December 27, 2011

Purposeless Learning


I love learning. It’s one of my favourite things to do. When I retire, I’m going back to university. Usually I want to learn something because I’ve had a little taste of it and (a) I’m just plain curious or (b) I want to learn it so I can apply it to my work or personal life.

I’m one of those people that actually read those thick manuals that used to come with new computer games before I did the install. There was a purpose. I knew what I wanted to do and just had to learn how to apply it. Learn and then apply - the better the learning, the better the application. I’ve been good at it my whole life.

This year learning changed for me. I began learning lots of things without really knowing if:
  • I was even interested in the topic
  • I could apply it
  • it made sense to apply it
  • there were any benefits to the learning at all
Lately I’ve caught myself saying to people, “You just have to try it for a while to ‘get it’.” (Can you guess what I’m talking about?) A couple of years ago I would not have been so open to the ‘just try it’ approach myself.

Change happens so fast these days. To stay fresh and keep up, sometimes we need to learn first and figure out what the purpose or value is later.

December 20, 2011

Keep Your Content Fresh

Creating content can be a real show-stopper when it comes to kicking off projects like a new newsletter, website or blog. I often hear some version of this: “What the heck am I going to write about?”

Fresh, interesting content is important to ensure your newsletter stays relevant to your audience. You want your newsletter to be opened with a sense of anticipation. Remember that you have to compete with millions of other emails.

How can you distinguish yourself? It’s not enough to create content about your business and products. Here are some suggestions for you to consider:


Have a clear focus
Of the many possible goals for a newsletter, what do you want yours to specifically achieve? Measure every piece of content against this yardstick to avoid ‘scope creep’.

Write to your reader
What are the wants and needs of the person reading your email? Think about the conversations you have with customers and colleagues. You can discuss these same topics by email.

Tell stories
Stories transform you from being a business to being a person. Share customer success stories and bring your readers behind the scenes.

Build community
Invite customers and colleagues to contribute to your content.

Play on pop culture
Consider current pop culture topics and see if you can relate to them. Avoid controversial topics and make it entertaining.

Ask for advice and ideas
Ask customers and colleagues for their feedback about your newsletter and suggestions for content.


Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on December 20, 2011

December 17, 2011

Build It and Work at It


A newsletter is not one of those ‘build it and they will come’ things. It takes work to both maintain and build on each relationship that you (re-)start with each issue.

Maintain:
  • Give your readers what they want, not what you want to give them.
  • Deliver VALUE in exchange for your readers' time.
  • Respond to everyone who replies to your newsletter, even if it’s just to say “Glad you enjoyed it.”

Build:
  • Add new contacts to build your list.
  • Promote each issue through social media to extend your reach.
  • Make it easy for people to share and subscribe.

December 10, 2011

Writing the Wrong

I've been talking to a lot of people lately about creating and organizing their content for various purposes and places. In the process of conducting a recent lunch and learn on the subject, I collected lots of tips and ideas and here's a good one.

Share your opinion about someone else's article or on a hot topic under debate in your industry. If you're good at what you do, you will have lots of opinions. Telling people about them will really define your unique selling proposition. It also makes you a leader in your field. My client Stephanie Holmes-Winton aka The Money Finder uses this strategy extensively on her blog - here's an example.

This doesn't have to be about claiming someone else is wrong. (I chose the subject line for its alliteration.) It can also be about agreeing with them and offering more info or expanding on the subject.

Of course you have to keep up with your reading and research in order for this strategy to work. Current is key.

December 3, 2011

Check Up on Your eMail Marketing

As a follow up to my last article about managing what you measure, here is something else you should pay attention to: Do you know what your email marketing campaign is doing for you?

That will lead you to answer the question: Should you be doing more or less of it?

In this graph you can see how the activity on my website increased as the direct result of two emails sent. If you look at the front and back ends of the graph (before and after), you can see that there was a really significant impact. This is a quick measure that tells me my email marketing is very effective.

How effective is your email marketing? I want to point out here that the impact of email marketing will vary greatly by industry, whether B2B or B2C, scheduling and frequency, value of content, the format and delivery mode, the size of your contact list and segmentation, your relationship with your subscribers, and other less predictable things.

So now you are able to make a strategic decision:
  • Do you increase the amount of email marketing you are doing? - if the impact of your current marketing is significant
  • Do you maintain current levels?
  • Do you work to improve your impact by concentrating some of the influencers listed above? - if the impact of your current campaign is not significant
  • Do you lessen your time and money investment in email marketing? - if the impact of your current campaign is not significant
I'd love to hear about what you learn when you look at your website statistics.

