31 January 2015

List Building Strategies for Networking Associations

Networking groups usually get their work done by volunteer members, and those roles change frequently, so maintaining a consistent list building process is a challenge. Here are some simple recommendations to make sure you don't lose focus on this key membership building strategy. Growing your list means growing your membership.

Have a sign-up form on your group’s website or blog. This is a must!

Make list building a regular part of every meeting. Here are some ways to do that so members can easily take turns.
  • Use technology and do it ‘live’. Bring up the sign-up form on someone’s phone or tablet and pass it to visitors to enter their email address.
  • At a point in each meeting, direct visitors to pull out their phones and guide them to your website to sign themselves up.
  • Collect business cards and have one person enter the email addresses during or after the meeting.
Don’t forget to get new members to sign themselves up, or do it for them.

Read this blog post for some content ideas for your networking association's newsletter.

27 January 2015

Are You Paying Attention?

“Where attention goes, energy flows.”
- James Redfield

I've been reminded of this quote lately because my attention has been wandering. That’s not to say energy isn't flowing – it’s just flowing off in several directions.

When we think about getting things done, crossing things off, and making progress, we're usually considering concrete things like action items or task lists. There’s another side though. Just by paying attention to something, we are creating inspiration, motivation, and keeping momentum.

Here’s the example that brought the quote to mind. For most of last year I was in the habit of checking my blog stats before logging off for the night. In the past 3 months, I’ve not been so regular. Recently I went 3 weeks without looking. And my pageviews have dropped.

I’m not trying to say that just by looking at my stats I was somehow magically drawing people to my blog – although that would be nice. But here’s what was happening...

First, I was paying attention to what people seemed to be interested in. That often prompted ideas for follow-up posts. This gave me inspiration, resulting in more articles my readers wanted to read.

Second, seeing that over a thousand people were reading my blog every week gave me motivation. It felt good to know people were interested. I wanted to keep them interested and coming back. Which drove me to be consistent.

Third, because I was so aware of my stats, I felt challenged to continue to improve on them. That gave me momentum.

As a bonus, I often hit that little tweet button on a post or two, encouraging more readership!

These small inputs made a real difference in results, clearly showing me the value of paying attention.

Originally published in the Work Better, Not Harder newsletter, January 27, 2015

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24 January 2015

Newsletter Ideas for Business Networking Associations

Members of networking groups and their target market (potential members, subscribers) will have something in common, like an industry or sector, and will usually either work in it or serve it as a supplier. This means that anything pertaining to that common topic will be relevant. Relevant is good, but you will also want to be useful and interesting. Here are some content ideas for business networking groups – most are adaptable to other such organizations.

Content for your subscribers (target market):
  • industry specific or community news and upcoming events
  • informational articles, perhaps written by members, but not necessarily
  • useful online resources; book recommendations
Content pertaining to your association:
  • next meeting details and agenda
  • regular meeting schedule; future dates, locations
  • member spotlights and current news
  • past meeting recap
  • action items for members
  • upcoming special events by the association and by its members
  • membership call to action; benefits of membership; membership requirements; testimonials from current/past members
  • photos from past meetings and events
  • appeal to connect on social media accounts

20 January 2015

What Colour is That?

I get into some interesting discussions with clients and friends about colours. The fact is that we can do a lot to make sure the colours in our branding are consistent wherever used online. And we can do the same for our print materials.

Consistency is the key because none of us see colours quite the same as anyone else.

First there's the way they appear to us because of the way our eyes work. "Colour (color) blindness (colour vision deficiency, or CVD) affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world." (source: colourblindawareness.org). About 4.5% of the population is affected by some form of colour blindness, most of them men. And it's not all black and white and grey - there are different types of colour blindness.

Then there's our perceptions about certain colours, and even shades of those colours. For example, baby pink and soft mauve aren't typically associated with business, unless you own a baby boutique. Red is associated with power, and green with nature. And have you ever had a discussion about whether something is taupe or grey? How about purple or burgundy or fuschia?

