Another year has gone by and here we are again – looking to the future and reflecting on the past via the great dividing wall which is New Years Eve and it’s counterpart New Years Day. It’s a time for looking back and expressing gratitude for one’s family, success, relationships and good health… because after all, New Years Day is the reset button to start all over again.
I’m writing this post to not only reflect on past learnings, but because an important part of my 2018 plans is to write more (both personally via own sites and by contributing to search industry publications). I’ve made it no secret that blog posts take me an age to write. Therefore, I need practice, and want to get fast at whipping out a post, and the 1st of January 2018 seems as good a starting point as one could find.
So, what did my 2017 look like, and what did I learn from it to take forward into 2018?
2017 – The Year in Review
Whilst 2017 was too busy a year to go over everything, all in all for me it was a real mix of both negatives and positives.
A year of great, and sometimes unexpected achievements and opportunities
2017 served as the finishing line to a quest which began in 2012, when I chose to go back into education by undertaking a series of qualifications whilst working full-time to expand upon my then SEO silo-ed view of digital marketing.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Studying digital marketing didn’t make me believe any less in SEO, it just helped me understand how SEO can be integrated into the whole customer journey. It also made me realise, for me, SEO and its various components is still my biggest career passion.
Fast forward 5 years, and in April 2017 I finalised, and submitted my Masters dissertation (it felt like it would never end), and in July I graduated with my MSc in digital marketing strategy.
My graduation ceremony was particularly emotional, because (it may come as a surprise to some) I hadn’t taken a first degree, having started work straight from school at 15 years old. I’d been accepted on the Masters because I’d had a decade’s worth of industry experience and a Post Graduate Diploma in digital. I had never graduated, nor worn a cap and gown before. Having my family with me at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester just filled me with pride to the brim and I confess to blubbering.
Studying at Manchester Metropolitan University really has been a wonderful multi-faceted godsend. Opportunity arose too there to lecture undergraduates the Business School and the International Fashion Promotions School. I’ve been able to do that as well as continue to work on my own consultancy. I’m thankful to David Edmundson-Bird and Dr Bex Lewis for flagging these opportunities up to me.
Whilst challenging at times (isn’t everything worth pursuing a challenge?), with each passing academic term I’ve been able to understand more, and adapt to, the rigour, processes and systems involved in employment in the academic world and I’m pleased I seized the day.
After all, as Richard Branson once famously said; “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” (Richard Branson)
Speaking at Conferences, Podcasts & Interviews
At this point, I have to say I will always be grateful to Kelvin Newman of Brighton SEO for inviting me to speak at my first ever conference.
Being asked to speak, or accepted to speak at conferences in 2017, was particularly special to me because conference speaking a few years earlier was a very different experience and here is why:
In 2014 I spoke at Brighton SEO on the subject of semantics, conversational search and the Web Ontology Language (OWL). At the time it was not received well (to be fair I delivered it badly and my Powerpoint skills were non-existent), but the audience was mostly the overflow from the over-subscribed content marketing talk going on in another room. ‘Make more content’ was the SEO war-cry of 2014. When you start to talk about RDF triples and homonyms not everyone is going to appreciate it, particularly when they’re angry that they’re having to listen to something non-content’ish. Some publicly tweeted that they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.
I’d taken a chance on the content-matter and it went down like a lead balloon at the time, but that talk (slideshare below) was liked and shared by many people I really respected, and still do more than ever, such as Bill Slawski and library scientists, which delighted me.
Even so, the poor reception at the time of that talk amongst the SEO audience upset me greatly. I cried a lot. I cried on and off for days. My hubby had to console me a lot. I was so ashamed, questioned my approaches to SEO, decided to go back underground and vowed to never again speak publicly… EVER.
I didn’t speak again for over a year, until December 2015 when I was asked to deliver a small talk in Manchester at a SASCON off-shoot conference – Mini SASCON.
There were under fifty people in that talk but when the deck was shared on Slideshare the feedback was very positive and revived some of my speaking confidence and I began to present again.
2017 was a complete turn-around compared with my 2014 experience. This year brought many opportunities to speak at search industry conferences – not only in the UK (including Brighton SEO), but internationally in the US and Italy.
