February 25, 2017

9 Writing Prompts for Small Business Bloggers


Even when we love to write for our blog or newsletter, staring at a blank screen is bound to happen sooner or later. Here are nine writing prompts to help you get past the blank screen:
  1. What do you love most about your business?
  2. What are the questions you get asked most often when out networking?
  3. What are some of the hot topics in your industry right now?
  4. What are some of the challenges you are facing in your industry?
  5. What is a great resource, book or app that you’ve been delighted with recently?
  6. What recent experience can you turn into a success story or case study?
  7. What famous person would you like to get some advice from? Why?
  8. Do you have a business bucket list? What’s on it?
  9. What recent personal experience has led to a business breakthrough?
These questions may not translate directly into a topic for your particular blog but they should get you thinking... follow a thread.


February 19, 2017

The Consequences of Creative Isolation


Buried in a blog post by iContact about the importance of relevant content, I found an interesting little segment about the impact of creative isolation. It's hard to imagine being isolated when we can be online and connected whenever we want.

When it comes to writing content, these are the consequences iContact identified:
  1. Writing generic copy - this is canned content
  2. Going off topic - irrelevant and useless content for the target market
  3. Being too clever - impenetrable copy stuffed with industry buzzwords and jargon
  4. Staring at a blank screen - forcing creativity doesn't work

These things happen to me when I...
  • stop looking at results (what are people reading)
  • am too busy to read articles by other experts
  • am not talking to people in my target market

The solution? Do more of these things!

photo by bionicteaching / Flickr

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February 13, 2017

Is Your Information Shareable?


Getting other people to share our information is hard work, whether it is a blog post or a workshop announcement. We can be more successful when someone sends an email to a friend or retweets a message about our next event. Whatever our important information is, getting it out to a broader audience is a key marketing goal.

I share a lot of information relevant to my small business market via several different methods. When I want to share someone's sale announcement or event details, I'm sometimes frustrated by how hard it is and, unless it's a friend or client, I'm likely to give up before too long.

Here are three suggestions for making your information (event, sale campaign, product launch, and so on) more easily shared.
  1. Put the information somewhere on a page of its own. Ideally this would be your website but might also be a blog post, Facebook event, EventBrite listing or any number of other ways to get your information online. A unique url is the goal so interested people can be sent directly there.
  2. Write a brief synopsis that others can copy and use to promote your big happening. I suggest 2-4 sentences and roughly 50 words. This will also make it easier for you to promote.
  3. Include sharing links. Wherever you put your information, on that page include links and a call-to-action to share.
You likely don't even know about all the opportunities for promotion you are missing out on. You've worked hard to build a fan base and this is one of the reasons you did so!

photo by bengrey / Flickr

February 7, 2017

No Love from your Newsletter? Here's Why


"My newsletter isn't doing anything for me."

Over the years I've heard many different versions of this same sentiment, usually accompanied by a big sigh. A month or so later, the newsletters stop.

A newsletter does not make a marketing plan. And sending out a newsletter is only a small part of a content marketing strategy. To be successful, there are other related things you need to be doing.

Here's a checklist to help you identify what actions to take to improve your results. If you're not doing these things, that's why success is eluding you.
  • Have a sign-up form on a landing page you can promote (i.e. with its own url) so you can actually get complete strangers as new subscribers.
  • Promote your newsletter on social media, your blog, your website and everywhere else, including not online. If you don't actively build your list, it will stagnate.
  • Actively share your newsletter issues on social media multiple times to extend your readership beyond your current subscribers.
  • Look at your statistics to see what people are clicking on. Pay attention to comments and shares on social media. Include more of whatever is working to get more engagement.
  • Have a blog and post your newsletter articles there. This is a good idea for many reasons - all will get you read more.
  • Keep refreshing your website content. Make sure all of the information, such as events, is current. Change the content so people have a reason to go there again.
  • Include more links in your newsletter to get more people to that awesome website you just updated. There's a simple relationship: more links = more clicks.
Instead of giving up on your newsletter, find one thing in the list that you're not doing and start it. Once you have that in place, come back here and pick something else to implement. Before long, you'll be feeling the love. Here's a recent story from a client:
I'm starting a new class. The one female in the class told me her father sends my articles to her all the time. He owns an IT company and he was encouraging her to get her PMP certification. He wrote to her last week with my newsletter and said, "FYI - Brenda is here next week." She wrote him back and said, "I'm already registered for the course." The power of newsletters!
There is a lot to be gained from an effective email campaign, including fans like this. Don't give up before you've fully implemented the strategy.

photo by Peter Hellberg / Flickr

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February 2, 2017

LinkedIn is a Resource, Not a Mailing List


"Can I add my LinkedIn contacts to my email list?" I get asked this a lot with regard to the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation (CASL). And my answer is exactly the same if you are planning to send only one individual LinkedIn contact a message - both fall under CASL.