November 30, 2011

You Manage What You Measure

One of my favourite bosses worked by the motto “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring”. When I whined that something just couldn’t be measured, he would say, “There’s always something to measure.” And he was always right.

It’s an important concept for small business owners. Having a set of metrics that you watch and that you feel are the key drivers of your success, helps you keep clarity. If you don’t have goals stated for your company, and if you don’t regularly measure how you’re doing against those goals, you won’t have your resources focused on the right priorities.

The more public you can make your goals the better. Transparency of goals drives performance because it creates both a commitment and a sense of urgency. Commitment and urgency are key drivers of success.

People often measure the wrong stuff, or measure with the wrong precision (either too high-level or too detailed). There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach but there are two pretty universal measures:
Customer Acquisition – new, lost, average sale, cost to acquire, etc.
Revenue Metrics – especially trends

The ‘how’ of implementation will vary among companies and figuring that out can be a challenge, but I guarantee that you will learn more about your business and be in a better position to make strategic decisions.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on November 30, 2011

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November 25, 2011

You don't want Subscribers

What you want is fans. Let’s dispel a newsletter myth. The myth is that you want to keep as many subscribers as you can. That’s simply not true. You pay for subscribers. If someone is not reading or forwarding your newsletter, why do you want to send it to them? You don’t really want to annoy people either.

Have a simple escape route:
  1. Make it easy to unsubscribe.
  2. Tell people it’s easy to unsubscribe.
  3. Tell them how to do it.
It’s not personal! Just because someone unsubscribes from your newsletter, it doesn’t mean they have unsubscribed from you. And, if people know it's easy to unsubscribe, maybe they'll stick around a little longer... ?

November 15, 2011

Content that Builds Trust

Different types of content will achieve different things. You can educate and inform, build trust, establish your expertise, expand your community, and generate sales.

Building trust is one strategy that is appropriate for just about any type of organization or independent professional. It can be used in your newsletter and also extends to your website, blog and social media. This type of content is used to bridge the gap between awareness and trust.

Here are some types of content that specifically work to build trust:
  • How-to content - specific advice, tips and processes
  • Articles written by you - displaying your knowledge of the subject
  • Articles published by others that specifically mention you or your organization
  • Reviews - customer reviews on sites such as Yelp and Google Places
  • Testimonials - endorsements from happy customers

An added bonus is that these types of content often support your SEO efforts. Being brief and to the point also builds trust so I'll stop here.

November 14, 2011

Quick Tip - Avoid Hidden Format Problems

When you're inserting content into your newsletter, website or blog, you're often copying it from other documents.  I suggest you always compose in Word (or similar) to take advantage of its spelling and grammar-checking functionality.

Your formatting in Word may not be the same as your default formatting in these various applications.  While there are a raft of applications that make it easy now to do your own newsletter, website and blog, most of them are converting your content to html code in the background.  When you copy in text that is already formatted, you're possibly creating problems behind the scenes.  As well, you'll end up with differing fonts and sizes that all have to be corrected before you publish.

You can avoid the potential for problems by stripping off all formatting before you paste into the application.  An easy way to do this is to use Notepad (or similar).  You simply open a blank notepad document, paste your content into it, then copy and paste from there into your application.

 

November 10, 2011

How much is too much?

And equally important, how much is too little? Too much and too little can both be bad when it comes to e-marketing.

People ask me how often they should send out their newsletter and I always answer the same thing - as often as you can bring value to your subscribers. And if you can do that every single day, yippee! I myself subscribe to 4 daily newsletters.

Back to reality... of course, there's work involved and that might have an impact on how often you send too. I do strongly believe that you need to send something at least once a month to be having any impact.

Here's a general rule of thumb:
more frequent = smaller amounts of content, and vice versa
(Now remember, rules are made to be broken so perhaps I should call this a guideline instead.)
Of course, social media is a great example of the 'more frequent' strategy.

Aside from how much content, you'll also want to consider the type of content in relation to the frequency. Here are a couple of very different strategies:
  1. One main message in a format that will attract all of your subscribers – by default, this means fairly brief, or brief sections; videos and blog posts fit here. This can be more frequent.
  2. A variety of content aimed to provide at least one thing of interest to every reader; each reader will read something but not necessarily everything – this means more content and of varying lengths and types (e.g. concepts and applications). This would be less frequent. (This is the strategy I adopted for my own newsletter right from the start.)
So you may think that I haven't really answered the question I posed at the start - how much is too much? I do hope I've given you some ways to think about what would be the right answer for you... because of course, 'it depends'.

Please share your opinions and experiences by commenting.
 

