November 19, 2017

What are Your Competitors Writing About?


Whether it’s for your small business blog or newsletter, researching what your competition is writing about will benefit you in two important ways:
  1. You will have something with which to compare your own content strategy and your execution of it.
  2. It’ll trigger new content ideas and topics to write about.
After you've assembled a list of blogs to inspect, these are the things to pay attention to:
  • layout and design (look and feel)
  • ease of reading and interaction
  • keywords and topics covered
  • writing style and formatting
  • frequency and consistency
  • the value offered
Now consider:
  • How does your content measure up?
  • What holes do you need to fill?
  • What can you do to improve? Make a plan.
You don't have any competition, you say? OK follow this same process and research others in your industry or servicing the same target market. You'll get the same benefits.

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November 14, 2017

Editing Tips to Benefit Your Readers


“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
- Henry David Thoreau -

It is always easier to edit someone else's writing. We're emotionally invested in our own words, wanting to hoard them and take ownership of them.

The thing is, you don't need to justify anything you write. I often see words and phrases like this which can be completely eliminated:
  • "I want to say that..." or "I want to let you know that..." or "I want you to know..."
  • "It's my opinion..." or "I personally think/feel that..."
  • "... of mine" (as in "friends of mine" or "colleagues of mine")
Then there are those phrases and even whole paragraphs that should be about the reader instead of the writer:
  • "I'm planning to..." or "I'll send you..." Try starting with "you" instead, as in, "You'll receive..." You can often eliminate many "I"s from an article.
  • And the reasons or excuses for anything should be left out completely. You wouldn't stand up to give a speech and start with, "I'm not a very good speaker."
Here's another tip: when editing, ask "So what?" at the end of every sentence. Your brain needs to be thinking creatively when you're writing but critically when you're editing.

November 8, 2017

13 Ways to Make Your Small Business Blog More Interactive


Why do we want our blogs to be more interactive? I googled that question and didn't find any kind of consensus or a clear answer to share. This seems a little odd with everyone talking about engagement (and lead magnets and sales funnels).

As soon as a reader takes some action (often a click), they are much more inclined to take a second action, and a third, and so on. It's exponential, and it's what engagement is.

If we know we want our readers to keep taking actions, we need to give them encouragement to do so... but not all at the same time. Here are a few ways to make your business blog more interactive.

#1. Use a link strategy within your posts to move readers along to more relevant content.

#2. Conduct a one question poll. Link to your poll in an app like SurveyMonkey which allows you to show results after someone answers. This poll could be legitimate research or a fun distraction. You can even publish the results in a future blog post.

#3. Include a special offer for your blog readers. Make it easy for them to take advantage of the offer... make it one simple click to solve their problem.

#4. Link to a video. Depending on the platform you use, you might also be able to embed the video into your blog post.

#5. Link to a free resource or some other type of giveaway. Make sure to gather new email addresses.

#6. Use click-to-tweet and other social media sharing options. Encourage readers to share because, if you make it easy, people will share.

#7. Have a menu on your blog so readers can seamlessly move between your blog and website.

#8. Ask readers to connect with you on Twitter, Facebook and so on. Use icons to draw their attention.

#9. Use a sidebar widget to show a list of popular articles, or other articles on the topic being read about.

#10. Display a blog subscription form prominently!

#11. Run a contest or game. If you have lots of blog posts, a scavenger hunt is a good way to get people to have a deeper look. You might offer a prize or make it just for fun.

#12. Include a search option. There is nothing more frustrating than looking for info on someone else's blog and there's no way to search. Including a tag cloud in your sidebar will also encourage deeper reading.

#13. Encourage comments to get feedback and new ideas.

The caveat? Don't try to do them all in your next blog post. Too many choices can often result in none being made.

(Thanks to my business blogging class for helping to brainstorm this list!)

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November 2, 2017

Long Term Planning for Your Small Business Blog

blog planning

While teaching a blogging class to small business folk recently, we were doing an exercise to get us thinking about our blogging strategies beyond the next post or the next month.

