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Small Business Blogging Growth Trait – Keep A Journal

Keep A JournalAt the minimum, being a blogger requires some organization. Whether it’s to remember everything you’ve written about, planning all the things you will write about or keeping track of all your marketing efforts, being organized will pay off immeasurably.

I’ve personally gone through about a dozen different online calendars and journals before settling on the ones I currently use. The reason for this is that they all have similar core features, but we all have different writing and organizational styles. Some applications offer some great features and some you’re left dumbfounded as to why it needed to be included. Others have many unneeded features, but one or two you can’t live without. In this article, I’ll go over some of the tools you can use to keep your blog organized, the reasons why it is so important, what you can do to get more organized and what you can expect once you have.

Tools For Getting More Organized

  • Calendar Hub – Create calendars you can access from anywhere and set access rules for
  • Highrise – Track contacts and communication history with employees, clients, vendors and the media
  • Zoho – Customizable client relationship manager
  • Scribd – Save and share your documents online
  • del.icio.us – Store your bookmarks online so you can retrieve them wherever you are online
  • Flowchart – Create free flowcharts online
  • Google Calendar – Obviously one of the best free applications for helping you manage your time
  • Backpack – Keep your to-do’s, notes, ideas and schedule online
  • Basecamp – Online project collaboration
  • Competitio.us – Keep track of your competitors news and data online
  • Keep And Share – Easy and secure group sharing of your calendar and schedule
  • NetvibesOrganize all your favorite websites, blogs, news, weather, maps, address books, to do lists, email accounts, social networks, radio stations, search engines, instant messengers, video and photo networks all in one place
  • Rusty Budget – Blogger and publishing management tool
  • The Journal – Keep a journal on your computer; not web-based, but very good
  • Daily Diary – Keep an online journal
  • Mindjet MindManager – Visualize your information

There are literally hundreds of other options, but after a few years of progressively moving my life online, these are my favorite and most useful for our needs. I recommend to anyone I come in contact with to use Netvibes. It saves me more time all by itself than probably all of the others combined. As far as journaling, I used to actually make a text document for every day of the year and keep my journal on those. That became extremely burdensome and the fact it wasn’t available online forced me to switch. I do also keep a pencil and paper journal that is far less organized and is more a collection of random thoughts than any organization of my life.

After text documents proved their outdatedness, I then moved on to The Journal, which was a big step up and allowed me to at least have duplicate copies on each of my computers. This is a great piece of software that I highly recommend, but if you need to have your things online like myself, you will want to look a little further for the right tool for your needs. I eventually settled on Daily Diary. It’s a great free online service that actually lets you browse other journals and contrast and compare them with others. Remember, you are there to keep a journal, however, and everything else is extracurricular.

With the advent of Web 2.0, the quality and utility of online organizational tools and journals has skyrocketed. So have the ways you view them. Instead of reading things linearly like on paper, many of these new tools let you see things as a whole or as an image. Just about every day, I make a MindMap of what needs to get done the next day. Human beings process visual information much better than just reading it alone, and having these maps in my mind as I go to sleep each night helps me have a strong image in my mind of what needs to get done that day.

The most recent addition to my online organizational repertoire is Rusty Budget. This terrific service lets you create a “budget”, basically a folder of folders, for each of your blogs or topics you blog about. Each internal folder titles and tags as many links as you like, basically creating a visual peek at what your blog will look like in the near future. With each new blog I add to my own personal network, the information overload increases requiring new tools to manage it all. Rusty Budget has been everything I could ask for in organizing the topics and blogs I write about and for.

Even as good as some of these applications are, no one of them is enough for my needs. I’m not sure one application could ever do all I need it to do, but the quality of some of these applications is getting so good that very few are needed. Check through the list and see which ones will help you get your personal and business lives in order. Hopefully I have done most of the hard work for you in gathering the best of the best, but as we all work differently, maybe there’s one you prefer to any of my choices. The most important thing is to find the one that satisfies at least 4 out of your top 5 needs for using it in the first place. At that point, you will be prepared to take your organization to the next level.

Reasons Organization Is So Important To The Success Of Your Business And Blog

Entrepreneurs are naturally “idea” people. They have ideas for everything and an opinion on every idea. Some of these ideas may not be as original or groundbreaking as you thought, but you just never know when one of your thoughts is going to be “the one”. Personally, I write down just about every thought that crosses my mind. I have stacks of spiral notebooks at my side, two computers running 24/7 with their own journals and Post-It notes in every nook and cranny of my desk. One would at first glance think I am very disorganized, but as I’m sure is the case with you, there is a method to the madness.

