21 May 2016

Do Not Disturb (with eMail)

Once a contact unsubscribes, you don't have (express or implied) permission to email them again... unless they opt back in themselves or initiate a business transaction with you.

While all of CASL may not be easy to understand, this is pretty straightforward.

The example shown here is a no-no. Depending on the audience, the reaction may be less severe, but I can't imagine sending an email to everyone who has unsubscribed from my own newsletter over the years inviting them to come back. While you might not object, and some might resubscribe, I'd be asking to be flagged as spam - and rightfully so.

While it's partly about respecting my fellow business owners, it's also about protecting my own reputation. Like any other parts of your business, when you get a bright email marketing idea, think it through (and even research) before jumping on the bus.

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16 May 2016

eMail Productivity: Automate Customer Reminders

For small business owners, nurturing long term relationships is critical, so keeping in touch with past customers to encourage them to return is a worthwhile activity.

Dentists have been doing it for years with their cute cartoon postcards reminding us to book our next check-up. It's time to take that process online and use our bulk email application to automate it. And we can apply it to more than patients.

While this process can be handled exactingly by a workflow app, you don't need the expensive software to make it work for you. One of our long time clients, HealthWalks Shoe Store and Orthotic Clinic in New Glasgow, NS, has been sending reminders by email for a few years now.

Here's how it works...
  1. Initially I created the template based on a postcard HealthWalks had been mailing to customers one year after receiving their orthotics.
  2. Now, each month I receive a list of contacts who have just passed the anniversary date of when they received their orthotics. I simply add a new list in iContact, upload the contacts to it, and schedule the reminder. All of that takes me less than 10 minutes.

It's a much less costly approach to customer communication - as opposed to designing and printing postcards, addressing them, and running to the post office. Plus, it's tree-friendly.

If you're already doing some email marketing, make the most of your software to eliminate the need for paper and postage. Your bulk email app can make you more productive, aside from the marketing benefits. I bet you can think of at least one way to use this process in your business.

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12 May 2016

Content Template - What I Learned

Using a content template is sort of like filling in the blanks on a form. It will get you started and make your writing time more productive.

The purpose of this content template is to help people learn something new... and the best way to learn it. Grab the What I Learned 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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08 May 2016

Content Ideas for Consultants - Getting Started (Part 1)

Just this week I heard it again: “If I start a newsletter, what would I put in it?” While I can think of lots of content ideas for just about any business owner I meet, it’s not so easy for everyone. In fact, it wasn’t always easy for me either. It gets easier, and you get better, with practice.

For consultants, there’s an added bonus to spending time creating marketing content and that's learning. Benjamin Franklin said, “There is no better way to learn than to teach.” Sharing valuable content is teaching and, when you’re creating content for your blog or newsletter, you’ll also be doing research, checking assumptions, and developing opinions.

If you’re a new business owner, or new to developing content, finding a place to start might feel like picking a needle out of a haystack. In this series of posts, I'll explain how to get started and accomplish other goals, too.

Build Your Confidence

Since confidence comes from writing about what you know, start with creating a list of the benefits of something related to your business.
  1. brainstorm a list of ‘somethings’ (a handful is great to start)
  2. start with the one you’re most comfortable with and list the benefits, just point form at first
  3. now your simple point form list can become different types of content (do at least 3 items from this list):
    • brief point-form - short blog, newsletter or social media post
    • lengthier written article - blog or newsletter
    • sentences - each benefit could be shaped into a Tweet or other social media post, or turned into a graphic for sharing on social media
    • visual display - simple infographic
    • video, audio - you speaking about or demonstrating the benefits
    • taglines and headlines - for promotion
    • consider adding to your website if it makes sense
  4. go back to 2 and pick another ‘something’
If you have trouble with benefits, don’t let that stop you. Try ‘what not to do’ or ‘what you need to know’, instead. (Click here to get simple content templates to help with these types of articles.)