We posted flip chart sheets around the walls and together filled in all the topics and themes we could think of for each month (or season). The answers reflected the different types of businesses represented in the room - lots of variety. By walking through the months, paying attention to the many holidays and seasonal activities, we mapped out the whole year.

Sure, we all know when Christmas is, and that September is back-to-school. Some people are romantic at Valentine's, and others are gardening in the summer. Go the extra step and think about how your target market is impacted by these events, how they're feeling about these things.

Even if you can't solve their biggest problems, maybe you can make them feel better by helping in a smaller way.

To find those opportunities, you'll want to think beyond the event or the season. Try to walk in your customers' shoes. Making people feel good is where it's at and you can absolutely do that on your business blog. (This applies to more than blogging, too!)

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October 31, 2017

What's Black and White and Read All Over?


OK so the joke is ancient... and really only works when spoken. The answer has even changed - now it's newsletter instead of newspaper. But people are still reading, and more than ever.

Whether you choose informational or promotional marketing or both, you're missing opportunities if you're not using email to market your small business.

B2B: Email is the third most influential source of information for B2B audiences, behind only colleague recommendations and industry-specific thought leaders. (source)

B2C: 80% of retail professionals indicate that email marketing is their greatest driver of customer retention. (source)

If you're going to invest time and money in email marketing, you want to step out strong. Feel the pressure to get it right. Here's a checklist to help you gauge your readiness.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter October31, 2017

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October 27, 2017

What Do You Need To Say YES To?


(guest post by Natasha Marchewka)

Do you find you are saying NO to everything lately, to keep the status quo?

I was... because I was overwhelmed and afraid. I already had enough daily commitments to keep me busy for the next 10 years.

And then, I had a shift of perception.

I realized that to grow (or be happier or fulfilled), I needed to say YES to things that stretched me. Further, what is entrepreneurship without risk taking? It doesn’t exist.

That said, I’ve taken on MANY new commitments that I suddenly have the energy for because they all seem like where I need to be. In all cases, the yes’s come in the form of helping others in some way.

When’s the last time you said yes to something that you felt enthusiastic about? Even when our plates are full, I believe there is room to say yes to commitments that ring true with us on a deep level. Taking a risk is part of living fully with the potential to fail or succeed. Either way, you succeed.

I’m saying YES because I know how to say no. I’ve made room in my business and my life for new risks to help me to continue to evolve.

What can you say YES to?

October 20, 2017

Are You Ready to Start a Newsletter for Your Small Business?


An email newsletter is a well proven way to provide value to your customers and contacts. But the competition for space in people's inboxes is fierce. If you're going to invest time and money in email marketing, you'll need to step out strong. Your first message will set the stage for what your readers can expect in the future. Feel the pressure to get it right.

The trouble is, you don't know what you don't know. While there are many things you'll learn from trial and error, there are a few critical things you need to do well from the start.

Here's a checklist to help you gauge your readiness:

1. Have you clearly defined your goals? If not, write them down now. Here's a list to help.

2. Do you know what your potential readers want? What's of value to them? If not, get this straight before you go further. Here are some ways to think about that.

3. Are you ready to commit to a schedule? Once you start sending a newsletter, an erratic schedule will also make you appear erratic. You want to be consistent and repetitive.

4. Do you know what bulk email software you're going to use? Ask others for advice - make sure you're hearing from people who have actually used the application. Pay money for a good, unbranded app because free is free for a reason.

5. Have you assembled your mailing list? And do you understand how the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation (CASL) affects your list building efforts and sending procedures? Here are several articles about the various aspects of CASL and the possible impacts on your small business.

These items are hefty and each requires considerable thought and research. It's worth it to make the effort to get it right!

Want a little help? Or a lot of help? Schedule a virtual meeting with me to get your questions answered and receive my best advice - click here.

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October 14, 2017

Using Pinterest to Create Brand Moodboards: Part II

(guest post by Alison Knott)
Nailing it down with a pin!