Some of those conferences I pitched for, but some came along as ‘out of the blue’ invitations to speak – which left me open-mouthed.
The biggest surprise was when an invitation to speak at MozCon came along – from out of nowhere.
When an opportunity like that arrives, then revert to previous Richard Branson quote above.
You can only say “yes… I’d love to”.
Other invitations to participate in podcasts and interviews also arose, again, out of the blue.
Another year of little to no free time
NB: Despite the below I’m grateful for the chances I’ve been presented with and none of this is meant to detract from that
But there’s a downside to saying “yes please” to every opportunity to speak.
You have to research for the talk, webinar or podcast, plan the outline for the talk, prepare the talk, create the presentation, practice the presentation, travel to the venue, make the time in the calendar, push other things around.
Then there’s the sleepless nights thinking about angles to go at, dreaming about the flow of the talk. worrying about whether the presentation will be well received. Will I be the hero of the day or the dastardly villain cast out by the SEO masses because you’re trying to take a new direction?
Will it sink like a stone (like the Brighton SEO talk of 2014). Will I spend my time crying for weeks afterwards at the thoughts of some audience members walking out (as a couple did so obviously at Brighton in 2014).
Should I attempt to be a ‘gung-ho’ audience rouser which seems to be incredibly popular and fail-safe when that’s really not me?
The point is… there’s more to it than just turning up on the day and I was spending a lot of 2017 flat out on decks and talks alongside my full-time work and lecturing.
Working too hard
Eventually working every day practically for months and months and months on end and then working on presentations every evening and on the weekends began to take its toll.
In August I contracted viral laryngitis, but I was too busy to stop, and get better.
As a primarily self-employed consultant without a huge team of people helping me with client work I also had to keep working whilst sick on projects. If I didn’t work I wouldn’t be able to deliver and I wouldn’t get paid. Simple as that.
I had commitments and I just had to keep going.
The laryngitis just would not go.
In hindsight I probably should have taken a couple of weeks of rest back in August instead of trying to work through it… lesson learned.
Keeping going rather than resting (self-employment means no sick pay) meant the viral laryngitis eventually became chronic viral laryngitis lasting three and a half months.
For the first couple of months I could barely speak at all. Nothing would come out when I went to talk.
I thought my voice was never going to get back to normal. Even trying to have any kind of conversation with family and friends was just such a chore.
Still… I had commitments and I just had to keep going. I even continued to try to gravelly speak at conferences and continued to lecture… I couldn’t get the words out most of the time. I believe it was painful to listen to.
Some disappointments BUT health and family must come first
Because of the longevity of the problem I was referred to a specialist throat consultant.
There was even talk of it perhaps being esophageal cancer and that needing to be ruled out at the hospital – which it was… thank goodness.
When I was referred to the hospital for tests it was then I decided I needed to draw a line and put health first.
I also realised my speaking delivery was just not a great experience for the audience and I’d lost all the power in my vocals, sounding weak and apologetic when sharing information. This unfortunately meant I had to cancel presenting at three conferences I was due to speak at in October and November.
They were all very understanding and two of them have already asked me to speak in 2018 instead.
Three and a half months after its appearance the laryngitis receded, but even now from time to time it feels as though it may be trying to creep back in when I get tired or run-down.
A time of some unexpected AND disappointing negativity
There’s also another downside to saying “Yes please” to every opportunity.
Unfortunately, not everyone is pleased to see others enjoying opportunities.
A few trolls and haters began to pop up on Twitter in 2017. They were clearly from within my own SEO industry, and had obviously been lurking as followers for some time before chipping in with comments. Then there were a few fake reviews which I was suddenly informed about via Google My Business. From people who I’d never heard of, never mind done business with. One said “Dawn is always at conferences and never did any work on my project.”
That fake reviewer I’d never heard of, of course, and I’d certainly never done any work with them, nor for them. A reverse image lookup revealed their profile picture to be that of a dead person. Clearly either a hacked or fake Google profile.
Another fake reviewer’s profile picture was ‘Demi Lovato (celebrity) without makeup.
I have my suspicions about who was behind these. Let us just say ‘they’ve got history’ in this type of behaviour, and they are in the SEO industry.
