December 31, 2013

Stop Saying "Feel Free"


The next time you start to type “Feel free to phone or email me” -- Stop.

If you’re in business, shouldn't it be obvious that you want calls and emails? "Feel free..." is a little wishy-washy, like using the word “just”.

Instead, use a more direct call to action. Assume that people will have questions, concerns or feedback.
“Call or email with your questions and concerns.”
“Questions? Call or email – I’ll be happy to answer them.”
“Tell me what you think of this. By phone or email is fine, at your convenience.”
Even better, be specific about the type of response you desire.
“Call me Friday morning so I can answer your questions and we can discuss the next steps.”
“Send me your questions by email so I can give you detailed answers.”
Create your own unique version of this call to action, use it, make it a habit -- make it part of your brand. Not only does “feel free” send the wrong message, it’s overused. This is an opportunity for you to stand out.

photo by Elephant wearing striped pants

December 27, 2013

Content Creation (Wrap-Up #3)

Content Creation Wrap-up #3
Our first content creation wrap-up contains articles prior to May 2012. If you are looking for writing ideas, how to manage your content, or just a bit of inspiration, you just may find what you are looking for in this list of links.

Our second wrap-up included articles from June 2012 through May 2013. If you're stuck for content, these links will give you inspiration and ideas with a smattering of thought provoking strategies to consider.

This is our third installment of content creation wrap-up posts and is a library of links to all of our articles about content creation from June through December 2013:

Thinking content strategy? Want to know why you need to keep it updated? This Deserves your Attention.

You can take vacation without putting your email marketing on hiatus too. Here are 4 Tips for Summer Newsletter Success.

Now that you are back from vacation... ready to supercharge your marketing efforts with these 5 New Strategies?

Don't forget those winter holidays! Gift giving occasions are always worth mention when you have products or gift certificates to sell. Here is some advice on how to promote Gift Certificates, Holiday Specials and Stocking Stuffers.

Lacking inspiration? Here's How to Get Inspired.

10 ways to figure out what to write, when you don't know what to write. A great list full of inspiration, put together by Wired Flare!

Just as important as doing things right, here are 25 eNewsletter No-No's!

It's a perfect time of year to use this strategy: Content to Wrap Up the Year.

If you are very adventurous and equally committed, you might want to consider something completely different. Here are a couple of ideas you can try your take on: The Make-Believe Newsletter and The Serial Newsletter.

Images are always a challenge to keep fresh and interesting. Here is a helpful tip on How to Find the Right Image.

The only way to stay relevant is to always remember who you are talking to. Get found in the clutter because It's Raining Content!

December 22, 2013

How to Find the RIGHT Image

A friend asked me to help her out by finding images of people talking on the phone to be used to market a new service. I like for images (because they’re reasonably priced and easy to buy from) so I logged in and started searching for ‘manager on phone’. Great – 3030 images in the search results. I started scrolling through and saving images to a collection for later review. Good images, but none of them were really ‘speaking’ to me. Then I came across this one.

It spoke to me – it stopped me and made me laugh. It reminded me of similar circumstances that I’d been in. Who hasn't goofed around at work now and then? The headline I imagined was: “Are your sales people avoiding the phone?”

If I had known the headline first, I could have zeroed in on images that resonated it, rather than wading through hundreds of bland images of people talking on the phone.

If you’re going to search for images, develop a few headlines first. When you have more than a broad subject, the results are better and you’ll save time.

photo by angelocesare

December 19, 2013

The Best Reading of 2013

The best reading from our newsletter contributors during 2013...

Does your writing pass the $1-a-word Test?
by Neil Everton, Podium Media & Communications Coaching
If you are looking for a quick and certain way of giving your words more impact, look no further than your purse or wallet. Take a look at the last thing you wrote. It doesn't matter if it's a letter, email, report, newsletter, web content or promo script... read more

Marketing to Your Tribe
by Stephanie Holmes-Winton, The Money Finder
This just in: some people don’t like what I have to say. They might unsubscribe from my newsletter, or they might make a snide comment on social media... read more

Anyone Can Find Business on Twitter
by Anita Hovey, Twirp Communications
That’s right... ANYONE. The next time someone says “Twitter is just a bunch of nonsense” I want you to share a link to this post... read more

6 Ways to Become Part of Your Customer's Story
by Bernadette Jiwa, The Story of Telling
Think about the rituals that punctuate your days. Freshly boiled water poured over scented tea, your morning workout, or favourite mug. The ten minutes you use to brainstorm ideas... read more

