May 23, 2017

Have a Party on Your Website


Imagine you're planning a big party at your place... today. What will you do first: clean and cook, or invite people?

Spending time and money to promote your business online is a bit like sending invitations to a party on your website. You want your place to be ready when the doorbell rings.

Before you make the pretty pictures or the clever articles, make sure to vacuum under the couch. People will judge you.

photo by jackfrench / Flickr

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May 17, 2017

Using "Air Quotes" in Online Communication


When I see double quotes wrapped around a couple of words or a small phrase, I immediately think of Sheldon's air quotes from The Big Bang Theory and the emotion that comes to mind is sarcasm. I absolutely know this is the case for many people - one small impact of popular culture.

Now, if you are a writer and intend sarcasm, leveraging this thinking pattern might be a great way to make your point - as long as all of your readers are familiar with "Sheldon quotes".

On the other hand, if sarcasm is not your intent, using double quotes might completely derail your intended message. Readers can't see if we actually hold up our hands and tweak our fingers, or if we just think it in our heads, or if we didn't mean sarcasm at all.

This is another way text communication can be flat, leading to miscommunication. Yet we don't want to start inserting emojis into our business communication (or at least some of us don't).

Why did we all start using so many quote marks anyway? Online it's not good practice to use underline other than for hyperlinks, so we're left with bold and italic for emphasis... plus symbols, like "double quotes". (They're really awkward, too. On which side of the quote does the period go? You can see what I "think".)

Before you type those double quotes the next time, hesitate and question if you really need them at all. Are you quoting a person speaking, or is it for emphasis?

As a footnote, I'm definitely not suggesting you switch to exclamation points instead!!!

photo by Peter23394 / Flickr

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May 7, 2017

Where to Get a Haircut in a New Town


A small business owner, let's call him Bob, arrives in a small town for a meeting with a potential new client. Before his afternoon meeting, Bob decides he needs a haircut to get all spiffy. The receptionist at his hotel tells him there are only two barbers in town, both with shops along the main drag. It's a sunny warm morning so Bob sets off walking.

When he arrives at the first barbershop, Bob can clearly see through the big front window that the place looks less than pristine - hair on the floor and a general air of disorganization. There's one fellow getting a cut and another waiting. Even the barber himself needs a trim!

Further along Main Street, Bob comes to the second barbershop. The view in the front window looks much better. The floor is swept and gleaming, the barber is busy lining up shampoo bottles on a display shelf and his own hair has a crisp updated cut.

Bob turns around and heads back to the first barbershop to get his cut. Do you know why?

I read some version of this story in a logic puzzles book as a kid and it has stuck with me because it has such a powerful unexpected message. Have you figured it out yet?

The barber at the first shop has a line-up, he's clearly in demand and too busy to keep his shop as tidy as it should be. He's likely in demand because he's the more talented of the two barbers, being the person who cut the second barber's hair.

The next time you're looking for a website developer, or a business coach, or a printing company, or a haircut, look beyond the website or shiny window. Look at the customers to see the results. Really happy customers become fans and they'll be easy to find, even if they're not in line for a haircut.

photo by hfrank71 / Flickr

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May 2, 2017

One Simple Test Will Change the Impact of Your Headlines


You can tell when you read a headline that lets you get to know the writer a little better. It often contains an opinion, or perhaps a turn of phrase that is unique to them.

If your business is all about selling you, it's worth it to take extra care with your headlines and subject lines. Here's the promised simple test:

Read your headline out loud. Does it sound like something you'd say out loud?

Still not sure? Go look yourself in the eye in a mirror and say it out loud. Or add the words, "Hi Mom," to the beginning of your headline.

This test will make you stop and reconsider. Perhaps you won't change a word but the exercise is still valuable.

Don't overspend your time editing the text and not give enough attention to your headline. Your headline is the most important factor in whether anyone even gets to reading your article.

photo by nix|photo / Flickr

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April 28, 2017

Learning the Hard Way has to Stop Sometime


Burying my head into a new project that requires learning WordPress should give me tons of content for articles... if I had time to write. In fact, I considered documenting this new adventure in all its gory details via blogging and social media but, well, I'd rather put my head down and get on with it. I'm only stopping long enough to share something I'm doing differently with this project.

I don't have time for learning things 'the hard way'. Been there, done that, loved it, wrote the blog. If I want to be more efficient, I need a shortened learning curve.

