How Photoblogging Daily for a Year Made Me a Better Photographer

Today I’ll teach you how to become better at what you do with a simple exercise. With me, it worked with photography, but you can apply it to cooking, music, storytelling or any creative art.

A Gracious Encounter

In December 2015 I took a few days off after WordCamp US in Philadelphia and, on my way back to Europe, decided to spend some time in the Big Apple right before Christmas.

On the 9th of December, I had breakfast at Katz Deli with my friends Alessio and Andrea. Do any of you know what’s special about Katz Deli?

It’s where Harry met Sally! Well, not exactly, but the most iconic scene of that movie happened at that diner.

Right after breakfast, Andrea and I were walking when a tall, well dressed, and very charming man joined us.

He introduced himself with a few simple words: “Hi, I’m, Jeff. What are you guys up to?” We told him we were having a walk and exploring the neighborhood. He said he was going to Los Angeles because he plays jazz in a club over there. If we ever happened to be on the West Coast, we were totally invited.

We took a couple of pictures together and parted ways. That is how I met Jeff Goldblum. It was the most gracious celebrity encounter of my life.

I took this portrait in a few seconds, with no setup and with the camera I had with me.

More than 16000 in ten years

I’ve been taking pictures since I was 5 when my father let me snap pics with his camera, and in the last ten years, I published more than 16,000 images on Flickr. I mostly do street photography and always have a camera with me.

I have a carefully defined workflow that keeps my photography consistent and well organized. It starts when my camera shutter clicks and ends when the picture is published online and archived. I shoot raw files, edit them in Lightroom, export the final JPEGs, publish the images on Flickr and archive the raw files in my home storage, which has a regular offsite backup that ensures they’re safe and sound.

When thinking about 16,000 pictures, it feels like “a lot.” But putting them in perspective, it’s only four pictures a day for the last ten years.

I spent two weeks in Ireland this summer and published almost 300 pictures. That’s an average of 20 pictures a day. I’m not always out there shooting, but I travel a lot and love taking pictures.

How to separate the best from the rest?

With 16,000 pictures, I realized that it’s hard to separate the best from the rest. And I wanted to find a way to showcase my best work.

The first thing I tried was a 500Pixel account. It was gorgeous. Pictures looked amazing. There were compelling stats, and the community around my photos was incredibly supportive. It was possible to map my domain, and so I did. I started to publish aggressively on 500Px for a few months. But I was still publishing a lot even though I tried to be strict and select only the best. Sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes 15 a day.

It quickly became parallel to Flickr, where I published everything. Fail.

I gave Instagram a try. I started a 365 project, pulling and publishing a picture every day from my archive.

Again the results were good, but not great. Instagram only allows publishing from the mobile app, so I had to download a picture, square crop it, and then publish. Every single day. My pictures don’t always work in a square format, so I got frustrated, started missing days, and at some point, I quit.#picoftheday #365 #fail

A couple of years ago, I was experimenting with model photography and did what most fashion photographers do — I started a portfolio on WordPress.

I selected a bunch of pictures from my archive and bundled them in a feature slider. I finally had a portfolio site featuring my best work!

But the site was dead. There was no traffic, no comments no linking to any of my images. I started blogging about photoshoots I did with models, applied all the tricks of the trade, divided big shoots into chunks and posted on a weekly basis. But it was a lot of work, and I felt worn down after a couple of months. wp_fail();

A photography drought

For a few months, I fell into a photography drought. I started leaving my camera at home, and apathy took over.

I’m working for a distributed company that allows me to travel the world, pursue photography or any other of my hobbies with complete flexibility, and I’m knee-deep in online publishing and yet unable to find the right recipe for showcasing my photography.

On my 35th birthday, I began a journey to change everything for good.

A complete accident: my daily photo blog

I’m not going to lie: It was a complete accident, I just happened to start a daily photo blog, and quickly all the dots connected.

I introduce you to photos.luca.blog!

I published one picture straight from my archive. In the first couple weeks I gave myself a few rules:

  • one picture a day
  • black and white only
  • one full year, no matter what

First of all, I was happy to select pictures and publish them again. I found common elements in my photography, for instance, my black and white photos are much better than color. Model photography is not for me, so I totally quit. But most of all, I started a retrospection of the last ten years and could see what works and what doesn’t.