November 2, 2011

Don't Forget Your Fans

You have 2 types of newsletter subscribers:
  1. People who are interested in your content, whether it is informational or promotional: your audience
  2. People who are interested in you and helping you succeed: your fans
Your ideal clients are the first group. Your 3 F’s - friends, family and fans - are the second group. Both types of subscribers are important. The second group will help get your message to more of the first group.
  • Make it really, really easy to share. Include tweet, like and other social media sharing buttons. Invite people to share it with friends by email and give them a link to do so.
  • Thank your fans. When your fans share your information, make sure you thank them. And, even more important, make sure you reciprocate!
  • Include a subscribe link - similar to the sidebar link for subscribing to this blog by email. Your fans will share your newsletter and their contacts will want to subscribe. Make it easy for them. Don’t make them hunt for your sign up form. You would be surprised at how many times I’ve had to do this and how many times I’ve simply given up.
While your ideal client may be the reason you have a newsletter, your fans will help make it successful.

October 31, 2011

Deciding to Delegate

If you are a control freak like me, you’ll know that delegation is a BIG decision. There are lots of things to consider. The question of what to delegate should be easy but often isn’t.

You want to delegate things that…
  • you don’t like to do
  • slow you down or sap your energy
  • cause you to be disorganized
  • draw your focus away from the things you’re really good at
  • require a certain expertise to get quality results - and you are lacking that expertise
  • can be grouped together for easy delegation

So now that you’ve figured out what to delegate, how do you go about it? It’s all about finding the right balance between quality and cost.

Quality
Is the activity something that needs skill and experience to get a quality result? How do you perceive cost and quality? Higher quality usually means higher cost. What is the level of quality that you require and are you willing to pay for it?

Cost
What is your time worth? You really have to have a clear understanding of this before you’ll be comfortable delegating. If your time is valued at $100/hour and it’ll take you 10 hours to do a job, wouldn’t you rather pay someone else $100/hour who can complete it in 3 hours?

The cost of delegating isn’t always money. It could be an exchange of your time for someone else’s. It could be a mixture of both; for example, a lower cost may mean that you have to spend more time managing the activity.

For a small business owner, delegation might take one of these forms:
  • Hiring employees
  • Using casual labour
  • Outsourcing
  • Exchanging services with colleagues

I’ve been going through this whole process myself recently. There is some basic math that you can do to determine if it makes sense for you to delegate. The first thing you have to do is to put a value on your own time.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on October 27, 2011

September 17, 2011

The Fun of Flickr



If there is anything visual about what you do, you should be using Flickr.  It's another social media tool and a whole other community that needs to know about what you do.  (As an example, see this photo I posted last year which garnered unexpected attention for the girl who does my nails.)

When you have a free Flickr account, you can upload 2 videos and 300MB worth of photos each calendar month.  I have a Pro account which costs only $25 per year.  (And a Flickr Pro account makes a nice little gift for friends or clients!)

Flickr can be set up to integrate seemlessly with Facebook - post to Flickr and it can show up on Facebook automatically.  You can create sets and collections and slideshows and link directly to them.  You can add keywords (tags) to be found by search engines.  You even set up a profile much like on LinkedIn and Facebook.  You can comment on other posts, join or lead groups and establish a community.

http://www.flickr.com/

August 30, 2011

Another Kind of Challenge

As I step into my 7th year in business, it strikes me that I’m facing a whole new set of challenges this year. That means new experiences and probably some goof-ups to learn from.

For my first few years in business, my focus was on sales and marketing. I should say that it’s where my focus should have been but wasn’t always. I spent a lot of time (and money) to get good people to help me in my efforts – and lots of good people invested their time in me.

Almost two years ago, I changed my whole business model because it became clear that a strategy which depended on cold calling wasn’t going to work for me. Since then my strategies have been networking, referrals, social media and e-marketing – and it’s been working so good that now I have a whole new challenge:

How do I increase my capacity? Now that I have a fully integrated sales and marketing strategy, how do I continue to take on all the work I’m generating?

I’m painfully aware that I’ve reached a very critical point in the future success of my business. If I continue to take on work without considering how I will get it all done, I will surely fail – because my customer service will suffer. I pride myself on my customer service – I have dozens of testimonials to prove it - and I’m not going to let that suffer, or settle for ‘just OK’.

Since my previous career was in operations and logistics, you’d think I’d be really good at facing this challenge. The big difference now is that I manage no team that will help me strategize and then do all the work. Building a team isn’t so easy on a limited budget and with an undefined path forward. And it’s hard to build that path forward without a team. I can’t sit around thinking about the chicken and the egg, I have to get tough and bite a bullet. Is this when I become a true entrepreneur?


Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on August 30, 2011

August 28, 2011

Would you like some service with that ink?

