18 September 2016

Dates Add Context

Using a date in your newsletter sends a signal to your reader about how often they can expect to hear from you. Not everyone will realize your newsletter is biweekly or monthly or quarterly, even if you've said it somewhere inside.

Inside, near the top, the format of the date sends a message.
  • Using month-year signals it's monthly but might also be used for less frequent, too.
  • Using the specific date tends to signal a more frequent distribution. But not always because I also recommend this date format if you want to simulate the feel of a personal letter.
  • Using season-year signals quarterly or less frequent. (e.g. Summer 2016)
Your date could also be in your subject line, where it's purpose is to make life easy for your subscribers (or at least make sorting their email easier).
  • Using month-year sends a clear message that it's a monthly newsletter as it sits in an inbox.
  • Using a specific date in a more frequent mailing helps your subscribers easily trash out of date issues.
Dates add context, online or off. I usually check the copyright date of a book before buying it. Likewise, a date on a blog post tells me how current the information is.

photo by abalagotphotography / Flickr

13 September 2016

Colour Palettes for Fall Marketing

An image might be worth a thousand words but it's actually worth more in colours, likely several hundred thousand. No doubt a photo will first catch your eye because of the overall composition, and the foremost colours play a role. Not only do each of us see colours differently, we feel about them differently, too.

We think of autumn colours as vibrant reds, golds and oranges, or muted browns and greens. But they can also be cool shades, like frost on the morning grass or the pale blue sky.

What does your fall marketing campaign look and feel like?

Here are some traditional colour schemes, plus a couple of not so common themes to spice up your fall marketing. All of these images are free to use and can be found at pexels.com.

These are the colours of October and Thanksgiving - bright, warm colours.

For Halloween, add some purple for a sense of the mysterious.

Muted shades, these colours feel outdoorsy and healthy.

This scheme feels serene and comfortable, yet polished, Great colours for a coach.

This last one is my favourite of the bunch. Fall doesn't have to be all about the warm colours.

06 September 2016

Content Plans were Made to be Broken

You might be very successful if you're working on your content once a week for a couple of hours, independent of your other business activities. You're working to a plan and that's great.

Break away from your routine this week and be spontaneous. (The planner in me loves making plans and the rebel in me loves to find creative ways to break them.) You'll find the content you develop is more inspired if you can take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Here are some examples of short pieces of content you can write in the moment.
  • You have a phone discussion or meeting with a customer. Write a success story, answer a question, describe a service, describe something that makes you unique.
  • You receive an inquiry by email, or on Facebook or LinkedIn. Answer the inquiry on your blog and include the link when you reply.
  • You learn something new. Perhaps you took a course or maybe you read an article. Learning anything translates into great content. Check out the 'What I Learned' template for tips on writing this article fast.
  • You receive a testimonial. Get it up on your website, include it in the footer of your next newsletter, write a success story.
  • You have to troubleshoot or fix a mistake. Write a 'What Not to Do' or 'Wrong Way, Right Way' article.
  • You disagree with someone else's advice. Write the wrong, including a link to the original article.

You'll quickly find this type of content also reflects your personality more, helping you make a personal connection with your readers.

You may not want to get distracted by writing content every day but taking a break from your plan now and then will pay off.

31 August 2016

Ink It when you Think It

Do you lose track of your great ideas? I do and I know my clients do, too.

I've written before about using an 'idea catcher'. Mine is a notepad but sometimes that's not good enough. Many people have said they get their best ideas in the shower (here's a tool for that), while driving or walking, or standing in line.

Our ideas are precious but fleeting, and it may not be easy to capture them all in one place. The important thing is to capture them somehow.

Handwritten notes: If your notebook isn't handy use the back of a receipt or a napkin. When you eventually write the article, include a photo of your note for visual interest.

Typed notes: There are many ways to capture your ideas if you're sitting at your computer. I tend to use Word for lengthier articles or series (kept in a folder called 'content ideas') and I start a draft on my blog for brief articles.

Phone or tablet: When you're out and about, use notepad apps, or send yourself a text message, email or even voicemail.

This article was inspired by a client who teaches memory techniques. Eileen Pease told me, "The faintest pencil mark is better than the best memory."

If you regularly think about your content, develop ideas, and record them, you'll never be at a loss when there's a deadline looming.

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23 August 2016

Are You an Ad Agency of One?

Advertising agencies get paid big bucks to create witty, actionable slogans and calls to action. So what do us small businesses who can't pay big bucks do? The answer is not to call on a friend who sort of does websites in their spare time. And it's not to just ignore call to action opportunities.