Now that you’ve spent some time getting up close and personal with other brands in Part 1, it’s time to find those patterns on Pinterest!

You know 30 ways to look for ‘healthy snack recipes’ (who am I kidding, I’m married to Frito-Lay), so I know you’ll be set to start searching on Pinterest. But don’t stop at the obvious keywords like ‘bespoke logo’ or ‘life coach brand’. Branch out to of all kinds of brand application.

Parrot Party: our new venture

For this exercise, let's pretend you're starting an online store and forum called Parrot Party - a site for all the things parrot owners want and need. Most parrot-owner related websites are just breeders with old websites, and you want something that's going to appeal to parrot owners. Fresh, vibrant and speaks to owners ready to spend big bucks and share their knowledge on owning these birds. They choose to live with loud, colourful pets that live for 30+ years, and you want to connect with that market. Where do you start on Pinterest, then? Well here are some ideas guaranteed to get you started.

Colour Palettes: because there’s literally 500 shades of light blue out there

What common colour combinations did you see in your research? Maybe it’s a good thing that they’re all the same and you want to do different. That will set you apart. On the other hand, it’s possible you will lose credibility for certain industries, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons. Additionally, a colour palette may contain a surprise tint you didn’t consider!

Using Pinterest for branding: colour
tropical colour palette

In the case of Parrot Party, we started with searching "tropical colour palette" but didn’t like how they leaned more toward beach scenes. What we were attracted to are these, inspired by flowers. Also, it turns out some of these swatches are similar colours to the plumage of various parrots - bonus!

Typography: we’ve all got opinions on fonts, who are we kidding?

Jokes about Comic Sans aside, different fonts evoke different sentiments. What fonts will best represent your business when you’re not around? Is it always script-like? Very stern blocks? A lot of detail or very straightforward typography? Bonus points if what you pin includes the font name. But if you’re not sure, there’s a great website called WhatTheFont? that can help you identify the typeface just by uploading an image.

Using Pinterest for branding: typography examples
bold fun fonts

For Parrot Party, you didn't like all the super whimsical, so you search "bold fun fonts", thinking about all those funny parrot videos online. Bingo - lots of character in these picks.

Patterns, shapes and graphic representation of your keywords

A designer can do a LOT with a great pattern. They’re an excellent way to create graphics when you don’t have any photography available. I recall a branding session with a client in which we spent 20 minutes just looking around us for what sort of patterns she liked. My idea of ‘geometrics’ was way different than hers. Are we talking tiny, intricate repeats? Bold circles of two colours? Again, pin with purpose.

Additionally, you can be literal with a word that's in your branding, and then search to see how other designers and illustrators have designed that item.

Using Pinterest for branding: feather graphics examples


You don't have a clear idea of the Parrot Party logo yet, but you do know that you want to represent all parrots. Using "feathers" in some capacity would keep the brand inclusive. That turned into another search for "feather illustration" to see how other people render feathers. There were lots of watercolour options but they're too soft for your audience. Instead, you're drawn to these more bolder, graphic renderings.

Storefronts, office design and other interiors

Even if you work exclusively in digital/online, who’s to say you can’t dream. What would the physical location of your company look like if it did exist? A brand is more than a logo – it’s a whole experience.

Using Pinterest for branding: interior examples
Aviaries and flight cages

So what if Parrot Party had an office space? "Aviaries and flight cages" are every parrot owner’s dream – a large space for their pets to fly around. Then you think about other online giants like Google and their wide open spaces... there’s something to pin there, too. Now you've seen some design pattern themes of natural wood, green plants, black or metal wire. There may be merit in drawing upon those textures later on.

Stationery, such as business cards, envelopes, letterheads

This isn’t to dictate to your designer how to design your calling card, but rather to get your head wrapped around execution possibilities. Explore words like foil, spot varnish, handmade and so on for more unique applications.

Your initial search of "feather stationery" didn't really reveal the level of bold you're looking for, but there were some neat ideas around cutouts and geometric shapes to render birds that you might consider for your business card.

