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.

08 August 2015

4 List Building Mistakes Beginners Make

Save yourself time, money and stress by avoiding these common mistakes. They can have a big impact on your success.

#1. Having your sign-up in only one place

The more places people see your sign-up form, the more subscribers you'll get. Make sure it's in multiple places on your website, including on a dedicated page.

Have a call to action with a link to your sign-up page on your blog, your social media profiles, and in your email signature. Regularly promote your sign-up page via social media posts.

#2. Putting too many calls to action on your sign-up page

People get confused by too many options. Don't ask them to sign up for your list, buy your latest product, like your Facebook page, and check out your newest blog post... all at the same time.

Explain exactly what you want them to do, how to do it, and what button to click next. Don't assume everyone recognizes a hyperlink - say "click here".

#3. Not telling subscribers exactly what they'll get

If people get something unexpected in their inbox, they're more likely to unsubscribe. But, if you're very clear up front about the types of information you'll be sending, they'll be ready for it.

Include examples of past newsletter issues so they know what to expect.

Regulations require you to also state how often you'll be sending messages.

#4. Making it difficult to unsubscribe

Don't turn a non-experience into a bad one. You'll get complaints, and too many can result in blacklisting.

Always have an unsubscribe option - people expect to find it in the footer of your email.

The most valuable email list is one that consists of fans who want to hear from you. Make it easy for those who don't to get off your list.

04 August 2015

When and How to Leave the Details

I'm a big fan of the detailed message, whether it is by phone or email. But, as Mary Jane Copps mentioned in her article The Illusion of the Detailed Message, they aren’t intended to build relationships – they're intended to save time. From a customer service perspective, we want them to save time for the person we're calling. But, of course, they can also be more efficient for us.

These are instances when a detailed phone message is perfect:
  • You want to relay ALL of the relevant information so the other person doesn’t need to call you back. This is great for giving someone an update on a work project.
  • You want to ask questions which may require some preparation to answer. This gives the other person time to think about or research their responses before calling you back.
  • You're replying to a request for information and no discussion is necessary.
An example that many of us are familiar with is when we need to make an appointment for a meeting. I’ve learned that when I suggest a date, time and location in my detailed message, several back and forth messages are eliminated.

Here are some tips for making those detailed messages effective:
  • Start your message by saying that details are coming and to grab a pen.
  • Include the required information and leave out the fluff.
  • Remember, you can think and talk faster than the listener can absorb the information. Repeat details like dates and numbers.
  • Check for understanding. Encourage the other person to call you back if your message isn't clear.
  • If there are a lot of details, and especially if there are numbers involved, use a detailed email message instead.

28 July 2015

5 More Inspired Ways to Develop Content Ideas

Here is more inspiration as a follow-up to 5 Inspired Ways to Develop Content Ideas. That list had suggestions that you can do in minutes while sitting at your desk. This list of inspiring quotes requires you to get out from behind your desk.
“Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better.”  - Sidney Sheldon
#1. Swing by your local library and run your hand along a row of books. Enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and poke around for ideas by scanning book titles in the stacks.
“I've found that many of the greatest ideas surface in bars because that's where many people cultivate inspiration.”  - Herb Kelleher
#2. Off you go to your neighbourhood bar... or coffee shop or... . Take a notepad and pen. Listen to what people are talking about. Ask people for their opinion on something about your business or industry. Write down, record the answers, or even live stream them.
"No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind [the master mind]."  - Napoleon Hill
#3. Make a brainstorming date with a colleague. I guarantee that, if you spend just one hour a month brainstorming with a like-minded friend, you won't have a shortage of content ideas.
“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” - Bruce Lee
#4. Interview someone special. It could be an expert in your industry, a customer, a supplier, a collaborator or anyone else touched by what you do. The interview itself will make for great content and you will also get lots of ideas for future articles.
“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”  - John F. Kennedy
#5. Go for a walk! Get away from your desk and get your heart pumping. Science has shown that repetitive physical activity switches our brains into a different mode and we're more likely to have ah-ha moments.

