25 August 2014

My Essential Small Business Tools (Part 1)


Whenever I get together with other business owners over lunch or coffee, the conversation often flows to a discussion of how to be more productive. What processes are we using? What contractors are helping? And what tools or apps are useful?

I love this sharing of ideas and found out about many of the tools I use regularly from these chats. Those listed below are ones that I use at least weekly - often daily - and consider essential to managing my business.

Google Calendar
In the newsletter business, we have to keep track of a lot of dates - reminder dates, preparation dates and issue dates - for all our clients on varying schedules. Google Calendar has been invaluable, not only as an organizational and tracking tool, but also as a communication tool because it lets me share my calendars with work colleagues. I have my own calendar of appointments and events, plus a calendar to track all of the important newsletter dates. I use the email and pop-up reminders so I don’t forget anything. It’s always with me - on my home PC, laptop, and tablet.

Dropbox
This online storage tool allows me take vacations! It also eliminates the risk to my clients of me getting sick or injured. That’s quite a claim, I know, but with it Danielle can access all of the necessary files when I take time off. It also makes sharing large and multiple files with clients and contractors easy.

PayPal
I can accept credit card payments easily and at a minimum cost. I can post ‘Buy Now’ buttons just about anywhere online. It’s also easy to use for many of the business purchases I make online, such as website renewals, stock photos, and monthly subscriptions, often paid for in US funds. I’m not sure what I’d do without it!

I resisted, but Freshbooks has definitely been worth the monthly fee. Easy to set up and connect to PayPal, I find the recurring invoices are a great feature. Since I started using it, my time spent invoicing and following up has dropped... and my outstanding receivables have also dropped. The automated reminders work like a charm.

We use this as a gallery which shows off examples of our work (enewslettergallery.com). It’s also home to all of my personal photos and scans; I've been using it for years. I no longer have to be concerned with moving big files every time I get a new computer. And they’re available to view on any web-enabled device, including my TV. It even has privacy settings for those embarrassing photos. The paid version is a bargain at $25 a year.

I've been using this tool longer than any of the others listed. I found my own and several other businesses’ brand colours with this tool. It’s easy to use - simply click on different options - and free. There’s a new version, but I prefer the one I've been using and am glad it's still available.

To be continued in an upcoming blog post...

20 August 2014

3-Part Memos


The thing I remember most about getting email functionality at work (in 1990, I think) was that I could get rid of those 3-part memos. Some of you will remember them – usually they had ‘Memorandum’ across the top, and places to write your recipient’s name/department, your message, and their reply. They were 3 sheets with carbon paper in between - so you could keep a copy for follow-up and the recipient could write a note to return to you, keeping a copy for themselves. They even folded a certain way for interoffice mail. Yes, they were handwritten!

I used the phone a lot more back then.

When I wrote those 3-part memos, it was generally for two reasons:
  1. to communicate detailed info, and/or
  2. to have a record of decisions.
When I think of the number of emails I get daily now, and visualize them as a stack of 3-part memos... well, it would be a big stack!

Now we use email for a long list of other reasons, far beyond those two listed above. It has opened doors and provided opportunities that didn’t exist before.

I’ll admit that email is my personal preference, but I also know that using the phone is still the best choice for some situations.

Mary Jane Copps, aka The Phone Lady, and I are planning a public debate about this. Which is better - phone or email? Click here to vote for your favourite!

photo by cinderellasg / Flickr

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originally published Work Better, Not Harder newsletter August 20, 2014

10 August 2014

Regular Contact is Critical

"Other bands had mailing lists, but one of the secrets to GN’R’s success was how much time and effort we spent building and maintaining ours."
Bassist Duff McKagan describes Guns N' Roses' email marketing campaign in his book “It’s So Easy (And Other Lies)". They used some aggressive and unusual tactics to build their mailing list, including sending strippers into the audience at their concerts.
"At first we had to hustle really hard, but we grew our fan base faster as a result; as our mailing list expanded, it was easier and easier to sell tickets to our shows."
GN'R didn't just send a message when they had something to promote; they maintained regular contact with their fans. They were one of the first bands to adopt email as a marketing strategy and attribute much of their early success to building their fan base through regular contact.

Once you have gone through the hard work to build your list, don't neglect it. Maintaining regular contact is critical to making your list building efforts pay off.

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06 August 2014

How to Recycle your Ideas


This is the 250th article I've written for my own blog, started way back in May 2010. Do you think each of these 250 articles is an original idea? Not by a long shot.