Already you have enough content work to keep you busy for a couple of months. Once you get bored with this, move onto Part 2 which will be about creating marketing content that saves you time.

photo by AnyaLogic / Flickr

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03 May 2016

The Lazy Approach to Blogging

Here's how the lazy approach works: don't blog for the sake of keeping a schedule; only blog when you have something to say. Have you heard that advice yet?

Pretty simple, eh? No pressure at all. Just push a post out whenever the mood strikes, and if it doesn't... oh well.

Here are the benefits of adopting this schedule-less strategy:
  • No commitment to readers. They won't be expecting anything so if you reach their inbox, maybe it'll be a surprise. Or maybe they won't know who you are.
  • No pressure to keep current. This is a clear benefit in a business world of constant change.
  • You can call yourself an expert. Your ideas are so captivating that you only need to have 3 or 4 a year. (Maybe I'm confusing this with a guru.)
  • No wasted time communicating with readers. Relationships take up precious time, after all.
  • No stress - ever - about meeting a deadline.

If you haven't guessed yet, I think this is a bunch of nonsense. If you want to excel at content marketing and reap the real benefits, you need to build relationships and that happens by delivering value on a consistent basis to become a trusted resource.

photo by vszybala. / Flickr

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29 April 2016

My Blog Post Recycling Process

Each time I post a new article on this blog, there are a few regular things I do to start the recycling process. You may find some of these useful, too.

#1. After emailing subscribers and posting on my social media feeds, I save time by immediately scheduling some future tweets (including images) using Hootsuite - once a month for the next 3-4 months.

#2. Next I grab sentences that can stand alone as tips or quotes for posting on social media. These go into a spreadsheet so I can continue to rotate them, for example my daily enewsletter tips. (You can grab a similar spreadsheet here.)

#3. I fire up Canva and make some graphics with tips and quotes for future use. I've got a file folder I can delve into when I need something to post.

#4. If the blog post was a suitable list or process, I file it with my soon-to-be infographics.

#5. About a year later, I'll review the post with the intention of repurposing my ideas. Depending on the post, I may expand on it in a new post, or give the information in a different way, such as worksheets or checklists.

Of course, these ideas work with your newsletter content, too. If you recycle your ideas, you'll never run out!

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on April 28, 2016

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28 April 2016

Repeating Ideas is Strategic

I'm a big fan of recycling content for a few reasons. I've written about 350 blog posts and I know you haven't read every one. That means you've likely missed a good idea that might appeal to you - so I should repeat my ideas. Finding different ways to do that means my ideas will impact a larger audience. Rereading my past articles often triggers new ideas for me to write about. Plus I make the most of my content creation time investment.

photo by localben / Flickr
originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on April 28, 2016

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22 April 2016

eMail Productivity: Automate Course Certificates

If you're a teacher or trainer, you've likely struggled with the process of providing Certificates of Completion (or Certificates of Attendance and such) to your workshop attendees. Using a Word template, your process might be something like this: prepare your spreadsheet for a mail merge, complete the merge, convert each .doc to .pdf, print, fold, mail merge the envelope addresses, print labels, affix to envelopes, stuff envelopes, lick stamps, run to the post office. Even if you're paying someone to do this for you, it's pretty labour intensive and prone to error. Add the cost of printing and postage, and providing certificates isn't cheap.

Consider using your bulk email application, such as iContact, to automate this process. There is a little set up involved but, once it's done, it's quick and easy to use.

How to set-up your certificates:

First design a certificate template in your email application. You can do this in much the same way as you would in Word. Leave blank areas for the person's name and the completion date. If you teach different topics, you can also leave a blank area for the course name to fill in. If there are other pieces of info to be included, such as professional accreditation codes, location, or student numbers, leave blank areas for those, too. Now save your template as a draft - we'll come back to it.

Next create the custom fields you're going to need. Your application already has fields for first and last name but not for things like completion date or course title - you'll need to set these up yourself. As an example, let's say you set up segments called compdate and coursetitle.

Now open your draft certificate template and plug in the form fields. Again, this is done very much the same as using merge fields in Word. In the area for the person's name, enter the field names in square brackets - [fname] [lname]. In the the area for completion date, enter [compdate], and so on with the other fields.

