When you pour your heart and soul into creating a piece of art, it is only natural that you tend to become very attached, to the point where you lose objective detachment.
The longer you work on your art, the harder it becomes to see your own work’s flaws, which stifles the creative process.
Any business owner or entrepreneur can probably relate.
Your business, after all, is your life’s work. It is a product of your creativity, your hard work, your sweat and blood.
You spend hours and hours toiling away building your business to the point that you can be proud of it.
The problem is, the longer we work on the business, the more attached we become, and the less likely we can see our own flaws.
We all have little flaws (or sometimes big flaws) in our business that we know need to be dealt with but we sometimes have a tendency to sweep them under the rug.
This can be a disaster when these flaws show up in the public face of your business – your business website or blog.
Take a look at your website or blog now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
You see what I mean?
Sometimes we get so busy doing the actual work of our business that we don’t take the time we need to make sure the public face of our business reflects our actual services.
Recently, I decided it was time for me to call myself out on the carpet.
How I Had Failed At Blogging
For years, the public face of my business – aside from my actual face – was my blog, which was then called California Law Report. The domain was www.CaLawReport.com.
To me, who lived with it on a daily basis, the face of my business was vastly improved from the early days, when it was nothing more than a WordPress.com cookie cutter site with boring content and few visitors.
To others, it was still a mixed bag, sending mixed messages and unclear in its focus and direction.
It was around this time I happened to be reading Chris Guillebeau’s 279 Days to Overnight Success manifesto. In it, he said one of the keys to his blog’s success was that early in his blog’s life, he paid for a blog critique from Chris Garrett.
For those who don’t know Chris, he’s basically one of the deans of blogging. He is such an authority about the craft of blogging in fact that he has a training course that is called, appropriately, “Authority Blogger.”
Having Chris Garrett review your blog is kind of like having James Cameron critique your home movie.
Chris Guillebreau said getting his critique from Chris Garrett was a turning point for his business. “in addition to the invaluable advice, having a professional review done for you sends a signal that you are serious about your site.”
I thought: hey, I’m serious about my site. I should do this.
I figured it had been a couple of years since I started blogging and it was time to get an outside expert’s advice on how I could improve the site, dust off the cobwebs, and hopefully give it a little burst of rocket fuel.
So I bit the bullet and sent the $250 fee to Chris Garrett via Paypal.
Time to Take Your Medicine
Here’s how the deal worked: you could either pay Chris to do a critique over the phone, or he’ll write up his review and publish it on his well-read blog.
I figured his blog would give me a little burst of extra traffic, so I swallowed my pride and signed up for a public critique.
A few days after I signed up, Chris sent me an email asking if I could talk over the phone.
I thought that was a little odd. I emailed him back – isn’t the deal that I either get a public critique *or* a phone call? Not both?
His email back: Yes. But we should talk first.
Uh oh. That didn’t sound good.
When we got on the phone, he said my blog was good, but… I really needed to change a whole host of things about it. Like the header, the theme, the newsletter and even the URL.
You know, basically everything.
He said the reason he called was because he wanted to break the news gently to me over the phone rather than just taking me to task publicly on the blog without us having ever spoken over the phone.
(To his credit, that was pretty nice of him. There’s a reason he’s known as one of the nicest guys on the web.)
Chris’ review of my blog explained: when a new reader comes to your site, they make a series of snap judgments based on the information immediately available to them.
In a few short seconds, they judge your credibility and in turn, whether to trust you, based on little keys such as your header, your photos, your domain name, and whether you have a professional or unprofessional overall design.
If the sum of these parts is that you lack professionalism, then they conclude that you lack credibility, and therefore they should not trust you. Chances are, they take off and they never come back.
And you know what? He was right. About everything.
It wasn’t the first time I had heard it. He confirmed an earlier critique I’d gotten from Naomi Dunford in which she basically said many of the same things.
(And it wasn’t the last. I later got great feedback from David Risley and Chris Ducker.)
A Business Will Evolve Over Time
One of the fundamental structural problems with California Law Report was the focus of my blogging had evolved from my early days of blogging four years ago. But the site itself hadn’t changed.