Forcing myself to choose one photo a day for a year, my archive was reduced to 366 pictures (2016 is a leap year). Each time you make decisions on your work, you grow stronger.

Having a photo blog on WordPress allowed me to quickly and automatically share the daily post on Twitter and Facebook, and this gave me great exposure and support from an existing network of friends. Being on WordPress.com, I also had two additional advantages: a brand new following and a daily streak badge.

On WordPress.com, there is a streak notification after the third day if you post daily, and it keeps you motivated. It’s cool, check it out!

There was another advantage to having a project on WordPress. I told you that Instagram was working well until I started missing days. The same happened on WordPress, but as soon as I skipped a day, I could catch up by backdating a post and voila, problem solved.

There’s no point in being rigid and unforgiving with yourself. I allowed myself a few perks, such as scheduling posts and happily updating my photo blog only every couple of weeks. It’s so convenient!

Is this cheating? Who cares! It works for me, and that’s all that matters.

On the last day of May 2016, I hit my target and completed the first year.

A man publishes a picture every day; you would never believe what happened next…

I kept publishing with the same rules. But something else happened.

I realized that my passion for photography was back because I feel the need to have fresh content.

Retrospection helps me to make better photography choices, like dropping model photo shoots and experimenting in landscape photography. Here are a few examples from recent holidays in Ireland: #1, #2, #3.

And yes, I also got better at color photography. When I feel strong enough, I’ll post them. And if you want to be the first to know, follow my blog at photos.luca.blog!

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

How to get better at anything

If there is anything you want to get better at, start a daily blog about it.

Give yourself three simple rules:

  • one post every day
  • one type of content (a picture, a poem, a sentence, a full post, up to you)
  • one year

And, of course, do it on WordPress!

Why The Plumber Always Wins

I was born and raised in a country house. My grandparents had a farm and I spent my childhood playing in the fields. But when I turned 16, I got my first modem and my internet adventure started. When my father married my mother, he built the house we were supposed to live in. He tore down the old stables and built a great family house, right next to where my grandparents lived.

Just when I was turning 22, my grandfather passed away and my parents divorced. So my mom, my grandmother and I moved to the city because it was way more convenient for all of us.

We were used to a big country house, so instead of looking for a small and modern apartment for the three of us, we preferred to buy a fairly large one. The tradeoff was that it was a real fixer-upper and would require renovations. 

I spent almost 6 months working on renovating that house. We had the heating, water pipes, a few walls, and tiling to fix. It was quite a challenge for a 22- year-old nerd, way more expert in writing code than using power tools.

Of course I didn’t do it all alone. I hired three different companies to do the job and I was there all the time, making sure all was going in the right direction and helping with the easy tasks to speed things up. I hired a plumbing company, an electrician, and a carpenter to work around the clock to get things done by moving day. 

One day, I was shoveling debris into a wheelbarrow, completely covered in dust, when one of the workers asked me if I could help fix a power plug that was hanging loose from the wall. I told him to ask the electrician and so he did. A little while later, he came back and asked me if I could help fix the new pipes in the kitchen. I told him to ask the plumber and so he did. Again, a little while later he came back to ask me to take care of the tiles in the bathroom. So I told him to ask the tile contractor. 

At that point, he lost it on me and asked me very rudely: “So, if you’re not a plumber, not a carpenter and not an electrician, who the heck are you?”

I replied: “I’m the owner of the house”.
He was petrified.

Working in that environment, I realized that all of those people were getting things done because they were all good at their own trade. There is no plumber that paints the walls, no electrician that fixes pipes and no tiler that does electric wiring.

A few weeks ago, I needed to fix a water pipe in my apartment in Vienna. I went online looking for a plumber and besides the horrible yellow pages, I couldn’t find a single usable website. They were all bad-looking sites, straight from the 90s. Plumbers have really bad websites. They usually have horrible logos and typography. They don’t even have a Facebook page or a Linkedin account. They should be all out of business by now, shouldn’t they?

That’s what we all tell each other in our industry. You need a great website to improve your personal branding. You need a spotless Linkedin account with great endorsements to attract new business. You need 100,000 followers on Twitter to be considered a thought leader, sky-rocket your reputation and get incredible clients!