That's the set-up part. Now you're ready to send those certificates by email once your next course is finished. Can you believe it'll take less than 10 minutes to customize and send those certificates, whether it's 30 or 300?

How to send your certificates:

Set up a new list in your email application. It'll be temporary but you won't want to reuse the same list name in the future, so I suggest using something distinct like the date.

Upload your attendee list in spreadsheet format. It must have columns for each of the merge fields you're using in your certificate. If we use the same example from above, the spreadsheet will have 5 columns labelled: [fname], [lname], [email], [compdate] and [coursetitle]. The exact process will vary depending on your software but the list upload done properly will result in those contacts having the custom fields assigned.

Send the certificates. Open your draft template, pick the list to send to (the one you just set up), and send.

Warning! Test it.

After the set-up, run a test using a spreadsheet with your own information following the send process above. Remember to proof for errors.

The person who receives the certificate has options, such as printing the email or converting to .pdf to save. It's also easy to forward on to their HR department or supervisor for tracking.

If you are good about gathering your attendees' information, the certificate sending really will be less than 10 minutes. The savings of this process will quickly add up when you're regularly sending certificates.

(Of course, we can do the set-up, and even the sending, for you. Contact me for details and pricing.)

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15 April 2016

How to Set Up a PayPal Link to use in eMail

When promoting anything, it's always best to have a way for people to pay right away. PayPal is usually an easy way to do this but sometimes I need a PayPal button in a place where I can't embed the html code, like in an email, Word document, or social media post.

You may not know there's a simple way to get a PayPal link without the button code. It's a link just like any other url and can be shared anywhere online (although it's an ugly link so you'll want to hide it behind text).

Here's the caveat: you have to avoid using any of the 'customize button' options. Once you're finished creating your button, on the next screen, click the tab for 'email' and copy the link. (see image)

Now you can have people 'Buy Now' using that link instead of having to embed a PayPal button.

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11 April 2016

Content Template - The Newsjack

Every part of your business needs some type of content. And you need to develop content consistently to reap the benefits.

There's a content creation trick that can speed up the process by providing structure. Using a content template is sort of like filling in the blanks on a form, and often in a particular order.

Don't waste time staring at a blank screen. Use a template and plug in your ideas to create fresh original content. This technique allows you to write quickly.

The Newsjack Template

The purpose of this template is to help your readers stay up-to-date with news that affects them, such as breaking industry news or new regulations. Click here to download this template now (.pdf).

Get More Templates

If you like that one, grab my mini workbook Quick and Easy Content Creation which has 5 templates, plus some tips for using them to be more productive.

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05 April 2016

What Happens Once You're Found?

"We’ve mistakenly made being found the number one goal of our marketing." 
~ Bernadette Jiwa

This line from a recent article really caught my attention. Over the past few years I've heard many people talk about SEO (search engine optimization) as something desirable without really knowing why.

SEO is something done to your website so it'll be found in Google searches. So, what happens when someone gets there?

There's no value in investing in SEO if your website can't make something more happen when a potential customer arrives. Imagine having a store with no employees.

First, make sure your website can work for you. It should contribute to reaching your business goals and the here's-what-we-do-feel-free-to-call approach won't do much for you. It's one thing to get found and quite another to make the sale.

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31 March 2016

Bragging Writes

You'll see in this newsletter that success stories make great marketing content. There's positive emotion around a good story - we like to read them and share them. It's a bonus that they come in many different forms: testimonials, case studies, photos of happy customers or completed work, statistics, even video.

Success stories can also be assembled in a lot of different ways. For example:
  • written by you, or by your client
  • spontaneous (such as on Twitter), or solicited
  • about your products and services, or about your business itself (for example, a 10 year anniversary)
  • short or long (useful for different purposes)
  • numerical or graphic (such as statistics)
Don't stop at collecting testimonials. There are many more ways to tell your story.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder March 30, 2016

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30 March 2016

How to Flip Off 250,000 People

"No longer are we padding our metrics with vain, inflated subscribers who ultimately harm our deliverability and email performance. Instead, we're keeping our email list smaller, but way healthier and more effective."