Even if you've been following this blog for awhile, there are many older articles that you've never seen. Some may be outdated and some may be irrelevant. But some of those articles have great ideas... and you won't know unless I recycle those ideas into my current posts.

That's the strategic reason to recycle your ideas. It's not just something to do when you're stuck for something to write about.

In order to stay a bit organized, I typically look back to what I wrote about in the same month last year. Often I'll find something I haven't written about since - a good candidate for recycling.

The goal is not to simply re-write an article, but rather to expand on the idea. Here are some ways to think about that:
  • Does the article still make sense? Or has it become outdated by changes in technology, your industry, politics, or other? If yes, write about why it's outdated - provide an update.
  • Are there details left out of your original article - on purpose or because you didn't know them at the time? Write about one or more of those details, providing further information on the subject.
  • Do you still agree with the article? If not, write about why not.
  • Can you represent the information in a different way? Try a simple infographic, a bullet list, a quick summary, or an old-fashioned graph.
  • Are there pros and cons? Benefits and risks? How else can you slice and dice the information? Try a simple table format for listing or comparing.
In all of these cases, make sure to include a link to the original article for reference. Note that this works for newsletter articles, too!

photo by timtak / Flickr

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30 July 2014

What do Strippers and List Building have in Common?


The answer is... Guns N’ Roses.

In his book “It’s So Easy (And Other Lies)", bassist Duff McKagan revealed that email marketing was a key component of building the band’s fan base:
“As soon as Guns began to play regularly in LA, we started up a phone and mailing list. We obsessively made sure people who came to shows signed up – well, actually, what we did was send stripper friends out into the audience and have them convince people to sign up.”
There are 2 important takeaways from this story.

#1. You can build your list anywhere and anytime. Not just on your website, not just at your cash register. Where else can you get subscribers who really want what you’re offering?

#2. You need a compelling call to action. This is where you offer value to your target market. This could be a giveaway or the promise of compelling content to come.

Perhaps you won't use strippers to compel subscriptions, but if you're a veterinarian cute kitties might work.

photo by F de Falso / Flickr

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25 July 2014

Is your Sign-up Form CASL Compliant?


You already know about the identification requirements that need to be in the footer of commercial electronic messages (CEMs) to be compliant with CASL: name, mailing address, plus either phone # or email address. Do you know that this information must also be near, or "easily accessible" from, your sign-up form if you want to gain express consent?

Take a moment and check your website to see if this contact information is there. Perhaps you have a contact page with this info on it, or have it in your page footer - that's good. You might also put it on your redirect page if you have one. (That's your web page where a new subscriber ends up after clicking 'sign up'.)

Also note: "An individual must take action to opt-in to a stated purpose." Is there a description of what people are signing up for? (It's also a good time to test your form by signing up to make sure it works.)

While you're there looking, think about how you can make your sign-up form more enticing. Have you got a call to action? Here are some tips to make the most of your sign-up form.

photo by hfabulous / Flickr

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20 July 2014

List Size Matters

While enjoying coffee with a client last week, we talked about the challenges of selling training programs strictly by email advertising. Doing some quick mental math, we figured we'd need a list of 100,000 minimum to have any small chance of success.

Building a large list is no easy task and to do it fast would require buying or renting email lists, or scraping email addresses off the web. I'm not very comfortable with either of these list building tactics, however, "quantity" email marketing is extremely successful for a lot of organizations. Take note: big list campaigns require a big budget - not just at the start, but continuously.

On the other hand, you can accomplish a lot with a small list - quality instead of quantity. A different strategy, this is all about information (or content) marketing - giving something of value to your target market. It requires having a good reputation to be successful AND it also helps build your reputation. If you own the type of business where having a good reputation is a success factor, informational marketing is just right for you.

mailing list size comparison

Don't dream of having a big mailing list - that's a lot of money and work. Dream about what you can do with the list you have! (Tweet this)


15 July 2014

Prospecting Perils

For the first time in 4 years, I've been working to build a list of prospective clients. Mary Jane Copps, aka The Phone Lady, asked me to describe my target market for her. That was easy to do when we were sitting in Starbucks enjoying lattes. I have a pretty clear picture of my ideal client – I’m fortunate to have several of them already.

Translating that description into a prospecting list has turned out to be more of a challenge than I anticipated.

First, I decided to take my own advice and check out who’s been reading my newsletter. Because my own newsletter isn’t about what I do though, it isn't easy to identify readers who might be interested in starting a newsletter just by looking at who’s opening it.

