2009 April

David Allen, Me, and the Thousand Dollar Tweet

A week ago today, around 4:30pm, I was sitting at the Clockwork kitchen table (kind of like I am right now as I write this) and working. While rocking through emails, I saw a note from David Allen about an upcoming GTD seminar called “Making It All Work.” I perked up immediately, as I’m a huge fan of David Allen. I read his first book, Getting Things Done, about four years ago and have been working on adopting his methodologies ever since. I noticed that the closest city he’d be speaking in was Chicago (I’m in Minneapolis). I daydreamed for a moment about being able to go. But, it was in Chicago. And it was $995 (not including airfare). So I gave up.

But, before really giving up on the dream, I tweeted: “I wish the magical money fairy would give me cash to go see @gtdguy in Chicago!” Then, I sighed wistfully and moved on.

And then, a few minutes later, David Allen direct messaged me back: “Meghan, you’re welcome to come as my guest tomorrow at the Omni. My treat. All for posting your note.”


I nearly passed out. Then, I nearly declined. But, my co-workers were egging me on, “C’mon, Southwest Airlines flies there now! YOU GOTTA DO IT!” So I didn’t say no. I went home and talked to my husband. If I was going to go, we’d need to coordinate me being gone from the wee morning hours until the evening, which meant he’d be on his own for the morning and after-work hours (no easy task with a three-year-old and a six-month-old). He was also presenting that evening at Ignite Minneapolis, and I’d miss his presentation.

Long story short, we worked it all out: I got up on Wednesday morning at 5am to catch a 7am flight to Midway and spent the day with someone I idolize. I stepped off the elevator at the Omni and there he was! In person! I shook his hand and tried not to come off like a dorky fangirl. I got my conference materials and stepped into the conference room, expecting to see 100 people. There were about 25. WHAT? I was about to spend an entire day with with a handful of other people listening to, and talking with, David Allen.

I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of such a last-minute opportunity if it weren’t for three things:
1. an employer who supported my desire to go and
2. the fact that I already follow the GTD methodology enough that I could pick up and go for a whole day and know, confidently, that nothing would blow up and
3. Twitter.

Think about it: in what other universe would a random woman from Minnesota (me) be able to directly contact a best-selling author who travels the world (David Allen) and GET A RESPONSE? Within minutes, even! That is the insane power of Twitter. If the “celebrities” who use it are using it to actually connect and converse with their audience, they can develop an incredibly powerful connection.

Last night, David Armano led a discussion about the future of advertising (I wasn’t there, but I watched in on UStream and followed the tweetstream from home with a baby on my lap — another social media WIN!). My favorite thought from his presentation was the comparison of the mass media audience vs. the social media audience. That advertisers and brands (and let’s face it: authors, celebrities, etc. are brands) need to weigh the value of reaching millions of potential viewers against the value of thousands of engaged consumers.

I was already an engaged consumer of the David Allen “brand.” I’ve even given informal presentations inside our organization around how people can apply his productivity principles to our work.. Through Twitter, I was able to connect with him in a way that would not have been possible years ago. And, by investing just a few minutes of his time in tweeting back to me (and the cost of giving me a complimentary admission to his seminar) David Allen solidified my loyalty to him, his “brand” and his product. More cost effective than a print ad? I have to believe it is. I’ve told this story to anyone who will listen, including to a roomful of people at Social Media Bootcamp last Friday.

Added bonus? As I boarded the plane in Chicago, and as soon as we touched down in Minneapolis I pulled up the #ignitempls tweetstream and was able to follow along what was happeninig with the presentations. The minute I walked in the door, I pulled up the live UStream feed and caught the tail end of the video. The next morning, I checked out my husband’s presentation. So, while I wasn’t there in person to cheer him on, I was able to send him supporting tweets. I was able to “listen in” on what was happening and tweet to people I knew who were there. They gave him the support that I wasn’t there to give. Through social media, we had a shared experience despite our physical separation.

The real power of social media is in it’s versatility: it can be used for a business or a brand, and it can be used to stay connected with the ones we love.

