We Read 9 Self-Help Books So You Don’t Have To

This summer, I decided to really give the whole “be-present-in-the-moment” thing a shot.

I wanted to take this seriously, so I decided to check out a couple self-help books dedicated to the idea of “living in the now.”

And here’s the thing: some of the ideas, I could really, really get behind. But others didn’t resonate with me as deeply. And that’s okay.

Self-help books aren’t meant to be mindlessly devoured and followed diligently, like a cookbook recipe for happiness. You can cherry pick the lessons that fit your life.

Which is why we’ve gone ahead and done the hard work for you. Here, we’ve curated a list of nine self-help books to help you achieve professional and personal growth — along with our biggest takeaways from each.

1. 52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier Youby Brett Blumenthal (2012)

This year, my New Year’s resolution was to be healthy.

Originally, this meant a complete lifestyle overhaul: replacing meals with kale juices, waking up at 5 a.m. for runs, avoiding all contact with sugar, becoming so proficient at SoulCycle that the instructor would ask if I’ve ever considered teaching on the side …

As the month progressed, being aggressively healthy became more about moderation. Occasionally choosing the salad instead of the burger. Drinking more water. Cycling exactly twice a week — in the back of the class, dripping and (usually) pretty defeated.

My quest for big changes became a search for small ones.

This is the main premise of Blumenthal’s book, which points out that all big changes start with small ones. Becoming a healthier person doesn’t come from making one big change. It comes from small changes, like choosing salads instead of burgers, eating a little less sugar, and downsizing your portions.

In her book, Blumenthal challenges you to make one small change each week, targeted at improving your nutrition, fitness, mental well-being, or green living. At the end of each week, she gives you a weekly changes checklist, so you know how to integrate these changes into your lifestyle.

Even though many of Blumenthal’s changes seem small (e.g. take a multivitamin, enjoy time alone), Blumenthal promises that at the end of the year, you will have fully transformed your life: you will be happier, healthier, more confident, more productive, and more positive.

Her book encourages holistic changes — improving your mental, physical, and spiritual lifestyle, one small, attainable step at a time.

The Big Takeaway: Slow and steady still wins the race. Tackle your health and lifestyle goals one small change at a time. If your New Year’s resolution seems overwhelming and unattainable, encourage yourself to focus on one little change per week: get more sleep, practice five-minutes of meditation each morning, or take a daily multivitamin. Then, all you have to do is repeat for 51 more weeks — easy, right?

2. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (2012)

When you woke up this morning, did you do anything remotely different? Did you decide you’d start your morning with a glass of lemon water, even though you usually drink coffee first? Did you sit down to watch an episode of Game of Thrones, even though you always watch Fox News? Did you tie your shoes differently, just for fun?

I’m betting you didn’t do any of these things — you were probably on autopilot, going through your normal routine without taking the time to weigh your options or consciously make any decisions.

What you do in the morning, what you do throughout the day — it’s mostly just habit.

In this compelling book, Charles Duhigg examines why habits form, and how we can break them. He examines a range of different scenarios where big decisions were made, from MLK and the American civil rights movement, to the creation of Starbucks, drawing upon scientific research to bolster his claims.

Ultimately, Duhigg explains that our goals can only be met if we change our underlying habits, and we can only change our habits if we understand why they form in the first place.

The Big Takeaway: Your life rests on a firm foundation of habit. If you’re unhappy with any aspect of your life, your biggest opportunity to create lasting change lies in your ability to change your habits. For example, Duhigg wrote about one woman who decided to quit smoking. By breaking this one keystone habit, a chain of events occurred: first, she began jogging more, which eventually changed her eating habits, her sleeping habits, and even her spending habits.

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with your big aspirations, start by changing one habit that inhibits you from reaching that goal, and let new habits drive you from there.

3. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life … And Maybe the World by William H. McRaven (2017)

In 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven gave a Commencement speech to the University of Texas at Austin. He talked about the ten lessons he learned during six months of Navy Seal training, and how anyone can use those same lessons to change the world. The video of his speech went viral, encouraging McRaven to write a book based on those same principles, as well as additional stories from his naval career. According to McRaven, here are a few ways to change the world:

    1. Make your bed first thing in the morning, which reminds you little things in life matter.
    2. Admit you can’t do it alone, and learn to ask for help.
    3. Don’t be afraid of failure or setbacks.
    4. Be your best in the darkest moment, like a SEAL is taught to be his best when he’s under the keel, at the darkest moment of his mission.

The Big Takeaway: The reason many people think they can’t “change the world” is because that sounds unrealistic and grandiose. But McRaven argues that you can change a life — your own, and other people’s — through small gestures, little accomplishments, and a sincere inclination to hang onto hope at all costs.

4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey (1989)

Not only has Stephen Covey’s book sold more than 25 million copies, but Time also listed it as one of “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books.” Bill Clinton even invited Covey to counsel him on the book’s principles during his presidency.

25 years after publication, the wisdom behind the seven habits Covey presents still holds true.

While I won’t spoil all these habits, I will say that Covey separates his seven habits into three categories:

  1. Private victory: learning to prioritize your goals, visualize your dreams, and act proactively rather than reactively.
  2. Public victory: learning how to collaborate and compromise, empathize with others, and become a team player and a leader.
  3. Renewal: learning how to use spirituality, meditation, and even service to maintain these lessons over your lifetime.

Covey provides you with the tools to adapt to change, and the power to reach your best professional and personal self.

The Big Takeaway: Covey came up with two terms in his book: “abundance mentality,” which applies to someone who is not competitive when it comes to success and believes success is more attainable with others’ involvement; and “scarcity mentality,” which applies to people who think success is only possible if they do it alone.

Covey posits that the most successful people are the “abundance mentality” people: those who are able to celebrate the success of other people, and even share recognition and responsibility for their own successes. So if you want to be successful, don’t be competitive. Instead, learn to use the people around you as resources, delegate responsibility, and work as a team player.

5. Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence – and How You Can, Too by Gary Vaynerchuk (2018)

If nothing else, this book offers some pretty unique arguments next time your dad asks why you don’t have a corporate (read: full-time) job yet.

But honestly, in 2018 the arguments for pursuing a less conventional, more entrepreneurial career are valid: many people have found success by creating their own alternative paths.

But since these paths don’t follow any blueprints, it can be tricky (and scary) to figure out where and how to start.

In his book, four-time New York Times bestselling author Vaynerchuk outlines exactly how to become a successful person without following a corporate path. His book provides useful and tangible advice on how to excel on social media platforms to establish and sustain a powerful personal brand — no matter who you are. Whether you’re interested in becoming the next YouTube superstar, Instagram influencer, iTunes podcaster, or Spotify musician, his book offers strategic advice drawn from other successful influencers’ real experiences.

The Big Takeaway: This book isn’t a “get-rich-quick” scheme. Instead, it’s a guide that shows you how other people have become successful doing what they love, and how you can, too. It encourages you to dream bigger: whether you’re a plumber (in which case, “your pillar should be Facebook,” writes Vaynerchuk) or a podcaster (like John Lee Dumas, who followed Vaynerchuk’s advice and is now the creator of one of the top-ranked business podcasts on iTunes, which grosses around $200,000 per month). Ultimately, there’s a social media platform and strategy for everyone: you just have to find it and put it into action.

6. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)

I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of this book. It’s one of the best-selling books of all time, and was named number 19 on Time’s list of 100 most influential books.

To be honest, if this was written in 2018 and preached things like, “fundamental techniques in handling people,” “six ways to make people like you,” “how to win people to your way of thinking,” and, “how to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment,” I’d think it was a bunch of nonsense.

But, this book was published in 1936. And it’s still listed under Amazon’s best-sellers, 82 years later. So I’m thinking author Dale Carnegie is probably onto something.

Some of the advice is simple: smile, say someone else’s name when talking to her — and some is more complex, like, “let the other person feel your idea is his or hers,” which might take some practice.

The Big Takeaway: Here’s the gist of why Carnegie’s advice endures — people like to talk about themselves. Everyone wants to feel special, understood, and appreciated. If you make people feel this way, they like you better. So whether you’re the leader of a big marketing firm or in your first full-time position, learn to listen to the people around you, ask them meaningful questions about themselves, praise them for their good ideas, empathize with their point of view even during an argument, and remain humble. If you make people feel special, they’ll live up to the great reputation you’ve created for them.

7. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown (2017)

To me, the title itself sounded like a contradiction: find a way to belong, and find a way to stand alone? How do those two things fit together?

Brown argues that you can’t have one without the other: you can’t learn how to belong anywhere until you learn who you are and how you should fit. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone … true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity.”

In other words, how can you authentically fit in to a group or community if you’re not being your true self? And how can you be your true self if you don’t learn who you are without the pressures or expectations of your community?

Our culture today doesn’t make “belonging” easy. Brown says that we often strive to be perfect, pleasing, non-confrontational, and, as a result, quiet. We are terrified of braving what she calls “the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism.”

While being quiet might make for less complicated relationships, it also makes for less authentic ones.

The Big Takeaway: The first important lesson is that all of us have an innate need to connect with others (something Brown found in her research). But making connections is hard. Brown suggests reaching out and finding connections with those who are different from you. She also advises searching for truth in these relationships, within yourself and in others. If that sounds a bit too much like yoga-guru-jargon, it really just means being honest about who you are even at the risk of confrontation, and encouraging other people to be honest with you. She recommends learning how to truly listen, ask deeper-level questions, and always be “more curious than defensive.”

8. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson (2016)

Have you ever heard someone say something overly positive — “It’ll all work out, never give up on your dreams, you are a superstar!” — and thought to yourself, Sometimes, it doesn’t all just work out … sometimes, life isn’t fair, and I wish we’d all just be honest about that.

You would probably get along pretty well with superstar blogger and author Mark Manson.

I’ll admit, at first, his advice can seem a bit jarring. Growing up in a society in which positivity and having big dreams are encouraged, it was weird to read, “F**k positivity. Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.”

But his book has sold over two million copies, and this rare and unflinching honesty is probably why.

Manson provides research-backed arguments to say we can improve our lives if we learn to accept our limitations, our flaws, and the inherent unfairness of life. We can’t all be superstars. He writes that we will be happier, healthier, and more authentic, if we learn to accept when we’ve failed and re-direct our dreams, rather than inappropriately believing that we should be a winner just because we try.

Although it sounds rather grim, maybe it’s not. Maybe the person who hasn’t become the next Justin Bieber after ten years of effort should reach for a new dream, because likely, the only alternative to that is resentment and frustration, and there’s nothing positive about that.

The Big Takeway: Manson explains — in his own very elegant way — that there are only so many things we can “give a f**k about,” and we need to try our best to limit that list. We spread ourselves too thin, which does us a disservice. It makes us miss out on the important things. For instance, I bet you care about having a job you love, and becoming rich. But what if I asked you to choose? Manson says you should choose — if you want to do something you love, focus all your time, energy, and effort only on that.

9. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero (2013)

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and thought, Is this really the best I can do, and is this really the best life I can lead? If you have, you’ll appreciate Sincero’s journey, which started that same way.

Her book is all about learning how to create the life you desire — a meaningful, happy, purposeful life, however that looks to you.

As Sincero writes, “You may have heard stories about people who had these major breakthroughs … they found a lump or got their electricity turned off … when suddenly they woke up, transformed. But you don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom to start crawling out of your hole. All you have to do is make the decision.”

If you’re unhappy, Sincero will inspire you to change your life. Plus, she won’t allow for any of your usual excuses, like not having the time (to which Sincero would reply, “you always have the time.”)

Besides delving into how to change your life, Sincero discusses where we learn these excuses (childhood, society), and why we’re sometimes more afraid to go after what we want than just accept failure from the start.

The Big Takeaway: Enough with the excuses. Enough with the “maybe next year” or “that’s for someone else” or “I’m not meant for that kind of (job, relationship, life).” Sincero explains that you have more time than you think, and you need to give yourself that push (“your life depends on it,” Sincero urges). So get started — not just with the effort, but with the attitude. As many of her readers have praised, Sincero’s book led them to their “destiny” because it created a voice in their heads that told them they deserved to go after that job, that soulmate, or that hobby. And it reminded them how massively important it is to live your most fulfilling and meaningful life — now.

Why Every Public Speaker Should be Using Messenger Bots

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Multifamily Social Media Summit in Napa, CA. It was my second consecutive year attending the event, and I wanted to give the audience something fresh  —  my talk was going to be about Facebook Messenger.

A few days before the talk, a member of the HubSpot Academy team asked me if I would be using Messenger to educate the audience on Messenger (very meta — I know). I surprisingly hadn’t thought much about it, but since our Academy team is full of smart people who know a thing or two about teaching, I decided they were probably onto something.

So, on the six hour plane ride from Boston to San Francisco, I built a Messenger bot to use during my presentation

Setting Goals: Why Do I Need a Bot During My Presentation?

I started by setting a few goals to ensure my bot would truly serve the objectives of my presentation. Here’s the list of things I decided my bot needed to accomplish:

  • Teach the audience about Messenger: The core purpose of my presentation was to educate the audience about Messenger. If my bot wasn’t going to help reach this goal, then there was no reason it create it.
  • Engage the audience during the presentation: The bot couldn’t make the presentation more complicated or challenging to follow. It had to contribute to a better audience experience overall.
  • Collect NPS after the event: The bot needed to enable audience members to share feedback on the presentation in a fast, friendly, and ultimately simple way.
  • Share slides with attendees after the event: Tracking down a speaker to get their slides after a presentation sucks. The bot had to make this experience easier for everyone involved.
  • Drive traffic to my personal pages to connect with the audience after the event: The bot had to encourage users to continue the conversation with me.

Once I had the goals and function of the bot firmly established,  it was time to build.

Creating and Unleashing the Bot

The first thing I did was build a temporary Facebook page to connect Messenger for the event.

Then, I developed a custom QR code with the event logo for audience members to enter the bot experience.

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This is no longer active, FYI.

This QR code was tied to a sequence designed specifically to accomplish my goals for the event.

The first message in the sequence welcomed users into the bot and allowed me to understand the audience’s familiarity with the subject before my presentation.

This gave me a good idea of how I’d need to adapt my presentation to meet my audience’s expertise level and expectations.

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About 20 minutes into my talk, I sent another quick message asking for audience questions. Instead of waiting for a prompt at the end of the session when time was running short, the bot enabled audience members to ask questions without needing the floor. It also helped me plan the rest of my talk accordingly.

Once the talk ended, it was time for NPS. I set the bot up to send this 20 minutes after my scheduled talk.  The results were great:

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Two days after the event ended, I sent the slides to everyone who opted in to my Messenger bot.

And finally, for some icing on the cake, I set up a persistent menu that would allow the audience to connect with me on Twitter and Medium. Oh, I also linked them to get a free HubSpot CRM, too.

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Did People Actually Use the Bot?

The results of this mini experiment were great. Here are some quick hits:

  • 70 people opted in to the bot, ~50% of the audience members in attendance
  • 51% of people responded to the NPS
  • 100% of NPS respondents were promoters (woo!)
  • Messages sent during the event had open rates of 
    98.5%, 96.9%, 93.8%, and 93.9% (not too shabby)
  • 85% of attendees opened the broadcast message 2 days after the event which included slides from the event
  • 25 people clicked to follow me on Twitter, 11 on Medium, and 5 clicked to get their free HubSpot CRM

As you can see, the numbers really speak for themselves.

By using Messenger before, during, and after my talk , I was able to effectively engage the audience and create a lasting, personal connection. Additionally, due to the topic itself being Messenger, I was able to educate the audience on the channel’s capabilities with tangible examples.

If you’re a public speaker, I honestly cannot imagine a reason not to be using Messenger before, during, and after your talks — even if you aren’t discussing Messenger.

The potential of the channel is unmatched. And, if you’re a speaker talking about Messenger, you can’t afford to miss this opportunity!

15 of the Best Lifestyle Mobile Apps You Need in Your Pocket

Want to track your packages with the swipe of your finger? Now you can. Need to split a complicated dinner bill? It’s no longer a 10-minute math problem.