Last week I had an experience that brilliantly shows what I think is wrong with customer service today. I walked into my local Staples store here in Regina to pick up a couple of printer cartridges. It was 9am and when I walked in I was just happy that they were open. I knew what I wanted, where it was in the store, and I hate shopping so I made a beeline for the ink cartridges, grabbed the two I wanted and headed straight for the till.

Only one till was open and there was a woman with a cart full of school supplies at the front of the line. I was next, then a gentleman with a single item in his hands stepped into line behind me. We were not long in line when one of the clerks opened a second till.

The gentleman and I walked over to the newly opened till and he said to me, "after you"... that was our only mistake. The clerk rings my ink cartridges through and it comes to $51.36. I give him $100 bill and $1.36 in change. He puts all that in the till and then sighs. "It's a little early to change $100, I am going to have to call for change." I am thinking 'well alright but you have been open an hour, it is school supply shopping week and I spent half of that hundred already' but of course, I say none of that.

After a few minutes, the change person had not yet arrived at the till so I said, "Let me see if I can find something else." I knew I had two twenties in my wallet and had seen a folded up five in my change purse. Along with what loonies I had, I got $50.00 together and handed it to him. "There you go", I said. He looked at me and said, "It is in the till, I can't take that out now." I found this amusing because his till drawer is open and I can see the $100 bill sitting in the drawer but he cannot make the change to the transaction at this point.

I held back my snicker but the gentleman behind me began to get a little impatient after a few more moments of no Mr. Change-Guy showing up. He then stepped up and said, "Well, I am spending $80.00 for this so why don't you just ring me through and then you can make her change", pushing his four twenties toward the clerk. He looks at the gentleman and says, "It is already in the till, I can't do that."

The gentleman looked at me and rolled his eyes. It all seemed so ridiculous that I said the first thing that came to my mind... "The till has officially become more important than the customer!"

August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene and Newsletters

To all of you readers who have established email contact lists... are you capitalizing on opportunities that are staring you in the face?

Today I received a timely and relevant email from Fairway Insurance Services - a warning about preparedness for Hurricane Irene.  It included an update on the storm, a colourful picture of the storm's expected course, and links to useful checklists and such to help me prepare for a storm.  Now how cool is that?

You don't have to wait till your next newsletter issue when something big is going on that affects your subscribers.  Help them out - provide useful information - make it timely and relevant.  Scan for opportunities to be of service to your community.

August 12, 2011

Join Me!

This is a no charge online meeting service that allows you to gather people and allows them to see your computer screen as you demonstrate, teach or collaborate. The applications for your business are endless:  https://join.me/

August 4, 2011

Be a Tease!

I came across this excellent example of how to promote your newsletter sign-up on your website:


It's not visually appealing, but it says all the right things.  It tells me what I can expect by signing up and teases me with what's coming up next.  The only thing it doesn't mention - which is important - is how often I will receive her newsletter.
 

July 20, 2011

What to Write About

Your website is about what you do and your blog is about why you love what you do. I wish I could say I made that up but I read it somewhere. It has really stuck with me though. What an easy rule to follow!

For newsletters and email communication, your content will depend on your strategy and goals. Choose to send either a mostly promotional email or a mostly informational email. I recommend 80% information and 20% promotion – or vice versa. Having this focus makes it clear to your subscribers what to expect. You are better to send two separate emails than to send one email that is 50/50.

Each type of email has its place. I can get just as excited about a shoe sale as I do about a new idea. What do your subscribers want to read about (or look at)? That is more important than what you want to write about. (It’s also the difference between blogs and newsletters.)

Content creation is one of the big challenges for my newsletter clients. I always tell them that it gets easier once they get started. I suspect most don't believe me at first.

Here are some tips to help you get started:
  • Write when you are inspired, rather than to meet a deadline. It affects the quality of your message.
  • Schedule time to get inspired. Read articles, blogs and magazines.
  • Always be on the alert for interesting information relevant to your subscribers. ‘Scanning’ will quickly become a habit.
  • Keep an 'ideas' file – either electronic or paper. This will be an invaluable source of inspiration.
  • Agree or disagree with others' opinions. Make sure your argument is convincing and relevant.
  • Write like you talk. Do you ever say 'therefore' in a conversation at Starbucks? If your answer is yes, then use it in your writing. Otherwise, try 'and so'.

July 8, 2011

COLOURlovers

This site was recommended by my friend Anita Hovey at Twirp Communications. Be prepared to spend a little time browsing! Very useful for determining colour schemes and for seamless backgrounds. (And they actually spell 'colour' right for us Canadians ;)

http://www.colourlovers.com/
 

July 7, 2011

Blacklisted!