To confuse things even more when it comes to colours online, computer monitors and tablets all display colours differently. A friend once asked why I used pale pink as the background for a website - it was actually pale yellow. I know this because I calibrated my monitor. Regardless, of how exact I can be on my own screen, it's going to look different (and perhaps feel different) to everyone else. Look at your website on a different computer, or several different computers, and you'll see what I mean. (And did you know that some colours are different when saved as a .png versus a .jpg file?)

So what do you do? Be consistent. You might not have a lot of control about how other people see your branding colours, but you can make sure they look the same everywhere online.

photo by Incase / Flickr

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11 January 2015

Design Colour Trends for Spring 2015

Often the colours of logos, websites, newsletters and other branded marketing materials follow the current fashion colour trends, like many other things.

Here are the Pantone Spring 2015 colours - I've added the HTML# for each:

"This season there is a move toward the cooler and softer side of the color spectrum. An eclectic, ethereal mix of understated brights, pale pastels and nature-like neutrals take center stage as designers draw from daydreams of simpler times."

My first project will use Strawberry Ice, Scuba Blue and Lucite Green on pale grey. Can't wait to start!

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06 January 2015

13 Ways to be Productive when Your Internet is Down

It's been well over a week since I've been unable to do much online. For a small business owner, a forced vacation during the holiday season isn't such a bad thing. But there were some essential tasks that I needed to do before December 31st which caused a bit of panic. I also spent a lot of time on the phone with my internet provider and messing with cables. Not such a vacation after all.

Now, I’m itching to get the new year started. My work depends on me having internet access, but I discovered there are lots of things I can do to be productive working on my business even without the web. Here are some suggestions – please add yours in the comments.

  1. Write articles for your blog or newsletter. Have them proofed and ready when needed.
  2. Prepare social media posts – text and graphics.
  3. Read a business book.
  4. Check your calendar and prepare for upcoming meetings and events.
  5. Print and review business reports.
  6. Planning – Use a paper or electronic template to prepare strategic plans, action lists, sales plans, project plans, marketing plans... you get the idea.
  7. Write FAQs, ebooks and other resources.
  8. Write cards – thank you, hello, congratulations – and send them by snail mail.
  9. Pick up the phone and make appointments for business meetings. Or (gasp) do some prospecting by phone. (This one is for The Phone Lady.)
  10. Print forms that you’ll need and can stock up on.
  11. Take a trip to the office supply store.
  12. Have an impromptu mastermind meeting with a colleague by phone.
  13. Yes, even write email. Create your messages in Word and save them till you’re online again, then copy and paste.

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31 December 2014

The Best Reading of 2014

Continuing our annual tradition, here are our top 10 picks of the best articles from the Work Better, Not Harder newsletter during 2014, not in any particular order.

You need to Bite-size your Content
by Brandi Good, BLG Business Solutions
Your new website just went live - it looks amazing and it's chock-full of great information. You spent hours crafting the perfect blog post. You put together a newsletter with a beautiful layout and great content. You've been sharing these links all over your social media networks. And then...
continue reading

The Problem with Gratitude
by Steve Foran, Performance Quest
Can’t believe it took 7 years to figure this out! Although I was unaware of the problem, I’ve known all about the benefits of being grateful - a list which continues to grow.
continue reading

Have you been Asked yet Today?

by Brenda Fay, BrenDaniel Productions Corp.
I had a conversation with a potential client the other day and they asked me question after question. Probably thinking I was getting irritated by it, the client said “We teach all of our consultants to ask questions...”
continue reading

Networking is NOT Selling!
by Susan Eldridge, Business Women Connect
Many of us think we hate networking. I hear it all the time: "I can't do it." "Not my comfort zone." "I hate putting myself out there." Why do we feel this way?
continue reading

Twirp's Tips for Twitter
by Anita Hovey, Twirp Communications
We’ve put together an infograph of some of our favourite tips for getting started on Twitter... and well, ya never know, even if you’re a seasoned Twitter pro, you still might learn a thing or two!
continue reading

Working from Home? Tips for Staying Healthy
by Meryl Cook, Meryl Cook Homeopathy & Bowen
Some of my favourite clients are business owners who work from a home office. In working with this population, I see a number of common health concerns.
continue reading