Lifestyle apps constanly appear in the Apple App Store and Google Marketplace and at least attempt to make our lives easier. Not only have some of our favorites gone through redesigns and similar changes, but a ton of new apps have been created since we last looked.

Here are some of the best lifestyle apps that have made a difference in my life, whether through better organization, helpful tips, or teaching me something new.

15 of the Best Lifestyle Mobile Apps You Need in Your Pocket

1. Get The Flight Out

Category: Travel

Whether you need to fly home for a family emergency or you’re just plain spontaneous, you’ve probably needed to book a last-minute flight at some point in your life. Affectionately nicknamed “GTFO” (which usually means something, well, a bit more aggressive), Get the Flight Out allows you to type in an airport name and see the available upcoming flights to destinations all over the world. It’s a way to quickly see and assess all your options in one place.

Here’s what the it looks like once you’ve plugged in your home airport:

Get the flight out mobile app home screen

And here’s what a list of available flights to different cities looks like:

Get the flight out mobile app list of flights

(Download GTFO for iOS, or its parent company’s app, Hopper, for Android.)

2. IFTTT

Category: Productivity

Ever wished you could tell your computer or mobile device to do something really, really specific? Like email you when there’s a new file in your Dropbox, or text you the local weather forecast every morning at 6:00 a.m.?

Good news, folks: You can do almost any command of this nature you can think of using an app called IFTTT, or “If This, Then That.” In a nutshell, IFTTT lets you set up triggers for different events. For example, instead of spending all of your time manually going through the news or your social media accounts, you can get alerted by the things that are really important to you.

The crazy thing about this app is how easy it is to set up. The main screen walks you through the setup by letting you choose the first part of your “if” statement, and then allowing you to choose the “then” statement — a.k.a. what happens after a trigger is set off.

Here’s the “if” statement:

IFTTT mobile app

And the “then” statement:

ifttt-2

(Download IFTTT for iOS or download IFTTT for Android.)

3. Yahoo! Weather

Category: Weather

There are dozens of weather apps out there; iPhones even have a default weather app. So why take the extra time to download Yahoo! Weather?

Yahoo! Weather is one of the most beautifully designed and easy-to-use apps I’ve ever, ever seen. It provides more information than your typical weather app, but understands the order in which the information will be the most valuable to the user.

The app shows off a gorgeous picture of the area (pulled in from Flickr) and displays hourly weather, the forecast for the week, a map, the chance of precipitation, wind and pressure rates, the sunrise and sunset times, and more. You can easily add more locations and then swipe from location to location. This is one of those apps that anyone can use without instruction.

Yahoo! weather app home screen

(Download Yahoo Weather for iOS or download Yahoo Weather for Android.)

4. Swarm

Category: Travel

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m all about checking in to different places on my phone. When Foursquare split into Swarm & Foursquare back in 2014, I was pretty torn at first — until I realized both of these apps significantly improved my experience of checking in (Swarm) and exploring new places (Foursquare).

Swarm is a “lifelogging” app that allows you to connect with friends and family and log the places you routinely visit. Whereas Foursquare focuses on checking in to certain locations you and your friends like, Swarm gives you opportunities to check in to the types of places your friends like.

For example, if I find my friends have checked into the gym more times than I have, Swarm might tally checkins to any fitness facility. It’ll give me the same information for restaurants and bars in general, rather than specific restaurants and bars we always go to. (Warning: May increase FOMO.)

Swarm recently launched Swarm 5.0, showing us they’re always improving on how much we can know about our friends’ typical routines. Here, I’m adding a status update and tagging my friends:

Swarm mobile app

And here, I can see a friend’s profile with a map of total checkins and trends based on the types of places he commonly visits:

Swarm 5.0 app profile page

Image by Mark Krynsky

(
Download Swarm for iOS or
download Swarm for Android.)

5. Foursquare City Guide

Category: Food & Drink

Foursquare is no longer used to check in and share your location with friends. The newest version of Foursquare is meant to help you explore new places in your current location.

Foursquare City Guide provides recommendations for new places to try out based on other people you follow or topics you’ve said you’re interested in. For example, if you specify that you like Thai food, Foursquare always lets you know when there is a Thai food restaurant nearby.

And if you want to check in to one of the locations you’ve just learned about through Foursquare, it will bring you into Swarm — making the experience between the two apps seamless.

Foursquare city guide mobile app
Image via Beebom

(Download Foursquare for iOS or download Foursquare for Android.)

6. Divvy

Category: Food & Drink

We’ve all been there: You’re enjoying a delicious meal with a great group of friends. Then the bill arrives. The conversation comes to a screetching halt as everyone scrambles to figure out how much they owe. Maybe you have an accountant friend who splits the bill for you, or maybe you have Divvy.

Divvy allows you to split a check based on its picture. You read that right: Snap a photo of the check with your phone, and Divvy itemizes it for you. Did five of your friends share an appetizer? No problem — you can easily split courses by dragging orders from the check to each person you pull from your phone’s contact list. You can even include tax and tip.

Here’s what the app looks like as it processes the picture you take:

divvy-mobile-app-check.jpg

Once you drag each order to its respective person, your final result will look something like this:

divvy-app-billing.jpg

Image via iMore

(Download Divvy for iOS.)

7. Slice

Category: Shopping

Whenever I order something online, I obsess over the tracking number to see when I will receive the package. If you’ve ever ordered a new phone online, you know what I’m talking about. Slice makes this so much easier.

Slice, an app by Rakuten, will search through your emails for any order confirmations or tracking codes. It will then populate with information on when you should expect your packages, when they are out for delivery, and when they have been delivered. No need to type in long tracking numbers — all you have to do is connect your emails, and you’re set.

Here’s what your list of pending orders looks like:

slice-1

And the details of an individual order:

slice-2

(Download Slice for iOS or download Slice for Android.)

8. Moovit

Category: Navigation

Let’s be honest, public transportation may be an easy alternative to driving and parking, but it’s no picnic. Disabled trains, schedule changes, and that one bus line that’s always late can make your morning commute the last thing you want to do when you wake up.

This is why we Moovit.

Moovit pulls together all of the train, bus, and subway schedules near you, and shows you where they are and where they’re going — even if there are delays on a particular route. It’ll also show you where they are on a map, how far away they are (in minutes), and how many stops it would take to reach a set destination.

Is there a faster way to get somewhere? Moovit can suggest it and show you where to go. The app adapts to whichever city you’re in, and is only getting better at it: It syncs with a new city around the world every 15 hours.

Here’s what a commuter in Boston might see when following a set of directions:

moovit_transportation_app_directions.png

Here’s what they’d see when simply checking on a station’s schedule:

moovit_transportation_app_stations.png

(Download Moovit for iOS or download Moovit for Android.)

9. Outlook

Category: Productivity

I know, this likely isn’t a lifestyle app you expected me to include. But when Microsoft acquired a small calendar app called Sunrise in 2015, it slowly merged everything it loved about this tool with its own mail and calendar tool. The result? A new and definitely improved Outlook.

Outlook is a mobile app by Microsoft that combines an inbox with a beautifully designed calendar that helps you craft your schedule based on the mail you send and receive. From the main calendar view, you can see when all of your meetings are, whom they’re with (with nice, handy headshots of the people you’re meeting with), where the meeting is located, and even who’s accepted the meeting.

It also offers icons that match keywords you’d normally use to describe the type of event you’re setting — making it easier than ever to know what your week looks like at a literal glance.

outlook_mobile_app.png

Image by Casey Newton

(Download Outlook for iOS or download Outlook for Android.)

10. SwiftKey

Category: Utilities / Productivity

By now, you might have seen touchscreen keyboards where you drag your finger to each key to form each word, rather than tap the letters you want individually. Combine that with a dose of artificial intelligence (AI), and you get SwiftKey.

SwiftKey offers both tap- and swipe-based keyboards that actually learn how you talk and suggest your next word. Believe it or not, it helps you type way less. You’d be amazed by what the app learns: If you often type “Karla” and “Sophia,” for example, it would eventually reveal the word “Sophia” after you simply type “Karla and.”

swiftkey_app_swipe_keyboard.jpg

Image by Allyson Kazmucha

(Download SwiftKey for iOS or download SwiftKey for Android.)