And there you have it.

A whole bevy of imagery that you curated and approve of to start designing with. They say an image is worth a thousand words, and you, dear reader, just collected about four billion.

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Alison Knott is the owner of Eraserheader Design, a one-stop web consultant and brand shop. She’s been turning client napkin scribbles into purposeful business brands since 2007. You can find more great branding and online business tips from her weekly Facebook Live show LunchPress

October 8, 2017

What Will You Write After the Conference?


Many business people are busy preparing to attend large conferences this fall. It can be quite an expense and a lot of hard work to prepare for these big events... booking sales meetings with other attendees, preparing marketing collateral, booking flights and hotels, and maybe even training in sales skills.

Certainly when you return from the conference, you'll have lots to write about for your blog or newsletter.

1. Summarize the overall experience of preparing and attending. Perhaps include 'what to do or not to do' tips for future attendees.

2. Summarize the conference itself, highlighting key learning points.

3. Write articles about each of the presentations, focusing on what's important to your readers.

4. Capture and share the data, the important statistics and trends impacting your industry and customers.

5. Interview presenters and attendees. Prepare a series of questions in advance. This could be video or audio transcribed into text. The really good interviews can be used for blog posts.

6. Do market research. You don't often get the chance to be in the same place as so many industry counterparts and potential customers. Prepare one or two questions in advance and ask those same questions to everyone you meet. Your questions might be specific, like "How many times do you ...?" Or your questions might ask for opinions or advice, like "What do you think about ...?" or "What do you recommend for ...?" Collate the responses and share the results with your readers.

You will learn many things at the conference. Figure out what's important to your readers and prepare beforehand to create compelling content upon your return to the office.

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October 2, 2017

Good, Fast, Cheap


On the inside of one of our garage doors, in black permanent marker, the previous owner - a mechanic and race car driver - wrote:
good
fast
cheap
pick 2!

I know Mike was talking about cars but this trifecta has implications for other (small business type) things, like marketing, product development, project management, and problem solving.

Let's say you can get a good website built fast; you shouldn't expect it to be cheap. If it's fast and cheap, don't expect quality, and so on. If you think you're getting all three, beware! Economics - and people - don't work like that.

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September 27, 2017

Using Pinterest To Create Brand Moodboards: Part I



(guest post by Alison Knott)

So you’re starting the process of making a brand or logo for your new business. Or, you’re about to hire someone to do it for you. Congratulations! It’s now time for the daunting task of articulating whatever the hell is in your head into something concrete. Eep!

I’m here to help you help yourself. It can seem difficult to put into words how you do (and do not) want to represent your brand that doesn’t exist yet. So… how do the pros do it?

We do research and create moodboards, which are a visual collection of images, colours and graphics to illustrate a certain mood. Now, as a brand designer I use Adobe InDesign and Illustrator to put final mood boards together for my clients. But you want to know what has saved me and my clients so much time?

Having clients send along their own little Pinterest brand modeboard collection to help me get inside their head.

Yes! That thing you’ve been using to save 783 pictures of living room renos you’re never going to get around to can help you design your brand!

The goal here isn’t to have a brand set in stone, but to be an exercise in articulating visually what you want your brand to be. Think of it as a blueprint of what your brand could be, by defining some clear visual direction.

Before You Pin: Where To Start Your Research

As unique as you may feel your business will be, it does not exist in a vacuum. There’s going to be competition, assumptions about what your industry is (or is not), and bias due to the colour you use or even the font you choose.

We designers refer to these as ‘design patterns’: similar visual elements that are found when one looks at a certain topic, industry or concept. Lawyers may use corporate blues and golds to denote ‘trust and success’. Eco-companies may choose greens and natural textures to denote ‘organic’. Coaches may use their own hand signature to denote ‘approachable’.

Your job, dear reader, is to start looking out for the design patterns that exist in your industry, and figure out which ones you want to use, or completely avoid.