No Need for Speed
by Mary Jane Copps, The Phone Lady
Time spent on the phone, whether it’s with friends and family or with clients and prospects, is intimate communication. Next to being in the same room with someone, it is the best way to truly hear and discuss thoughts and ideas.
continue reading

Legal Triage
by Corinne Boudreau, Two Certainties Law
Here are some tips on how to know when to deal with things yourself (“DIY”) and when to call a lawyer.
continue reading

Why You Need to Leave the $10 Words on the Shelf
by Neil Everton, Podium Media and Communications Coaching
William Faulkner once accused fellow author Ernest Hemingway of dumbing-down his writing. Faulkner complained that Hemingway had ‘never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary’.
continue reading

The Client is not always Right... for You!
by Debi Hartlen MacDonald, New Life Business Solutions
Working with the right client will make what you do a joy! When you love what you do, but are working with a client who is not the right fit for you, it is a total drag for you.
continue reading

Looking for more reading? Get the Best Reading Lists for 2012 and 2013.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on December 31, 2014

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29 December 2014

Encourage your Readers to Tweet

Blog posts, newsletters, web pages and documents - these are all things we want our readers to share with others. In fact, getting people to share these things is just as important as getting them read.

Getting our fans to share might not be so difficult but everyone else is busy, and sharing our content isn't top of mind. That’s why it’s so important to make it easy - really easy - to share.

Sharing buttons work great and are easy to install into blog posts, newsletters and web pages. Many templated applications have widgets you can embed and Share This is also a popular option.

My favourite sharing tool by far is Clicktotweet, which Anita at Twirp Communications turned me onto during one of our Team Twirp meetings. “Clicktotweet is the best, easiest and simplest way to promote and advertise your blog, website, business and stuff on Twitter.” What is a ‘click to tweet’? Here’s a simple example:

Giving readers an easy way to share content will ensure it gets shared more often. (click to tweet this!)

You can use a ‘click to tweet’ wherever you can use a hyperlink, including PDF and Word documents. You can embed it with an image, such as your own unique tweet button. You set up the text of the tweet, so you can include hashtags, handles and hyperlinks. Of course, you still only have 140 characters but Clicktotweet keeps track of that for you, too. If you get the paid version (a mere $5/month), you can also see statistics for all your ‘click to tweet’ links, as well as any other links you included in your tweets.

Need proof that it works? Here are just a few tweets from one article of mine.

Don’t force your readers to take extra steps to share your content, like opening Twitter and posting directly. Make it super easy by creating the tweet for them.

Originally published on Twirp Communications blog, September 23, 2014

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20 December 2014

The Scoop on Open and Click Rates

Your open rate is an indication of brand recognition. Your click rate is one indication of whether your newsletter actually gets read. (How many newsletters do you open without reading?) Getting read is what raises your reputation and prompts interaction.

I dislike generalizing about the relationships between list size, content type, length, frequency, and open rates. Among our clients, we have lists of 200 subscribers to over 10,000, and frequencies that vary from weekly to quarterly. This means we see a wide variation in statistics, too.

Industry averages (graph in this post):
  • open rate - 20%
  • click rate - 4%

Please don't judge your own newsletter's success based on a comparison with these. (Who wants to be average anyway?) There are many things that impact your open and click rates. I encourage you to also look at the number of contacts who opened/clicked, and what they clicked on.

The easiest of these measures to improve is your click rate. There's a clear correlation between the number of links in a newsletter and the number of clicks: more links = more clicks. Don't frivolously add links; use them strategically. Then watch to see what your readers are clicking on, and interested in. (Here's how to check on your stats.)

Of course, your newsletter should be doing more for you than providing stats to look at. A high open rate means nothing if nobody is reading and acting.

photo by Lens Envy / Flickr

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16 December 2014

Free is Free for a Reason

At a recent workshop I was asked about free email marketing applications. My answer provoked a lively discussion and not everyone agreed with my position.