For me, I write certain types of things on certain areas of paper so that I can find them easier, and I have different colored notebooks for different projects. My journals are organized much like the Dewey Decimal System and somehow, someway, they make sense to me when I’m trying to recover some specific information. Without all the notebooks and journals, however, all those ideas would be lost to time and I’d have nothing to show for it. I’m a firm believer that the most powerful thing in the world is a good thought and all that is required to turn that thought into reality is some motivation, a few resources and the wherewithal to follow through on them. I actually have built my philosophy on life, which I call “Moments Trump Legacy” (I’ll save this for another growth trait article), out of a jagged collection of notebook jottings.

If we can agree that most small business owners are by default, entrepreneurs, we can agree there is a need for organizing their thoughts. Not to offend anyone else out there, but entrepreneurs are my favorite type of people because they never seem to stop dreaming of how to make things better. Those that are the most passionate about making things better are the type of people I go out of my way to make our clients. Ideally, each and every client we ever have will be one of these types of people. The people with so many good ideas that notes leak from their pockets and a lost Post-It can actually be considered to be a major loss.

Enough of my own interpretation of entrepreneurs. So what else can keeping a journal do for you and your business? Your journal will allow you to build a realistic vision of your near-future, by amassing your thoughts in a centralized location that builds on itself with each entry. Much like a blog is a journal of your business goals, your journal is the integration of your ideas, hopes, dreams, fears and epiphanies that is unlike any other thing in the world. Though it may only make sense to a certain few people, a good entrepreneur’s journal is priceless because it likely contains the basis for literally hundreds of new products, services, companies or inventions.

I left a bag with my laptop and some notebooks on a train recently, and the thing I worried about most was getting those notebooks back. My laptop is replaceable, and with the advent of online storage, dispensable, but my notebooks are literally a chunk of my life I would never be able to replace at any cost. One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of online applications is that (at least in theory) I cannot lose them and I can access them anywhere. One of these days I’ll get around to keeping all my notes online, but as a journalist by nature, there is just something about writing things down as they come. Perhaps I’ll never get over that, but for now, anything that doesn’t have to do with me personally, is kept in secure online storage applications that allow me to keep tabs on the business no matter where I’m at or what work I have with me.

At Prevail, our most important journal is a combination of Highrise, Rusty Budget, Netvibes and Competito.us. These four applications allow our network of associates to stay informed on projects and deadlines without ever seeing each other. Deadlines are a major focal point for us, and calendars that can be updated and rolled back by any user, any where, are vital to our success. Having massive amounts of research completed, organized and shareable with our entire organization is another key. All a Prevail associate needs to do is login and they have all the same information I have. We’ve even been known to create dashboards for our clients to keep updated on our progress in real-time and add their own comments throughout.

As you can see, journaling has entered a whole new era, but the facts remain the same. Keeping a journal as an individual will help you remember all the important dates in your life, the powerful feelings you had and what caused them, the goals you have set that you may not exactly have time for at the moment. Keeping a journal as an organization will allow you to do those same things from a business standpoint and much more. Journaling in a word will make your organization more efficient.

Thanks to online journals, your organization can be more in tune when hundreds of miles apart than most small businesses are in a cramped office. If you are like me and need a personal journal, by all means do so. But do not hesitate any longer in starting a journal for your small business. One that each employee can feel comfortable adding to at any time. This combined collection of employee, executive and client (if you desire) thoughts realistically is your business. If something is wrong in your business, you will very likely find that gem of information somewhere in your business’s journal. And if you take your journal serious, you’ll have the time to find the solutions needed before a crisis breaks out.

Journals are important not for any one thing, but for the collection of things they do like:

  • gather ideas and save them for posterity
  • keep people connected on sincere thoughts (as opposed to small talk)
  • update in real-time
  • are accessible from any computer
  • notify each team member of impending deadlines
  • track conversations and esoteric philosophy’s that develop over time instead of immediately like other thoughts
  • allow your clients to get a glimpse of what you do behind the scenes
  • act as an employee soapbox
  • organize links
  • uncover inconsistencies in your business or culture
  • create an outline for your future writings
  • increase with value over time unlike most things in life
  • and much more

Just like a journal can help you get to know and understand yourself a little better over time, a journal can also do the same for your business. As our small businesses grow from just us to adding our first employees to opening new locations, they change over time. What was once purely the entrepreneur, the idealist that just wants to change the world, over time becomes diluted in a sense, due to time and expansion.