I’m fond of comparing social media to a hammer: you can pound a nail, you can pull a nail or you can hit yourself in the face. How you use it, and therefore your feelings about it’s usefulness, are really up to you.

Lots of people have asked me about GTD: what is it, how do i use it and why do I like it. I’m working on a follow-up post about that.
Update: I finally wrote a GTD post on June 24: read it here.

Does Your Site Need a Makeover? Part I of II

Recently, at my “day job“, a client asked, “How do I know when it’s time to refresh our site?” She offered this analogy, “I don’t want our site to be the woman with the same hairstyle 30 years later.”

My reply? “Yes, but you also don’t want to be the grandma wearing skinny jeans and a Juicy couture shirt.”

Because many of our readers work in marketing and communications, I thought this topic would be helpful to cover here at the Geek Girls Guide. Quite often, those who are in charge of the budgets for web sites aren’t always confident in their own knowledge base on the topic. We’d like to change that. We’re working on a series of posts aimed at helping people evaluate their needs and make good decisions about their web site. We’ve also got some guest posts in the works from do-it-yourselfers — small or independent business owners who, because of budget, need to do things on their own.

So, back to the topic at hand: how do you know when it’s time to give your site a refresh? (I almost used the word facelift, but I really can’t stomach the plastic surgery analogy!) And, how do you know whether you need a refresh or an overhaul?


First, I suggest evaluating your web site annually.

  • Put a recurring event on your calendar so that you don’t forget, and in the description or notes section add the following list of my suggestions and any others that you think of that are specific to your site, industry or business.
  • Don’t schedule it around the first of the year; there’s too much other stuff going on then.
  • Pick a time of year when things generally aren’t overwhelmingly busy. Frankly, spring is a great time — schedule it between March and May and think about it as Spring Cleaning for your web site.


Review your site on three main fronts:

Your Audience

  • Do a gut-check on what your target audience is looking for. What are their goals and does the site still make it easy for them to achieve those goals?
  • Review your site statistics to see where traffic is heaviest on the site. Do you know why? Is that where you want traffic to be heavy?
  • Has your target audience changed since this site was launched (either has your company focused on a new/different target since then or has your existing target changed their habits?).

You, Your Company and Your Brand

  • Does the site still accurately reflect who you are as a company, both visually and in tone/content of copy?
  • Does the site fit in with internal workflow (does it get updated regularly or is it forgotten)? If you want to make updates, it is easy to do or are you at the mercy of the CEO’s nephew to make changes for you?
  • If search traffic is important to you, when you Google your company’s name, or important industry keywords, does your site come up in search engine results?

Your Competitors

  • Does your site still stand out effectively from the competition?
  • Have your competitors, or your industry as a whole, changed how they talk about themselves? Does anyone have any significant online offerings that you need to match or do better at?

Next Steps

An answer you don’t like in any of those categories may prompt you to:

  • make a small tweak (like optimizing the content for better search engine performance or updating the CSS with a slight style change to headlines);
  • an addition or reorganization (adding a new feature/section or moving pages around);
  • or a complete overhaul/redesign.

My next post on this topic will cover what to do once you’ve evaluated the site and come up short in one of those areas.

The Geek Girl’s Guide to Freelancing, by Kristi McKinney

Freelancing can be simultaneously the best and worst job. When contracts are plentiful you can charge a fair rate, but you’re self-employed and without health insurance and other benefits. You have the flexibility to work the hours you want and at the pace you want, but you don’t get paid when work is slow.

I chose to start freelancing because my financial situation is changing.  My husband is a medical student. Up until now, he’s been amazing enough to be able to hold a part-time job and help contribute to our mortgage and other expenses. He’s now entering the phase of his education where he won’t be able to do anything other than school. That leaves me the primary breadwinner. Though I’ve been bringing in the majority of our income for the last year, it’s never been solely up to me to ensure our financial future. Talk about scary.