11. Snapguide

Category: Lifestyle

Snapguide is kind of like Pinterest, except it includes how-to steps with each item. Basically, it lets you explore anything you may want to learn how to do yourself. This could be a new recipe, decorations for your house, an arts and crafts project, or even new games and tricks.

snapguide-1

Once you click into a category, the mobile app brings you to how-to guides for that particular category. You can choose to learn anything you want, while swiping through step-by-step instructions with large images on how to complete the project.

snapguide-2

(Download Snapguide for iOS.)

12. Splitwise

Category: Finance

Do you share expenses with someone? Maybe a roommate, or a few friends you went away with for a weekend? It can be complicated to keep track of who paid for what and who owes whom. Enter Splitwise.

Splitwise lets you keep track of all of your expenses that you share with others. All you have to do is enter the name of your expense, the dollar amount, how much you paid versus your friends, and then categorize the expenses. Splitwise will automatically calculate who owes whom what after each person logs their expense.

Here’s what your home page might look like:

splitwise-1

And here is a history or “feed” of what you and another individual have paid and owed each other:

splitwise-2

(Download Splitwise for iOS or download Splitwise for Android.)

13. Edison Assistant

Category: Productivity

Similar to the new Outlook, Edison Assistant is a task-management app that makes it easier to book meetings, check your schedule, and even get directions to meetings in your calendar. You might know it by its original name, EasilyDo.

One of the great features of this app is that it will alert you if you have duplicate contacts on your phone and help you de-dupe to ensure you have the most up-to-date information. It will even pull in information from your email about package deliveries and flight itineraries.

The best part about this app is how it intelligently pulls in important information from other apps on your device to make sure you’re as organized as possible.

easilydo-1

(Download Edison for iOS or download EasilyDo (soon to be Edison) for Android.)

14. AnyList

Category: Productivity

AnyList is the dream app for anyone who cooks a lot and likes to coordinate grocery lists with other people. You can share grocery lists with other people who are using the app to help communicate what you’ve picked up at the store for your household.

In the app, you can store your favorite recipes including a picture of the dish, ingredients you need to make the dish, and any notes you want to remember. But the best part is you can quickly add the ingredients from any recipe to your grocery list with literally the tap of a button. So once you add a recipe into your app, adding the ingredients is easy peasy.

But wait … it gets better. (Can you tell I like this one?) Once you’re on the main grocery list part of the app, AnyList will actually organize the items you need to purchase into categories based on where items are around the grocery store. The categories include bakery, beverages, dairy, deli, frozen foods, grains, pasta and sides, household and cleaning, produce, snacks, and more.

This makes it easy for you to navigate the grocery store, check items off your list, and see in real time what you versus your roommates are purchasing.

anylist_grocery_list_app.png

Image via TechSolvers

(Download AnyList for iOS.)

15. Venmo

Category: Finance

One time, I was at a restaurant with a friend who had never heard of Venmo. When it came time to split the bill and she had no cash, she said, “I wish there was a way to text people money!” Well, that’s in essence what Venmo does.

Venmo allows you to transfer money to friends quickly, easily, and securely. Simply connect your bank account to the app or transfer money into a Venmo account, and you will be able to send money back and forth with your friends with only a few clicks.

You may be thinking: Doesn’t PayPal do that? Yes, you’re right — there are definitely other similar apps out there, but Venmo’s popularity has grown because of how easy it is to use and how easy it is to keep track of your expenses on the main screen.

venmo-2

(Download Venmo for iOS or download Venmo for Android.)

P.S. — Try out the HubSpot app on any Apple device or Android device to stay up to date with everything going on in your HubSpot account, from your social media accounts, to your analytics, to everything you need to know about your contacts and leads.

hubspot blogging assessment

I Used Three Smart Speakers at the Same Time. Here’s What Happened.

“OK, Google. Good morning.”

My name is Amanda, and these are the words I use to start my day.

And no later do I utter them, it seems, than a smart home speaker responds with, “Good morning, Amanda,” followed by a brief weather report, and tech news briefings from a handful of sources.

For many consumers, there isn’t anything about this routine that sounds terribly out of the ordinary. In my workplace alone, many of us kick off the day by fumbling for coffee and mumbling a verbal command for news that, somehow, our respective smart home speakers of choice understand.

But here’s the thing: Neither morning doesn’t end there. Throughout the day, I use both Google Home and Amazon Echo simultaneously — each for different tasks, often in different rooms. 

And now, I’ve added an Apple HomePod to the mix.

I know what you’re thinking — what could one woman ever possibly do with more than one — let alone three — smart home speakers?

Think of it this way: I tried using all three at once, so you wouldn’t have to. 

Here’s how that played out.

What Happens When You Use Three Smart Speakers at the Same Time?

It Began With Two

Since the HomePod only became available last week, up until then, I was only using two smart speakers: the Amazon Echo (which I’ll refer to throughout this post as Alexa, the name of its built-in digital personal assistant) and the Google Home.

A lot has changed since I wrote last year about the distinctions between Alexa and Google Home. Both devices have evolved with fresh capabilities and features, creating new differentiating factors.

One of the biggest improvements, when it comes to my day-to-day, is the number of Alexa’s skills versus those available through Google Home. Alexa’s catalog of skills, in fact, has grown into an app store of sorts, with 15,000 available for users to enable.

My personal favorite is My Boxing Coach, which I use at least twice a week. But I don’t use it without the help of my Google Home — and here’s why:

Music credit: “5 out of 6” by Dessa

Allow me to make one thing clear: Tasking multiple smart speakers with different functionalities to create a full home workout experience is what I’d call a “first world problem,” to be sure. 

But, when I shared the experience with my colleague, HubSpot Director of Web Development Dmitry Shamis (whose name you might recognize from our previous coverage of the two devices), he told me, “You shouldn’t have to.”

When Shamis and I were discussing this same topic a year ago, he argued you don’t need both devices, because they share enough of the same capabilities to, say, get through an average day. But now, we’ve both changed our tune.

And while “need” is quite relative when it concerns any tech gadget, it’s very easy to use both speakers at once, for different things — especially when only one of them features something like a workout app. (Google Home, for its part, only lists nearby gyms when I prompt it for a good workout.)

Enter: The Ecosystem

My recent conversations with Shamis got me thinking about the idea of an ecosystem, and the way a series of branded products are often built to work only with each other. That was an issue at this year’s CES, where several Samsung and LG products were designed this way — under a branded ecosystem. 

Between Alexa and Google Home, the latter seems to have a better foundation resembling an ecosystem. Google has its own phone, a suite of communication applications, calendar, and a music service. But its smart speaker is still designed to integrate with services from other brands, like Spotify. 

Alexa is a bit further behind when it comes to an ecosystem. Though the Echo does have features like its own music service, and it allows users to make Amazon purchases through the speaker, the strategy of its parent company focuses more on moving into and taking the lead in major industries (think: online retail, grocery shopping, and more recently, healthcare and shipping).

So, why do you have to use both to have background music for your workout? It’s not like Google is a stranger to an app store. After all, it has its own catalog of Android applications on Google Play. Why leave that part out — as well as the ability to combine skills simultaneously? 

And Then Came the HomePod

When it comes to a branded ecosystem, it’s easy to think of Apple. And while it was a bit late to the smart speaker party, we can’t deny that it was an early market leader in so many of the other things behind these devices: smart mobile devices, a digital personal assistant, voice search capabilities, and a portfolio of products that all look, feel, and sound alike.

Adding a smart speaker to the portfolio not only made sense, but almost seemed like a latent move for Apple.

“Apple is kind of amazing at turning all its products into an ecosystem,” says Kevin Raheja, HubSpot’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. “A really sticky ecosystem.”

It’s a point that became particularly relevant when I began using my own HomePod, and learned that if I want to play music on it, I have to do so through Apple Music — no Spotify, no Pandora, no integration with any other streaming service:

What gives — and what is Apple’s end game with this kind of restriction?

Is Apple that confident in its base of brand loyalists that it can successfully and fully eliminate all other music services from its smart home device especially when one of its top selling points is its superior sound quality?