20 July 2015

Slice Words to Save Money

If you're beating around the bush, you're wasting time and possibly money. Neil Everton of Podium Media and Communications Coaching suggests we look at our writing with a critical eye and ask: "Am I prepared to pay $1 for every word I've written?"

Unproductive words and phrases abound. I've written before about wimpy phrases to avoid; here are some slightly pretentious ones to also slice out.

“Due to the fact that...”
Use “because” at the beginning, or rearrange the sentence to use it in the middle.

“For the most part...”
Eliminate this one completely without changing your meaning.

“In my opinion...”
Use “I think” or eliminate it all together. I'm already expecting your opinion if I'm reading your writing.

“On a regular basis...”
Save $3 here by using “regularly” or “always” at the end of the sentence instead.

“The first step is to...”
Chop out 4 words and simply use “first”.

Using more words doesn't mean you'll get read more - likely the opposite. Forget those 1000 word essays from high school. Writing great content is about keeping the words that do the work and eliminating the rest. How much money can you save on your next article?

13 July 2015

A Great Newsletter is like a Gift

It’s opened with anticipation.

It’s personal and speaks to your recipient.

It’s about your recipient’s wants and needs, not yours.

It’s appreciated because it brings something of value.

It’s attractively packaged.

It’s delivered directly to your recipient.

photo by HalinaV / Flickr

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08 July 2015

A Blog or a Newsletter

"Which should I start first - a blog or a newsletter?" I swear I've heard this question a hundred times. Not that there's anything wrong with that - it's a great question.

Consider this: "Do you want to just write or do you also want to be read?"

If you want to write to build a resource of information for clients and colleagues, and perhaps to help your SEO, a blog is a great way to do it. But if you want to be read lots, you have to put your writing in front of people on a regular basis.

A blog and a newsletter aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, they make a great team. You can tweet up a storm but, if you really want to build a regular following, you need to deliver it to people.

Being partial to newsletters, I'll tell you to start there first. But then to eventually take your newsletter articles and put them on a blog. And you can always do it the other way around - blog and then send your blog posts out by email. (I do a combination of both.)

Don't let indecision stop you from doing either. Pick one, do it well, and the other will fall into place more naturally.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder July 8, 2015

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04 July 2015

2 Reasons to Share your Newsletter Archive

Phew, your newsletter is done and sent. But that shouldn't be the last anyone sees of it. With the online version of your newsletter you can have readers anytime - not just when it gets published and not just those it gets emailed to.

#1. Use it as a Resource

If your newsletter is informational and useful beyond today, it can become a valuable resource, sort of like a blog.
  • Occasionally share a link to your archive as a post on your social media platforms.
  • Add it to the Resource page on your website if you have one.
  • Put a link to it in each newsletter issue - "Read past issues."
  • Place a call to action and link to your archive in your email signature.

Some newsletters just aren't as useful as a resource; perhaps you already publish the info on your blog or website, or it is time-sensitive. There's still a good reason to share your newsletter archive.

#2. Use it as an Example

The more clearly someone understands what they are signing up for, the more likely they will be to subscribe. Somewhere near your sign-up form include a link to your archive with a call to action: "Click here to check out our past issues." or "Click here to see what you'll be getting." or "Click here to see what you've been missing."

Get the most out of your newsletter by taking it beyond the emailbox. As a resource and an example, click here to see our newsletter archive.

photo by Aureusbay / Flickr

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29 June 2015

How a Newsletter can make You a Trusted Resource

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23 June 2015

Curate to Become a Trusted Resource

Whatever your specific goals are, your content needs to get read to have any impact and be valuable. It must be useful and interesting to get read. It must get read many times (consistency) to be trusted. You want to be that trusted resource.

I have a trusted resource for social media updates which is a great example of valuable curated content. Do any of us have time to keep up with all of the changes to the social media platforms? Yet we use them every day. I like to know about new functionality and new apps, but I don't have time to keep up. Getting a point form summary of all the changes in my inbox once a month is extremely valuable. It saves me time, I can dig deeper if I want, and I can use the information to make decisions about my social media strategy.

