Facebook Fan Pages: Redirect the Spotlight Onto Passions

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Recently, I seem to have had this conversation time and time again with businesses, individuals and consultants who are beginning to take Facebook seriously as a place to peddle their wares, so I thought I’d immortalise it here for future reference.

Facebook started as a way to network students of a single college together, with a firmly teen-to-early-20’s audience. In recent years, my mom (and probably yours too) has joined and the average age of Facebook user is on a steady increase. It can no longer be dismissed as “kids’ stuff” by businesses who have a direct to consumer audience, hence the many discussions about creating fan pages.

The problem with creating a fan page for your business is that, unless your brand is incredibly sexy & fun, nobody wants to be a fan of it. I’m lucky to have a great local baker & cake maker, but would I really want to be a fan of her business on Facebook? And what good would come out of me becoming a passive fan?

Facebook can facilitate something much greater than just the digital equivalent of a bumper sticker promoting someone’s business.

Facebook gives these business owners the opportunity to be an authority on something they’re passionate about. Taking the example of the cake maker, she would no doubt get much more participation from her customers if the fan page was for cake lovers, for example.

Lead the conversation

Encourage fans to talk about the best cakes they’ve eaten, the cutest cupcakes they’ve seen, the failed homebaking attempts (we all have them, don’t we!?) and the healthy alternatives for those weeks where we need to eat a bit lighter.

Share recipes and tips

Realistically, no skilled baker will lose business over this, as we’re all too busy or lacking the skill to make the kind of cakes we’d buy from a real cake artist!

Listen to hardcore cake fans

What do they want? What occasions do they buy cakes for? Even if the fans aren’t local, this is a goldmine of information which can help a perceptive business owner plan future promotions.

Bonus: You’ll have more fun

Best of all, taking this approach will make content creation much easier and enjoyable than trying to keep it solely focused on your business. You’ll be recognised as a cake-baking authority (or whatever your business may be) yet not be known as the navel gazer who only talks about your own products!

By celebrating a shared passion rather than simply asking people to be a fan for the sake of accumulating numbers, you’ll find that your Facebook fan page will have much more interaction and that people far beyond your existing customer base will join. Go out, have fun and talk about things you’re passionate about.

[Photo credit: Super Mario Brothers Nintendo Cupcakes by clevercupcakes on Flickr, Creative Commons license]

Five tips to maintain your aluminium MacBook Pro

Getting a new Mac is a great experience; Apple have worked for many years to make the unboxing experience memorable and special. People talk about it, document it in photos or in video. But what happens when you’ve had it for a few weeks, months or years? It gets scratched, damaged or dirty. That “yummy new shiny machine” feeling disappears.

So why bother caring for your aluminium MacBook Pro? If you want to sell it after a year or two to upgrade to a newer model, having a clean and scratch-free laptop allows you to sell it for a bit more (money you can then put towards your new model!) Meanwhile, if you choose to keep it, you can show up to a meeting with a beautiful and fresh-looking computer.

These top tips to keep your Mac from showing age are guaranteed to work an awful lot better than anti-ageing creams!

1. Protect the case

macbookpro_with_stickersWhichever way you do it, protecting your metal case from scuffs and damage is a great way to keep it from looking rough in the future.

I originally covered mine in stickers to differentiate it from all the other MacBook Pros in the office, using stickers I was given from Digg, Lolcode, Soma FM, Laughing Squid and many more.

Do the same to show some personality or, if you want to be more graceful, you can use one of the many amazing skins now available online:

Alternatively, at least be sensible enough to use a laptop sleeve like the Black LaRobe sleeve to keep it protected when you’re carrying it around.

2. Fix your mistakes

Put tons of stickers on your aluminium MacBook Pro case and changed your mind about them?

In my case, I had to hand the laptop back at work. Everyone sniggered it would look like hell after I destickered it. But fear not, you can very easily remove stickers from the aluminium laptop case with a small dose of WD-40 and a bit of patience.