In a word, Raheja told me: “Yes.”

To underscore that answer, he reminded me that Apple Music already has more user accounts than Spotify’s domestic user base, allowing it an early advantage as it enters the smart speaker market. It’s also important to consider the likelihood that a user would purchase a HomePod because she already uses other Apple devices and services, like an iPhone or MacBook — and is equally as likely to have an Apple Music subscription upon purchase.

But the restriction isn’t limited to, say, personal playlists. The HomePod also has extremely limited availability when it comes to general queries, like this one:

Compare that to the abilities of Alexa and Google Home, which, on some level, understand what kind of music you’re looking for — and can prompt either its own respective music catalog or Spotify’s to play a radio station or playlist to match.

“Apple’s music marketplace and ecosystem are an extension of that sticky platform I mentioned earlier,” Raheja explains. “It already has enough Apple Music users that Apple doesn’t have to bet on being platform-agnostic, like Amazon and Google do.”

The keyword here is “platform”: the idea that Apple is, at once, its own ecosystem, operating system, and brand.

And that, says HubSpot Marketing Fellow Sam Mallikarjunan, could indicate “a war of platform attrition.”

“Everyone wants to be the platform, not be featured on the platform,” he explains. “By adding third-party services, Apple would add value for the subset of users who like both Apple and Spotify, for example, as well as gain some small amount of additional information about their tastes.”

But there’s a catch to obtaining that data. “By allowing Spotify or Pandora, Apple would also be feeding those services additional revenues and exposing its existing base to alternative options,” Mallikarjunan elaborates. “There’s not a ton of upside there for Apple, who would probably like to see a world in which there were no Pandora or Spotify.”

If that were the case, he points out, both Amazon and Google’s native music services would be in direct competition with Apple Music — creating the platform war he previously alluded to.

But This Isn’t Only About Music

The HomePod, overall, is a bit of a general disappointment when compared to the basic functions of Alexa and Google Home — and that’s coming from someone who uses both a MacBook and an iPhone.

Plus, it’s recently come to light that the product might be hazardous, reportedly leaking an acidic substance onto and damaging wood surfaces. See below:

Image credit: Jon Chase, Wirecutter

Oh, and few other things: The HomePod can’t make phone calls. It can’t integrate with my calendar. It can’t send messages. And in a recent accuracy test conducted by Loup Ventures, it only answered 52% of queries correctly, compared to Google’s 81% and Alexa’s 64%.

Keep in mind, Siri can do many of these things on the iPhone. So why take away those functionalities on its giant, borderline cumbersome smart speaker version?

To that, Raheja points to Apple’s tardiness in entering the smart speaker market.

“It’s possible that Apple just wanted to get to market,” he says. “Integrating Siri can be done, but not as quickly as pushing a good consumer speaker, quickly.”

If that’s the case, what’s the fate of the HomePod? Will even the most brand-loyal Apple users be satisfied enough with superior sound quality (the only apparent advantage) that they’ll be able to ignore — or at least tolerate — these seemingly limited capabilities?

“Homepod is a good fit for Apple users, but not great, unless you’re wholly committed to the Apple ecosystem,” says Raheja. “It has Siri, but those abilities are limited. Something like Alexa is much more flexible.”

Who does Raheja think will win the platform war?

“The reason Amazon will win this space, in my opinion,” he says, “is that it also lets you buy things. And very soon, that could be a standard channel for everyday transactions.”

I’m Not the Only One — I Swear

I’ll admit that filling my home with not one, not two, but three smart speakers is what the kids might call “extra”: an unnecessary amount of both clutter and connectivity in a place that’s supposed to be an abode and retreat from my day-to-day tech life.

But I was delighted to learn I’m not the only one who uses multiple devices of this kind under the same roof. When I found out that Marketing Blog Section Editor Karla Cook also has both an Echo and a Google Home, I asked if she uses both for different things.

“Oh, I definitely do,” she told me.

“Google Home is for questions,” she said, with a nod to Google’s origins as a search engine. “Alexa is strictly a kitchen tool.”

And while the Google Home can also be used for cooking purposes like finding recipes, translating measurements, or reading instructions, it does draw attention to the fact that Alexa lacks the general information-finding abilities of its Google and Apple counterparts. Remember that accuracy test from earlier? While both outperform Siri’s information-finding ability, Google Home outperformed Alexa in correct answers by 17%.

Ultimately, what that teaches me is that even with a branded ecosystem, smart speakers are still highly fragmented.

In a way, one might compare them to the different messaging platforms available from Apple (iMessage) and Android devices. Sure, they can work together to some degree and allow users of both products to communicate. But without a cellular connection, for example, they can’t send and receive messages to or from one another.

None of the devices, when used alone, are bad. They all have quite a bit to offer, depending on the preferences of their respective users.

I do look forward to the day, however, when these devices work as true ecosystems — and can maintain a degree of brand loyalty while also allowing individual users to fully personalize their experiences with them. 

But, I will end our little roundup with a sentiment of gratitude. The fact that we are living in a time that — for me, at least — our parents could once only imagine by way of science fiction novels and films, is truly magnificent. We are lucky to witness this technology unfold.

I believe there’s a quote from the Rolling Stones that applies well here: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you get what you need.” 

Featured image credit: “Google Home tech” by NDB Photos, used under CC BY / Cropped from original

Your Google Rank Doesn’t Matter Anymore

For a long time, keyword rankings were a staple part of any SEO campaign. In a lot of cases they were a primary metric used to judge performance.

Go back five or six years and we had so much more information on the keywords that users were searching for to reach our web content. All of this information was available transparently within Google Analytics, and you could get relatively accurate search volume estimates from within Google’s Keyword Tool.

The first major update that changed this was Google move to encrypted search and the dreaded appearance of “not provided” within Google Analytics.

This created a ripple effect across many SEO software providers that made a lot of their tools less effective — or at least tougher — to measure the impact coming from organic search on a granular level.

Next up, and more recently, was Google’s decision to move search volume estimate within their Keyword Planner tool to show estimates in broad ranges. Instead of learning that a keyword was being searched for 1,400 times each month, we’re told that it’s searched between 1k-10k times per month. This isn’t overly helpful.

These changes have forced marketers to adapt their search strategy to focus less on individual keywords and shift to a topic-centric content strategy, especially for content sitting at the top of the funnel.

Keyword Rankings are Inaccurate

One of the major criticisms of keyword ranking data is the fact that it is largely inaccurate. Many industry leaders and even software providers of rank tracking data have admitted that this is the case.

The reasons behind this can be broken down into three broad buckets:

  1. Personalization.
  2. Device.
  3. Location.

Personalization

Around the time of the launch of Google+, the SEO industry was talking a lot about personalization within search. Even after the death of Google+, personalization has remained a big consideration.

Bonus points if you remember Authorship snippets (circa 2012).

Ultimately, Google will deliver results that are personalized to a user based on their search history. This means that if I were to search for a query like “electric cars” and I’d previously been browsing the Tesla website, it’s a possibility that Google would tailor the rankings of the search results to show Tesla near the top.

This wouldn’t be the case for someone that hasn’t previously visited Tesla’s website, which makes it very tough to determine which website actually ranks #1 (because it can be different from one person to the next).

Device and Location

Whilst personalization plays a part in the ambiguity of keyword rankings, it’s nothing compared to the role of implicit query factors like device and location.

One of Google major advancements in search over the past five years has been its ability to take into account aspects of a search query that aren’t explicitly stated. To make sense of what I’ve just said, let’s take a query like, “Boston restaurants”.

Go back to 2010 and a search for “Boston restaurants” would yield a list of relatively generic websites that either talk about Boston restaurants or maybe are a restaurant.

Fast-forward to 2018 and a simple search for “Boston restaurants” will arm Google with a whole lot more information than before. They’re able to see which device you’ve searched from, where you’re located whilst you’re searching, even if you’re currently on the move.

Let’s say that you searched on an iPhone and you’re walking around in the center of Boston at 11:30 am. Here’s what this query would actually look like to Google:

“Which restaurants are currently open for lunch within walking distance of my current location in the center of Boston, MA?”