It feels like someone was messing with my credit score this week. My domain daleyprogress.com was blacklisted. There are a couple of things about this I'd like to share.

How did it happen?
Apparently a link to an event in one of my newsletters pointed to a domain that was blacklisted. (Or at least that's my understanding based on the little info I've been able to get.)

The immediate implication?
Do I have to check every link in my newsletter against the blacklist to prevent this from happening again? I don't really know but, wow, what a pile of work that would be!

How did I discover the problem?
The hard way! I was sending test and regular emails that weren't arriving, even to myself. I initially thought the problem was with i-Contact. They were great about pointing me in the right direction. Then I had to contact Network Solutions which hosts my domain. They were quick to investigate and 'clear my name' for me.

How can I know if it happens again?
If you search 'IP blacklist' on the web, you'll find lots of resources. I found http://www.mxtoolbox.com/ to be pretty easy to use and I signed up for 2 free email notifications. I'm going to add a 'to do' to my calendar to check on the status of my domains monthly.

July 5, 2011

Email versus Social Media

Social media trumps all! Email is still king! There are strong opinions being expressed – pro email or pro social media – all over the web, and in person.The internet is littered with statistics that can be bent one way or the other. Like most decisions in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Here are some articles that offer comparisons:
Measuring Up Email and Social Media
Email Versus Social Media: 3 Key Points
Social Marketing Vs. E-mail Marketing: Is It War?

Unlike many of our life decisions, we don’t have to pick one over the other – we can grab all the advantages of both! So, there’s a group that says “Hey, it doesn’t have to be a war!” I fall heavily into that camp.

Email and social media can work together – like a diversified team: thinking a few steps ahead, coordinating their efforts, maximizing their unique abilities, sharing the workload, and so on. The synergy created is far greater than each individually.

The effort you have to expend is also shared. A prime example is content creation. A 'content creation strategy' is the answer to that common question “What am I ever going to write about?” When leveraging email and social media, you write once and use it in many channels. And there are even apps that make it easy to post to all those channels at once.

I could go on and on about how email marketing and social media can work together – and I probably will in the future. In the meantime, here are some tips from others:
E-mail and Social Media: Can't We All Just Get Along
Mixing Email Marketing with Social Media – 20 Steps To Go Through

July 1, 2011

SocialMention

Social Mention is a social media search engine that searches user-generated content such as blogs, comments, bookmarks, events, news, videos, and microblogging services.
http://socialmention.com/
 

June 21, 2011

If you can’t do it all…

I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of using social media to stay connected. Oh yes, I know there’s a whole relationship-building aspect that I’m missing out on big time.

The value of social media tools really struck me this weekend as I checked in on my website stats. On Thursday evening I had updated the events listing on my website. Instead of simply posting this on my LinkedIn profile as usual, I decided to post it to a few of the LinkedIn Groups of which I’m a member. Look what happened to my website page views:

So a few people visited my website -- what does that really mean? Well, here’s what else happened:
  • 4 complete strangers subscribed to my newsletter
  • A few thank-you’s were posted in the groups
  • 3 complete strangers emailed thanking me and complimenting me on my website
  • 5 new LinkedIn connections
  • Increased views of my LinkedIn profile
  • 3 new Twitter followers
And I’m betting there will be at least one nice chat over coffee yet to follow. While I’m far from maximizing my use of social media tools, my strong advice is this:
If you can’t do it all, do at least something.  Start somewhere -- today!


Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on June 21, 2011

June 18, 2011

Color Scheme Designer

www.colorschemedesigner.com

I use this tool all the time when developing colour schemes for clients' newsletters. You can play around to find a scheme you like. Or you can enter an HTML# and it'll give you the matches.

 

June 3, 2011

Wordle

http://www.wordle.net/


A toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. Good for homemade graphics for your blog, website or newsletter. I created this one based on the words on my website home page:

 

May 17, 2011

Prezi

Prezi is a very different presentation software... I love it! http://www.prezi.com/

Check out this one I made to illustrate the newsletter set-up process: http://prezi.com/b0u1bxp8iywu/newsletter-campaign-creation-process/

Getting a Reputation

“Reputation is the currency of networking and referrals.”
- Scott Allen


A positive reputation is one of our most valuable business assets and is built mostly on one thing: happy customers. What if you don’t have happy customers yet? What if you’re new in business or new to the area? How do you build a reputation without customers -- and on a limited budget?

Network
Find a local networking group that you can join and attend on a regular basis. Face-to-face interaction will build strong relationships and present unexpected opportunities. (Mine is The Group Halifax.) Online networking has other benefits, such as being able to do it in your PJ’s.