You have many choices of bulk email service providers and each has good points and bad points. Turning out a good looking newsletter depends on using suitable software and on being quite proficient with it - whether it’s a free app or not. Free apps (or free versions) will have some or all of these drawbacks:

Most of these points impact your own use of the application, but that last point reveals to all that you are using a free app. What signal are you sending to your readers? You really want them to read your newsletter and connect with you and buy your products... but you don’t value their attention enough to pay to do it properly?

To have a successful regular newsletter, you invest effort to build your subscriber list and create interesting content for them to read. And you execute it in a way that shows respect for your readers’ time and attention.

photo by Tarjei Hanken / Flickr

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10 December 2014

Using Lessons from Work at Home

I've always been one to say that my work life and my family life are intertwined. Many small business owners would also say the same. I like it and I wouldn't try to separate them.

Recently I was a bit taken aback to realize that I’m not using some of my business skills at home, and should be.

My stepson has bipolar affective disorder and our family has been participating in weekly meetings with social workers to help us overcome the many challenges associated with the disease. When they started presenting us with skills, such as a problem solving process and active listening techniques, I immediately thought, “I know all this. It’s old hat.”

The first goal setting exercise was fairly easy for me. I privately committed to three goals related to our family life and I immediately went to work to make them happen. My husband and stepson were going through the same process, also privately.

About a month later, when we reviewed our goals and progress, I had completed two goals and the third was close to happening. My husband and stepson had made no progress at all. Through our discussions, I came to realize two important things:

  • Although I'm experienced with using these techniques at work, I'd never actively applied them to my family life.
  • My husband and stepson were not familiar with them at all. I forgot that I learned these skills over many years, and they didn’t.

I made the mistake of assuming we were all on the same page, and we weren't even reading the same book.

I can apply this valuable lesson at home and at work. We all have different backgrounds, experiences, skills and perspectives. Sharing them with others is a gift and, likewise, we must be open to receiving the gifts that others share with us.

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter December 10, 2015

02 December 2014

Image Insights [Wrap-up]

Sometimes the image choice for your newsletter or blog post is obvious, but often not so much. This post wraps up our previous articles about graphic ideas and advice.

Finding just the right image for your newsletter or blog can be time consuming and frustrating, whether you're creating it yourself or buying someone else's. Read How to Find the RIGHT Image for tips to help shorten the process.

Once you get started looking for images, you will find a wealth of copyright free or free photos you can use with credit attribution. Read Graphic Solutions for places to find images and more.

Sometimes you want a look that is less staged than a purchased stock photo. Read Searching for Creative Commons Images for directions to search images via Flickr.

Infographics are a great way to represent information differently than you have in the past with words. Read Repurpose Articles into Infographics for tools and tips to create your own infographics.

Create your own word cloud graphic. Read Wordle for information about how to do this.

Finally, if you want to make a personal connection with your readers, and be remembered, you'll want to include a photo of yourself in your newsletter. Read Your Newsletter Headshot for some of the things to keep in mind, especially if you are planning to have new photos taken.

photo by RubioBuitrago / Flickr

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17 November 2014

Everyone Markets

When I was in university, a long time ago, I majored in Accounting and Management. At that time my interest in marketing was so lacking that I only grudgingly took the first year required Marketing credit, Advertising. You see, I sort of felt that marketing was vaguely seedy and extremely creative. And that I was neither.

What I know now is that marketing can still be seedy, but it doesn't have to be. And creativity comes in many forms.

There’s one other factor to successful marketing: flawless execution. All that has come before is quickly negated by sloppy presentation.

I became a marketer without ever making a conscious decision to do so. I’m still not very seedy, and not a creative genius. But I can plan and I can execute like there’s no tomorrow. Making it happen is where I make a difference, sometimes the difference between success and failure.

I still have that big heavy Advertising textbook and I’m not sure why I've kept it. It’s clearly outdated for an industry that has changed so much. Email marketing, websites and social media were only vague ideas back then. And marketing was the purview of agencies. Now, pretty much everyone markets something, from resumes to garage sales to product line introductions.

04 November 2014

Writing to Deadline

One thing I keep telling anyone who will listen is to write when you're inspired... and take the time to get inspired. This means doing a little planning, too, then. Inspiration will have a hard time finding you, buried in emails and racing between meetings.