So, if the plumber does not have any of those, how can they still be still in business? “Oh, well plumbing is manual labor, we cannot compare it with our digital industry.”

Hmm… are you sure about it? Maybe there are a few things we can learn from plumbers…

The plumbers know they are plumbers

Do you know who and what you are?
Plumbers don’t take painting jobs. When people call a plumber they don’t require them to build a wall. And you know why? Because they won’t do it.

How about you? Do you know what your true specialization is? Which type of jobs do you turn down? Once someone told me that professionalism is not defined by the clients you take, but by the client you don’t take.

How many times have you found yourself performing a job you were not an expert at? “I’m a developer, but I was asked to design a UX,”… I’ve heard this story so many times!

Take a step back, try to find something you are really good at – possibly something you like to do. Completely focus on that. Compensate for the areas you don’t cover with a network of other professionals. Plumbers always know a builder to call on, if needed. So should you! 

Plumbers have the right tools for plumbing

If you go to Home Depot, you will find the same power tool in multiple versions. From the entry-level for a $100 to the full-featured one that goes for a couple of grand. Have you ever seen a plumber using one of the cheap ones? Very unlikely. The entry-level power tools are not reliable enough.

A plumber uses heavy-duty power tools. These are their working tools. They consider their tools as their investment and they don’t make any compromises.

How about you? Do you use the heavy-duty power tools? Of course not, you don’t drill holes in solid concrete! I’m not referring to the same type of tools obviously. I’m referring to two specific tools. The power tools of digital professionals are knowledge and network.

How do you care for your knowledge? Do you invest part of your potentially billable time in education? How much of your annual turnover is dedicated to learning new skills? Not necessarily skills strictly tied to your trade. How about learning to code if you are a designer? How about learning basic accounting, math, logic or getting better at writing?

Consider improving your public speaking skills or even better, your negotiation skills?

Plumbers are masters of negotiation

Speaking of negotiation skills, this is something we totally have to learn from plumbers. Have you ever tried to pay a plumber in visibility? Or asked them to work for free with a promise that “when I eventually sell the building…”

Nope, that doesn’t fly.

The reason is simple: plumbers know that you won’t ask your 13 year-old cousin to fix the pipes. You don’t care if he’s good with a wrench.

Plumbers charge extra money on Sundays and on holidays. If your pipes are leaking on Christmas, you’ll have a hard time finding a plumber and when you find one, he will charge extra.

And when the job is done, it’s done. Ask him to come over and fix the heater he installed three years ago for free. Nope, forget it.

How about you? Do you have an emergency rate? Do you prioritize by the urgency of the call? I know that according to your clients, they are all emergencies, but you should be able to recognize the real emergencies from the important-but-not-so-urgent matters. Maybe you can charge accordingly.

To wrap up, plumbers know they are plumbers and stick to their job. They present themselves as plumbers and plumbing they do. They use heavy duty power tools to accomplish their task and look professional while they do it.

Plumbers charge according to the urgency of the matter. They solve the problem and make sure you know the difference between having a leaking pipe and not having a leaking pipe.

Takeaways

So remember: You are a pro or you are not, invest in knowledge and be solid with your rates.

Picture courtesy: Laura Lee Moreau

Powering Business Sites with WordPress

I’m going to tell you a story you’ve probably heard before and it goes like this:

You have a friend who has a shop, a restaurant or a yoga studio. He has heard about the wonders of the Internet and one day, he asks you to help him set up a website for his business.

This is how it plays out in the beginning of your career, but the truth is, nothing really changes and soon enough, you have a new client.

It doesn’t matter if you do it as a favour or for money, you are going to pour your heart and soul into this project because you want them to succeed.

So what do you do?

  • You install WordPress.
  • You find a theme.
  • You paste some content.
  • You tweak the template here and there.
  • You make the client validate the site based on his aesthetic taste.
  • You listen to the client’s meaningless feedback.

The result? The site is online but not really making a difference for the business. The client will never be happy with the website and will say things like:
– “Why didn’t you create a Facebook page? Everybody is on Facebook!”
– “Why am I not the first hit on Google?”
– “What do you mean with which keywords? All of them!”
– “That green is not green enough.”
– “Why isn’t it as cool as this other website?” And then proceeds to show you Amazon.com.