On to LinkedIn... After a little grunting and groaning about the search process, I was able to make some progress, but not as much or as easy as I had imagined.

There are 2 lessons I've re-learned through this venture:
  1. It’s easy to give out and read advice about prospecting – less easy to translate it into action steps that get results.
  2. I have to be focused because I get attracted to ‘shiny things’. For me, that’s those types of businesses that have a visual brand, like veterinarians with photos of cute kitties, or art galleries with wonderful creative pieces to share, or clothing and accessories I’d like to own. None of these fit nicely into my defined ideal client profile, but what fun! And I would certainly not turn them away.
I've decided to start being on the lookout for prospective clients more actively on a daily basis, and to keep a running list. I suspect that it will be a higher quality list if I make it part of my daily routine.

PS: Are you looking to start a newsletter? I've got room on the list!

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder July 15, 2014

10 July 2014

7 Reasons you need a Content Strategy

Wondering why you might need a content strategy?
  1. To stay current, sharp, and develop opinions
  2. To build your reputation by demonstrating your expertise
  3. To inform about your products and services
  4. To get found when people are looking for the services and products you provide
  5. To have consistent messaging everywhere that people may run into your brand and where they expect to find your brand
  6. To provide direction to your team, such as your social media manager or email marketing campaign manager
  7. To have a reason to connect with potential clients

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04 July 2014

A Reason to Reconnect


Your newsletter has just gone out and your inbox is filling up with out-of-office auto-responder messages. Are you deleting them unopened? They might be worth a closer look.

Other than vacation notices, you might also find that some of your contacts have changed their email addresses due to new jobs or other reasons. You’ll want to search them in your list and replace their email address. (If you delete them and add them as a new contact, you’ll lose the electronic trail of your contact history.)

The Phone Lady told me a nice story about reconnecting with someone as a result of following up on a change notice. The lesson is that you can use this as an opportunity to reach out and touch someone that you haven’t talked to in a while.

photo by rich115 / Flickr

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30 June 2014

How to Spoil the Spammers

You're receiving emails that you consider to be spam and it's frustrating. As small business owners, we're prone to getting on mailing lists.

Consider that spam is in the eye of the beholder: what is spam to one person, is not to someone else. In Canada, we now have a legal definition of spam which may not match your own perceptions.

As business owners that engage in email marketing, I feel we have to be a bit lenient and open to the efforts of others like us. After all, we know the effort that goes into creating an effective campaign. Before you start reporting fellow business owners as spammers, make sure you know if the email really is spam by the legal definition. In most cases, I encourage you to simply use the unsubscribe mechanism to get off lists. If there isn't one, that's a sign it's spam.

And then there is real spam - we all know what that looks like. Clicking an unsubscribe link might be risky. So here's what you do instead: click the 'Report Spam' button/link in your email software program. This has 2 benefits:
  1. The email address will be recognized as spam in the future and be filtered out of your inbox.
  2. The sender will get blacklisted if enough people flag them as sending spam. This makes their 'job' more difficult.

GMail screen shot - report spam
GMail screen shot

Please, save the 'Report Spam' clicks for those who really deserve it. If you have your email address "conspicuously published" on the web, you are giving implied consent for business-related communications.

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25 June 2014

Count your Contacts: In or Out?

I get it... this anti-spam stuff is onerous and complicated. So you might be thinking that you’ll send your current subscribers a consent request just to be safe. It can’t really hurt anything, can it? Safe, not sorry, right?

This is a situation where safety has a significant price tag.

Here is an example to show how your current email marketing efforts will be impacted.

Let’s say you have a list of 1000 subscribers. (Keep in mind that you may already have express consent from some of them.)

We’ll be generous and say you get an average open rate of 25% (industry average is 20%). That means that 250 people open your newsletter, but not always the same 250 people.

Out of those 250 who open your email, how many do you think will opt-in? Statistics (and my experience) show that it will be about 30% - in this case, 75 people.

With one swift move you've reduced your mailing list from 1000 to 75. Will you continue to publish a newsletter for 75 people?

And what about those 925 subscribers you lost? Well, you asked for permission and they didn't provide it, so you can’t email them again... even to ask again. Your permission has been revoked.

Before you sabotage all your hard work, take the time to understand how the legislation (CASL) impacts your business. Three-minute news spots and brief newspaper articles do not address all of the exemptions and exceptions – they’re only telling a tiny portion of the story.

