26 November 2015

8 Tips for Composing Testimonials that Sell

You've just had a great experience working with another small business owner. You know how important testimonials are, but writing them is not a comfortable experience for you. So, you procrastinate. Here are some tips to get that off your TO DO list.

#1. Jot down 3-4 descriptive words or phrases that immediately come to mind about the business, the product or service, the consultant, the buying process, and such. When you start writing and are stuck for a word, refer to this list. (Examples: reliable, honest, practical, creative, solid)

#2. Get clear on the benefit. Before you start to write, consider your responses to these questions:
  • What was your problem?
  • What was the solution and how was it unique?
  • What particularly stood out about the buying experience?
#3. Start with feelings. You are really writing the testimonial for potential customers of the business. Think about how you felt and tell them how they will feel. Use comparisons, such as "It made me feel like I was walking on air."

#4. Think about your buying decision. What information caused you to buy? If you include that information in your testimonial, it might flip the switch for others.

#5. Be specific. Don't try to mention everything about your buying experience. Avoid broad generalizations by describing one part of the experience that was outstanding.

#6. Get personal. Write it from you, a person, not from your business.

#7. Make it evergreen. While your experience is recent, will the wording still make sense to someone reading it a year from now?

#8. Up your game by including a punchy phrase that can stand alone. These are gold because they can be used as standalone marketing messages.

Testimonials can be valuable marketing tools. Help another small business owner now by writing one. And think about how good you'll make them feel.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder, November 26, 2015
photo by electrofervor / Flickr

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23 November 2015

Leave Out the Parts People Skip

Has anyone really read every word of Gone with the Wind? Be honest now. I've read it twice and I remember skipping whole pages of scene-setting descriptive text.

When I read this quote by Elmore Leonard, whose books I read, it resonated with me.

"I try to leave out the parts people skip."
(click to tweet this)

This is a great principle for marketing, too. Recall those bags of brochures and business cards you've thrown out after conferences.

What's the practical application? Have a look at your website with a fresh eye from the perspective of your ideal client. Better yet, have one of your ideal clients take a look. Ask them to 'browse' and then find out what they skimmed over, or skipped completely. You can also do this for your brochures and bios, your articles and newsletters. You could even get carried away and do an audit of all your marketing materials.

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17 November 2015

Learning to Pitch Business Ideas

pitching competition at NSCC

It started with The Dragon's Den, or at least it did for me. Now students are learning it in school. How awesome is that?

That's me in the middle at the judges' table on stage in the photo above. I was delighted to be asked to participate in this Pitch 101 competition by NSCC Entrepreneurship on November 5, 2015.

Being able to pitch a business idea has many benefits for young people, among them:
  • These are sales skills. Young people will need to be able to sell themselves when job hunting, sell their ideas in the business world, and perhaps even sell products and services.
  • Doing a timed pitch in front of an audience requires confidence. It might mean failure the first time, but practice leads to self-confidence.
  • It's like networking on steroids. Pitchers have the chance to make connections with organizers, teachers, judges, students and other pitchers.
  • A chance to test ideas before making an investment of time and money. Judges offer advice about the business idea in addition to advice to improve the pitch.
As a judge, I also required a bit of confidence. I, too, got to network with new contacts and visit with old friends. And having a little to do with who took the prize money and advanced in the competition... well, who wouldn't like that? I'm really glad it wasn't me that was pitching, though!

09 November 2015

How to Write the Introduction to Your First Newsletter

You want to start strong and the way to do that is to make a personal connection with your readers. While there are many ways to make that connection in each issue, your first issue is where you set up expectations about the value you'll provide. It's often the point at which subscribers choose to stay or go.

Here are some things you might want to include:
  1. Write your introduction to your ideal client.
  2. Acknowledge that this is your first issue and that you appreciate your readers' attention.
  3. Tell readers what they'll be getting and how often. Outline the benefits of staying subscribed.
  4. If you have added your customers and business contacts to your subscriber list without their express permission, acknowledge that you have done so and why you have. (For example, you might say that they have bought something from your store, or you met at a networking event.)
  5. Tell readers that it's easy to unsubscribe via the footer in this and every email.
  6. Ask for feedback and suggestions.
Here are a few examples of first issues:

02 November 2015

Call to Action: Why Would I Subscribe?

Aside from having a catchy subscription process on your website, you can use calls to action on your social media platforms to attract new readers. While doing a little research recently on Twitter, here are some examples I found - bad examples first.

I have no idea why I would want this newsletter - I'm not even remotely curious to know what those 'important updates' are.

Aside from having no interest in 'the latest' from a stranger, these poor folks don't even have a sign up form. I wonder how many new subscribers they get.

I could show you hundreds of examples like this - or you could go look yourself. Doing this is a total waste of your time.

Now for the good examples:

Authors generally do a pretty good job of creating interest with their calls to action.