I told you before this was a classic scenario and I’m sure that many of you have experienced it at least once.

A Better Approach

In order to succeed we need to change our attitude and our process. We must be mindful to never detach the business goals from the online presence. This happens way too often and it’s a source of frustration for many businesses that try their hand at online channels.

Let’s take a step back, take a pad of paper, a sharp pencil and let’s work old school:

  • Define reasonable goals.
  • Identify checkpoints and metrics.
  • Measure and improve.

First thing’s first – Business sites

Business site are websites designed to support a traditional business. These businesses primarily serve local clients in the area and they can afford investing a little bit of money in online marketing activities.

Define the goal

The first thing you should do when you acquire a new customer is to ask a simple question: “What do you need the website for?”

Let’s try it all together, repeat after me: “What – Do – You – Need – The – Website – For?”

This is where you’ll get the most surprising answers: To get new clients, to get visitors, to save money on advertising, to sell stuff, to have a URL for the business cards, to compete with Facebook or I don’t know, they told me I needed one!

Your first job is to clarify the goal of the website with your client. It won’t be easy, life isn’t easy. Life is simple, not easy, right? So, the first step is to help your client find out what the primary goal of their website is.

Define checkpoints and metrics: The Growth Funnel
The Growth Funnel is a business tool that serves as a framework to break down the entire relationship businesses have with their customers. It helps us identify where our weak points are and how we can improve our business. It’s a simple 6-step funnel that goes as follows:

Awareness

As soon as people know the shop is open for business we have met this goal. How do we do this? We could, for instance, put flyers up in the neighbourhood. Would that make people aware? Yes. Would that scale as the business grows? Not really. What is the equivalent of flyers in the online world? Display advertisement, local directories, Chamber of Commerce sites, Yellow Pages, Google AdWords, Google Search.

Acquisition

Can we consider people acquired when they visit the website? This is a classic mistake. It’s true if you have an online business, but not when you have physical business location. People are acquired when they call a phone number, they send an email or even better, when they walk into the shop.

Activation

People are activated if they become customers. They can buy something, take their computer in for repairs, lease a big copy machine.

Retention

People are retained if they come back and purchase again. Some people may sign a service contract for support, they may simply take another computer in for support and so on.

Referral

Customers are so happy about the service they tell other people and bring in more customers. They can also be invited to do so by a well-designed referral program.

Revenue

The final goal of every activity is to generate revenue in a sustainable and long-term way.

WOW, I though this was about websites and WordPress and we are all business here. As I said, first thing’s first, there is no business site without a business. Never detach your online strategy from the business you are trying to serve.

Now that we have all our steps in place, what do we do?

Landing pages 101

Imagine you go camping and you are looking for a pocket knife. You go to a shop and what do you ask for? A pocket knife, right?
Good, so the man at the counter shows you this knife, a luxurious kitchen knife, extremely well-designed and well-balanced. Wow, it’s an amazing knife, but would you take it with you to go camping? Of course not.
Oh, sorry, says the guy, you’re going camping, right? Then he shows you a top-of-the-line pocket knife with every tool under the sun and then some.

So why do you always settle for the first two options when you set up a website: A site so beautiful that it is basically useless or a website so packet with features that you can barely find what you are looking for.

Websites are tools, they need to be useful. Then they can be beautiful and eventually full of features. But first of all they need to be useful.

A business site, to be useful, needs to do one job and one job only: Get people through the door. How? By providing enough information, trust and reliability to the visitor and we do that with powerful landing pages.

100% of the traffic we care about comes from another site. They can be coming through display advertisement, directories, partners but most of all from Google AdWord or Google organic search. Direct traffic is not so important for conversion because if someone knows how to reach your website directly, then they are already willing to walk in the door.

In order to convert visitors into customers we need to have killer landing pages, each one of them sharply refined down to the very last pixel.

What do we need on every landing page?

A phone number
Big, easy to spot and clickable. Don’t shake your head, this is the most valuable thing you can put on the site. People trust phone numbers and will call. The phone number must be marked up in the code and clickable.

The address of the shop
Make it prominent. Don’t put a map, put an address and eventually a link to Google Maps. Maps slow down the page and nobody will ever use that map. People can click on the address if they need to.