So, before you start pinning with no real direction, put aside three hours to look at the following kinds of business online, bookmarking their pages into a folder as you go:
  • Your competition: You are going to be placed along side them, so it’s important to see what their brand looks like, what they’re doing, and what you agree and don’t agree with.
  • Those you look up to: doesn’t have to be directly related to your business, but it is good to keep track of things that you are attracted to. Ultimately, you will be the best representation of your brand, so you have to like it. It’s important that you know what you naturally gravitate towards and what you can’t fake being.
  • Business totally unrelated to yours: I’m serious. It’s not enough to look at those like you. My most successful brand designs have come from showing patterns I’ve found in other unrelated industries I think my clients can take a page from. I’ve compared life coaches to perfume brands, local produce companies to candy brands and mining companies to NGOs. Always reserve the right to incorporate the unexpected into your brand if it’s the right fit.
What Patterns To Look For

Don't just look at the homepage of a site. Take a moment to click through the main navigation, and you'll start to notice design patterns page to page. These could be graphical, textual or technical in nature:
  • One site might always places an arrow to the right of any text in a link or button. This helps remind users that all interactive items will have an arrow on it, so they can spot them easily.
  • Perhaps another site is light on images but makes sure to divide content up with geometric repeat patterns in the background. They are associating their brand with a certain kind of visual treatment, without the help of pictures!
  • Make sure you read website content to see if there are any keywords that keep coming up that you might like to use with your own brand (and make for easy Pinterest searching). Also take note of the tone of content. Is it casual, authoritative, uses slang?
Now that you know what patterns to look for, go out and start bookmarking your collection of inspiration. Once you have that done, you can move onto the next part of this blog series.

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Alison Knott is the owner of Eraserheader Design, a one-stop web consultant and brand shop. She’s been turning client napkin scribbles into purposeful business brands since 2007. You can find more great branding and online business tips from her weekly Facebook Live show LunchPress

September 23, 2017

11 Lessons Learned from 500 Blog Posts


Sometimes we surprise ourselves. I didn’t imagine there would one day be 500 posts on Work Better, Not Harder when it started back in 2010. I wasn’t thinking beyond the stress of getting that first post published. Yet here we are and I’m feeling a little emotional… in a good way.

It’s not easy to pinpoint one or two blogging success factors so I settled on eleven - down from a much longer list.

1. Give value to your current/potential customers plus referrers.

People who know me are surely tired of hearing me say this: figure out what would be useful or interesting to your target market and give them that. Writing for your current customers is a great way to get started.

2. Watch your stats frequently.

Pay attention to what readers are interested in and do more of what gives you the best results. If something isn’t working, ditch it and start something new. If you aren’t watching your stats at least weekly, you won’t know what’s working.

3. Just start.

Don’t let technology hold you up. If you don’t know the best way to do it, find someone who does. If you can’t afford the best, find an interim solution. There’s nothing about blogging that can’t be redone or improved on later.

4. Learn to write better.

Sure, being a great writer is helpful but not essential. It’s easy to work on improving your writing skills if you really want to. Check for free and paid courses online as a start, ask someone who writes well for some pointers, and practice lots.

5. Have a strategy for guest posts.

Since the first guest post went up on Work Better, Not Harder, I regularly get requests from total strangers to write articles for my blog. I have worked hard to build my blog following so giving strangers access has never been part of my strategy. I do, though, solicit articles from colleagues and clients now and then – but they are always highly relevant. Know what you’re going to say when someone asks to write a guest post for your blog.

6. Use keywords and phrases your target market will search.

Think about your customers and the questions they ask. There are others looking for those answers, too. Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, check to make sure you’ve answered all the questions you can.

7. Link from one post to another as often as it makes sense.

Keep people reading after they have finished one article by giving them links to more on the same topic. After writing a new post, go through it and add links to past relevant posts. Aim for 3 links per article.

