June 16, 2019

Knowing When to Go


Change is a wonderful thing - it keeps life interesting. It allows our businesses to evolve and do better. When we can plan and drive change successfully, it can be very rewarding.

Then there's the change that's forced on us. You know, like when your website hosting company goes belly up. Or your PC dies at an inconvenient time, precipitating an unplanned but long-thought-about change to Mac. Or when the bulk email application you've been using for 10 years keeps dumping functionality that you and your clients need. (OK that last one is me.)

Forced change is rarely pleasant and it's hard to get excited about how things will be better when we're buried in the work of making the change. And, of course, it never happens at a convenient time!

Managing risks can be complicated. I wish I had acted sooner. I'd like to think I'll learn from this experience and act sooner next time. Procrastination is sometimes convenient, and sometimes worthwhile, but certainly not always the best choice.

"You must welcome change as the rule but not as your ruler."
~ Denis Waitley

A recent article by Mary Jane Copps has some great advice and inspiration about taking risks - give it a read here.

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June 9, 2019

Email is the Alternate to SEO


What's a goal of business blogging that will never be a goal of email marketing? Search engine optimization (SEO), of course. For email, it's all about subject line optimization. (Is SLO a 'thing'?)

Crafting a compelling email subject line can achieve better and more immediate results than writing a whole blog post that is well optimized for SEO.

After 9 years, close to 600 blog posts, and several hundred email newsletters, here is what I know to be true: email beats blogging hands down for tangible and measurable results... faster.

Writing for your newsletter means writing for people, which is way more fun than writing for search engines, whether it's your blog or your whole website. You don't have to be concerned with tediously repeating keywords and phrases, for one thing.

Sure, your email newsletter may include your blog posts. And it should... because your newsletter will get people reading and clicking through to your website much faster than Google will decide to show your post on page 1 of search results.

Email marketing doesn't always yield instant results but it's a shorter term strategy than relying on search engine optimization to attract opportunities from strangers. Now, do you know where you should be putting your precious time, effort and money?

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May 30, 2019

Prioritizing Made Easier


Every small business owner knows what it feels like to have a "million" things to do and nowhere near enough time. We are constantly prioritizing, sometimes deliberately and sometimes less consciously. During the past month, I've done a heck of a lot of prioritizing. Some of you may remember the old screensavers where raindrops would run down your screen. That feels like my calendar lately, all the tasks slipping later in the day.

Last week I needed to start some strategic planning and knew I needed to get focused fast. On-the-fly prioritizing wouldn't cut it. My marketing hero, Bernadette Jiwa read my mind and came to the rescue. I encourage you to read her article Always, Sometimes, Never for a simple approach to business planning. I hope it helps you as much as it's helped me at a time when a quick way to get focused was critical to making progress.


May 20, 2019

There's an Email Battle Brewing


Email bots are coming. Now, your reaction might be "Ugh!" but mine was, "Yay!" And that's part of the challenge.

Here's another part: they are heaven-sent for spammers. Yes, that deserves an "Ugh!"

What I'm excited about are all the possibilities for improving productivity in our daily routines. As a simple example, I'm currently running an email bot to help me memorize a list of items. It "uses a spaced repetition algorithm to bring some piece of information to (my) attention at the optimum interval for memorization."

This coming battle between productivity and bad marketing practices will be epic. It will likely cause the reinvention of email communication. This new technology has such endless possibilities to improve our work (and our lives) but it's already being exploited by spammers. We won't be able to ignore its coming.

Email bots can chop through firewalls and other security measures, improving deliverability for emails that people want to receive. Of course, they'll also work for emails we don't want. Governments and internet security organizations will work to combat this threat - creating a drain on global resources.

In the midst of the battle, the truly wonderful opportunities for improving our productivity may get buried and lost. This battle will be polarizing. I know which side of the fence I'm on.

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May 16, 2019

BE the Rabbit Hole


You know when you've been online for a while - scrolling, reading, tapping - and then realize the time? We may feel good (because we learned something), bad (because something pushed a hot button), or indifferent (what level on HayDay?). Regardless, we still think of these times as getting lost down a rabbit hole.

According to Wikipedia, "Down the rabbit hole" is a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorienting or the mentally deranging, from Alice in Wonderland. Those words may be a bit extreme for our online adventures but the sentiment holds.

In class this week, we were reviewing the homework assignment which was to research and sign up for relevant newsletters. One participant said she kept ending up down rabbit holes. Then she looked up and said, "I guess we really want to BE the rabbit hole, right?" Thank you, Cecelia, for that insight!

Content marketing is something I've been preaching about since before it was called that. I've talked and written about it from every direction I think of... but never like this. Yes, the goal is to be the rabbit hole that people get lost in. (We just don't want them feeling deranged afterward.)

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May 10, 2019

What's Your Value Proposition? Really.


The words that make my heart sing are only sometimes the same words that make my potential clients' hearts sing. And I've learned that I can be quite wrong about what I think is the value I bring to each relationship. For instance, nagging can be a competitive advantage... but I certainly never planned to be a nagger.