I asked my friend and mentor, Neil Everton of Podium Media and Communication Coaching, "Do you plan your time to write? Or do you write when you're inspired?"

The response I got was neither! "Planning and inspiration are not concepts I'm familiar with. I write best when there’s a deadline."

I use deadlines, too, but for me they are a last resort. I find it hard to be creative when I'm stressed about a deadline.

Do what works for you. Whatever it is that causes you to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard needs to be harnessed and exploited. Creating great content that people want to read doesn't happen without some effort.

photo by erink_photography / Flickr

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30 October 2014

How to Be Lucky

Years ago I read a magazine article that was an interview with a well-known Canadian male (although I can't remember who). What I do remember was the message, which went something like this...

The subject of the interview was being referred to as extremely lucky. He adamantly claimed that he wasn't lucky - he was prepared.

He was prepared to take advantage of opportunities that arose. Not only that, he was also constantly vigilant, so he wouldn't miss those opportunities.

I'm pretty sure that was the same year I started my business. The message has stuck with me.

For me, being prepared is about getting all my ‘ducks in a row’ when it comes to capacity and commitments. Being vigilant means networking and being social. Those things set me up for success.

When those golden opportunities come along, I want to be found alert and prepared to take them on. In other words, I'm ready to get lucky... in business, that is.

photo by Roadsidepictures / Flickr

originally published in the Work Better, Not Harder newsletter, Oct 30, 2014

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27 October 2014

Your Newsletter Headshot

If you want to make a personal connection with your readers, and be remembered, you'll want to include a photo of yourself in your newsletter.

Here are some of the things to keep in mind, especially if you are planning to have new photos taken.
  • Your headshot should look like you now, not 5 years ago.
  • Wear similar clothes to what your ideal customer would wear.
  • The direction you're facing in the photo generally dictates where the sidebar will go in your newsletter. You don't want to be looking off the page. For newsletters, a right sidebar is more desirable, so a left-facing or front-facing photo is preferable. Of course, this is the opposite of how you want to be facing for LinkedIn and Facebook avatars.
  • Wide banner-like panorama photos are popular now across the top of website pages. An example might be someone standing on a beach with their head in the foreground and a slightly blurred background of the water and beach behind them. These panorama photos are also great across the top of newsletters as a nice alternative to the usual sidebar headshot.
  • Working your brand colours into your clothes or background is great, but only if you look good in those colours.
  • Consider your branding style when deciding on the background. For example, is being isolated on white important to match the rest of the branding? Are dark or bold colours needed? Or more subdued?
  • Have 2 or 3 different photos and change them out in alternate newsletter issues, or by season, to add variety.

22 October 2014

Automate to Boost Productivity

Aside from your traditional newsletters and promotional messages, you can also use your bulk email application to automate some other processes. You might not think of iContact (or whatever app you use) as a productivity tool, but it can be. Here are a couple of examples.

Patient/client reminders

You’re familiar with those postcards we get in the mail reminding us it’s time to book our appointment with the dentist, or optometrist, or pedorthist. If that is a standard practice for your business, consider sending these reminders by email, automated to go at appropriate intervals. One of our clients claims this is saving her money every month.


If you use a mail merge to create certificates in Word for course attendees, you can do the same in iContact and send them out by email at the same time. You can use merge fields for the name, date, and any other info that you want inserted into the certificate. We recently sent Certificates of Completion to several hundred people who attended courses on different dates in different cities. This saved our client several hours of work and the postage cost.

If you’re paying for the bulk email application anyway, why not make the most of it?

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17 October 2014

6 Questions to Ask before Contracting Out your eNewsletter

Admittedly, these are sort of trick questions. Here’s what we'll tell you if you ask us.

When is the best time to send my newsletter?
Wrong answer: It doesn't matter.
Our advice: The fact is there is no magic answer. Reading 'When to Send' will help you figure out what might work best for your newsletter.

Should I buy mailing lists?
Wrong answer: Sure, why not?
Our advice: Absolutely, positively no! Unless you want to waste your money and look like a fool, that is. Read 'Why NOT Buy Mailing Lists?' to understand why this is a bad idea.