When I started, I was a lawyer working in a small law firm doing a wide range of legal work from estate planning to land use to small business, and I wrote about it all. That early blog read like it was written by a schizophrenic law student.
By the time I came to Chris Garret, my business focus had shifted and the focus of California Law Report had evolved to where I was concentrating on advising entrepreneurs and business owners.
I also no longer wrote solely about legal issues. I wrote and shared content that I thought would be useful to my entrepreneurial clients.
My audience had shifted too, from readers just in California to readers worldwide.
If all of this was true, Chris pointed out, then why do you have “California” and “Law” in the name and the domain? It was confusing.
He was right. They weren’t so relevant anymore, and so it was time for them to go.
The Silver Lining
Chris did say I was doing a lot of things well, including offering webinars and teleseminars, and he said the content of the blog was good.
And he guessed that once I implement the changes he recommended, I would build greater trust with my audience and the number of readers would continue to go up. I think he’s right.
How to Make the Most of an Objective Critique of Your Blog
If you are thinking about getting an independent critique of the public face of your business – your business website and/or blog – then here are five quick tips about how you can really make the most of it:
1. Make Sure Your Critic is Truly Independent
It is really important that the person who is doing your critique won’t pull any punches, and won’t sugarcoat their feedback to avoid hurting your feelings.
They also shouldn’t be giving you a critique in hopes you will hire them to fix everything they’ve just torn down. In my opinion, that’s a clear conflict of interest.
Chris wasn’t cheap, but it was well worth the money. I’m sure he’ll save me thousands of dollars in wasted time and effort.
It’s much better to get frank advice now than to continue along for months or years with a website or blog that has one or two or more fatal flaws that are killing your prospects and turning off potential leads.
2. Make Sure Your Critic is Truly Knowledgeable about What Attracts Leads Online
Anyone can have an opinion about what makes a good business website or blog, but not all advice is created equal. In my case, my focus was on turning my blog into a dynamic platform, so Chris Garrett was a good fit.
If your online presence is a business website and not a blog, then I’m sure there are others who can give wonderful feedback on how to turn your website visitors into customers.
3. Have Time to Make Changes
Make sure you get the critique at a time when you will have time to follow up and make the changes suggested. The technical challenges of doing a permanent 301 redirect, installing and configuring a new theme, and changing associated Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts, were significant, and significantly time consuming.
There’s also no sense getting a review now if you know other commitments are going to keep you too busy for the next two months to make any of the suggested changes.
4. Do a Public Critique
I would highly recommend doing a public critique, where your reviewer writes up their review on their blog or talks about it in a podcast.
One of the great benefits of having a public critique was the great constructive criticism I got from Chris Garrett’s readers who left feedback in the comments. I got lots of great ideas from folks who had read the review, looked at my site and added valuable additional tips.
5. Use the Critique as an Opportunity to Develop a Relationship
One additional benefit of the review process was I got to work closely with a blogger who I respect and have long admired, if for just a short period of time.
You should view the critique process as an opportunity to develop a relationship with someone who is far advanced of where you are in your career.
With blogging, relationships are crucial, as they are in everything you do. But you can view this as an opportunity to kick start a new relationship that can help you in the long run.
If there is a person who you have looked up to for some time, you might as well reach out to them and see if you could pay them for some of their time to review your website or blog. Even if they don’t do that type of work, they will probably be flattered, and maybe they will refer you to someone else who is a good fit.
If they are willing to do the review, then it’s a great opportunity for you to begin developing a relationship with that person, which you can later continue through Facebook or Twitter, or future classes or conferences.
So Chris left me with a lot of work to do, including picking a new domain name, a new theme and rewriting all of my newsletters. But the progress has felt good, and I think the experiment in getting constructive feedback was well worth the money.
It has been six months since he did his review, and I’m still working on implementing some of his suggestions.
Once all the pieces of my new blog are in place, I’m sure it won’t be long before everything starts to get rusty and filled with cobwebs once more, and I’ll have to go reach out to Chris Garrett once more for another critique.
If he’ll take my call.