Part of starting and growing any business is defining our 'value proposition'. Talk about trying to hit a moving target! The longer you're in business and developing your expertise, the more different types of value you'll have to draw on... and offer to others. A big inventory of value propositions!

What little pieces of feedback (formal or subtle) do you receive every day that can help to shape a new value proposition based on people's needs... instead of what you think? What problems do your customers and prospects wish you could solve for them? I'm going to start an inventory... will you join me in this experiment?

My first thought was to use a spreadsheet - I can hear snickers from the peanut gallery. Instead, I'm following Meryl Cook's advice and starting a journal. The question I'll ask myself at the end of each day will be: "I delivered value today - what kind of value and how did it feel?" Maybe your question will be different but connecting to feelings is an important part (something else I know thanks to Meryl).

Sidenote: The term 'value proposition' reminds me of my old corporate days and far removed from small business. A few years ago, a prospect emailed to ask what my value proposition was. My first thought was, do I want to work with someone who asks in that way? (He did become a client but only for a short time.) As much as I dislike the term, it's absolutely appropriate here so please don't hold it against me on my blog ;)

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May 4, 2019

Blogging and Strategic Planning Shake Hands Over a Template


Can you agree that's a subject line you don't see every day? Yet it describes something that happens frequently in small business - the mingling of ideas, processes and tools.

One of the templates in my Quick and Easy Content Creation workbook is called "The Laws". I was delighted to recently discover that Megann Willson of Panoptika Inc. used this template to write an article about strategic planning. In essence, she used "The Laws" template as an outlining tool to create a useful strategic planning article that is sort of like a template for success for me - and you - and all her readers. (Thanks Megann!)

Read Megann's article on LinkedIn here.

Download the Quick and Easy Content Creation workbook with "The Laws" plus 9 more templates here.

What "laws" will you write about?

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April 25, 2019

Email Marketing 101


Starting an email newsletter isn't especially difficult if you have a propensity for apps and design. You could start tonight and send tomorrow if you really want to. BUT developing and implementing an email marketing strategy that will serve your business - and your readers - well for the long term requires thought, research and decision-making before touching an app.

This month while preparing to teach a 10-week course on email marketing, I've been updating presentations first created 10 years ago. It's been eye-opening to realize how much has changed. Email remains one of the most effective ways to communicate with our target markets. The tools have become more user-friendly but the strategy part has become more complex. It's no longer as easy as it once was to get the attention of new contacts via email - there's a lot more competition in the inbox.

Over the past month or so I've focused on email marketing strategy. Even if you're not getting started, you might find it useful to have a fresh look at what you're doing.

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter April 25, 2019

April 21, 2019

Email Marketing Best Practices: It Depends...


You've finally decided to start doing some email marketing for your small business. There are lots of things you know you need to consider and lots of things you don't know about yet. But you're game and, having finally made the decision, you hop online to do a little research. Because, of course, we can find all the answers to life's mysteries on Google.

You'll quickly find this challenging for two reasons.
  1. There's both good advice and bad advice. Some of the advice online comes from people who are writing from experience but a lot doesn't. Some of it has simply been researched online and rehashed. I could go on and on about the myth of double opt-in.
  2. Even if you are learning from experienced marketers, there's always the caveat - 'it depends'. I find myself saying that often when teaching because - really - there is no magic bullet or secret formula. You need to know what it depends on.
There are some email marketing best practices that would apply to many situations but few that apply to all. That's a good thing because it means we can be unique in how we roll out our strategies. But, without experience, it can be hard to make a few of those big initial decisions on which so much else hangs.

Here's a decision making tree to help you zero in on research and advice more relevant to your situation.

Decision #1: Does your target market include (a) consumers or (b) business people?

If your answer is both, you need two different strategies. Follow through the rest of this process first for one segment and then the other.

This decision impacts list building (initial and ongoing). Marketing to business people can allow for implicit consent (if done right). On the other hand, retail locations have an obvious advantage over, say, consultants when it comes to offline list building. Don't believe everything you've heard or read about the antispam legislation (CASL).

Decision #2: Content marketing or advertising?

Again, if your answer is both, you likely need two different strategies or at least two different campaigns. That way subscribers can choose what they want to receive from you.

Typically selling products is suited to advertising and other types of promotion. Selling services may be more suited to content marketing. This is not a rule of thumb but rather an important distinction that drives many decisions going forward, such as frequency and messaging.

Decision #3: Regular delivery or infrequent?

This is one time that your answer can be both but again you'll want two (or more) different campaigns. For a content marketing strategy to be successful, regular contact is a must. Perhaps not so much for promotional messages; these may often be based on a specific campaign with a start and end date.

It depends...

Making these three key decisions up front will save you time, energy, money and maybe embarrassment. I haven't answered them for you but now you should be able to sort through all the conflicting info online with more success.

Of course, these are all things I discuss at depth with new clients before starting any work. If you're looking for help with your email marketing, you can book a call here.