They’ve gathered all of this information without the individual even having to type it. As a result, they’re able to completely tailor the search results to this individual searchers’ current situation.

So … to answer the question of who ranks #1 for “Boston restaurants” becomes an even more challenging task.

Keyword Rankings are Directional at Best

Strong keyword rankings don’t always equate to high volumes of organic traffic, let alone improvements in revenue. As I mentioned at the beginning, we’ve lost a lot of visibility on search volume metrics, which makes it very difficult to accurately estimate the amount of traffic you can gain from an individual keyword. Factor in the changing appearance of the search engine results page (e.g. the widespread increase in featured snippets) and it becomes an even more daunting task.

If keyword rankings are your North Star, you may be traveling in the completely wrong direction.

When all you’re obsessing over is where each page is tracking against a ranking goal, you’ll likely be misses a ton of other value that your content is bringing in. For example, what if you’ve built out some content with the primary goal of driving backlinks or social traffic, but it isn’t necessarily designed to rank for much itself (e.g. a research report)? Using keyword rankings as a determining factor of success could evaluate content in a completely inaccurate way.

Measuring Performance at the Topic Cluster Level

To combat a lot of the issues I raised above, we shifted the way that we measured content at HubSpot. For the past couple of years we’ve taken a step back from analyzing the performance of content on a page-by-page level and looked at the performance of content at the topic cluster level.

Organic search traffic and conversions are our primary search goals, so when we group our content into clusters to try and gain visibility for any searches related to a given topic, we look at the collective performance of these groups of webpages vs just the performance of individual pages.

This model of analysis helps us account for the varying goals of each individual piece of content. Also, running this analysis at scale tells us which topics tend to drive more traffic growth compared to others, and which topics tend to convert traffic at a higher rate.

This information tends to provide much clearer insights for the team as to what they should focus on next without obsessing over individual keyword rankings.

Is There Still a Place for Keyword Rankings?

Despite everything I’ve said above, I’m not actually saying that keyword rankings are dead (I can already see the tweets ready to be fired at me!). Keyword data can be useful for digging into any SEO problems that happen to your site, and also to look into the intent behind certain types of searches.

That said, the new version of Google Search Console that has just recently been rolled out should give you pretty much everything you need here.

More than anything, as a marketer you need to be aware that the data that you’re looking at related to keywords is not 100% accurate. As a result, this should never be your primary performance metric.

How to Lead Projects Even When You’re Not the Boss

This past summer I managed the largest acquisition campaign in my company’s history. I work at HubSpot, a marketing software company that popularized lead-gen campaigns and the whole idea of “inbound marketing,” so this is no small feat (we’ve run massive campaigns over the years).

The campaign, Four Days of Facebook, drove 10x the number of average leads of a typical acquisition campaign and 6x the lifetime value of projected customers.

But I didn’t do it alone. This campaign involved 11 teams and 33 people who directly contributed to the work.

Cross-functional campaigns like this can be big, complicated, and challenging which is why they so often take a boss or recognized leader to make them happen. So I wanted to share my experience as a “non-boss.” I hope it encourages other individual contributors out there to get their co-workers in other departments excited about working on high-impact, cross-functional projects.

Pre-Planning: Create Alignment

You won’t have all the answers on day one, but make sure every conversation you’re having at this stage focuses on one thing: impact. You’ll be asking a lot of people to work hard on something outside of their normal day-to-day, make it clear that your asks will translate into business results.

  • Meet with senior leaders of each team before you ask for their employees commitment on helping. Again, make it clear that you won’t be wasting anyone’s time, you’re out to generate big results.
  • Have a kickoff meeting with the team who will be responsible for delivering the work. At a high-level, you want to let everyone know that you have senior leadership buy-in and the project will be worth their time. On a more tactical level, you’ll also want to get people up-to-speed on the tools you’ll be using to manage the project.
  • Go the extra mile to develop a team culture for your team. You know how developers name their projects crazy-sounding names? It’s surprisingly effective! Give your temporary team a name that makes people feel like they’re a part of something, set up an email alias, and create a Slack channel. Get people excited!

Throughout the pre-planning stage, keep your vision front and center. For Four Days of Facebook we were partnering with Facebook, a fact I repeated constantly.

If people are excited and engaged with your vision, they’ll put up with the inevitable bumps as you achieve lift-off.

During: Maintain Momentum

The Progress Principle is the idea that humans love the satisfaction of wins, even if they’re small. It’s your best friend as you seek to keep multiple teams and dozens of people aligned and moving in the right direction–constantly show (and celebrate) forward progress.

  • Display it: I put together a registration goal waterfall chart that was updated everyday to show progress. It’s motivating to close-in on and cross that goal line.
  • Never shut up about it: I linked to information about this campaign in my email signature, Slack rooms, wherever I had the attention of my co-workers. And that information was short, sweet, and up-to-date.
  • Be a good partner: You’re not technically the manager of the people on a cross-functional team, but you should implement some management best practices: give people autonomy, figure out how they like to work and what kind of support they need from you.
  • Ask for feedback: I asked questions constantly– Is this system or process working for you? Can I set up these reports in an easier way? At one point during this campaign I asked the senior manager of a few folks working on the project if she had thoughts on how I could run it better, she told me she would love to see weekly updates sent to her and other senior managers. I was avoiding this as I didn’t want to clutter inboxes, but it ended up being one of my best tools for building internal momentum around the campaign.

Don’t overlook the fundamentals of good project management. A framework like DARCI makes roles & responsibilities super easy so you the project lead can just say, “This meeting is for people who are Responsible and Accountable only, we’ll be covering deadlines for next week”, or “This meeting is for people that need to be Informed, it’ll be a milestone check-in.”

Find a project management framework, and stick to it.

Wrapping Up: Close-The-Loop

I run four to five acquisition campaigns at HubSpot every quarter and running a campaign of this size and impact was a complete rush and I can’t wait to do it again. But before jumping into the next big project, it’s important to do a clean wrap-up, I want people to be excited to work with me and my team again in the future.

  • Say thank you: Do it publicly via a company announcement or email, and privately. I wrote handwritten notes to every person who contributed to this campaign.
  • Share results soon: Share the quantitative results, but don’t miss Twitter comments from attendees, feedback from partners, or the accolades of your co-workers. This is your chance to make it clear that you promised impact and delivered it.
  • Look for improvement opportunities: Because no matter how successful your campaign was, there are opportunities to do better. Were any deadlines missed? Why? Did any team members not work well together? Can this be addressed?

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of executing one marketing campaign after the next, and it’s scary to think about leading a big cross-functional project that could potentially fail publicly.

But so often the answer to higher impact is better collaboration. Learning how to lead across teams 10x’ed the impact I was having at my company, I hope it does the same for you.

10 Projects to Improve Your Design Skills

Design is — and always will be — a big part of marketing.

But that doesn’t mean every single marketer needs to be an expert designer. After all, the skills needed to be an effective marketer cover a wide breadth of expertise areas. Taking a note from Rand Fishkin’s T-Shaped Marketer concept, marketers need to have a baseline knowledge of many different topics and a depth of knowledge in one topic.

Source: The T-Shaped Web Marketer, Moz

So where do design skills come into play?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that every piece of content you create needs to have some awareness of design. From something as big as your website, to something as small as your social images: it all depends on good design.

And while many marketers might be lucky enough to have a design team at their disposal, it still helps to have an understanding of what make a good design to effectively work with that design team.

Even if you do have a design team, chances are, you may need to create designs yourself every now and then when resources get low.

Whatever the case might be, improving your design skills starts with practice.

To help you get started, I’ve put together 10 design projects I think every marketer should try to start practicing their design skills. 

And, if you want to learn all about the tools, tips, and tricks non-designers need to know, join us for a live workshop — Design for Non-Designers: How to Create Beautiful, Engaging Content for Social and Beyond — with Adobe Designers and HubSpot content strategists. Register Now!

In the meantime, start practicing your skills with some of the following design projects.

10 Projects to Improve Your Design Skills

1. Design Your Personal Website

One of the best ways to practice your design skills for a practical use is to develop a personal website. Personal websites can be as a creative or straightforward as you want them to be. The process of making one will help you think about how you want to represent yourself. And, best of all, you’ll end up with a professional website to link to for networking and more.