This one is short and sweet. You know it's a newsletter and you know what it's about.

This seems like a pretty good reason to sign up. And you can see it got retweeted. Too bad they spelled Christmas wrong.

screen shot at top from shinesty.com

29 October 2015

How to Find Time to Create Content

Whether you write for your blog, newsletter or social media - or all three - there are two approaches to creating your content: on the fly or by scheduling time. They both have to do with finding time to do it well.

You can spend some time daily creating content by blocking off 15-30 minutes in your schedule every day. If there's a certain time of day that you're more creative, exploit that and preserve the same time every day in your calendar. Alternately, you can set aside a block of time each week. Of course, this means more time at once, perhaps a couple of hours.

Creating content on the fly is a little more haphazard, and it's what I do a lot of the time - write when I'm inspired. I might read an article I clicked on from Twitter. Or I might have a phone conversation with a new client. Or someone might ask me a question. I most enjoy writing when I drop everything and do it while the idea is fresh.

Now you might be thinking that's an inefficient way to work but, most days, I'm at my desk and the occasional small interruption doesn't really affect my overall productivity. If you're out and about all day, you can still do this on your phone or tablet while waiting for appointments and in between meetings (typing or audio recording).

Crunch time comes when deadlines loom. This is when the stress starts if I haven't been good about on the fly content creation.

If you're not sure which approach is best for you, try them both and see.

With content creation, as with many things, little gets done without a clear plan and a workable schedule. Your editorial calendar is an important part of your content marketing campaign. Use it to stay organized and keep momentum.

photo by joeywan / Flickr
originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on October 28, 2015

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26 October 2015

9 Types of Customer Generated Content

Do you want more customers like the ones you already have? You can use experiences with your current customers to develop content that will attract more of the same.

Customer-generated content is akin to 'social proof' - it elevates your reputation. By 'content' I mean all the 'stuff' on your website, social media accounts, blog, newsletter, brochures and so on. How do you get your customers to do this work for you?

  1. Success stories: Interview a client and write a blog post about it. Or ask them to write it themselves. Or do it live via Blab or Periscope and save the recording to post online. Prepare a few questions in advance so the advantages of using your product or service will be highlighted.
  2. Lessons learned and improvement opportunities: Write about a customer service experience and what you learned from it. This doesn't have to be negative.
  3. Case studies and examples: This works great if you do project-type work or customization. As above, make sure to include the benefits of your product or service.
  4. Collaborations: Work with a client to create a resource that would be useful to both of your target markets. This might be a free download or even a video.
  5. Testimonials: This needs to be a key piece of your content strategy. Start a process to regularly solicit testimonials from your customers. Grab onto unsolicited testimonials, such as tweets about your service. Put the testimonials on your website - and everywhere else. Consider using a testimonial to preface your success story or case study. (Video testimonials are gold!)
  6. Photo and video galleries: This might be to show off examples of work or products - also great for photos of your happy customers. Consider Facebook albums and other apps that are easily integrated, such as Flickr. You could also build a gallery of your customers' photos, perhaps using your product. Ask for permission first, though.
  7. Guest posts: Aside from success stories, you might also consider gathering guest posts from your customers if their target market overlaps with yours. This gives them exposure to your fans and subscribers - always a plus.
  8. Surveys and feedback: If you regularly gather feedback from your customers, use the results to support your case studies. Or extrapolate the results and share your conclusions.
  9. Customer Spotlight: There are a variety of ways to promote your customers, most notably by social media. Consider doing something more comprehensive like using an aggregator, such as Storify.

Many of these suggestions give you an opportunity to bring emotions into your content, and that helps you appeal to people similar to your current customers. Review your content strategy with a view to adding more of these types of content.

21 October 2015

Your Marketing Made Easy

We have a LOT of options when it comes to our online marketing. The choices can be staggering, often leading to no action at all.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate as a facilitator at the Your Marketing Made Easy conference in Regina, SK. 10 facilitators, 16 workshops - covering topics like social media, blogging, email marketing, SEO, event marketing, web usability, and so much more.

It was a fun and inspiring day! My only regret is that I didn't get to attend many of the workshops put on by the other facilitators. I was inspired, though, to to experiment a bit, so I set up a Storify story to capture some of the event highlights - click here to check it out.

photo by Alvil Tayco on Twitter

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14 October 2015

eMail Marketing is Not an Expense

I know your accountant will want you to log it as such, but here's why you shouldn't think of email marketing as an expense: it has an ROI.

Unlike many other marketing channels, the results are more evident with email marketing. You can tell if it's making you money or not. And, if it's not, you change it or ditch it.

First, some basic math, using my own pricing as an example. My average price for a monthly 'regular-sized' newsletter is $150 per issue. Over a year that works out to $1800. You, as my client, should be able to look back on that year and know that income attributable to your newsletter was more than $1800.