I still have my full-time job and am grateful.  I have a reasonable salary and good benefits, but without my husband’s contribution it isn’t enough. A few months ago, I decided it was time to find more sources of income. The easiest way for me to do that without incurring further transportation or other costs, was to freelance from home in my spare time.
You can freelance in a variety of job specialties, everything from Web design to film. I chose writing because it comes so naturally that it’s absurdly easy for me. That means I’m highly productive and can get more contracts done in a small amount of time.

Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. The market is full of freelancers who are willing to work for any price. That means your pay-per contract will likely be lower and the rare contracts that offer really good money are going to be extremely competitive.
  2. The market is full of companies seeking bloggers for little to no pay. I can’t tell you how many blogger positions I’ve applied for in the last several months. Everything from technology blogger to environmental blogger to corporate blogger, I’ve seen and applied for it all. The offers I received back were insane. Most wanted to pay me per article or blog, usually around $10 or less. I had to do the math and figure out if the amount of effort per article required would greatly exceed the compensation being offered. In most cases it wasn’t worth it.
  3. The market is full of companies and sites that contract out freelance work and sell it off for much more than they paid you. There are many sites out there where you can “apply” to be a freelancer, choose projects, and then get paid a flat fee or sometimes a revenue-shared fee for each one. In theory, this is great.
    Again, you have to take into account the effort per project and the pay you receive. For me, there were some projects that were good and some that were not. It took a fair amount of investigation to figure out which was which. Beware of sites like this that ask you to pay to join. You should not have to “buy in” to a Web site or company to get freelance projects. Most companies that ask this are a scam or just not worth it.
  4. There are a lot of good Web resources to help you. For most professions, you should be able to find a helpful blogger or two who list open jobs and opportunities across the country. I found freelancepulse.com and freelancewritinggigs.com to be incredibly helpful with job leads. I subscribed to their RSS and set up RSS for postings on Craigslist. This kept me abreast of new opportunities so I could get my application in ASAP.
  5. Write your cover letter/email carefully and target your resume. You’re definitely not the only one applying for these positions. That means you need to stand out. Make sure to address the requirements listed in the ad and illustrate how you fit the bill. Provide all of the information required, and for Pete’s sake PLEASE check your documents for spelling and grammar.
  6. Think about how much you need to make. Effort vs. pay will be different for all of us. In my case, a lot of effort for little pay isn’t worth it. I could spend that time being productive on another job, doing my full-time job better, or searching for new jobs. For some of you it may not matter, a dollar is a dollar.
  7. Watch that non-compete. I signed a non-compete agreement when I started my current job. That means I have to be careful about the freelance projects I take on.

I’m currently working for a company that pays freelancers to write SEO articles. It’s boring and repetitive. The pay isn’t great, but it IS pay. The longer I’m with the company, my pay increases as does the opportunity for me to write about more interesting things. It’s steady work and for right now, it’s the best option for me. I’m also doing Web design contracts as I happen upon them. I get to work from wherever I’d like whenever I like. That gives me the flexibility I need.

Good hunting.

Kristi McKinney, Geek

Kristi McKinney currently works at Forte, LLC, writing and managing MyWayForward.com. She recently received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota where she studied Russian journalism.  Kristi has had many geeky odd jobs over the years, including helping to write content and build web pages for the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. Kristi received her BA in Communication and English with a minor in Russian from the University of North Dakota.

Geek Chic of the Week: The Dinner Edition

I like cooking just about as much as I love shopping. Which is to say, I don’t like it much at all. Once in a while, I’ll get inspired and cook something amazing (like a monkey cake or a fabulous meal for my family) but for the most part cooking just isn’t my bag, baby. It’s just not my bag.

What’s even more not my bag is cooking on a weeknight after a long day at work with a three-year-old hanging off my calf and a six-month-old fussing in a bouncy seat on the floor. Luckily, I have a husband that shares a lot of the cooking burden. But, we still have to figure out what to make, ensure that our fridge is stocked, and then actually cook it.

Wondering how technology could possibly help with this? Never fear, I’m about to tell you.

I’ve recently discovered three things to help get me through what my aunt (a working mother of three) refers to as “suicide hour.”