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April 15, 2019

Proofing Checklist for Error-free Newsletters


Having prepared and sent over a thousand different newsletters, this is what I know to be true: mistakes happen. There are so many opportunities for error that I still cringe inwardly when I click 'publish'.

This checklist gives you an easy way to remember all of the things to check before you click 'publish': Proofing Checklist for Error-free Newsletters

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April 11, 2019

"Why Didn't I Start an Email List Sooner?"

woman using tablet

If you're a small business owner without an email list, at some point your future self is going to think, "Why didn't I start an email list sooner?"

It takes years to build an engaged email audience. If you're successful (and of course, you want to be), at some point you'll have something exciting to tell all your customers and colleagues - past, present and future - and no easy way to do it.

All the reasons to start email marketing can be boiled down to this: an email campaign gives you an audience for your news and information. If you do it well, conversations (and "conversions") will result.

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April 5, 2019

23 Things to Put in Your Small Business Newsletter


All the experts know that email is still king. If you're starting an enewsletter for your small business, figuring out what content you want to put in it might be one of your first challenges. Here's a quick rundown of a variety of different content sections you might include... but don't use them all at once!
  1. Articles by you, including blog posts
  2. Articles by others, or links to articles by others
  3. Quizzes, surveys
  4. How-to’s, tips and tricks, useful tools, resources
  5. FAQs - Did you know…? – fast facts, interesting tidbits
  6. Book reviews, other types of reviews
  7. Interviews
  8. Case studies, client showcase
  9. What’s new…? – of local/industry interest
  10. Testimonial(s)
  11. Product spotlights
  12. Staff/team spotlights
  13. Quotes
  14. Current and future promotions and sales
  15. Promotions for others (with caution)
  16. Events
Content that might stay the same each issue (but don't ignore it):
  1. Website link
  2. Social media links
  3. Contact info and links
  4. Google map (link)
  5. Photo of you/staff/team
  6. Hours of operation
  7. Affiliate/sponsor links

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March 28, 2019

Creating Your Own Networking Opportunities


If you're new to business networking, you might be discovering it can (and should) be much more strategic than just showing up. You might also be feeling some stress about it. I can remember being worried about how to start conversations and what to talk about. And even now, I still expect to feel the embarrassment of not remembering someone's name. But I always enjoy myself when I'm with small business folk.

When I recently stumbled on this blog post I wrote 8 years ago, I realized I was encouraging myself, as well as readers, to more fully embrace networking. And it turns out I've done a good job of following my own advice.

Holding my own events has given me a sense of control... which begets confidence. It has also helped to grow my reputation, my mailing list and my client base. One-time or repeating events, public or by invitation, formal or casual... I've done them all and found value every time.

Take 2 minutes to read this blog post and see what self-serve networking ideas you come up with.

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Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder March 28, 2019

March 23, 2019

Saying Bye-bye and Why

woman leaving with filebox

We're all familiar with unsubscribing from unwanted emails. Some make it harder than others but, since anti-spam legislation has come into effect, there's been an improvement. Email readers are more aware of their right to unsubscribe and so marketers are getting better at giving that option.

This creates the opportunity to gather feedback - to understand why people are unsubscribing. It might have to do with the frequency or that the person is simply no longer interested in the topic. Knowing why is useful to help shape future email strategy. As someone who's unsubscribing, I can quickly select a multiple-choice option and say bye-bye.

Recently I ran into this example which threw me for a loop. "Wow!"

example of opt-out form

What's your reaction? "How brazen," I thought. Then, as I was clicking 'other', I realized it's also brilliant. I mean, how many people are actually going to click 'I hate you!' and, if they do, do you care about their feedback? In this case, I was unsubscribing because I was receiving too many emails and that's what I told them.

Gathering legitimate feedback is tough, especially from strangers. I wouldn't use this tactic because it wouldn't be true to my brand. But it's sure got me thinking about clever ways to gather feedback.

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March 19, 2019

Consider Point of View for All Your Writing


I've done it. You've done it. And they've done it. I'm talking about mixing up points of view when writing. And also using the right point of view for the right purposes.

Grammarly has a quick little article explaining First, Second, and Third Person in case you don't remember from school.

Here are some things to consider from a content marketing perspective:

Articles, blog posts: Mixing up I-we-you-they-me all in one article might cause confusion. There may be reasons for including all of these words in one article but it's worth re-reading to check. Using both second and third person is something I see often and probably accounts for most of the editing I do. If you are writing to/for your reader, consider using the second person. If you are writing about your own experiences, of course, you have to use the first person.

Website: If your business IS you, I recommend writing in the first person (about yourself) and the second person (for features, benefits, calls-to-action). If your business is bigger than you, using the third person is more formal and using the first person (we) is more casual.

Biography: It's great if your 'About' page is written in the first person but it's not appropriate for a bio that you're giving to someone else to use to promote you. Have a super-duper version of your bio written in the third person to give to other people to use.

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