Be Prepared
When meeting someone, have their cell phone number in case you’re delayed. Leave a few minutes early. Take a pen and paper for notes. Find out about new contacts by reading their website, blog and LinkedIn profile. NEVER be caught without a business card!

Keep Your Word
Follow up with people you meet. Take notes about commitments you make. Be dependable –- do what you say you will do!

Help
Be of real help to others by giving your time and expertise freely. (Of course, if your business provides services, you have to clearly define boundaries.) Helping someone else accomplish something will build a strong relationship.

Be Professional
Maintain a professional appearance, both in person and online. Have a consistent visual style for your business. Proofread thoroughly; keep information up-to-date –- the devil is in the details! Dress appropriately. Wear well-fitting and wrinkle-free clothes. Pay attention to personal hygiene.

Keep in mind: it takes a lot of positive experiences to build your reputation, but only one negative to knock it down. Be consistent!


Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on May 17, 2011

April 28, 2011

Quora

A website devoted to answering people’s questions on a variety of subjects. The twist with Quora is that it allows you to interact with others on the site and develop relationships while also giving a sense of fun. Two reasons to use it: to build your expertise and to get answers to questions. Click here to try it out.

Requesting a Testimonial

You might be surprised at how many small business owners don’t collect testimonials on a regular basis. When I ask clients for testimonials to put on their newsletter, brochure or website, there is often a big scramble to start gathering them. I was like that too, till my marketing guru Debi Hartlen MacDonald set me straight about it a few years ago.

What do testimonials do for you?
  • Provide social proof
  • Position you as the expert
  • Answer questions that your prospect has about working with you, even though s/he may not ask outright
There are two activities you can undertake:

1. Put a process in place to collect testimonials as part of your sales process. For example, when I send an invoice, I request a testimonial at the same time. Using an online app like LinkedIn makes it easy. When you receive testimonials, keep them all in one place. Copy them into a text document and keep them in a folder. Or immediately post them to your website and make that your collection point. (Here's my list.)

2. Launch a project to collect testimonials from previous clients. Compile a list of your current and past clients. Identify the ones that you would like to have testimonials from. Don’t just include your ‘high ticket’ customers. Chose the ones you most enjoyed working with, the size of company that you prefer, the culture you felt comfortable with, etc.

Testimonials are more effective when they're specific. Make it as easy as possible on your customer. Generate a list of questions that your customers can respond to. When formulating your questions, think measurable results. Don’t use questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

Use your testimonials everywhere. Put at least one testimonial on every page of your website. Use them as headlines; use them in sidebars and footers. Use them in brochures, emails, and online profiles.

One last point… you shouldn’t worry that you are ‘bothering’ your customers. If you have done a good job, your customers will be more than willing to sing your praises.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on April 28, 2011

April 12, 2011

Get Your Own Board of Directors

Mastermind groups can take many forms. I have been fortunate to be a member of several wonderful groups. In some cases, we didn't call them mastermind groups... but that's what they were.

The concept comes from Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich. He defines the mastermind principle:

Coordination of knowledge and effort, in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of a definite purpose.

The purpose of your group can vary greatly. One that stands out for me was a group of facilitators, trainers and coaches. For almost 4 years, we met quarterly to spend a day training each other and sharing best practices. Oh yeah, we also had a ton of laughs and became great friends.

A type of group popular with small business owners takes the form of a board of directors. Each member gains from the others' experiences and skills. You can see opportunities from a different perspective, get challenged, create plans and be held accountable, access your peers' resources, share a sense of endeavour and develop your skills. This works great if you keep the group small - 2 to 4 people.

Here are some other models commonly used:
  • accountability
  • problem-solving
  • book club
  • business process
  • professional development

Clearly defining the group's purpose is really really important. (Yes, I said really twice... because it really is important!) Without a common understanding, things can fall apart fast. And trust is, of course, essential.

March 24, 2011

Build On Your LinkedIn Relationships

Set up your LinkedIn preferences so that you are receiving an update email at least once a week. Use the email as a reminder and, when you receive it, scroll to the bottom and click on 'view all network updates'. Take a few minutes to scan the latest updates from your contacts. Send notes to congratulate others on their successes. Comment on and share links to items of interest. Check out who is newly connected with who and identify someone that you'd like to be introduced to.

If You Hate Networking...

if you hate networking
Take the lead and hold your own networking event. Sound counter-intuitive? Perhaps, but you will be in control – which leads to confidence.

Starting your own event will greatly expand your reputation, relationships and marketing reach. It could be a one-time event, such as a free workshop or afternoon tea party. Or it could be an ongoing thing – following a networking group or mastermind model.