Below is an example of a creative, beautifully designed personal website. Don’t be afraid to get creative and change you website design overtime as your skills improve.

 Source: Claire Culley

2. Write and Design an Infographic

If you’re a content marketer, one way to stretch your design skills while still creating content for your job is to create an infographic. People process visual content 60,000X faster than written content alone, so an infographic is a great way to combine both visuals and written information.

Start with a concept and make it visual. There are tons of amazing infographics out there for you to draw inspiration from.

 Source: Wine Folly

3. Local business Website Homepage

If you’re an aspiring web designer or want to take a leap and test the limits of your skills, try designing a website for a local business. Local businesses don’t often tons of pages on their site. Instead, many just need a central homepage with basic information like hours, contact information, etc.

Below is a local business homepage from a cafe in Cambridge, MA called Cafe Luna. The overall design is relatively simple, but it does it’s job in portraying the aesthetic of the restaurant while also displaying necessary information that’s most relevant to website visitors.

Source: Cafe Luna

4. A Set of 10 Social Images for Twitter and Facebook

Most content marketers interact with social media frequently, whether your a community manager or are asking your community manager for social promotion. One way to increase your design skills is to volunteer to design a set of social images for a campaign you want to promote.

I’d suggest commiting to creating 10 unique images for any one campaign. With a tool like Canva, it’s very easy to create images with the correct social media dimensions in a bulk set. See below for an example.

When you create a set of 10 images for one campaign, you’ll also find yourself iterating on previous designs and getting with each image you design.

5. Set of Icons

If you want to get better at uniform design, try creating your own set of icons. Come up with a list of 10-20 ideas you want to represent in icon form. It could be as simple as 20 different foods you want to create as icons. 

Don’t cheat by using a platform like FlatIcon (although, if you ever need icons to use in your content creation, I highly recommend the site for finding illustrations). Use a tool like Adobe Illustrator to work with lines and shapes to create a set of uniform icons that fit a theme. Icons are great because they can be used over time and help you practice creating a cohesive theme.

 Source: FlatIcon

6. Ebook Cover and Layout

Working on an upcoming ebook or long-form content campaign? Focus on improving your design skills by going above and beyond on the ebook cover and layout. Learning to layout long form content in a visually appealing way goes a long way for practicing your design skills.

As a best practice, trying using Adobe InDesign for ebook It’s a powerful tool that’s made specifically for creating long form content like books. 

Source: HubSpot

7. A Week of Instagram Posts

Designing images for Instagram is different that designing images for Twitter and Facebook. As a highly visual mobile-first platform, designing Instagram posts will help you think about design from a mobile-first angle.

Try using Adobe Spark Post for creating Instagram images. It has a wide variety of tools and pre-built designs for you to play around with and create something new.

If you focus on creating a week or more worth of Instagram posts, you’ll be practicing your design skills and creating a backlog of images your social team can use when they have open editorial slots.

Source: @HubSpot

8. A Branding Starter Kit

A big component of learning design skills is learning the ins and outs of color theory and typography. Want a practical project to hone in on those skills? Design a branding starter kit. Whether for your brand or just for practice, a good brand kit will include a typography hierarchy, a cohesive color schemes, and visual guidelines for future designers and collaborate.

Use big-name brand style guides, like this one from Medium, as your inspiration when building your first style guide.

Source: Medium

9. A Set of Standard Email Templates

Wish you had better emails templates to work with? Why not take a stab at designing them yourself? You might need to secure web development resources to have them coded, but designing them yourself will help fill a need for your team all while helping you practice your design skills.

Make sure to focus on a cohesive design while creating a few templates for different needs, like:

  1. Blog subscriber email template
  2. Email newsletter template
  3. Offer promotional template
  4. Welcome email template

 Source: 99Designs

10. Landing Page Images for Your Content Campaigns

Last but not least, a great way to improve your design skills is to put energy into designing images for your landing pages. Not only will you improve your design skills, but creating new images gives you a great opportunity to test your conversion rates and improve CRO over time.

Don’t just stick with a basic ebook cover in an iPad. Try out header photos with corresponding agenda images, like the one from our Four Days of Facebook campaign below:

Don’t forget to A/B test those images to see how they affect conversion rates!

Source: Four Days of Facebook, HubSpot

Practice Makes Perfect

When it comes to becoming a better designer, practice is key. It doesn’t happen overnight. Start with small projects you think you can handle and work your way up — don’t try to tackle all 10 projects in one day!

Practice makes perfect, but it also helps to have tools and tips from seasoned designers. That’s why HubSpot and Adobe teamed up to bring you a live workshop — Design for Non-Designers: How to Create Engaging, Beautiful Content for Social and Beyond. Join us live or watch it on demand. Register Now!

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7 Body Language Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Next Job Interview [Infographic]

It’s finally the big day: you landed a major job interview. And you’re prepared for it. You’ve polished up your resume, picked out a spiffy outfit, and prepared a few ready-to-go answers highlighting your qualifications, your knowledge of the company, and your greatest not-so-bad weaknesses.

But have you practiced making eye contact? Rehearsed how many times you’re going to nod? Reminded yourself that — whatever happens — you won’t cross your arms?

Body language shouldn’t be an afterthought. How you present yourself can have a big impact on how you’re perceived during the interview, and if you ultimately get hired.

To highlight the importance of body language during a job interview, the folks at On Stride Financial share nine common mistakes and how to avoid them.

When you’re asked why you’re qualified for the role, you’ve already got the words down. Now, let’s make sure you have the actions to back it up.

 

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Facebook Continues to Emphasize Personal Content With New Feature

By now, it’s clear: Facebook is trying to convince everyone that it’s putting the “social” back in “social media.”

As the network begins to show a loss of followers under 25, is called out as a place where users argue with each other over contentious topics, and continues to face scrutiny over bad actors allegedly weaponizing to influence elections — Facebook wants the world to know, with no uncertainty, that it is making changes to emphasize content from friends and family.

And the latest installment of that saga comes in the form of Lists: a new feature that Facebook started rolling out today that invites users to make, as the name suggests, lists. Whether it’s a to-do list, a wish list, or a list of self-improvement goals, the feature is quite open-ended and allows members of the social network to itemize whatever they see fit.

Image source: TechCrunch

The feature, first reported earlier today by TechCrunch, is the most recent of a series of moves by Facebook to deemphasize branded Page content and help users see more posts from their personal networks.

It began with an announcement in January that the user’s News Feed would only feature Page content with a high level of authentic engagement from his or her own personal networks. Then, just last week, Facebook confirmed that it was testing a feature that would allow users to downvote abusive or inappropriate content.

Image source: TechCrunch

Though Facebook is only beginning to roll out Lists, it appears that it’s only available to individual users, and not to Pages — a move that HubSpot Social Media Social Campaign Strategy Associate Henry Franco says underscores the network’s “throwback” shift to what it was originally created to do.

“My guess is it’s a play by Facebook to bolster the person-to-person experience on the platform,” Franco explains, “like the status updates of yore.”

The Lists feature, he continues, is “building out functionality for users rather than businesses,” further signaling a move away from Page content in users’ news feeds.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this feature as it continues to be tested. As always, feel free to weigh in with your take or questions on Twitter.

How to Recover from 8 Embarrassing Office Blunders

Whether you forgot a deadline, accidentally CC’d the CEO in a snarky email about the annual holiday party, or got caught insulting your boss on Facebook, embarrassing yourself at the office can feel like the end of the world.

But while your little (or big) mistake might feel like a major setback in terms of career growth, it could also be an opportunity to showcase some hidden strengths — like humility, honesty, and accountability.

It’s all about how you handle yourself after the incident that matters — and what you learn from it, moving forward.

Let’s take a look at eight potential office blunders — and the solutions you need to help you recover. At the very least, remember that your embarrassing office blunders will probably make for some hilarious stories … eventually. 

How to Recover from 8 Office Blunders

1. Forgetting About a Meeting

We’ve all been there — you’re sitting at your desk, happily eating a bagel and checking your email, when you realize you’re the only one from your team who is at her desk, happily eating a bagel …

We’ve all been there, right … ?