Apparently their metrics are more important than goodwill, mistake or not.

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24 March 2016

Guest Post: Trust and Your Reputation

Your reputation is what people are saying about you behind your back. Shouldn’t you have some control over what is being said?

Reputation and trust are two words that are often intermingled. There is a big difference though. Your reputation is a backward view of what has happened, while trust is forward thinking. One affects the other. Trust is based on positive expectations of what you or your company can deliver in the future.

If I decide to do business with you, I'm going to check your reputation. What are people saying about you? What did you deliver? How quickly did you resolve problems? Now with a quick search, I can find out a lot about a person's reputation in business by looking at reviews that were posted. Everything from ebay to hotel chains to pizza deliveries are judged in real time and this will affect buying decisions.

Imagine you are working with a client who has paid a good sum of money to have you train their staff. So far your sales have all been from referrals from satisfied customers. Your reputation is what people trust. Now the new client wants to cut corners. Instead of four days of training, they want you to do it in two. The manager who agreed to participate in the training so they could champion and ensure that others followed the program is a no-show. How will this affect your reputation and future business? Trust and reputation go hand in hand, and you have to be able to see the big picture rather than the immediate paycheck.

The work you do is not only about the income you make. It is about getting results. In order to keep your reputation and be known as trustworthy, you have to be willing to have difficult conversations with clients, and occasionally be willing to fire them.

originally published in Lea Brovedani's newsletter, March 16, 2016

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18 March 2016

8 Tips to Improve Readability

Readability is defined as the ease with which a written text can be understood by a reader. (The Free Dictionary)

While this definition certainly includes your words, sentences, grammar and writing style, it also has to do with the overall look of the text. Here are some tips to make your content look good, whether it's a newsletter, blog or website.

#1. Use a slightly larger font size than you typically would when using Word, unless your content is lengthy. This ensures it will be easy to read on small screens and for those whose eyesight isn't perfect. Also consider using black or a dark colour as your font colour for the same reasons.

#2. Avoid too much bold. Use bold sparingly to highlight the really important things, perhaps no more than once per paragraph.

#3. Include whitespace around text and images, and between sections. Pictures look better and text is easier to read.

#4. Use bulleted or numbered lists to simplify complex information. This provides clarity for your reader.

#5. Use short sentences and paragraphs to break up big blocks of text. At a glance, several big blocks of text can seem overwhelming. You don't want your reader to save it for later.

#6. Be consistent with your fonts, colours, spacing and images. Otherwise these items will distract your reader from your text. After all, you want them to find value in your writing, not think about all the pictures (well, unless you're a photographer).

#7. Use diagrams and examples when it makes sense. If you are explaining something complex, consider adding a visual to help understanding.

#8. Don't use underline except for links. It can be confusing as people expect underlined text to be a link.

Improving your writing skill will always pay off but these are things you can do immediately to improve your readability.

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14 March 2016

Your Content Quality Check

When you're buried in details, it's hard to see the big picture. That's not news to you or anyone else.

To get out of the trees and above the forest, consider adding one final quality control check to your content creation process. Whether you are writing for your blog, newsletter or social media platforms, before you hit that PUBLISH button, ask yourself:

"What value will my target market get from this?"

If you can't articulate the value, your target market is unlikely to be able to, either. Think about it from your reader's perspective. How would they describe your article to someone else when they're (hopefully) raving about it? It might be something like: "Check out this blog post about xxxxx. It's got great tips you can use right away."

What if you can't articulate the value? Start editing right away, or put it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes later. I have a folder of article drafts that I've rejected because the value wasn't clear, and that folder is one of my 'idea triggers' when I'm looking for something to write about. Ideas can improve with age.

By adding this quick little check to your content creation process, you'll ensure your readers keep coming back.

photo by Neuwieser / Flickr

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10 March 2016

My Essential Small Business Tools (Part 2)

A sequel to My Essential Small Business Tools (Part 1), I hope you haven't been holding your breath waiting. I compiled my list a year and a half ago and, after pulling it out to write this article, was happy to discover that it hasn't changed. I'm still using the same applications and that speaks to their real usefulness.