A friend of mine, who is also personal chef, recently turned me on to TasteBook. (I know, awful name. Way too much like Facebook. But, let’s forgive them for that because the idea is really great.) It’s a web site that does four things that I think are cool:

1. Aggregates an insane number of recipes from multiple sources.

2. Allows you to input and store your own recipes.
This is really only useful if you’re planning to print your TasteBook, or you want to share your recipes with others. But, a handy feature in my opinion.

3. Allows you to connect with other people to view their recipes.
Now I don’t have to keep asking my friend for her awsome Chicken in Pear-Leek Sauce recipe because I have access to ALL of her recipes on TasteBook. Holler! I can even put her recipes into my TasteBook so I can access them quickly or print them for my own book.

4. Allows you to print a super-swank looking cookbook (er, I mean, TasteBook) with whatever recipes you want.
Perhaps yours might be titled something like “Recipes I Can Make in Under 30 Minutes with a three-year-old hanging off my calf and a six-month-old fussing in a bouncy seat on the floor.” Or perhaps you’ll choose a shorter title. Whatever.

NOTE: They’re running a Mother’s Day special right now: free shipping if you order by April 21. Use the code MOMSDAY at checkout. I do think a Tastebook full of family favorites would be a great gift for someone who likes to cook.

The Six O’Clock Scramble

I’ve been dying to try The Six O’Clock Scramble, which sends you a list of fast, healthy meals AND the shopping list to make all of it. What was stopping me was the fact that my husband is gastronomically high-maintenance (no red meat, no dairy), but the more I dig around the site the more I notice all the ways you can customize your meal plan for the week. This woman is obviously in tune with what’s going on in the allergy-laden American kitchen right now, because you can filter by dairy-free, nut-free, and gluten-free. I may have to break down and buy a membership. Because, honestly, the other thing that’s stopping me is that I’m cheap.


In a pinch, you can type in a list of ingredients to Google and see what recipe matches come back. A search for tomato yogurt chicken yields this.

My husband has done this in the past and, on a night when I was sure we’d have to eat crackers and peanut butter, he Googled a list of stuff we had in the fridge and whipped up an awesome jambalaya that we still make to this day.

My pal Jackie and her husband use Google docs to collaborate on their grocery list and weekly menu. There’s a guest post on that coming soon.

So, there it is. A handful of ideas to help us frazzled non-foodies feed our tired faces before we hit the sack. Is there anything the Internet can’t do?

How Backpack Made Me Like Gmail More, by Nate Burgos

I guess we’re on a little bit of a 37signals kick over here at the Geek Girls Guide. Last week, our pal Julie outlined how she and her husband use Basecamp to manage their home remodeling. This week, our newfound friend Nate Burgos of Design Feast shares how 37Signals’ Backpack has helped him keep his inbox cleaner by streamlining his writing and editing process. This article is a great example of how one technology tool (Backpack) can help simplify another (email). I don’t think Nate is alone in wanting to keep the amount of “noise” in his inbox down.

We’ll be posting some more articles around here soon about how to keep your Inbox(es) under control. Let us know if Nate’s post gives you any bright ideas!

Since starting my blog last year, I had been using Gmail to send files to my editor Silvia. The system was simple: State the blog posting number in the email’s subject header, insert pleasant greeting and notification, and attach Word document. Writing is naturally iterative. There were a number of times that I would email another, and sometimes still another, revised version of the same posting. In these instances, the subject header would read USE THIS.

At times I needed to make sure that the latest version was indeed the latest, so I used Gmail’s fast search to track it. This way of sharing and commenting on versions was my workflow for making content to post. But repeating this workflow, with each compounded and buried email in my Sent folder, proved that the system wasn’t the right solution.

Last January, my writing-and-approval system was not only refreshed but also reengineered when I began using Backpack, 37signal’s tool for sharing and organizing information. I thought my immediate choice would be Basecamp, but decided that Backpack was appropriate for my purpose. Backpack allows you to create a Page, however many needed, dedicated to a topic. Each Page serves as a central place to store the stuff pertaining to the topic of that Page, like this for a past topic for a blog entry: