Author: Amber James

The 4 Stages of Knowing

When I was a freshman in college, my track coach taught me something to me that I’ve carried with me throughout my life: the four stages of knowing. He was applying them specifically to running and our ability to become better athletes, but the implications are much broader. Knowing what stage of knowing you’re in for any particular topic (basically, knowing what you don’t know) is an extremely powerful tool in life and business. I’ll lay out each one, and briefly expand upon them.

1) Unconscious Incompetence

You don’t know what it is and you don’t know how to do it. A completely new concept has been introduced to you and you know nothing about it. Your incompetence here doesn’t mean you’re stupid, bad, or wrong, it simply means you’re a complete amateur at whatever it is. That’s how all beginners begin!

When you first heard of “social media” you were in this stage. When my coach first instructed me in proper running form, that one new thing you learn every day. This is where we are on the subject before we learn otherwise. Embrace these beginnings. For better or worse, once we know something, we can’t un-know it.

2) Conscious Incompetence

You know what it is, but you don’t know how to do it. Continuing to use social media as an example, your conscious of it now, but you don’t know how to use it. This is the exploratory stage when you start to poke at the thing, click all the links and see what they allow you to do, read blog posts about it, and test it out yourself. It’s the learning process in action.

For my team, it meant that we looked and felt ridiculous as we began to train our bodies to move in ways they never had before. There was bruising (physical and psychological), but we stuck with it and we all improved. Once you “get it,” but aren’t necessarily skilled at doing it, you achieve…

3) Conscious Competence

You know what it is and you know how to do it! Huzzah! You are now a practitioner of that thing! Again, you’re not necessarily good at it yet, but you’re committed to learning, and your skills and abilities are improving. After a few weeks of our new training program, our bodies weren’t as sore anymore, we weren’t asking as many beginner questions, and we were actually helping each other fine-tune our new skills.

For social media or anything else you’re learning, this is where you’re regularly working at the thing, studying it, committed to mastery (or at least competence). It could be an educational course, a new dance move, the perfect cup of coffee, a new language, a yoga pose, anything you choose to dive deeper into.

4) Unconscious Competence

You know the topic so well you don’t even have to consciously think about it anymore. You could argue this level of knowing means you’re an expert, but that’s not necessarily the case.

As track athletes, my teammates and I certainly improved, and got to a point where we could be on auto-pilot while we were training, but that doesn’t mean we were experts. Semi-pro perhaps, mini experts even, but only from our perspective as athletes. Learning about the sport as an athlete is different than learning about it from the perspective of a coach, or a judge/referee, or an athletic director. Do you see where this is going? Having one complete perspective on something could make you an expert on a subject…from that singular perspective. I just assume that mastery involves knowing a subject from the inside out, and knowing how to apply it to any given situation (effectively using social media to sell products versus promote thought leadership, for example).

Living and being is a lifelong process. While we’re all absolutely capable of improving (learning more, increasing this, becoming skilled at that), mastery takes incredible amounts of time and dedication. Hopefully we’ll all be able to say we’ve mastered something in our lives, but if not, know that your unconscious competence is remarkable in itself.

Why Your Stage of Knowing Matters

So you go from:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence: “I have no idea what that is or how to do it.”
  2. Conscious Incompetence: “Oh, so that’s what that is. I still don’t know how to do it.”
  3. Conscious Competence: “I totally know what this is and how to do it.”
  4. Unconscious Competence: “I can talk about this with authority and do it in my sleep.”

Knowing what stage of knowing you’re in is important because it’ll help you manage your expectations of yourself (be patient with yourself as you learn this new thing), set goals, plan your way forward, and see how far you’ve come (congrats!).

So which of the four stages of knowing are you in for your current interest? Stick with it. Your competence will improve over time.

30 Principles to Help You Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie

You’ve probably heard of the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. If you’re building a business, in business, or at a standstill with how to make new things happen for yourself, the principles in this book will help you win friends and influence people.

I’d heard of Carnegie’s book for years before actually getting around to buying it. Then it took me another year or so before I actually read it. I can say with certainty that since I’ve read it, I’m much more confident and aware as I walk through the world and interact with clients, colleagues, and loved ones. Engage with these principles deeply and honestly, and you’ll start to see immediate changes in your own life.