Can you? Yes, it's not hard to do - Google 'exporting LinkedIn contacts' for instructions.

Should you? Like any other marketing activity, consider the implications. Review your LinkedIn list and remove people for whom your information isn't relevant. Know your target market and use common sense. Think about your target market's perceptions; many people do not know the legal definition of spam... but think they do.

Is it legal? Implied consent applies when businesses sell to other businesses (B2B). The email you are sending must be relevant to the person's job at the organization they work for. (Example: You can email a university professor to sell her textbooks, but not clothes... without express permission.)

My advice about adding your LinkedIn contacts to your emailing list? Use LinkedIn as a source of potential new contacts but look at each contact and make sure implied consent applies.

photo by TheBushCenter / Flickr

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January 29, 2017

Is Your Canadian Small Business Compliant with CASL Yet?


It's that year - the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation comes fully info effect on July 1, 2017. Wait, before you roll your eyes and click away, read the next paragraph.

The average small business in Canada has nowhere near the list size to trigger an investigation under CASL. And the reality is most small businesses aren't yet CASL-compliant... and that probably includes yours (and even mine). There's no need to get alarmed.

Here are the 4 most obvious ways businesses aren't yet fully compliant.

#1. Subscription process is missing a description of what content the subscriber can expect to receive and how often

You don't want to be misleading and you also can't be too vague. Simply "Sign up for my newsletter!" is not good enough. Besides, you want a killer call-to-action; it makes good sense regardless of CASL.

Offering a free download? If you plan to add the contact to your regular mailing list, you still need to say that.

#2. Mailing address missing from subscription process

The regulations say that a physical address must be used, not just in the footer of your emails but also accessible when people subscribe. If your mailing address isn't on your website, you might consider adding it to your landing page or autoresponder that people see after signing up.

#3. Asking for express consent then continuing to email when it's not received

Until you specifically ask for consent to email someone, consent may be implied. Once you have asked them, and they haven't given you consent, it's no longer implied. Continuing to email this person is very much against the regulations. You are better not to ask at all.

#4. No unsubscribe functionality in *regular* email

This is a tough one to implement. There are apps for that but no free and simple solution. I'm not compliant with this one yet. This also brings up the significant challenge with managing permissions across multiple platforms (let's not go there).

Whether or not your business is fully compliant with CASL, consider whether it's important for you to be perceived as compliant. (Find more CASL information here.)

Do you think CASL is working? Please click here to let me know your opinion.

photo by psd / Flickr

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January 26, 2017

Selling Public Workshops Online (Several Apps for That!)


A simple process was all I needed to promote two workshops and manage registrations. But, as I often do, I decided to use the opportunity to try out some new ways to do things. Yesterday I put the workshops live for registration. Here are all the different applications I used or will use in my campaign to promote and manage the registrations.
  • my website builder
  • Canva
  • Blogger
  • Hootsuite
  • Social Jukebox
  • iContact
  • PayPal
  • JotForm - my newest favourite app
  • Google Calendar
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
  • and email
Phew! Some of these are integrated, some not, but I had fun pulling it all together (mostly). And the next time I need to fill workshops, it'll take me a lot less time to put everything in place.

photo by edkohler / Flickr

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January 21, 2017

Actively Share your Newsletter Issues on Social Media


You may already be autoposting your newsletter onto your social media feeds when you send it out. It makes sense to share it more than once, especially if it's the only content you have (i.e. if you're not also blogging).

Re-sharing your newsletter issues using the read online link on your social media feeds multiple times will extend your readership beyond your current subscribers... and hopefully encourage new ones.

Facebook Page, Google+ and LinkedIn
If not autoposted, post a link to the online version of your newsletter as soon as it goes out. Use the sharing buttons within your newsletter to make it easy. For a monthly newsletter, you might consider sharing it again a couple of times before your next issue goes out.

Twitter
Tweet a link to the online version of your newsletter a couple of times a week until your next issue goes out. Use the tweet button in your newsletter but change up the tweet text each time. Add an image to the tweet for added oomph. If you have guest writers and they are on Twitter, tag them in your posts.

Facebook personal feed
Depending on your strategy, you might also consider sharing your newsletter to your personal feed.