The best way that I have found to either maintain that idealism or at least help everyone grow together, is to create an online journal for your small business. Like the ability of a blog schedule to keep your blog focused and efficient, a journal will do the same for your business. But don’t expect these tremendous benefits to come with ease. Keeping a journal for your business requires the diligence of each member of your organization as well as the freedom to express themselves openly. It also needs to have a moderator that can help keep things on track, yet remain as anonymous as possible.

I moderate our journal, but I rarely change anything on it and try to make my presence as unnoticeable as possible. I’m still a control freak by nature, but our journal has gradually been teaching me to let go and delegate more. There really is no need for control when you have quality individuals around you that are free to do their jobs without all the normal bloat of a normal job bearing down on them and a centralized idea and project depository that anyone can check and update at any time to answer their questions or air their disagreements. If business were a football game, your journal would plain and simply be your “12th man”.

What You Can Do To Get More Organized

In my opinion, blogging and journaling go hand in hand. The main difference is that one is open to the public at large and the other is personal either to an individual or an organization. Our journal is basically our internal blog, but with far more features and coordination. In a sense, I see blogs becoming much more like our journal in the future. Better collaboration abilities. Better avenues for discussion. Better tools for multiple users. Better visualization resources. Just better. If I were a much more intelligent man, I’d create the blog I have envisioned in my head and I’m sure it would be very similar to a good online journal.

So what do you need to do to build your own journal? Well first off, you need to be absolutely concrete on what you and your business stand for. This ideal will set the basis for your journal until the end. It may evolve, but it will always be rooted in this ideal. When you are sure about what you stand for, you call a meeting with all your employees (and vendors, clients, etc. as needed) and explain this ideal to them (which you should have already done when you hired them). Then you ask for as much feedback as humanly possible on the tools your team will need to be included in your journal. For different industries, there are going to be drastically different needs. A company with products for example is going to need much more inventory, vendor inclusion and invoicing tools compared to one that specializes in services.

Once you have a good idea of all the things your team will need, be sure to stress that this journal is for ALL OF THEM. It isn’t meant to be your personal P.A. system, nor is to be dominated by overly ambitious employees with a different agenda. It’s to allow your entire organization to coordinate goals without having to spend time in meetings or other wasteful traditional business functions. You want to promote a culture of inclusion where each member of your team feels as important as any other member. After all, even our own businesses are only as strong as our weakest links.

Now that you have a good idea about what your journal will do for you, get into it. Plan things. Execute them before deadline. Have it remind you to thank the client for their business the day after you supplied the desired products or services. Whatever you think of, put it in your journal. With each entry, your journal grows and with it, your business. Let your journal breathe. Let your journal live. Too many things in business are constricting and counter to true creativity and innovation. Don’t make this mistake with your journal and as an extension, your blog. These two powerful tools are the closest your business will ever be to becoming living creatures. Don’t stifle it with rules, regulations, procedures and policies. Imagine your journal as the Bill of Rights. A beautiful document that lives centuries later despite having amendments to improve upon it, minus the hyperbole of course.

Most of the applications listed at the top of this article are free or have a free trial. Try as many of them as possible in real situations and see how they perform for you. Can they meet your needs? Can your employees collaborate on projects simultaneously? Can entries be rolled back if you decide to redo something? Make a list of your must have features and go from there. If a feature is missing, perhaps you will need to combine more than one service to get the best possible tool for your organization’s collaboration needs.

Use your journal as much as possible and encourage your employees to do the same. Once a routine is set, it will become second nature for every member of your team to share all their information with all your other employees. Your employees may not be supportive at first because it will appear they have more work to do, but when they see the time and energy a business journal can save, they will quickly change their minds and become raving evangelists like myself.

Hopefully I have made an argument for you to at least give journaling for your business a try. I know my business wouldn’t be what it is without one and I’ve seen grand improvements in some of our clients who have committed fully to publishing their organization’s cumulative thoughts. If you don’t see some cohesive group improvements in your company after a few weeks, perhaps journaling is not for you, or maybe your employees are resisting the idea of *gasp* telling the company how they really feel about it, and worse, you. 😯

My stance is that the more truth that is out in the open, the better it can be resolved and the better the end product will be. I also believe that the more aligned your employees are to the overall mission you chose for your business, the more success you will experience. Lastly, I believe there’s gold in them there thoughts, and letting them die into thin air is a near-criminal act for a business owner. I’m certain there are junior entrepreneurs or tycoons in training just waiting for their ideas to be heard, but the traditional barriers to this are far too great and ingrained to overcome. Give your employees and yourself a new way to collaborate. Start a journal, let it breathe and grow even through the hard times, and you will see your company and your employees in a whole new light.