Leverage your connections and share the wealth. Find a partner with the same goals that you have and collaborate. You will be able to leverage all of your combined contacts and have someone to help with the planning, execution and hosting. Find someone whose skills complement your own.

Here are a few things to consider:

Timing
Weekly, monthly or quarterly
Day or evening - breakfast, lunch or happy hour
Day of the week – avoid Mondays and Fridays


Costs
Free
Cover charge
Membership fee
For profit or not-for-profit


Location
Hotel, restaurant, bar, club, coffee shop
Central location
Parking availability


Participants
Exclusivity – open to everyone or invitation only
Industries – specialized or diverse


Marketing
E-newsletter
Social media
Registration - if you are charging for the event, you will need to offer a way to register and pay


Clearly identify your target market and many of these details will fall into place. Take the time to think about who the participants will be and what they will also get from the event. Write out the benefit statements. You should plan this as a project, the same way you would any marketing strategy.


Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on March 24, 2011


March 8, 2011

Pay your Bills Automatically

Getting statements and paying bills online is convenient, but it's even more convenient to have them paid automatically.

Consider having all your business expenses automatically charged to one credit card (that gives you airline mileage or other perks). Then have that credit card statement automatically paid from your chequing account. The entire process can be hands-off! If you want more control, you can keep that last piece as a manual operation based on your cash flow.

Beat the Business Blahs

This is a blah time of year. The lack of sunshine is making me listless. I’m anxious for spring… and my garden. My enthusiasm is waning a bit. Are you feeling it too?


Running a small business is hard. We can’t afford to show it when we feel discouraged. How do we get reenergized and refocused? Here are some things that work for me:


Appreciate what you’ve got.
Do a reality check. Focus on what you appreciate about owning your own business. Maybe it’s having the freedom to work from your home office with a cat on your lap. (His name is Romeo.) Or maybe it’s not working your butt off to satisfy a cranky boss. Whatever your motivation, make a list of those things and pin it up by your desk.


Get moral support.
Whether it’s networking or just having coffee or lunch with other business owners, being around others with a similar mindset is motivating and inspiring. Entrepreneurs are optimistic and action-oriented, so if you’re feeling blah, grab another business owner for a pep talk.


Give moral support.
Of course, it’s equally important to give support as well. Make time for friends and colleagues who ask you for advice or just need an ear. By helping others, you help yourself.


Shake things up.
It’s easy to feel uninspired when you’re in a business rut. Shake things up by learning new skills, pushing your business into a new area, or challenging yourself to try something that scares you. How about public speaking or cold calling ? Pick the benefits you want and put some thought into your choices.
 

February 17, 2011

Doodle

A cool little online app that you can use to coordinate decision-making among a group of people... and it's really simple! You can ask for available dates for a meeting or ask for input to a decision.

www.doodle.com

(Thanks to Joan for this handy tool!)
 

Action and Email Don't Mix

Reactionary Workflow – reacting to what’s coming in rather than being proactive. It’s a new term but a familiar feeling… and it sure did resonate with me.

Being constantly connected means that it’s really easy for people to contact us. As a consequence, our ability to prioritize is crippled by the unending flow of communication. It has become harder to direct our work with intention. We’ve relinquished control over our focus.

One of my own personal focus areas last year was to be, well, more focused. What I found was that just focusing on being focused didn’t cut it. I needed tactics… and discipline.

Here are some things that I found useful:


  • Blocking out time for specific tasks, especially tasks related to developing my own business.
  • Turning off email for certain periods during the day – need I say more?
  • Taking time to create, rather than just responding to emails. Yes, I might be suggesting taking more time. Adding value to my communications has resulted in many benefits, especially in terms of relationship-building. Time well spent.
  • Reserving time for research and keeping up.

The number one tactic that has worked for me? I separated my action items from my email.

Rather than keeping actionable emails in my inbox, I now print them, or make note of them, or save the attachments… and then file the emails. That way I don’t have to stray into my inbox and get distracted when I’m in ‘action mode’. While it might be a just a tad more work, it improves the use of my time considerably.

Try to manage your action items in a space away from your email – whether through post-it notes, software apps, or paper TO-DO lists. This will allow you to prioritize and focus on the stuff you want (and need) to do, rather than reacting to whatever flows in.
 

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on February 17, 2011

February 3, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

February 14th kicks off Random Acts of Kindness Week. I found these cool printable calendars that give suggestions for each day of the month. Try them out on your clients, friends and family!


 

What is Everybody Searching For?

Take a few minutes to refresh your knowledge about the most popular keywords in your industry and area of specialty. You can use this handy Google Insights for Search tool to find out what the world is searching for. Or you can narrow it down to country or province.