This time I'm rewarding myself with 'the easy way'.

If you're venturing into a WordPress project, I strongly suggest finding a WordPress virtuoso to consult with (like I did). You'll be surprised at how much less stress, more fun, less troubleshooting, and more efficient it is.​

I guess I can say I'm learning better, not harder.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on April 27, 2017

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April 24, 2017

Get a Blogging Buddy


It might sound a little corny but having a blogging buddy is a great strategy, especially if you can find one that serves the same target market as you. Why?
  • You can plan and generate ideas together.
  • You can write series of articles that intertwine, linking back and forth to each others blogs.
  • You can edit, proof, check each other's work.
  • You can be accountable to each other, especially if you have an agreed upon schedule.
  • You can motivate each other when you're stuck.

photo by mailliw / Flickr

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April 18, 2017

Super Easy Screen Recording


For a long time, I've been meaning to research and find an easy free screen recording application. It just never made it up very high on my to-do list. A few days ago I had an urgent need to explain something to somebody and words weren't cutting it. I needed to record my screen while I did something but I sure didn't want to spend a bunch of time researching and installing and learning.

Saying I am really impressed with Screencast-O-Matic (aff) is an understatement.

In only 5 minutes I had recorded a 30 second video, signed up for a free account, and sent a link to the video off by email. Seriously, 5 minutes... my first time using it!

As an example, here's another short screencast I made just prior to publishing this post, which was easy to share to my YouTube channel. It's about how to check your iContact statistics.

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April 12, 2017

Brief is the New Black


There is so much information available online that it's hard to even give it away. If your content is top notch and needed by your target market, you still have to get their attention... before you get a chance to make the sale.

The competition for attention via email has increased... a lot. Starting fresh is more difficult now than it was when I started - people aren't as apt to subscribe to *anything*. It means that giving away amazing value is even more important... and the bar for what constitutes valuable content continues to rise.

Just because it's hard to do, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.

People appreciate good information but they also appreciate brief. Your readers can avoid the fear of missing out (#FOMO) if you give them small snippets of your own or others' content. 'Brief and useful' is a great way to start thinking about your content, especially if you are just getting started. Don't be fooled, though, because brief and useful is not simple to do.

photo by Idhren / Flickr

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April 5, 2017

Jumping Up and Down, Waving for Attention


Can you remember your first really big concert? For me it was The Rolling Stones in 1989 at CNE Stadium soon after I moved to Toronto.

We had seats about mid-field and, when the concert started, it was a great spot to be. And then everyone stood up... and up onto their seats. Now I'm game but I'm also short. Standing on my seat up on tippytoes, I could just see the big screens... no stage, no Mick. Eventually my tippytoes got tired, so I sat... and suddenly the music was unrecognizable, muffled by all the surrounding bodies. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sea of people.

Online marketing reminds me of that feeling, of being surrounded by many different people deeply interested in something other than me. Shouting over the noise to be heard, waving arms or grabbing people to get their attention.

When you're not Mick Jagger, it's not easy to get people's attention. In fact, it's darn hard work trying to stand out in a sea of other people trying to stand out in a sea of other people.

So, if we're jumping through hoops to get attention, we better be prepped and polished when attention comes along, right?

When was the last time you audited your website?

This is serious; don't hmph and click away. If it's been more than 6 months, it's time.

photo by Incase. / Flickr

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April 1, 2017

Marketing is About Making Money... Right?


Recently I told a small business class that their marketing should be earning them money, not costing them. Pens went to paper like I had just said something completely unheard of.

Making money is usually the point of small business marketing but... it can become a BIG distraction. Sometimes we even forget why we're doing it.

Imagine you send out an interesting and much anticipated monthly newsletter. And every time you send it out, your phone rings (or your email pings) with new business. Or when you go networking, people are drawn to you because they read your newsletter - a common point of interest to start a conversation that leads to more. Or someone phones and says, "I've been getting your newsletter for 5 years now and it's time."

That is how your marketing needs to be paying off... with tangible experiences building to long term success. If what you're doing is not making you money, change the way you're doing it or start something new instead.

originally published in the Work Better, Not Harder newsletter March 30, 2017

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March 29, 2017

Colour Palettes for Spring Marketing

As I post this article, it's snowing heavily here in Nova Scotia. I'm very optimistic that spring will arrive... sometime. My husband and I are itching to get outside in the garden so, when I think of spring, I think of outdoors.