Thankfully people in search on the whole are supportive and positive individuals who will rise up if they see injustice or bullying behaviour occurring. Many came forward, along with clients past and present to provide positive feedback on their experiences of hiring or working with or alongside me and my business, or to feed back on the learnings they’d taken from talks or training I’d given. And that is one thing I am very grateful for. The friendships and relationships I’ve built or cemented with folk from the digital industry in 2017. Digital folk feel like my kin. I can talk about SEO things at events and parties with them and not feel as though they think I’m mad for discussing spiders and robots. Sisters and brothers from other mothers.
NEWSFLASH BY THE WAY: One who works on the internet can also work on projects whilst travelling to speak at conferences. It’s the nature of the job.
Another downside was the ‘Crab Mentality’ which started to emerge in some of my non-digital social media circles as they saw me jetting off to foreign places to speak
“Where’s your husband?” one Facebook connection of old chipped up with, as I checked in to Manchester Airport en-route to speak at an international conference. “Isn’t John going with you?” another piped up when I checked in again on another occasion. “Aren’t you taking your family with you” another one chipped in.
One of them was even a family member of my own I’m sad to say but I won’t go into more detail on what that person said other than to say the below biblical verse appears to be appropriate:
Mark 6:4 – “A prophet is honoured everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”
I’m not claiming to be a prophet by the way.
The truth of the matter is I’d love for my hubby to come to every conference with me and every event I attend, but the bottom line is he hates flying and refuses to come along to most things. Plus… we do all talk a lot about SEO at SEO conferences. Whilst he’s interested he couldn’t really explain a canonical tag to you. As for “aren’t you taking your family with you?” Well, these are work based flights and I don’t have any young children to tie me down. My son is thirty and has a life of his own. He doesn’t want his Mum dragging him on flights just to appease people from the past with opinions.
Plus, we have Bert, our pomeranian pooch who needs to be looked after.
To look at another analogy ‘Crabs in a bucket’ is pretty fitting too.
According to Wikipedia (I know you academics out there – I would be marked down for citing Wikipedia but this post is becoming much longer than I hoped it would be):
“Crab mentality or crabs in a bucket (also barrel, basket or pot), is a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you”. The metaphor refers to a bucket of live crabs, some of which could easily escape, but other crabs pull them back down to prevent any from getting out and ensure the group’s collective demise.”
You can read more about ‘Crab Mentality’ on Wikipedia for yourself, and might just recognise some of the characteristics in either yourself or those around you commenting on your life.
But it overall amounts to this:
“The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to reduce the self-confidence of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress.” (Wikipedia)
This kind of human nature might also account for the negative SEO attempts which I’ve experienced too. Suddenly links started appearing pointed to my agency site with anchors ‘Manchester Whore’ and ‘Manchester Escort Agency’. Note: these started to appear after I began to increase visibility for the site in the Manchester area. This is where the disavow file comes in useful. Some injection attempts and page take-overs with payday loans and short-term loans also had to be taken down from my site and 410’d.
Or perhaps I’m just being paranoid?
2018 – What Comes Next?
Anyway… Onwards and upwards into 2018. I’m not a fan of New Years Resolutions as such but I have been thinking about this next full year for quite some time and looking at ways I can take forward learnings from 2017, and previous years. They are mostly covering professional plans rather than those around health or family, which are obvious. Eat better, weigh less, sleep more, watch for warning signs when I’m doing too much, exercise more, become a better friend, partner, child and mother.
Here are just a few of the professional plans for 2018:
1. RESOLVE TO CHALLENGE, ADDRESS & OVERCOME WEAKNESSES
I need to accept several weaknesses, stare them in the face, break down why they’re not strengths and overcome them. Procrastination and avoidance are at the heart of a lot of these ‘blockers’ – this I know already. I already went off twice during the writing of this blog post to do some unnecessary cleaning of my bathrooms, but apparently this type of behaviour is perfectly normal because it’s easier than facing things and addressing them full on. I plan to avoid going off to clean and instead push through to complete the things I said I’d do long after the mood I said them in has gone.