First, peel off the vinyl stickers that come off in a single piece; they’re the ones that feel rubbery and shiny. Then peel off what you can of the top layer of the paper stickers. These will leave a white paper layer or at least some sticky glue on the laptop. That’s when you get the WD-40 out; close the laptop lid first, spray WD-40 lightly on a white kitchen roll. Rub it in gently onto the paper or sticker glue area and let it “soak” slightly. Once the WD-40 works its magic, it should be very easy to rub off the sticker glue off. Buff the laptop cover gently with a soft cloth when you’re done to bring it back to its original shine!

[If you’re worried that you might do damage, start with a small area of the laptop on the underside of it to check that it won’t stain or discolour it. This tip worked wonders for me, but comes with no guarantee. If you’ve done weird stuff to your laptop beforehand, don’t hold me responsible!]

3. Take care of your screen

Aside from the obvious care tips like not stabbing your screen with pens and dirty fingers, the best way to keep your screen, glossy or matte, in good condition is to give it a light clean every so often.

As much as possible, I try to use the cloth that came with my latest pair of glasses and warm breath, but to remove oily marks, the best product (and afaik only one endorsed by Apple) is the iKlear screen cleaning spray.

Follow the instructions and be gentle. You need to stare at that screen for days on end, so best take care of it!

4. Don’t squeeze me too tight

I’ve recently noticed a rising number of people who treat their laptops like they’re made out of steel armour plating. It’s still a fairly fragile construction, even the fancy latest unibody machines, so throwing it into a backpack or piling books on top of it can quite easily damage the screen!

5. Get AppleCare

This one is a question of personal preference, but ever since I’ve started buying Macs for myself, I’ve insisted on having AppleCare – Apple’s own protection plan, which covers you for much of the likely problems

It doesn’t replace being careful (eg. dropping your laptop or spilling beer into it won’t get it replaced) but will cover you for most hardware issues. As far as I’m concerned, if your computer ever leaves your desk, it’s worth having insurance on it.

Just be smart!

If you want to have a throw-into-a-bag-and-go laptop, get an ASUS Eee PC or similar netbook, Hackintosh it if you must. Or use the tips above to keep your aluminium MacBook Pro in the best condition possible to resell later!

A Handful of Tips for the Self-Employed

Tips for the self-employed have been done to death by every lifehack geek, GTD addict and smart living blogger, but everyone develops their own little system so I thought I’d share mine.

Over the years, I’ve tried every GTD app under the sun, only to discover that the tool/software I used to get stuff done was irrelevant, so I kept it simple this time around. It turns out that the best organisation tools are a single sheet of paper and a calm brain. Ok, I’m oversimplifying a little but here’s my system nowadays.

The writing on the wall

On the wall by my desk, I have a small index card with reminders. It reads:

EVERYDAY: Today's Three Most Important Tasks, 9-11am: No Distractions, Take a break for lunch before 2pm, End of day review, Evening meditation time

Simple, unh?

1. Today’s Three Most Important Tasks

Self-employed or not, we all have an awful lot of responsibilities and tasks in our daily life, and it’s easy to forget which are most important and go for the most urgent one, the one backed by the pushiest client or the easiest one.

Start the day with a defined list of 3 must-do tasks and focus on them first. If you finish all 3, you can either skip off early or get on with some other bits of work feeling saintly for having done your most important work for the day.

2. Distraction-Free Time

In the same vein as the tip above, setting a few hours in the day which are sacred and during which you can focus on the most mentally demanding tasks. For me, it’ll be writing time where I can dive in without distractions.

Mid-morning 9 to 11am works well for me, because it gives me the 8-9am slot to check emails, have a coffee and schedule anything else for the day/week. However, when 9am rolls around, the phone goes onto silent (or out of the room), email, IM and Twitter get closed down and aren’t (usually) reopened til 11am, or later if I find I’m really zoned in.

Everyone’s got a different time of day where they’re most productive – a friend of mine is a night owl and gets that time after the kids are in bed and up until well after midnight!

3. Take a break for lunch before 2pm

I used to think I’d have no problem stopping around 1pm, trotting down to the kitchen and making something healthy to fuel me for the afternoon. As it turns out, I start sitting on the corner of my chair at 1pm thinking I should eat, but found that at 4pm I was still working and the sounds of my stomach were loud enough to scare the cats!