Here are some colour schemes that make me think of spring. All photos are free from pexels.com.

I saw this photo and immediately thought, "Fresh start!"

Looks like a great place for a walk. The lime green is so bright and optimistic.

The Easter Bunny outlined in buttercup yellow. All shades of green are reminiscent of spring.

It wouldn't be spring without red tulips. Great contrast here.

Spring travel to the tropics makes me think of soft pastel ocean scenes. Pass the wine.

What does your spring marketing campaign look like?

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March 26, 2017

Favourite Free Image Sources and Graphics Tools for Small Business Marketing


Wondering where to find free images for your newsletter or blog? These are the most common sources we use for free images:

FREE:
FREE with Attribution:
Here are some graphics tools we use often:
Of course, snapping your own photos is always a great choice!

photo by Live to Create Photography / Flickr

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March 21, 2017

17 Reasons to eMail Your Contacts Before Your Next Newsletter Goes Out


NOTE! Don't jump directly to the list below. There's a caveat and it's an important one.

While these are your reasons for emailing your list, you need to create value or point it out to readers. Frame all your messaging around the thought, "What's in it for my readers?" If you make it valuable to them, you'll feel the love in return.

Here are 17 reasons to email your list, independent of your regular newsletter schedule:
  1. A new or improved product or service - highlight the benefits, not the features
  2. A demonstration of one way to use your product... and the fantastic results!
  3. A new article, video or audio file published online
  4. A customer success story - and how subscribers can enjoy the same success
  5. A customer question and your answer - useful information
  6. A cool tool you just tried - how your contacts can benefit
  7. Comment on a common myth about your industry - why your subscribers need to know
  8. Announce a contest
  9. Request information (feedback, research, and so on) - be very cautious with this 'ask'
  10. A summary of information - this could be results of the feedback/research or a summary of a process you use
  11. You learned something recently that you're now implementing - focus on why your subscribers need to know this, what's in it for them
  12. Special offers for your email subscribers only
  13. Changes to your business - only things that will benefit/affect subscribers
  14. A follow-up to something you sent before, such as that contest
  15. A report that combines a blog post series and becomes a great resource.
  16. Hot-off-the-press news affecting your target market
  17. A special date or event, such as Mother's Day or International Ideas Month (March).
Wondering where to start? Pick the one that seems the easiest and get a quick success under your belt. Then come back to this list and pick another item. Here's a challenge: can you do one a month for the next 12 months?

March 17, 2017

Eliminating Waste and Ageism from My Writing


In today's society... in today's busy world... our current technological society... and so on. I've written phrases like that more than once. And I've stopped because:

1. These phrases don't add any value to my writing. If I'm writing about the past, I'll say, "In the past..." or some such thing. Similarly if I'm writing about the future. Otherwise isn't the perception it's current?

2. Lots of people don't know a different society, don't remember a time before computers. Technology is hardly new. Anyone over 50 like me has actually been using it longer than anyone younger.

Reserve space in your writing for words that really count, that add meaning to your writing. Eliminate what's left. Make sure every word works. Your readers will thank you for it and show you by coming back to read more.

photo by Street matt / Flickr

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March 12, 2017

How to Improve Your eNewsletter Results


Would you want me to be nagging you about your newsletter campaign? Making sure you keep to your schedule, aren't stuck for writing ideas, and regularly check your statistics? I've been told nagging can be very helpful.

Here are some pieces of advice I dish out to clients on a regular basis - not because I like nagging but because I know these things can make a difference.

Plan your content ahead of time. Planning gets you thinking, even if those plans are bound to be broken.

Use a 2-step writing process. Draft and write your content; edit and polish it on another day, or later the same day.

Finalize your copy before it gets inserted into your newsletter. Last minute changes, while not always avoidable, are most prone to mistakes. Your final check should be proofing, not editing.

Try using a Word template to assemble your content. Create one with the appropriate sections and it will operate like a checklist so you won’t forget anything.

Take care with your subject line. Nothing else on this list will matter if no one notices your email.

Send when the conditions are right. Ideally you want your newsletter to arrive when your subscribers are using their email.

All of these seemingly nit picky little things do make a difference. Have you been nagged yet today?

photo by Andrew Hefter / Flickr

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