7 Low Cost Tips to Increase Sales
by Debi Hartlen MacDonald, New Life Business Solutions
There are only 3 ways to increase your sales: 1. Have more customers, 2. Increase your average sale, 3. Increase the number of transactions per customer. Following are 7 strategies that you can start working on today... read more

Ditching Your Newsletter In Favour Of A Blog? Not So Fast!
by Susan-Wright Boucher, Plugged in Recruiter 
It’s said that businesses complete 60–70% of the B2B sales cycle by doing online research prior to any contact with potential vendors. Fewer businesses are willing to invest in multiple discovery meetings with potential suppliers... read more

My Favourite Mentor
by Brenda Fay, BrenDaniel Productions Corp.
I was my father's favourite child. Never mind that I had five brothers and a sister. In fact, I am the most beautiful woman in the world next to my mother. I know this because my father told me so... read more

10 Ways to Use Google Alerts
by Janet Slack, Life Adventure Coaching
1. Monitor your brand and your reputation. Set up your business name, your personal name, website and blog names, product names. Monitor what is being said about you... read more

Not Being Heard? Perhaps You’re Using This Word
by Mary Jane Copps, The Phone Lady
Many of us pick up the phone and begin our conversation with a phrase that includes “I’m just calling …”. Unfortunately using the word “just” in this way makes for ineffective communication. Here’s why... read more

Clarity Matters
by Jill Poulton, Destination by Design
If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s important to be clear and focused in order to accomplish anything significant in a reasonable amount of time... read more

If you're in the mood for more reading, you can click here to get all of our back issues.

Click here for the 2012 Best Reading List. Want to get on this list next year? Sign up for our newsletter and contribute an article.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on December 19, 2013

December 12, 2013

The Serial Newsletter

TV folks realized a long time ago that ongoing stories keep people coming back. Everyone (my age) will remember General Hospital and the Nescafe ads. Using ongoing story telling as the basis of your newsletter can create that same thirst to know “What’s going to happen next?”

This is not a strategy for the uncommitted. It requires planning and writing skill. Your continuing saga may be a real life story or it may be fictional. For either approach you’ll want to sit down and plan your storyline several issues in advance, while creating a vision of where it will go beyond that.

If your story is fictional, you can make it exaggerated and funny, or serious and believable... or whatever you can dream up. Perhaps your main character will be your ideal client. Your story could be about the types of problems that you help your clients overcome. Corinne Boudreau, a lawyer, uses a continuing story in this way to illustrate her expertise. She uses realistic circumstances but without the potential liability of giving advice or the confidentiality issues around using real life examples.

Regardless of whether it’s fictional or real life, here are some things to include in each issue of your serial newsletter that will support your continuing story:
  • Briefly re-introduce the story so that new readers have some context. Include a link back to the first issue where it all started.
  • Remind readers of where you left off last time and include a link to your last issue.
  • Close with a brief summary; recap the lesson learned or decision reached.
  • Include a cliff hanger or a teaser for what is to come next.
This can be a fun and engaging strategy for your newsletter but be prepared for the extra work involved. Don’t expect to whip up a quick article at 1am with your deadline looming.

photo by Jill Clardy

December 8, 2013

How Long should a Newsletter be?

The ideal answer is: as long as it needs to be to give value. The real answer is: it depends. Here are some of the things it depends on:

  • Typically, the more often you send your newsletter, the shorter it will be. In my experience, though, that tends to be a function of the work involved with preparing it. Is there such a thing as providing too much value?
  • If one of your goals is to build your reputation as an expert, your newsletters will need to include a fair bit of content in the form of original articles (or images).
  • If you have well-defined goals, these will always help you decide what to include and what to leave out. When in doubt, ask yourself if any of your goals are being met by the content you’re considering.
Your commitment
  • The perfect strategy is to put out as much amazing content as you can. Your actual strategy will depend on many things that are not perfect, such as your ability or inclination to write and curate, the time involved, your technical expertise, and costs.
  • Don’t commit to something you won’t be able to maintain. Consistency is important.

Your newsletter should be a compromise between the perfect strategy and what you can commit to do.  Tweet this

Once you figure out your goals and strategy, and build your content around them, the length of your newsletter will be a moot point. It will evolve from defining content that provides value.

December 4, 2013

Typos Tell a Deeper Story

If you don't think spelling mistakes matter, consider this:


The headline was: "Kathleen Wynne’s ‘open government’ launch marred by spelling mistake."