Having food suitable for lunches in the fridge and cupboard like healthy sandwich fillings, salads and soups makes it easier to break for lunch, because I know I won’t have to fiddle around or go out to find something to eat.

4. End of day review

In order to close up shop at the end of the day without that uneasy feeling that there’s more to do, I end the day by double-checking that the Most Important Tasks are done, have a look in Things and picking the next day’s tasks – which may change in the morning, but at least will be there as priority reminders.

5. Evening meditation time

I’ve not done a great job keeping up with this one, but after a long day running at full steam, I find the only way to really wind down and enjoy my evening is to have 10-15 minutes of complete relaxation. Sitting in silence with one of the cats on my lap purring away for a few minutes does wonders to chill me out.

Whatever your trick may be, it’s worth taking those few moments to get out of work mode and into home/family mode, especially if you don’t have the drive/walk home to serve as a forced downtime.

Great posts elsewhere on keeping your sanity when self-employed:

Your call is important to us: Seven tips to use when dealing with customer service

We’ve all had situations where we’ve needed to call the customer service number for a product or service where either something’s gone wrong, Angry call centre workeror we’re dissatisfied with what’s happening. It’s normal for that to happen considering the amount of goods and services we consume in a year. Some products are bound to be duds sometimes.

What’s not normal or acceptable is to have to fight uncooperative call centre monkeys, who have no notion of service and no interest in helping you.

To help ease the pain of this process, here are a few tips to expedite the process and get to a resolution to your problem as quickly as possible.

  1. Always document your interactions: Even if you’re sure you’ll remember, write down the name of the person you spoke to, the time/date at which you spoke, and the status of the issue when you hung up. It’ll quite likely help you resolve your dispute quicker.
  2. Keep the phone number handy: The first time you use a new service, add their customer service phone number to your address book. If they “streamline” their website and remove all trace of their customer service number, you’ll still have a copy of it. Doubly good if you sync your address book with your phone.
  3. Letters still work: Sometimes, nothing will get the message across better than a firm, well-written, snail mail letter to customer relations. Clearly state the context in which the problem occurred, give detailed accounts of communications to date and end with a statement of what resolution you expect. The clearer your letter, the more likely they’ll answer it promptly.
  4. Send your letters by registered mail: Don’t allow them to pretend the letter was never received by ensuring it’s signed at the other end.
  5. Send a copy of your letter to Public Relations: Whether by email or post, copy the Public Relations department. They have to deal with public flare-ups all the time, and if yours looks like it might cause them hassle, they’ll try to nip it in the bud and might even beat Customer Services by responding first.
  6. Most importantly, be patient, polite and have a sense of humour: You’re talking to someone who’s most likely doing an 8 hour shift in a bleak, crowded pigpen of a call centre. If you shout at them or act aggressively, they’ll tune you out and maybe even mislead you to get you off the phone. Being nice pays off in situations like this one.
  7. Bonus tip – Do not swear: Ever. Even if you’re the sweetest, nicest office manager around, don’t say “f*cking weather today, eh?” followed by a couple more expletives, because they will respond with “I’m sorry mam, but you used foul language three times, I’ll now have to end this call. Good evening mam.”

[Credit to Dan Says, in Merlin’s Flickr comments, for striking some ideas that led me to finally scrapping this post together after talking about it many times.]
[Image borrowed from Think Geek]

Coffee machine cleaning tip from LifeHacker

Following my post about my new Senseo coffee machine, here’s a clever trick from Gina at LifeHacker for owners of similar coffee machines. Cleaning your coffee machine with a round of vinegar helps keep it free from bad stuff, and makes better coffee apparently.

Vinegar is natural and free of toxic residues. Vinegar is also a good solution because its acidic properties help to get rid of lime scale, mineral build ups, and any oils left over from brewing various beans. If you leave these things in your coffee maker you’ll not only risk breaking the coffee maker, or wearing it out, but you also risk tainting the taste of each pot of coffee you brew.

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I'm VĂ©ro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

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