Wait! Before you go off tapping away on your calculator, we need to acknowledge there are different reasons for publishing a newsletter and some have nothing to do with money. Example: I specialize in newsletters so I have to walk the talk. You may have reasons I wouldn't even think of (but would love to hear about them in the comments).

If you pay attention to how your email marketing is helping your business, you'll feel better about the effort and cost you put into it. And that will lead to continual improvement through little tweaks which, in turn, will make your campaigns more successful through increased engagement.

photo by CAPow! / Flickr

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09 October 2015

Research - What are your Competitors Doing?

If you've been doing a newsletter for more than a year, it's a good idea to examine your strategy, look at your stats, and implement some positive change. You don't want your email campaign to get stale.

Doing that, of course, means generating ideas. One way to do that is to look at what your competition is doing. Are they doing something well that you can expand on? Are they missing an opportunity that you can take advantage of? Is there a chance to collaborate?

Take a few minutes to sign up for your competitors' newsletters. Pay attention to the sign-up process, too.

photo by HowardLake / Flickr

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05 October 2015

What I Learned at BlogJam2015

Anita Hovey and I acting out
I thought I would be spending the day with other business owners. I thought blogging was a marketing tool. I thought that swearing in public wasn't nice.

None of these turned out to be true at BlogJam2015 at the Marriott in Halifax on October 4th. What I learned is that I make a lot of assumptions!

Yes, there were some other business bloggers, but most of the speakers and attendees were not there for business. Mommy bloggers and food bloggers ruled the panel discussions. The few assumptions I had left were completely shattered during the closing keynote by Kaleigh Trace. One of her blogging tips was to relax and go masturbate. I swear every time she said 'vagina' I felt my mother cringe... and my mother wasn't there.

My biggest takeaway? Blogging is a tool for expressing our passions and prejudices. And 'success' means something different to every blogger.

photo by @E11ephantRoom on Twitter

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29 September 2015

25 Ways to Help Another Small Business Owner

This list was inspired by 25 Ways to Help a Fellow Human Being Today and co-authored by my Twitter colleague @LinosVersion. When we help each other, we all grow stronger!

  1. Give them a testimonial. Make it social and do it on LinkedIn or Twitter.
  2. Tell someone about their business and products/services.
  3. Shop at their store, online or off.
  4. Offer some free advice or constructive feedback.
  5. Offer to mentor a newbie. Check out futurpreneur.ca.
  6. Welcome new business owners to your community - stop by with donuts.
  7. Send an inspirational or congratulatory card by snail mail.
  8. Introduce two business owners who may benefit from the connection.
  9. Promote 'Shop Local' and feature local small businesses.
  10. Write a blog about something you learned from another business owner and give them a shout-out.
  11. Put on a free learning event, such as a lunch and learn, and invite local business owners.
  12. On Facebook, share their business page with a shout-out.
  13. Retweet messages from small business owners.
  14. Call and chat about what they’re up to.
  15. Share hard lessons learned via your blog or newsletter.
  16. Host a networking event.
  17. Invite another small business owner to accompany you to a networking event as your guest.
  18. Offer rewards for referrals from other small business owners.
  19. When you see them, smile and ask about their business.
  20. Help out a charity that another small business owner supports.
  21. Buy a ticket to an event they are involved with.
  22. Tweet about them, their products or services, linking to their website.
  23. Ask them to collaborate with you on a project.
  24. Tell them they’re a great client, or supplier, or colleague, and why you like to work with them.
  25. Pay their invoices right away.

26 September 2015

Take the News out of Newsletter

I'm campaigning to rename 'newsletter', but I know it will take Google forever to catch on.

Do you sign up for newsletters in excited anticipation of getting company news? I didn't think so. Granted a newsletter can be a great source of industry news if it's timely. But that's only one strategy.

The main goal of your newsletter strategy should be to provide value.

Useful + Interesting = Value

No 'news' in that equation. How about... ?

Whatever you call it, don't make it all about your company news. Give people a better reason to subscribe.

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22 September 2015

Branding 101 Workbook

When I start to work with new clients, it's imperative that I understand their brand. I can't do a good job for them if I don't understand what they do, who they do it for, and why it's so important. With some clients I'm even helping to define their brand.

Click here to download a workbook that will give structure to your brand (.pdf). Once you have this completed, it will be a valuable document to share with consultants and others who help with your marketing. I also suggest revisiting it at least annually to capture changes as your business evolves.

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13 September 2015

Design Colour Trends for Spring 2016

The new Pantone colours for Spring 2016 are described as:

A Transporting and Transformative Canvas: Colors this season transcend cultural and gender norms. Vivid brights give way to excitement and optimism, though quiet stability prevails in this season’s palette.

This palette will impact more than just fashion. Look for these colours in everything from website design to home decor.