1:WRITE MORE – WRITE BETTER
This ties in to the above post around weaknesses. Blog post writing is a weakness and seems to be a very big hole in my overall communication arsenal and I need to address this. I know that learning to write with more structure will be a key component. Mostly writing is problematic for me again due to procrastination and distractions. I intend to spend some time actually learning how to professionally write and hopefully the regularity of writing will naturally help me to improve. It’s clear I need to seek further resources to overcome this and I’ll be heading to them forthwith. Hopefully practice will make perfect. I’m starting with this blog post and have already arranged to contribute to some large industry publications as well as planning a full schedule of posts and pages for my own projects for the next year. My first contributed blog post will be published on January 8th… I won’t tell you where that will be online but if you’re in SEO you’ll no doubt know the publication.
I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
3. BECOME A BETTER CONFERENCE PRESENTER
I’m already scheduled to speak at several conferences in 2018, including some outside of search and the SEO industry, such as a technical web performance conference and one for wider marketing professionals. I know I’m still an “umm and ahhh’er” when it comes to delivery of talks. I say the word “etcetera” way too many times. I can hear myself saying it and think “you fool”. I must fix that. I definitely don’t practice talks for long enough and spend far too much time researching for them, going off in different directions and down rabbit holes but I can honestly say I’ve found the most interesting knowledge gems going down those rabbit holes.
I should spend more time noting down ‘things to look into in the future’ when I get a sniff of something interesting and steer myself back to the task at hand. I need to spend more time building a solid storyline or data outline as a framework to work within in talks. I spend far too much time faffing about with fiddly bits of slides I also put way too much information in decks which actually hold back a smooth delivery because I’m constantly looking to read off them for fear of missing a point. That said, I’m no fan of decks which are not useful after the event so I’ll build a second copy with speakers notes clearly shown and share those afterwards.
Maybe I will also call upon a professional deck designer to build something amazing once I’ve put the bones of things together rather than trying to do everything myself – another weakness.
3. BECOME BETTER AT LEAD GENERATION & NEW BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
One thing I’m not really great at is actually touting for business. I find it a bit crass (how dare that person be looking to actually get paid work from something they’ve invested time and effort into), but it is a necessity after all.
Working from primarily recommendations since 2012 has served me well for several years but it’s certainly not a scalable, nor completely reliable strategy. I’ve mostly kept myself to myself, happily continuing with the clients I’ve gathered over time, lecturing and working on my own projects. When one of those substantive clients goes unexpectedly, without warning and there’s no pipeline that’s quite a shock with a number of painful financial ripples. Something I discovered again in 2017.
I’ll also be growing the team here in 2017 because again the laryngitis brought with it a realisation that being too dependent upon too few is not a good strategy, but that can’t happen without a sold pipeline.
Ensuring an enquiry pipeline is always in place will be vital for 2018 and I’ll now be researching and implementing growth pipelines and systems.
3. FOCUS, PLAN AND PRIORITIZE
Opportunities abound, but I’ve learned it’s crucial to choose the right ones. Because, whilst it’s a cliche it is true that it is very easy to be a ‘busy fool’, and I’ve often been one of those in the past.
I’m having to learn to pick and choose, and sometimes say “no” to opportunities or say “not for now”. With those I do say “yes please” to, I need to become a better project partner to them. I can only do this by being able to ‘plan ahead’ better, prioritize more and become more focused and better at treating each stage of preparation as micro-projects on the way to fruition of the whole project (the talk, webinar or blog post). Here, Google Calendar will be by best friend and pre-prepared outline structures or report structures. I’ll be working on making the ones I use currently much better to help with project management in 2018 and beyond.
4. ACCEPT HUMAN NATURE (IT DOESN’T MEAN I LIKE IT)
I need to also learn to accept human nature. Accept that ‘crabs in a bucket’ mentality is real and expect it because I cannot usually influence the behaviour of others when this type of character decides it’s easier to tear others down rather than build themselves up.
It doesn’t mean I like it… it makes me a bit sad. But I need to let go of it and avoid any type of bitterness.
AND I DEFINITELY NEED TO LEARN TO WRITE SHORT BLOG POSTS… clearly
HAPPY NEW YEAR ALL AND ONWARDS AND UPWARDS IN 2018.