8. Have a call to action on every post.

Whether it’s part of the post, in your author bio, or in the sidebar, make sure to include a call to action. You have someone’s attention when they’re reading your article; next you need to ask for more attention or it’s a lost opportunity.

9. Make it easy to share and ask people to share.

Depending on the blogging platform you use, this may be easier said than done but there are lots of separate apps and tools you can use. Having your posts shared is the best way to get new readers you can turn into fans.

10. Follow other blogs that give you inspiration.

Who are your blogging heroes? They might be in your industry or not but find other bloggers who you can learn from just by watching.

11. Be consistent.

Keep showing up. Keep the commitment you make to yourself and your fans. Feel the pressure to write regularly. If you are consistent, there’s no question your skill will improve and your results will improve.

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September 14, 2017

Start Using This Today: Client Relationship Check-in Checklist


(guest post by Natasha Marchewka)

Life is good as a freelancer or small business owner. No one to answer to, but our own clients, of course. No one breathing down our necks to make sure we’ve done THEIR job correctly. We get to “do it all” ourselves.

Autonomy. It’s a freedom we’ve longed for... And now, we get to “do it all” ourselves. Sales, inbound and outbound marketing, bookkeeping, client management, admin, social media... oh, and that part about providing a product or service... We have to do what we do best and a bunch of stuff we, maybe, don’t do that well. So, we hire out when possible. (Thank you @daleyprogress!)

In the process of putting the pieces together of my own business as a voice actor, I’ve managed to figure out how to do a lot of things on my own. On top of it all, I work at documenting everything because I happen to be a list maker. And as I dig deeper and deeper to give back to the world, I’ve discovered not everyone IS a list maker, and most people can use help in that area.

So, I'm sharing one of my lists with you - ideas to build a tighter relationship with existing clients:

Client Relationship Check-in Checklist


Ø Check a client’s website for their social media icons – follow all, or follow new ones they’ve recently added.
Ø Check client’s social media fees and share one of their relevant or remarkable posts.
Ø Check out, comment on, or share any blog posts the client may have published.
Ø Google the client’s business name, and personal name, to research and congratulate them on any recent successes.
Ø Sign up for the client’s newsletter, if you haven’t already.
Ø Email your client on the anniversary of your first job together with a nice note.
Ø Send general gratitude postcard mid-year, “Thank you for keeping me in mind...”
Ø Send a small gift, or card, at year end.

Save this checklist! Enlarge the image below or right-click to save.






You can sign up for Natasha's Master VO TO DO List here.

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September 8, 2017

Design Colour Trends for Spring 2018

excerpt from Pantone's NY Fashion Week Spring 2018

We're just getting back to serious work after summer vacations and the design world is already thinking about spring. I like what I see but then I'm a sucker for bright colours. You'll find these used online next year, too, not just in clothing stores.

Pantone says:
The Spring 2018 palette encourages a sense of fun and playful release. With an air of complexity and distinctiveness, we find ourselves in a sanctuary of color that is ideal for some more unique and dramatic color mixing.

Click here to see all 12 colours in the Spring 2018 Collection on Pantone's website.

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September 2, 2017

Complex to Simple: Images for Social Media Posts

Rocket Science Version

The sizing of images for the various social marketing platforms, post types, and headers is becoming a bit complex. In fact, it would be a very practical way to teach equivalent fractions and geometry in Grade 9. But if you're long out of school and want all the details, get them on Twirp's Cheat Sheet: The ONLY social media image sizes you need to know.

Squares and Rectangles

The diagram below shows a very simplified rule of thumb for matching image shapes to social media posts on common platforms.


Size Matters

While bigger is better, it often means a larger file size and then icky compression stuff happens and... well, you've probably seen it on other people's feeds. I suggest your squares be a minimum of 600px by 600px; and 1200px by 1200px is about the largest you'll need. For rectangles, use minimum 600px by 300px, or maximum 1200px by 600px.

If you don't even want to consider making your own social media graphics, here's a cost effective solution. Don't pay for a graphics app - just get the graphics instead.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter August 31, 2017

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