It's you who has to develop those clever calls to action for your business. It can be stressful and time consuming. Pacing around the office doesn't help much but I continue to do it.

Keep your inhouse ad agency sharp by scheduling a weekly repeating 30-minute spot in your calendar for each of these activities below:
  1. Seek inspiration actively, not just when you stumble upon it. Check what experts in your industry are talking about. Find a free ecourse. Buy (and read!) a new business book.
  2. Find an inspiration buddy. We often find it easier to come up with ideas for other businesses. Reciprocate with another business owner by brainstorming together regularly.
  3. Stay current. It's so very easy to do a little research while sitting at your desk. This one is a no-brainer!
That's 90 minutes per week to work on your promotional messaging. You'll soon discover it's a worthwhile time investment.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder August 23, 2016

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16 August 2016

Does your Content Strategy Match your Small Business?

You sell services or you sell products, or you sell both. Whatever your product mix, a component of your small business content strategy needs to be informing potential customers about those products and services.

Make sure your promotional messages fit with, and flow from, your informational content. It’s a balancing act. We’re all familiar with the feeling of being blasted with too many repetitive sales offers (not good for us). At the other end of this spectrum is creating great information but having no call to action (not good for you).

Direct promotion
  • This includes things like advertising and special offers. A banner ad is pretty direct. A BUY NOW button is also pretty direct.
Indirect promotion
  • This is where you work your promotional messages into your informational content, writing articles that naturally lead into a call to action. Success stories are an example of this; at the end you can say something like, “If you want to feel like this, get in touch.” A ‘How to Start’ article is another example; you can add, “If you don’t want to go through all of this, call us and we’ll do it for you.”
Generally you’ll want to use some combination of direct and indirect promotion. This will vary from business to business. BUT your online marketing strategy should include making a decision about this ratio, and using it as a guide for creating content.

For a retail store whose strategy includes sales discounts and special offers, perhaps the ratio will be 80% direct and 20% indirect promotion. For a consultant, it might be the exact opposite.

You’ll also have a different ratio for all of the platforms where you are publishing content. For example, on your blog or in your newsletter many of the articles might contain indirect promotion (or none), and the sidebar may contain an ad for your latest book. On Twitter, experts recommend only 10% promotional content, and on LinkedIn there are other conventions.

Why is this important? If you don’t manage it well…
  1. Your target market will think you’re too ‘salesy’ and be turned off (too much promotional content) OR
  2. Your target market will not act because you’re not telling them to (not enough promotional content)
The ONLY way you will know if you’re doing it right is to monitor your platforms, and make tweaks based on results.

photo by Le_Morgy / Flickr

10 August 2016

Why and How to Do a Wrap-up Article

A wrap-up article is a logical and unique grouping of pieces of content where the grouping provides value to the reader beyond the individual pieces on their own. You might think of it like a themed gift basket.

There are several reasons we need to be creating these wrap-up articles. They...
  1. serve as a great resource - valuable information grouped together
  2. use commonly searched keywords and phrases (good SEO)
  3. encourage deeper reading
  4. are often faster to create
  5. provide a process to repurpose past content
  6. remind us of what we've written and provide inspiration to write more
Wrap-up articles serve us better than just about any other content we might create. Of course, we have to be creating content on a regular basis to be able to wrap it up.

There are lots of different ways to group pieces of content:
  • by topic - e.g. content idea generation, writing tips
  • by use - e.g. how-to, conceptual, tips
  • by thing - e.g. infographics, videos
  • by user - e.g. for beginners, for experts
  • to conclude a series - e.g. after parts 1, 2, and 3
  • to continue a series of previous wrap-up articles (example)
After reading this far, if you don't already have your wrap-up concept, scan your past content.
  • On your blog, the fastest way to find content groupings is to use your keyword links. For example, you may have tagged all of your articles about being more productive with the keyword 'productivity'.
  • For both your blog and newsletter, review the titles in the archives. I recently put together a compilation of 'how-to' advice after reviewing a client's newsletter archive while she was on vacation.
Writing your wrap-up article can be as simple as writing an introduction, listing and linking the past articles, and writing a conclusion. Use the introduction or conclusion to explain why this particular content grouping is valuable and how to use the information.

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03 August 2016

Content Ideas for Consultants - Teach Something (Part 3)

It's been said that the best way to become expert at something is to teach it and I've certainly found that to be true. Teaching forces us to research and prepare, to find the answers to tough questions, and to be open to feedback.