 

Ask for Action

Sometimes things are easier if someone else will just tell me what to do. That way of thinking especially applies to our websites and newsletters.

Your call-to-action is critical – it’s the reason for people to contact you. Use your website and newsletter to convert contacts into leads. Once they click on your call-to-action, they fill out a form… and then they become a lead. Simple, right?

How do you get your readers to take action?
  • Use action verbs. Start your line with a verb that requests action. Create a sense of urgency and tell people what to do. Make sure images and text are clickable.
  • Don’t just say what to do, say how to do it. Instead of saying, “Buy now,” say, “Phone this number to buy now.”
  • Give visitors something of value for free. Offer relevant, informational and non-promotional items for free to readers and website visitors. Possibilities include: e-books, how-to videos, tips and tricks, best practices, free trials.
  • Make your call-to-action stand out. It should grab your readers' attention.
  • Keep your sign-up form short. Don’t scare people away once they arrive at your sign-up form. Request their email address. Don’t ask for anything else unless it is really important. Don’t put other calls-to-action on your sign-up page. Once visitors are there, you want them to sign up only, not read your blog or visit another page.
  • Place your call-to-action everywhere. Put a call-to-action on every page of your website. Also use it in blog posts, your email signature, newsletters, videos and presentations.

January 20, 2011

Make Your Ideas Sticky

Click here to download this quick reference sheet by Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick. It'll help you make your ideas and communication 'sticky'.

It's a New Year... and New Copyright Date


Make sure your website and other online places are showing current copyright dates. Old dates can have people questioning if you're still around and how current your information is.

If you have print or electronic material with copyright dates, also remember to update those!

The End Result


We all have the same 24 hours daily to accomplish our tasks. They come in a myriad of forms: phone calls, emails, projects, operational and administrative work, appointments, meetings and more. Priorities conflict, distractions tempt us and it’s hard to keep our eyes on the ball. It takes a lot of effort. Sound familiar?

We can improve our chances of success by adopting more of a ‘big picture’ perspective and focusing on the end result.

Focus on the Right Goals.
What to do: Identify what is important to you and define the intended goal. Why is this important to you? Keep asking why (5 times) to drill down to the root issues.

Manage Priorities. Most of us will admit to having 8 to 10 priorities. With that many, it requires super-human effort to do a good job of handling all of them well.
What to do: Narrow down your priority list to 3 or 4 goals and focus on those. By limiting your list, you will be able to put your best efforts to your BIG GOALS. If reducing your list seems impossible, give yourself a temporary reprieve. Your abbreviated priority list can be short-term and you determine when it expires.

Plan and Plan Again. Planning saves time, money and effort. It rewards us with reduced stress, increased productivity and more free time.
What to do: Start small. Focus intently for a short time. You can accomplish a lot of planning in 5 or 10 minutes. On the other hand, don’t get so carried away with planning that you aren’t taking action!

Share and Improve the Work. There's no reason why you need to do it all yourself.
What to do: Outsource projects, trade off with colleagues and implement best practices. Applying slick processes will increase your capacity.

Practice. It takes roughly 21 days for a new behaviour to stick.
What to do: More of all of the above.

Believe it or not, you could find these tactics make your workday more enjoyable. (I do!) At the very least you’ll have a greater feeling of control.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on January 20, 2011

January 4, 2011

Change is Good

I make a lot less money now than I did ten years ago. Back then I was single, living in Toronto and climbing the corporate ladder. The lifestyle I enjoy now is much slower paced and I certainly wouldn't have considered it successful or goal-worthy then. It’s too bad our younger selves aren’t better at predicting what our older selves will want!

Our personal success factors will change over time. Last year in January I had an epiphany. I was attending Debi Hartlen MacDonald’s bootcamp for the 2nd year in a row. We were all busy planning our strategies for 2010. It was my fifth year creating the same plan. The strategies and plans got better year after year. Did I get better at executing them? No.

I was tired of doing only ‘OK’ at the same thing 5 years in a row. I had an emotional reaction to something I knew intellectually all along: in order to be successful at training and development consulting, I needed to be selling 80-90% of the time. And selling is not something I want to spend my time doing. Talk about being disconnected from your personal values and preferences!

I realized my personal success factors had changed. I was evaluating my own success (or lack of) against things that are no longer important to me.

Once I got past that, it was easy to focus on things that I like doing and that help me achieve my new version of success. As a result, I took my business in a new direction last year… and love it.

Now my perception of SUCCESS is more closely tied to my perception of HAPPY. Being able to drop a thousand dollars on a whim no longer holds the same appeal it once did. I get to skip the 6am flights from Toronto to Newark and can do email in my PJs instead.