It’s a serious business decision, not a mandate.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder June 25, 2014

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19 June 2014

Re-opt-in: a Messy Word for a Messy Process

It's a word that didn't exist a few years ago... and maybe still doesn't? For those of you still on the fence about whether to ask your current mailing list to re-opt-in before July 1st, here is some information copied exactly from this page of the Government of Canada website:
Under section 66, consent to send commercial electronic messages (CEMs) is implied for a period of 36 months beginning July 1, 2014, where there is an existing business or non-business relationship that includes the communication of CEMs. Note however, that this three-year period of implied consent will end if the recipient indicates that they no longer consent to receiving CEMs. During the transitional period, the definitions of existing business and non-business relationships are not subject to the limitation periods that would otherwise be applicable under section 10 of CASL. Businesses and people may take advantage of this transitional period to seek express consent for the continued sending of CEMs.
You can delay asking your current subscribers to re-opt-in, at least until you understand the requirements and the impact on your email campaign. Put a note in your calendar for early in 2017 to give it more thought - others will have worked through all the kinks by then.

Visit our web page dedicated to this topic for more info: Anti-spam Resources.

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14 June 2014

6 Tactics to Turn Visitors into Subscribers

Getting someone to your sign-up form is one thing. Getting them to actually subscribe is quite another. To make that happen, here's what I recommend:
  1. Have a sign-up form on its own page, or at least immediately visible on the web page (aka landing page) where you send people to subscribe. (read more about this)
  2. Avoid other calls to action that may distract your potential subscriber. (read more about this)
  3. Clearly describe what’s in it for your subscriber and how often they’ll get it. (see our sign-up as an example)
  4. Provide examples via links to past issues in your archive. (our archive)
  5. Include a brief disclaimer that you won't sell or share contact info.
  6. Ask only for an email address unless you have a pressing need for more information. The more you ask for, the less likely someone will be to sign up.
With the new Canadian anti-spam legislation (CASL) coming into effect July 1st, building our mailing lists via 'express' consent will become increasingly critical to email marketing success.


10 June 2014

Current Contacts and CASL


If the new Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) has you upside down in confusion, you're not alone.

The part of CASL that seems to be the most confusing for business people is how it affects their current mailing list. The answer is not especially straightforward because the regulations spell out the law... and then there are supporting documents which help to explain what the law means and how to be compliant. By their nature, those supporting documents provide interpretations, and those interpretations will become more explicit as the law is brought into effect. As such, the following is my informed opinion and best advice. (Consider this my disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer.)

To ask your current subscribers to re-opt-in... or not

How many emails have you already received asking you to re-opt-in to a mailing list that you have already subscribed to? Kind of pain, isn't it? How many have you re-subscribed to? I bet not all of them.

Even before you understand the details needed to make an informed decision about asking your subscribers to re-opt-in (or not), you should know the impact of that decision.

If you ask your current contacts to re-opt-in, what percentage of your subscribers do you think will do that? I’ll give you a hint: it’ll be less than your average open rate. You will lose some regular readers, even more of those occasional readers, and all of the people who only remember you because they see you in their inbox when they delete your message. Note that you can only send one message to ask people to re-opt-in. If they don’t, you can’t ask again.

What to do right now... or not

You have until July 1st, 2017, to seek ‘express’ consent from your mailing list. During this 3 year period, if you do not already have ‘express’ consent, it is ‘implied’.

That means you can stop thinking about this decision now. Put an entry in your calendar for February 1st, 2017, to “decide to seek express consent or not”. Five months to decide and act, or not – plenty of time.

This is the advice I'm giving my clients and also following myself: do nothing... at least in the short term. A lot can happen in 3 years: your contacts will change, CASL will become better explained, and maybe your business situation will change, too.

In future articles, I’ll write more about the different types of consent – implied and express – and what you need to know to make an informed decision. For now, you really don’t have to make any decision about your current list. You do need to become compliant with the other aspects of CASL though!



05 June 2014

The Anti-spam Revolution

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle lately about the new Canadian anti-spam regulations (CASL). Organizations are busy pushing out emails asking us to re-opt-in to their mailing lists before July 1st. Are you wondering what it’s all about? Or are you ignoring it, hoping it will never impact you?

As a small business owner, you should know the basics because, unless you plan to stop doing emails, text messages, and social media posts, your business communication is regulated by the new law. It’s not just about these enewsletters.

First, only commercial electronic messages (CEMs) fall under the regulations. Your message is a CEM if it encourages participation in a business transaction or activity, regardless of whether there is an expectation of profit. Many emails, texts, and social media posts sent on behalf of your business are going to be CEMs.