What’s the best free app to use?
Wrong answer: Any response that isn’t “Don’t use a free app.”
Our advice: Free is free for a reason, or even several reasons. Your fans deserve better than that.

Do I need a sign-up form?
Wrong answer: No.
Our advice: Your sign-up form is where you get new subscribers and also demonstrates that you seek permission. Read 'Make it Obvious' for our advice about placement of your sign-up form.

How long should my newsletter be?
Wrong answer: It doesn't matter.
Our advice: As long as it needs to be to give value. Read 'How Long should a Newsletter be?' to understand some of the factors you'll need to consider for your campaign.

What regulations affect my campaign?
Wrong answer: None.
Our advice: The Canadian Anti Spam Legislation – check our CASL resource page for lots of info and links.

Part of our service is to consult on these topics and more if you choose to contract to us.

13 October 2014

Why People Unsubscribe (and What NOT to Do About It)

saying good-bye

A friend recently mentioned that she still gets frustrated when people unsubscribe. Her disappointment stems from the confidence that her information is relevant and useful to those who opted out.

There are many reasons for someone to unsubscribe from a regular emailing – promotional or informational. You need only to think of your own reasons and habits as you process your incoming email.

Even if you are doing everything right, you will still lose subscribers over time. (The average churn rate is 30% per year.) Here’s why:
  1. People’s interests change. If your readers are business people, they will be changing jobs and moving around and getting promoted. If your readers are consumers, likewise their personal situations change, as well as their hobbies and interests.

  2. People are inundated with too much information. We've all felt that way. Not everyone has developed systems to deal with the overload, so they disconnect in the moment yielding to stress. I know several people who have gone on ‘unsubscribing binges’ (myself included), but this type of purging tends to be more discerning, retaining the valuable subscriptions.

  3. Some people just don’t know what’s good for them. Enough said.

So, you get a handful of unsubscribes when your newsletter goes out. Taking no action is your best strategy.
  • DON'T unsubscribe from their newsletter, at least not right away. You know that’s childish.
  • DON'T send them an email asking why they unsubscribed. You might be dying to know, but you don't have permission to ask.
  • DON'T sign them up to any other lists without express permission.
  • DON'T take it personally if you are confident that your offering has value for your target market. It’s not the end of a relationship, only the end of a subscription.

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't pay attention to your statistics. Of course, you need to take heed and possibly react to trends. But don't get hung up on individual unsubscribes. When someone opts out of my newsletter, my mantra is, “Oh well, they're going to miss out.”

08 October 2014

Does Your Mother Know What You Do?

Mom and I at her first networking event spring 2014
(photo thanks to Kate at Halifax Headshots Photography)
I learned about the 'Mom test' years ago. It's another one of those early small business lessons that stuck with me.

Explaining my work to my mother is difficult, so the challenge is always worth the learning experience. Mom is 83, has never used a computer, and has no context for understanding what I do.

Recently I was telling her that my blog had been featured on another blog in an article called Top 10 Canadian Marketing Blogs Worth Checking Out. I had to explain what a blog is (sort of like a diary, but public) before she could grasp why it was a good thing. (I will also have to print this blog post for her to read!)

Telling my Mom about what I do forces me to get outside all the details and get down to basics. It helps me rethink my marketing messages from a completely different perspective.

With my Mom, this also has another benefit because she's out and about socializing, and always has a supply of my business cards. I asked her if she tells people I do newsletters and websites, and she replied, "With the emphasis on newsletters." Of course, she has no idea of whether I do a good job or not - that's where the 'Mom' part comes in.

Here's a bonus 'Mom test' for you. When editing your own writing, add the words "Hi Mom," to the beginning and read it out loud. Does it flow or is it awkward? If it's awkward, you might need to dump big words and fancy writing, and simplify. (Thanks to Neil Everton at Podium Media and Communications Coaching for this writing tip!)

My Mom is going to attend my Phone vs. eMail Debate with The Phone Lady on November 5th. (Of course, I'm taking the side of email - you can vote here.) My cheerleader will be the only one in the room who has never actually sent an email!

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