30 Principles to Help You Win Friends and Influence People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.
  4. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  5. Smile.
  6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  7. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  9. Make the other person feel important–and do it sincerely.
  10. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  11. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
  12. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  13. Begin in a friendly way.
  14. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
  15. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  16. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  17. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  18. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  19. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  20. Dramatize your ideas.
  21. Throw down a challenge.
  22. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  23. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
  24. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  25. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  26. Let the other person save face.
  27. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  28. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  29. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  30. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

The Dale Carnegie Way


This list is a sorry substitute for owning and reading the actual book. According to Carnegie’s recommendation, I re-visit this book and it’s principles on a regular basis–probably every month or two. Just to refresh, reset, and remind me how to be my best self. I’ve also been toying with the idea of enrolling in one of his in-depth leadership training courses. At a minimum, I recommend you check the book out from the library, and then when you realize how precious the advice it (or in my case how much I wanted to underline passages and dog-ear the pages), you’ll probably buy it. I recommend that too.

If you’ve already read it, what changes did you notice when you applied the principles? Do you have more friends? Are you more influential?

Freelance Money Insights From Money Coach Shell Tain

After attending the Conclave’s event with money coach Shell Tain last Thursday at Forge Portland, I’ve compiled some freelance money insights that I wanted to share.

The First Rule About Money


As kids, we learn from our parents that the first rule about money is: you do not talk about money. Consequently, we all have a guarded, childish relationship with money that prevents many (most?) of us from saving, investing wisely, and generally having a healthy relationship with money. Shell said plainly that we all have a 5-year-old running our money. She also said our clients have a 5-year-old running their money too. Understanding that, we freelancers can approach money/contractual conversations with them in a more informed and less stressed manner. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Once you realize you’re dealing with an emotional person (versus a rational one), you’ll be able to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing (potentially giving you a hard time about payment), and you’ll be able to communicate better, more calmly, and more productively with them.

The Land of Enough Versus to the Land of Plenty


A good percentage of people are stuck in Enough Land. Meaning we have what we need to get by and little else. Shell argues that we always have had enough (unless of course you’ve been homeless and literally literally not had enough). Enough Land is the place where we feel comfortable, complacent. Which is too bad because we could be living in the Land of Plenty! A land of milk and honey where we live in abundance and are free from fear. According to Shell, “fear is a distraction. It keeps us from being successful.” Instead of focusing on getting enough, she says, focus on having plenty. You’ll pass the Land of Enough on your way to the Land of Plenty. What’s plenty, you ask? Depends on you. Dream big, she urges.

Channel Cesar Millan with Clients


By understanding clients from a financial perspective, and by channeling Cesar Millan, we can become Client Whisperers. First of all, we know that clients are working with a 5-year-old mentality when it comes to money. Second, we need to manage our clients expectations instead of meeting them. For example, instead of putting “Payment due net 30” on your invoices, add a due date. And if the client is even a day late, call them up and ask with calm assertive energy (this is the Cesar Millan part), “When can I expect payment?” When asked why, Shell said, “If you’re late sending invoices, or you don’t follow-up to enforce them, your clients will assume you don’t care…and then they won’t care either. They’ll send your payment late or not at all.” By managing the clients’ expectations of what it’s like to work with you, you’re setting boundaries and creating a plan to get to the Land of Plenty.


It was a great event, and Shell has already followed-up with me for a free phone consultation. Whether you have a few money questions, or need some serious financial therapy, I highly recommend you call her for a free consultation. After that conversation, you’ll know what you need to do to overcome your discomfort around talking about money, focus on a mentality of plenty versus enough, and be a Client Whisperer when it comes to getting paid.

How to Write a Blog Post for Optimal SEO

When I was working for a tech company a few years ago, I was asked to write weekly blog posts. The client loved the first post I wrote. The third-party marketing expert the client was contracting at the time had some additional feedback about how to write a blog post for optimal SEO (search engine optimization). Here’s what I learned from him.

Where the SEO Should Go


To appease Google Almighty, you must write a post that’s about what you say it’s about, and title it according to the content. (Or write the content according to the title if that’s how you write. Either way is fine, just make sure the title of the post accurately reflects the content and vice versa.) If you do this consistently, Google will remember that you are a faithful follower, and continue to reward you with even higher search rankings.

There are six key areas of a blog post that increase the post’s ability to appear high and often in search results:

  1. Focus Keyword
  2. Pick the main keyphrase that the post is about. Likely it will include some of the exact sequence of words found in the title.

  3. Meta Description
  4. This is the text under the title in a search result. It helps inform the reader about the relevance of this post to what they’re searching for. In order for this to be used effectively, the exact focus keyword/keyphrase you’ve should be in here.