The best thing to do when you forget or miss a meeting is to acknowledge it and apologize, ideally face-to-face. While it’s tempting to just send a casual “sorry about that!” email, it will seem more sincere if you seek out your manager and show you understand your mistake.

When you apologize, acknowledge your mistake, own up to it, and show you’re committed to changing your behavior. For example, you could say something like, “This doesn’t reflect my usual work behavior. I’m sorry, I messed up. It won’t happen again.”

Avoid making excuses. Your manager doesn’t need to hear that your cat kept you up all night, or you hit traffic on your way to work — just accept responsibility and promise it won’t become habit.

To prevent this from happening in the future, set up calendar notifications to remind yourself of upcoming meetings. When in doubt, double-check your calendar the night before.

2. Accidentally Hitting “Reply All” to an Email

On any given day, dozens and dozens of emails end up in your inbox — from advertisers, friends, coworkers, and your boss. In the interest of productivity (and sanity), you probably find yourself skimming quickly, and maybe even replying hastily.

With so many messages flying in and out of your inbox, it’s easy to accidentally hit “reply-all”. This can seem disastrous, especially when your message definitely should’ve been kept private — like hitting “reply all” to a company invite for the next holiday mixer: “Do they really think this will be fun?”

The best thing to do is hold yourself accountable. While it might seem compelling to hide under your desk or say someone hacked your account, you should avoid making excuses for the slip up — it will just draw more attention to a mistake you want everyone to forget.

Instead, “reply all” to everyone in the email thread, this time with a short and sweet, “Sorry about that, meant for someone else.” If your original response was rude, seek out the affected parties offline and make amends — don’t continue to use the email thread.

To prevent this from happening in the future, double check your “to” field before sending an email whenever you’re in an email thread with more than one person. And remember that Gmail has a nifty “undo send” feature you can turn on. 

Also, do your best to avoid sending anything unprofessional or rude via email to anyone, even your closest work friend — that way, a message ends up going to the wrong person, it’s no big deal.

3. Insulting a Coworker or Boss — While She’s Nearby

When you get closer to colleagues, the lines between professional and personal can blur. And while it might be (sometimes) okay to disclose Bumble-date horror stories on your lunch break, it’s never a good idea to start bad-mouthing a coworker or boss while you’re still in the office.

But none of us are perfect. You said something mean about your boss, and she heard you. Now what?

Unfortunately, the damage is done. But just like there are ways to apologize to a friend after a bad fight, there are ways to make amends with your boss.

First off, don’t try to explain yourself — your boss doesn’t need to hear why you think she was rude in that meeting.

If possible, apologize in person, and fully own up to what you said: “I’m sorry for what you heard. I was letting some frustration out, but I shouldn’t have done that in the office. It was unprofessional. Next time I have a problem, I’ll come straight to you to work it out.”

This way, your boss understands that your words came from some heated emotions, and are not necessarily how you actually feel.

Next time you have a legitimate problem with a coworker or boss, approach them to discuss it directly. And if you really need to let your frustration out by talking to someone else, do it outside the office.

4. Missing an Important Deadline

It happens. Maybe you got swamped with a last-minute project, maybe your basement flooded, or maybe you simply believed you could finish by Tuesday, but now it’s Monday night and you’re panicking because you know you’re going to miss the deadline.

Here’s what you do: first, if at all possible, let any stakeholders know ahead of time that you’re going to miss the deadline. Hearing “Something came up, and I’m probably going to miss my deadline for Monday. Let’s move to a backup plan,” is definitely less frustrating than hearing about it after the deadline has already passed.

When you can’t deliver on time, it always helps to offer your stakeholders some alternative options. Make the case that getting an extension will enable you to produce a more complete product. Or, mention that in exchange for their flexibility, you’re willing to add additional services, free-of-charge.

Whatever it is, people like options.

Most importantly, giving options shows the other person that you’re taking this missed deadline seriously — so seriously that you’re willing to put in more of your own free time and effort to ensure they’re even happier with the result.

Of course, you don’t want this to become habit. In the future, perhaps you could start assigning yourself deadlines a day or two before they’re actually due — allowing yourself some breathing room next time that basement floods.

5. Using Office Technology for Personal Reasons

When you’re sitting at your computer at work, particularly if no one else can see your screen, it can be tempting to cross off personal items from your to-do list … even when those items involve freshening up your resume, mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, or finally finishing Stranger Things season two.

Even if you feel like you’re not really wasting time, using the hours that someone else is paying you to accomplish these tasks is not only disrespectful, but it can also get you fired. You never know who is monitoring your activities.

The best way to avoid getting caught wasting time is to stop wasting time in the first place. Don’t use office technology for anything besides your job. When you’re at work, imagine that your CEO can always see your computer screen. If you’re really anxious about crossing things off your non-work to-do list, take a personal day, or do it on your lunch break.

6. Sharing Too Much on Social Media

These days, we share everything on social media. On Snapchat, we share our most disgusting post-gym-sweaty-walking-home faces, on Instagram, we share our favorite Saturday-night-party pictures, and on Facebook, we share everything from our political views to our favorite dog videos.

Sometimes, we share so much that we forget what should be off-limits. Our Snapchat ‘sweaty-at-the-gym’ pics might turn into ‘I-hate-my-boss’ pics, and those Facebook rants could become complaints about our colleagues.

Try to keep these lives separate. No matter how private you think your settings are, there still might be content accessible to people you know from work. You never know who someone knows, or when something will be screenshotted and shared. When it’s on social media, it’s out of your hands.

So take precautions: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your coworkers or boss to see. If you’ve already posted something unprofessional, delete it.

Next time you have a funny story about a colleague or you’re frustrated about work, tell your friends over brunch instead — it will be more satisfying to get their in-person feedback anyway.

7. Trying to Prove Yourself at Someone Else’s Expense

I recently took an SEO course. The teacher had been in the industry for 10 years, and he was currently freelance consulting. He had shown us three of his (well thought-out, well researched) slides, when a hand shot up from a girl in the back.

“Do you want to hear my feedback now on ways you can improve your SEO presentation, or do you want it at the end?” she said.

She wasn’t being rude or intentionally inconsiderate — she was just trying to prove herself as an educated person in the group.

Luckily, he understood this. He smiled at her and then addressed the whole class: “Guys, in this course, I’d like you to focus on improving yourself, not proving yourself. You’re here to learn.”

He had a great point: many of us get so caught up in thinking of how to interrupt the meeting with our Legally-Blonde-courtroom moment that we forget that, in many instances, it’s more important to listen.

If you’ve insulted someone by giving feedback at the wrong place or time, apologize and humbly admit you should’ve listened to their opinion before offering yours.

In the future, keep in mind there are appropriate times to give your feedback: if your manager asks for feedback, if you’re brainstorming with your team, or if you’ve been with the company for a few months and have recognized some weaknesses in the system.

But don’t forget the importance of listening to your smart and insightful colleagues. Make sure you fully understand them before offering feedback — you might find out that your advice has been considered already, or that it doesn’t fit, after all. If you’re dying to give feedback but aren’t sure how it’ll be received, run it by a coworker first to see if it’s productive.

8. Doing That Really Bad Thing That No One Else Did

You’re preparing for your first big marketing presentation by taking meticulous notes and rifling through your company’s CRM, when you press something.

You don’t know what you pressed, but now — the database is gone. Gone. You’ve just deleted it.

The worst part is, when you point it out to your manager, he clicks around on your computer and after a moment says to himself, “Huh… I’ve never seen anyone do that before.” (In your mind, you translate this to: Huh… I’ve never seen anyone screw up like this before.)

The best way to recover is to be humble and honest. Point out how you innocently made the mistake, own up to it, and admit that there are still a lot of things you don’t know and need to learn. Don’t blame the system, the WiFi connection, or anyone else.

Hopefully, you’ll eventually be able to laugh about it, like, “Hey, you think you’ve got it bad? I once deleted the whole CRM database before my first marketing presentation. Whoops.”

Although there’s no way to foolproof yourself against these kinds of mistakes, you can prevent most of them by being patient with yourself when learning a new skill or software, asking for help whenever you’re confused … and reading the fine print carefully.