Opening hours
It’s very important if you want people to show up. Phone numbers, addresses and opening hours must be marked up so Google can pick them up and show them on maps and local business listings. There are plugins that can do the job for you. For instance WordPress SEO by Joast does all of this.

Basic information about what people are looking for.
If you have a set of products or services, every product must have a dedicated page, with a clear call to action, like call or send an email.

These are basics, but just try to remember how many of the sites you visit do these basics right.

It should go without saying you need a responsive theme because if you cut off your mobile visitors you are out of business in no time.

A clear call to action
Define your call to action and put it on the landing page. It must be one and one only. Don’t pack landing pages with links and stuff. Just tell people what to do to contact you. It can be a phone call, or sending an email.

Measure all things

You cannot improve anything if you can’t measure it. So let’s start by measuring things. A few metrics are easy to measure, others are very difficult. We are dealing with a local business so we just need to focus on those easy-enough metrics that can be leveraged and make a real difference. Who is the king of online metrics? Exactly Google Analytics. We are going to see Analytics a lot here.

Acquisition

How many people call, send emails or walk into the shop and more specifically how many of them are coming from the website?

Three ways to have a pretty accurate estimate:
– Ask new clients how they found out about you.
– Have a full event tracking on Google Analytics. When people click on the email address or the phone number, track it.
– The hook: If you mention a special discount on your website, have people who walk in mention it.

Retention

One of the best ways to keep your customers engaged is to offer them a newsletter. Email marketing is really powerful. WordPress offers many ways to engage your readers via email:
– Jetpack offers email subscription to your content.
– Mailchimp for WordPress is a powerful plugin that integrates Mailchimp with your website, allowing you to have powerful email campaigns.

Once again, it’s very important to measure not just how many emails you send, the open rate and the click rate. What really matters is how many people come back to the business. Measure everything!

Design – Test – Verify – Improve

Here comes the most powerful advice of all: Test your assumptions. I know you are skilled developers, talented designers and amazing code poets but don’t take anything for granted when it comes to business sites. You know your audience but most of the time you know nothing about your client’s clients. Try different designs, different flow, and most of all iterate often on landing pages.

Design – Test – Verify – Improve – Iterate Fast.

Rethink business sites. Next time you have to deal with a business site remember these three things:

  • Define reasonable goals.
  • Measure all the things.
  • Online and offline go together.

One more thing…

Don’t be afraid of offering seemingly old-school solutions to your clients. The only thing that matters is offering valuable support for the business they’re running. Most of the time, they’re still stuck in the 70s. Taking them to 1995 with a solid email marketing strategy connected to their site can be a real game-changer. You don’t need ello for that!

Author: Luca Sartoni – Copy editor: Andrea Zoellner

My core experience at WordCamp Europe 2014 Contributor Day

I can handle code but I cannot consider myself a developer so I joined this Contributor Day in Sofia with a big question mark: what would I be doing?

I guess it’s a common question because it was very clear from the very first moment that many activities were tailored to entry level and first timer contributors. As soon as I realised it all was less intimidating than expected I had to decide where I wanted to focus my enthusiasm.

There were different work groups, each dedicated to the many aspects of WordPress:

  • Core: providing bug reports, ticket reviews and patches
  • Themes: reviewing themes submitted by the community
  • Translations and Documentation: providing localised docs and support
  • Marketing: creating an open source marketing presentation
  • GlotPress: working on the future of the project

I was not sure where to put my effort. I feel strong on marketing and presentations but at the end I opted for core. How better occasion to approach one of the scariest topics being helped by Andrew Nacin, Mike Schroder and other experienced contributors?

In a matter of few hours I was able to understand better how contributing to WordPress works, I set up my local environment, cloned the GIT repo, explored the various branches, learned how to prepare a patch. I also explored Trac and replicated a couple of reported bugs.

It was such an inspiring experience and it certainly will take me further into exploring more about WordPress and to contributing more actively.

If you want to give it a go, start here and here, it’s easier than you think!

My presentation at WPVienna: “Elements of CRO”

Last night I presented “Elements of CRO” at Vienna WordPress Meetup. It was a great night with interesting questions e such a nice vibe. If you are in Vienna and you love WordPress you should join us. Check out the meetup group and join the gang, big things are coming up! Continue reading “My presentation at WPVienna: “Elements of CRO””