  5. SEO/Blog Post Title
  6. You can completely customize the URL of a blog post. Meaning it should be SEO candy. It should inform the reader exactly what to expect in the blog post. Try to use words and phrases that readers would actually type into a Google search.

  7. Subheadings (H2 tags and H3 tags primarily)
  8. The H2 and H3 tags are your subheading tags within the post. These are excellent sources of SEO. They can include your focus keyphrase or additional information about your topic that lends credibility to your knowledge of the subject (Google loves you), and also helps break up the text and locate the reader within the post. It makes for a much more enjoyable reading experience (readers love you). Here’s more on the differences.

  9. Content of the Post
  10. If the title of the post accurately reflects the content, the exact same sequence of words that appear in the title should also appear in the body of the post. Similar variations of the word sequence should also appear, but not too many. Google has made overloading keywords into a post a punishable offense (i.e. you fall from grace and your blog and website are no longer held in favor).

  11. Image Descriptions/Captions
  12. If you’re inserting an image into a blog post (which is usually always an excellent addition to a post) be sure to add a relevant, keyword-rich description on the backend (for sure) and a relevant, keyword-rich caption on the reader-facing side (if it’s right for the post). These are opportunities to insert evermore keywords into your post, AND if your image doesn’t show up for some reason (weird server stuff, broken link, etc.) at least the description of the image will appear, and your reader will know what it’s supposed to be.

A Blog Post is Not an Article


Blog posts should not be written like articles (i.e. text, text, and more text with no subheadings). The established blogging format is to have multiple headings (H2 or H3) throughout the post–one every two-three paragraphs will do. As mentioned earlier, these headings should contain keywords and sum up the copy that follows (like little newspaper headlines). Google is looking at these for clues as to what the content is about.

How to Know if You’ve Got Good SEO


There are a number of plugins you can install that will support your SEO efforts. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Yoast: a WordPress SEO plugin. It’s what we use to optimize the CC: PDX blog posts and it basically holds your hand through each post: telling you what’s wrong, how you can improve it, and how your posts rate.
To give you an idea of how helpful Yoast (and I’m sure other plugins are great too) is to a blogger, here’s what the backend looks like:

Yoast SEO Manager

Yoast SEO Manager


It puts all the SEO boxes you need to fill in all in one place. It even tells you how well you did using the focus keyword/keyphrase. If you missed something, those green yes’s would be red no’s. This is great because it allows you to tweak your content until you hit the right SEO sweet spot.


Yoast SEO Page Analysis

Yoast SEO Page Analysis


The Page Analysis tab gives you a more detailed description of what you’ve done well in the post and what you could improve upon. This post has more green lights than orange and red. Success! That’s good enough for us. If you’re a perfectionist who needs to hit green on everything every time…Yoast can help you get there.

The Benefits of SEO


All this search engine optimization of your blog posts helps increase the audience who’ll read them. What you want is for Google to know what the post is specifically about, and decide that your post is high quality enough to return it in the results of a visitor’s keyword search.

A few other SEO things I didn’t touch on are the tags and categories you can add to the backend of your posts, and keyword research tools like Google AdWords. Do explore these areas.

A Word About Yoast

yoast-logo
In addition to being an awesome WordPress plugin, Yoast also has a robust blog that goes in depth about each of the areas we discussed above and much much more about SEO. If you’re using WordPress, my best advice is to install Yoast, blog, and learn by experimentation. There’s an art to blogging, but there’s also a science to it. The more you know about both sides of the coin, the more powerful a blogger you’ll be. (And no, I’m not a Yoast affiliate. Just a true believer.)

Is there anything else about blog post SEO that should be included here? SEO hacks, useful articles, tools, or resources?

8 Cheap and Good Ways to Build Your Skill Set

Looking for some cheap and good ways to build your skill set? Here are eight resources I’ve used in the past, currently, and can highly recommend:

  1. Copyblogger: Free content marketing education, and business development upgrades.
  2. Freemixx: Open source photo editor
  3. Inc. Magazine: Advice, tools, and services that help your small business grow
  4. Lumosity: Sophisticated, scientifically designed brain training for anyone. It may seem like fun and games, but it’s actually making your brain better.
  5. Lynda: Online video tutorials to help you learn software, creative, and business skills.
  6. Mercy Corps Northwest: Provide affordable business development education, financing, and business services.
  7. Treehouse: Learn how to build websites and apps, write code, or start a business with video tutorials and exercises.
  8. W3 Schools: Free coding education.

What cheap skill-building resources have you come across in your professional development? Share them in the comments. It would be great to build this list out more!