Here are a few other suggestions to get more mileage from your email newsletter on social media:
  • If your articles will stand the test of time (evergreen), and you don't already have them on your blog, continue to share out those issues, using anchor links to the specific articles if you've used them.
  • You can even get mileage out of the rest of your newsletter content by posting links for Throwback Thursday. Reminiscing can start interesting discussions.
  • Regularly post links to your newsletter archive - it can serve as a resource page for your fans.
One final piece of advice: if you're going to work so hard to get people to read your newsletter, make sure you also make it easy for them to share it!

photo by U.S. Embassy Pakistan / Flickr

January 16, 2017

Three Words for 2017


'Focus' has been my 'word of the year' since January 2010. When I did a little checking to figure out that date, I was surprised at how long I've been focussed on focus. Perhaps I'm as focussed as I'm going to get.

This year I'm going to buck the 'one word' movement and go with three words: surprised by joy. It's a wish for how I want to be in 2017.

The first line of William Wordsworth's poem of the same name is:
"Surprised by joy - impatient as the Wind"

I stumbled upon it recently while reading books by Canadian author Louise Penny. "Surprised by joy" is a recurring theme throughout her Inspector Gamache series. Maybe it stuck with me because patience sure isn't my best quality.

Share your word (or words) of the year in the comments. Whatever they are, my wish is that you will be surprised by the joy of success this year.

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January 11, 2017

Are You Missing New Subscribers?


If you have a sign-up form, you want subscribers.

If you want subscribers, you need to get them to your sign-up form.

To get people to your sign-up form, you need to tell them where to find it.

Check your own subscription process now

If you have a sign-up form on your website, try this short exercise. Prepare a call to action with the appropriate link to send a new social media follower to your sign-up form. Really, do it now or you won't get this. It'll only take a minute. Go and post it now.

Here is an example I might use:
Free with sign-up! Immediately get a mini workbook with 5 Content Templates to make your writing time more productive. http://daleyprogress.com/newsletter.html

Ready? Pretend you're that new follower. Read your call to action and click to follow the link. Now stop and take your fingers off that mouse. Is your sign-up form staring you in the face, bold and beautiful with no other distractions? If it's not, that might explain why you haven't seen a new subscriber in weeks.

This is a huge missed opportunity for anyone doing any kind of email marketing - and I see it often. Sign-up forms get embedded in sidebars or footers, usually with no text to tempt someone to subscribe.

So where on your website should you put your sign-up form? On a landing page of its own - with nothing distracting the visitor from filling out that form.

The article 6 Tactics to Turn Visitors into Subscribers describes what you should put on your landing page. Among other things, include specifics about what people are signing up for - not just "my monthly newsletter". Not only will this encourage more sign-ups, it's required by CASL if you live in Canada.

Use a prominent call to action on other webpages where it makes sense, including a link to your landing page with its standoutish sign-up form.

Don't let another confused visitor stumble away from your sign-up form. Make it so darn obvious it's impossible to miss.

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January 5, 2017

Your 'Thank You for Signing Up' Page

A redirect page is the webpage where someone ends up after filling in your subscription form. This is something you have control over and it's worth putting a little effort into. After all, someone has just said they trust you enough to sign up for your newsletter - it's a good time to dazzle them with more of your brilliance and give them some value right away.

Here is a screen shot of a client's redirect page. When someone subscribes to Twirp's newsletter, this is where they end up.


Here's why this page is great:
  • It clearly describes what the subscriber signed up for.
  • There's a free giveaway, which was promised in the call to action.
  • There's a link to get immediate value by going to Twirp's blog.
  • Also those cute little Twirplings at the bottom of the screen jump up and down... which made me feel kind of happy to have subscribed.

Is it time to take a fresh look at your own redirect page? What is the most important message you want to communicate at this point in your business relationship? Here are some tips that will help you decide.

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January 1, 2017

Milestones Mean Opportunity

On May 30, 2013, we sent out the 50th issue of the Work Better, Not Harder newsletter. In it I wrote about the importance of celebrating milestones - small business owners don't do that enough. In July of 2016, we sent out issue #100. That big milestone was reached through our own perseverance; we could have reached it even if we had no readers. Something to be proud of but not particularly motivating.

I want people to read my stuff - that motivates me.

For a couple of years, we've been flirting with reaching 10,000 pageviews on our blog in one calendar month, coming close but never quite reaching it. In December 2016 it finally happened - we had over 12,000 pageviews. Thank you to our readers who keep coming back!


Blogging regularly (this is post #451) has brought many benefits:
  • More social media contacts
  • More subscribers = potential clients and referrers
  • Enhanced reputation
  • Better writing skills - practice makes perfect
  • Motivation
  • More referrals, clients and friends
  • Requires me to do research which keeps me current
  • Gives me a reason to celebrate!
It's much more fun writing when you know you're being read. And you won't know that unless you are watching your statistics.

