed this week’s task, post on Facebook with your success!

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