Download the full report by clicking here.

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09 September 2015

Branding Audit Checklist

When was the last time you audited your brand? If it's been more than a year, it's time.

Your brand is more than your logo - a lot more. It's also more than all the pieces you can touch or look at. But all of those pieces need to be just right to pull their weight as part of your marketing strategy.

Click here to download a checklist (.pdf) you can use to keep track of your progress.

Too busy, you say? This is a great job to delegate because a different set of eyes may catch things you won't.

A great option is to find another business owner you can partner with. You audit their brand and they audit yours.

Take a moment now to add a branding audit to your to-do list or calendar.

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04 September 2015

Tweet to Promote your Newsletter and Blog

Sure you're doing lots of writing, but is anyone reading it? Social media is a great way to promote your newsletter and blog to get more reading and more subscriptions. Particularly on Twitter, you could post a different call-to-action as often as daily. And with the new saved templates functionality in Hootsuite, you can create them once and then schedule regularly.

I've created this Excel spreadsheet with some newsletter promotional tweets already composed. You will need to fill in the blanks and make them your own, but it's a starting point. With a little more tweaking, you can also use these tweets to promote your blog.

Note: Keep in mind that Twitter now counts all links as 20 characters regardless of actual length.

photo by TPorter2006 / Flickr

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24 August 2015

Building Relationships versus Getting Shared

You just shared a most awesome resource with your followers on Twitter. It’s not your own resource but rather one you found on someone else’s blog. Regardless of the author, you know your followers will find it useful.

Earlier you were busy sending an email message to a colleague in response to their newsletter. The personal story they included was touching and inspired you to write back. But you didn't tweet that article. Why not?

There’s a difference between content intended to build relationships and content intended for sharing.

Building relationships and getting shared are only two of several possible reasons for creating content via newsletter and blog. Which is best? That depends on your own goals... and why it’s so important to have well-defined goals.

Likely you will use a combination of both types of content but in different situations. For example, I tend to include experiential stories in my own newsletter. But on my blog I include more of the type of information that's great for sharing.

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20 August 2015

Who's on Your Team?

Leadership and teamwork disappeared when I left the corporate world and started my own business. Not the activities, just the words. Many small business owners seem to think these are concepts for big business.

What did you depend on someone else for in the last couple of days? It might be advice, help figuring something out, a paid service, a favour, a Twitter post, brainstorming, feedback, inspiration to get unstuck, and so on. For me, it’s been all of those. And I consider all of those people part of my team.

While doing work for a client recently, I came across an article titled The Discipline of Teams (Harvard Business Review, Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith) which gave this definition and opinion:
1. A meaningful common purpose
2. Specific performance goals
3. A mix of complementary skills
4. A strong commitment to how the work gets done
5. Mutual accountability, trust and commitment

“People use the word “team” so loosely that it gets in the way of learning and applying the discipline that leads to good performance.”

Using their definition, I have no team, am part of no teams. All of my associations are 'working groups'.

I so disagree with this way of thinking. I figure the more we use the word 'team' and think of ourselves that way, the more like team mates we'll become.

My team changes as my business changes, but there’s no doubt I have a team of people I depend on to help keep my business successful. Teamwork is always desirable, and especially important to us small business owners for access to others' experience.

Who's on your team? Take a moment to recognize them.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder August 20, 2015
photo by davidmulder61 / Flickr

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13 August 2015

Resist the Urge to Ask

Received this message on Facebook:
What is your opinion about sending this kind of email below out? I am on the fence. (I've changed the name on their signature and company for privacy.)
"Hi Natasha,
We are doing a little organizing and noticed that it's been a while since you have opened any emails or shown any activity via the "XYZ" email subscription.
No worries!
We value your time! We just want to be sure we are bringing good vibes to the online community whilst not pestering anyone with unwanted emails.
Are we bothering you?
If you don't want to receive any future emails from us you can click here to unsubscribe from the mailing list. No prob.
If you do want to receive these emails then you simply need to do nothing. Keep on keepin' on.
Find What Feels Good.
Consider this:
  1. If the motivation for sending something to your list is personal, think twice. Always give something of value - this email doesn't do that.
  2. Your email statistics are incomplete. Assuming you would send this to people who show as not opening your newsletter, that can be misleading. There are lots of people reading newsletters on mobile devices and/or without images enabled - these would not show up as opens. So you would be sending to some (a growing number) who actually have opened.
  3. Wasted effort? If they don't open your newsletter, how likely are they to open this?
  4. Why would you suggest that someone unsubscribe? Experts who recommend pruning your list are leading business owners astray - read more about why list pruning is not a great idea.
I can tell you what I've done the few times I've opened emails like this - immediately unsubscribed. It definitely works if your aim is to reduce your subscriber list.

Please, resist the urge to ask. Let your subscribers manage what they want to receive.