Now you know that you need to know. Read my blog post CASL Basics for Small Business for a quick overview. You can find lots of information online at fightspam.gc.ca.

These new regulations are not meant to hinder legitimate business in Canada. But they may mean that you have to consider some tweaks in your processes.

Do you realize it’s been 6 years since the National Do Not Call List changed the way many sales people prospect? That was also a big kerfuffle at the time.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder June 5, 2014

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31 May 2014

CASL Basics for Small Business

If you own a business and are using email, text messaging or social networks to promote products and services, you should know a bit about Canada's new anti-spam law (CASL), which comes into effect on July 1, 2014. The regulations, impact summary, bulletins and other resources are detailed and lengthy. I've been asked about this a lot over the past few weeks so I'm starting here with the very basics.

First, determine if your electronic message is commercial in nature. The law applies to commercial electronic messages (CEMs) only. A CEM is defined as encouraging participation in a business transaction or activity, regardless of whether there is an expectation of profit. Many messages sent in the process of doing business would be considered CEMs.

Here’s what you’ll need to do for those CEMs, starting July 1st:
  1. Get the consent of your recipients. The legislation requires obtaining "express" or "implied" consent. Express consent means that a person has clearly agreed to receive a CEM before it is sent. Consent may also be implied in certain situations, for instance if there is an existing relationship.
  2. Identify yourself in the message. Provide contact information, including your business name, postal address, and either a telephone number or email address.
  3. Include a mechanism that allows the recipient to unsubscribe from receiving additional messages. This must be at no cost to the recipient.
  4. Ensure that no part of the CEM is false or misleading, including your identity, subject line, web links, and text.

B2B organizations should take note that there is an exemption for persons sending CEMs to persons at another organization, where the CEMs concern the activities of that other organization. In this case, the requirements above do not apply.

What about those business cards? If someone gives you one, that is "implied" consent, as long as:
  • the message relates to the recipient's role, functions or duties in a business capacity
  • the recipient has not said they do not wish to receive marketing messages

There will be more in future posts about consent and what to do about your current subscribers. You can learn about the law at fightspam.gc.ca. (Note that some of this text has been copied word for word from the regulations and resources.)

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26 May 2014

eMail Marketing has an ROI


Unlike some of the other marketing initiatives we undertake, email marketing can have very specific measurable results.

Consider...
  • The marketing consultant who locked down a $5000 contract as a direct result of a call to action in her newsletter
  • The speaker who was asked to write a column for a national magazine in response to his newsletter
  • The advisor who launched a speaking career when a speakers bureau responded to her newsletter
  • The trainer who filled a workshop
  • The entrepreneurs who filled a conference
  • The therapist, the nail technician, the coach and the spa that each booked many appointments
  • The wine store, the shoe store and the health store that sold more products
  • The author who sold more books
  • The many sold out events!

Certainly the ROI of some email marketing campaigns can’t be measured as specifically as this. And there are lots of smaller benefits which accrue over time. If you're wondering how an enewsletter might benefit your business, contact me for a chat.

21 May 2014

The Wrong eMail Marketing Advice

These questions about email marketing should never be answered, “It doesn't matter.”
These are just a few of the things you'll need to know and decisions you'll have to make when you start your own enewsletter. The answers to these questions can have a significant impact on the success of your campaign. Don't let anyone tell you differently.


15 May 2014

Loyalty isn't Instant

I've been keeping an eye on our blog because I know I’m approaching 250 articles and I want to celebrate that milestone. I've been feeling pretty good about that. Four years of consistent blogging is an accomplishment, don’t you think?

Jessie Toope stands by the Girl Guide monument in Bowring Park in this 2010 photo.
Jessie Toope by Girl Guide monument in Bowring Park 2010.
Now, here’s some perspective. I just finished reading this article in The Telegram (St. John’s, NL) about my aunt who recently passed away. Among her many other accomplishments, she wrote the Guiding column for The Telegram for 50 years (starting the year I was born). During that time, she wrote over 2000 columns! (The link above includes her last column.)

In a world where we now seem to measure success in months and even weeks, 50 years and 2000 articles seems rather daunting.

I have seen, though, what a long term consistent approach can do for a small business, at least as far as newsletters and blogging go anyway. When you demonstrate your loyalty to your readers by being consistent over time, they become loyal in return. Once you have loyalty, you have fansDoesn't every small business want fans?

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder May 15, 2014

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