Curating content is a great strategy for providing timely updates about things that change fast. (Tweet This)

social media update section in newsletter
Want to see this great example? Click here to view Twirp Communications’ newsletter archive and open the most recent issue. You'll see there’s a section for social media updates. I love this format because it gives me a snippet of info - enough to decide if I want to know more - and a link to the details.

You don't have to be able to write to provide this kind of valuable information to your target market. But you do need to stay current and have a process to capture the info you gather. I asked Head Twirp Anita Hovey to tell me about her process.
Here's my three-step content curation process for my newsletter:
  1. After an issue goes out, I copy my Word template and rename it to the new month. Every time I hear about a new feature/change to a network, I copy the link and paste into the appropriate section of my template. Sometimes I write a sentence or two right then and link the article. But if I'm in a hurry, I paste the link in and do that later. These changes are usually things I see coming across my Facebook or Twitter feeds, and sometimes they come in emails from my favourite tech sources. 
  2. When my monthly deadline arrives, I go to the corporate blog of each network and scroll through the last month's news to see if there are any changes I've missed. If so, I add them to my template.
  3. I double check to ensure I've summarized all the links in layman's terms before sending for publishing.
If you are an expert, you should be keeping current. And if you're keeping current, gathering the information doesn't have to be a big chore. Anita’s process can be applied to just about any topic - give it a try for yours.

PS: You can sign up for Twirp's newsletter here. It's a great example of a sign-up page!

17 June 2015

Take Time to Take Vacation

Does the thought of taking a vacation feel like work? Now that I'm my own boss, you'd think it'd be easy to take holidays. What I've come to realize is just the opposite.

Lately I've been thinking, “I need a real vacation.” By ‘real’ I mean a vacation where I’m not thinking about work or checking email or wondering if a newsletter got out on time or planning my next blog post. I've discovered there are two things that stop me from taking more vacations.

Money is an obvious reason. When I take vacation, I have to pay someone to work for me. For ‘billable’ work, this can mean that much of the revenue goes to expenses, and there is very little or no income for the vacation period. On top of that, I have to pay someone to do the things I do for ‘free’, such as responding to emails and phone calls. That quickly chews up any remaining revenue. And then there’s the cost of the vacation itself.

Really getting away from work is the other challenge. I received an email yesterday from a client on vacation who needed help to access her email remotely. I’m not the only one who finds it difficult to disconnect.

Here are the reasons why it’s so important that we do take vacations:
  • Relieve stress
  • Improve mental agility - a well-rested mind is often more creative
  • Improve physical health - by catching up on sleep and exercise
  • Spend more time with family
  • Enjoy life - smell the roses, relax on the beach, or lie under pine trees
It might feel like more work to plan a vacation, but our minds and bodies will thank us for the break.

photo by lindadaley / Flickr
originally published in Work Better, Not Harder June 17, 2015

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12 June 2015

3 Wimpy Phrases to Avoid in a Newsletter

These three phrases come up repeatedly in newsletter content - I've edited them out many times. I bet you're familiar with them, too.

“I want to tell you about...”
This is similar to the verbal, “All I'm saying is...” which my husband has adopted lately, or “Here’s the thing...” In an email or newsletter, just go ahead and tell us. If you really want to set the stage for something important, try “I have exciting news...” (But don’t add “... and here it is!”)

“Feel free to contact me...”
Does this mean people aren't usually free to contact you? It sounds like you're giving permission. As a call to action, it’s very wimpy. Lacking something more creative, “Please call me to...” will be more effective.

“If you have questions...”
Often used with the line above, this one adds to the wimpy-ness. It’s more effective to assume people will have questions. Try “Call me with your questions.” or "I'm happy to answer your questions." Or pick a different reason for them to call you.

The short version? Stop beating around the bush. Make your content concise and to the point. These wimpy lines lack confidence!

Thanks to Kate MacLeod and Lily Herman for the inspiration!