This is where you write an article (or more) to teach something but first I challenge you to learn something new that's relevant to your business.

If you've already been through Getting Started (Part 1) and Useful Content (Part 2), you've had some practise. Keep your momentum going with this exercise.

First, pick something to learn. This shouldn't be hard but, if you don't already know of something you want to learn, search topics for your industry online.

Next, do the learning. This might involve taking courses, talking to experts, online research, and so on. Be tuned in for blog-worthy content. How you choose your learning method can also be part of what you write about. Make notes along the way.

Now, teach. Your inclination might be to start with the big picture but I encourage you to start with the smaller pieces. One learning experience for you can result in many pieces of content. Don't try to teach it all in one article - create a list of topics and work to a plan.

If you want to take a simpler approach to this content creation technique, click here to get the 'What I Learned' content template and just fill in the blanks.

photo by University of Minnesota Duluth / Flickr

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29 July 2016

100 Days of Content Creation and Promotion

I recently published issue #100 of the Work Better, Not Harder newsletter. When I started it, I didn't envision how long it would last. In fact, I didn't look very far into the future at all - I just did it, and kept doing it. It's changed quite a lot since that very first issue (I even had a different logo back then) but my focus has always been to give good value to small business owners.

When I told some friends that I wanted to do something special for my subscribers to celebrate, the idea of a '100' list was born... about a month ago. Since then I've had a computer crash and some software problems but I've been working furiously when I could. It's amazing how a publicly announced deadline can motivate!

Until the end of August 2016, I'm giving away my plan - 100 Days of Content Creation and Promotion - for free to regular subscribers of either our newsletter or blog. It won't be for everyone but, if you are a small business owner doing your own online marketing, you'll find value inside.
  • Beginners - It's written with you in mind.
  • In Between - Even if you've been doing your own online marketing for a while, you'll benefit from the routine.
  • Experts - Always looking to up your game, you'll find some ideas inside that you haven't tried yet.
Go to 100daysofcontent.com and grab it now!

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23 July 2016

Content Template - The Checklist

Using a content template can shorten your writing time and also keep you more focused.

The purpose of this particular template is to give people a useful tool to complete a task more efficiently.

This type of article shows off your expertise. Because it is so useful, people will bookmark it and return. Part of its usefulness is its simplicity: no long paragraphs, no complex sentences. Grab The Checklist content template here (.pdf).

Get More Templates

If you like this template, grab the mini workbook Quick and Easy Content Creation with 5 more templates, plus some tips for using them to be more productive.

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19 July 2016

The Collaboration Movement

'The Creativity Movement' - this headline caught my eye in the paper recently. Included were several inspiring articles about idea generation and I noticed a common thread running throughout. It turns out that idea generation works better with more people than just yourself. No surprise there; doesn't this sound like brainstorming? Whatever you call it, more people make it merrier... and more creative.

So, this creativity movement hinges on collaboration. And that's good news for small business! Most small business owners I know thrive on collaboration; having others to work with but having autonomy, too. It almost feels like we have an unfair advantage in this new age.

Small business owners dream of getting that BIG IDEA. The one that will make them rich or popular or powerful, or give them the means to do good for others. But to get to that big idea, we have to practice with lots of little ones. No matter how overused, "practice makes perfect" is still true and definitely applies to ideas.

Tossing around ideas is one of my favourite things to do, mine or someone else's. I can do it for hours at a time. Finding that time is the challenge. Finding collaborators who can also find the same time is even harder.

I'm planning to take advantage of summer's slower pace to very deliberately generate and flesh out ideas.

Join me at Make. Do. Camp. September 2-5, 2016 in Big Cove, Nova Scotia. This camp is for entrepreneurs, professionals, creatives... change-makers who want to workshop ideas, spark creativity and refocus their energy. Until July 31st, you can get 15% off! Click here and use promo code CAMPFRIENDS when registering. After you register, drop me a note to let me know.

What ideas will you start from seed this summer?

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14 July 2016

The Absolute Best eMail Marketing Software

... is the one you don't have to learn yourself.

You don't know what you don't know. Hire an expert and go do what you do best.

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The next issue of the Work Better, Not Harder monthly newsletter will be Issue #100! We're working on an extra special resource and only email subscribers will get it. PLUS, if you sign up now, you'll also get a mini workbook with 5 Quick & Easy Content Templates to speed up your writing. Get it here.