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December 29, 2016

This Simple Tip Will Improve Your Writing... and Your Confidence


Sometimes it's hard to heed my own advice. Even when I know this particular piece of advice is perhaps the most important when it comes to creating content.

I can give you a number of tips to help you write better articles. But there is one simple thing you can do that can really improve the quality of your work, to make your content more useful and interesting. This tip is particularly ingenious - are you ready for it?

Prepare your content over two separate sittings, preferably on two different days. It's a simple concept but often not so easy to implement with deadlines looming.

First sitting:
  1. do an outline
  2. research if necessary
  3. write a draft
Second sitting:
  1. review and edit your draft
  2. add appropriate links to past articles
  3. run spell-check and proof (read aloud if you don't have a proofer)
Coming back to your writing with fresh eyes will almost always result in improvement. Because you are taking extra care to craft your messages, you'll feel more confident about the results. Another bonus is that it doesn't cost you more money or take much more time. All you have to do is not wait till the dreaded last minute. Easy, right?​

photo by delgrosso / Flickr

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter Dec-30-16

December 22, 2016

Newsletter Example: Local Restaurant


Sometimes I can be quite judgmental of others' newsletters, and most of the time I keep that to myself. Being a critic means I can also appreciate good examples of newsletters, and email marketing in general. Have a look at this one which arrived in my inbox recently from a local restaurant with the subject line: Seasons Greetings from all of us at Finbar's.

The content in this email is just right for several reasons.
  • The subject line clearly said what is was - a holiday greeting. If I wasn't in the mood for holiday cheer, I could have deleted it with little hassle (but stayed subscribed for future news). I was feeling cheery when I received Finbar's email.
  • A good overall balance of images and text - and not too long. It looked like it wouldn't take much time to read.
  • A colourful photo of the young kids dressed for the season - you won't find this on shutterstock; it connects on a personal level.
  • A funny personal story - curiosity got me reading the whole thing.
  • The 'advertising' part of the content felt more like something I needed to know from one of my favourite places to eat.
  • The hours are also useful to me. If I want to get there for my fav Guinness & Bacon Mac & Cheese before Christmas, lunch on Saturday is my last chance.
  • Finally, the contest winner announcement is social proof, important to building your reputation online.
What did this great email do for Finbar's? I only know that I'll be in for Mac & Cheese over the holidays. I bet I'm not the only one.

Thanks to Michelle at Finbar’s Forest Hills who good-naturedly agreed to me using their newsletter as an example. (I wasn't paid to write this and Finbar's isn't a client of mine.)

photo by Meghan Tansey Whitton

December 16, 2016

Home Office Holiday Party

In preparation for our office party this year, I wrote a poem. Then I gathered together the things I would need to have a party with Romeo and Danielle. (The Temptations were for Romeo, the phone for Danielle, and the coffee for me.)


Romeo, my cat, is used to hearing me talk out loud as I proofread and he was unusually excited about hearing the poem.

Danielle, who lives several time zones away in Saskatchewan, also works alone (and helps me out lots) so I invited her to my office party by phone. It was a good move because she's a master at rhyming words.


After much anticipation, I started to read the finished poem aloud to them. As you can see in the photos above, I had their full attention.


Ode to a Midnight Blog

Silent night, late at night,
I've still got my blog to write.

My laptop propped up on my bed,
I'm hoping ideas will fill my head.

Yawns escaping, eyelids drooping,
Neck is stiff, my thoughts are looping.

My brain is sore, I think some more
About what the heck I'm doing this for.

I'm so tired, in words I'm mired!
I just can't seem to get inspired.

Feeling stumped after several tries,
I think I just need to rest my eyes.....

Sunlight streaks across my bed.
I wake up fast and shake my head.

To the bathroom I must race
And in the mirror I see my face.

I'm so surprised I can only squeak.
There's keyboard marks across my cheek!

The lesson for bloggers is not too deep:
Move your laptop aside before falling asleep.


When I was done, Romeo was looking for a place to sleep (I'm sure because he was full of treats) and Danielle said, "Didn't I already hear that story?" I had to remind her it was true.


We wish you a fun-filled holiday season! (And heed my true story - you really don't want keyboard indents on your face when you have to go to a party in person ;)

WAIT! Before you take off...

If you've enjoyed my (almost) solo Christmas Party, I'm sure you'll enjoy the other bloggers who have joined me in this fun, new tradition. Please visit all of the blogs and leave a comment. Not only will you make them feel good, you might win some other awesome prizes, too. Next up on your holiday party tour is Lori Byrne at Farm Fresh Style - click here to party on!

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