Here are the remaining items on my list of handy dandy tools I use daily or weekly.

Canva for Work
This program intrigued me right from the start. It makes simple graphic design easy for the inexperienced. While I’ve been doing digital designing of some form for close to 20 years, Canva saves me time with its Abracadabra Resize. It’s not robust, like Photoshop, but it’s not meant to be. Simple and fast, I use it every single day.

I use this as my primary Twitter interface. It also helps me manage my planned posts when it’s convenient for me. I use it to schedule my daily enewsletter tips for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. The option to save drafts saves a ton of time.

This is a powerful tool that you can use on your blog, newsletter, website... anywhere that you can enter a url. You'll find one at the bottom of this post. Click here to read my previous article about it.

This one can boost your productivity big time. It's another one I've already written about - click here to find out more.

A list of my daily tools isn't complete without mentioning email marketing. For 8 years, I've been using iContact to turn out marketing messages for clients and myself. I've tried the rest (well, lots of them) and this is the best. We have an agency account which also allows us to offer some bonuses to our clients.

05 March 2016

Write without "I"

It's surprisingly difficult to write a blog article without using the word "I". Removing "I" completely is not your goal. But whittling down its use could be.

How do you know when you have a problem? When every paragraph starts with "I", that's a good signal. (Guilty here.)

We want to connect with our readers and that will involve sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences. Hard to do without using "I" sometimes. But remember, this is marketing and it's not about you.

Here are a few things to consider:
  • Bury the leading "I", especially at the beginning of a paragraph, by reorganizing the sentence.
  • Don't substitute the "I" with a past participle. For example, "I wrote in my journal" is still better than "my journal was written in".
  • Put yourself in your reader's shoes. Come at the topic from a different angle. Think about how a reader might retell your message to someone else. Reorganize your thoughts and your sentences.
  • Eliminate unnecessary "I" stories. It's natural to want to talk about ourselves but consider how many "I"s are really necessary to get the point across.
  • Edit without mercy. All of these are things that may be best done after you've had your creative time, during editing.
Writing an article without using "I" can be done - you've just read one. Well... sort of.

photo by Kmeron / Flickr

29 February 2016

Content Strategy: A Formula for Success [Infographic]

It's not secret, magic or special but it IS important. If you don't start your content strategy with these steps, you'll be thinking about them later... perhaps too late.

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25 February 2016

Action Plan for Creating Marketing Collateral for Events

You know that a killer marketing campaign is critical to your event's success. But, wow, it's a lot of work!

While every event marketing project I take on is a little different, there is a general process I follow to create the marketing collateral. Creating the various items in an overlapping sequence allows me to save time...  and my clients to save money.

Perhaps my process can give you some ideas to improve your productivity, too.

#1. Assemble, create and edit all the components of the marketing message.
This includes things like logos, graphics and images, taglines and text, biographies, PayPal button code, and ALL the logistics, such as date, location and price.

#2. Create and edit images.
Canva for Work doesn’t give you all the power of Photoshop but it pulls its weight when it comes to productivity. I can quickly make a whole raft of sizes and versions to suit every online or print need.

#3. Create the email message in a bulk email program.
I usually start here because it’s my thing. I can design from scratch to my heart’s content.

#4. Create the printable flyer.
Copy and paste the body of the email message into Word, adjust the formatting, and send to the printer.

#5. Create the landing page.
There are a couple of quick options for this, especially if building custom landing pages on your own website is onerous.
  • Use the online version of the email message as the landing page. Buy a custom domain and point it to the 'read online' link.
  • Copy and paste the html version of your email message into a website builder, adjust the formatting, and publish.

Step #1 is the most important for ANY event marketing. If you don't do that well, the rest will suffer. Granted this is a simple description of the steps, not a how-to, but I hope you'll identify opportunities to be more productive with your event marketing.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder February 26, 2016

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