So, while she was talking about important stuff, eyes were on the spelling error, mouths were snickering, and fingers were tweeting. Her message was lost in the distraction.

Do you think someone got reprimanded or even fired over this mistake? Who goofed?

Was it the person who requisitioned the sign? The person who ordered the sign? The person who approved the proof? The person at the printer who processed the order? The person who printed it? The person who packaged and shipped it? The person who received and unwrapped it? The person who placed it on the podium? The camera and sound crew who set up and tested, looking right at it? Kathleen herself as she walked to the podium?

This wasn't just one person's mistake. There were a lot of people going through the motions and not using their brains. This is a sign of complacency. Of not caring. And of, dare I say, stupidity.

Spell checker doesn't work everywhere and our reliance on electronic tools is making us lazy. As business owners, we need to surround ourselves with people who care about doing a good job, even if it means pointing out someone else's mistake.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder, December 4, 2013

When Perfect is the Goal

When Perfect is the Goal
Perfect is an impossible goal. Some would say that if you strive for perfection, you are setting yourself up for failure. I agree. To the point that I don't think you should beat yourself up when you miss the mark. Because you will. We all do.

But if perfection is not the goal, what is? I don't think there is anything wrong in shooting for perfection. What else do you shoot for? A little less than perfect?

I think ignoring perfection is a worse trap to fall into. We see it all the time in error filled newsletters. Spelling mistakes, broken links, old or incorrect information can be avoided for the most part. Nothing will lose readers faster than links that take them nowhere, or that take another 10 clicks to get somewhere, or worse - a map that takes them nowhere!

We harp on proof reading all the time. A second, fresh set of eyes is what we talk about. Even then, the odd mistake will slip through. The odd mistake can be forgiven. But if your newsletter is mistake-ridden, every time you send, you need to find someone more serious about proof reading for you. This problem is not about perfection, it is about taking the job seriously, professionalism and pride of performance.

Because when perfect is the goal, you should land close, almost every time!

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder, December 4, 2013

December 1, 2013

It's ALL About You

photo by MNicoleM

When it comes to marketing, the experts say, “It’s not about you!” It’s something we always emphasize with our new clients, too, when discussing their newsletter content strategy.

While your content may not be about you, how you execute your strategy is ALL about you.

With all the tools we have at our disposal, there is no excuse for spelling errors, broken links or crappy clip-art.

You wouldn't go meet with a potential new client without brushing your hair and teeth. Your marketing content needs hygiene, too.

November 27, 2013

The Make-Believe Newsletter

Fictional newsletter character, Karen

We all love a good story. The kinds of stories we use in newsletters tend to be real life experiences. It’s a good strategy to share experiences that illustrate a point and teach readers a lesson.

For some professions, real life success stories can present a challenge.
  • Confidentiality:  Not just names but also circumstances can be difficult to share without compromising a client’s privacy.
  • Professional liability:  Providing advice can be risky for some if it’s taken out of context.
Unfortunately, this limits some professionals in using these very effective content strategies. A new client of ours has found an alternative and, based on feedback, it’s working great.

Corinne is a lawyer so confidentiality and liability are valid concerns when it comes to her newsletter. When one of your goals is to build your reputation, sharing experience and advice are pretty important to achieving that. So, Corinne invented Karen, a fictional character who represents her ideal client. By telling Karen’s story, Corinne can teach us about many legal aspects of business ownership. Readers can learn from Karen’s experiences and share in her decision making.

Depending on what you do, a disclaimer may still be desirable. Keep it brief, very simple, and add some humour if it makes sense.

Confidentiality and liability issues are no longer reasons not to have a newsletter.

November 23, 2013

It's Raining Content!

I had planned on calling this article ‘Feeding the Content Monster’ but when I checked Google, there were already many articles titled that. Conveniently, that conundrum leads right to the topic I want to discuss.

There are a lot of us now - content marketers, that is. According to an article titled ‘Content marketing goes mainstream’ (link is broken, sorry!), a whole heck of a lot more now than at this time last year.

Where is all that content coming from? Well, many of the ideas come from reading others’ content. In fact, that’s one of the top tips you’ll find content marketers sharing: search the web and see what other people are writing about.

When you think about it that way, doesn't it start to seem like a big machine feeding on itself? Much of the content we create is being read by other content creators, especially in the B2B world, and used for inspiration to create more content.

Surely the frenzy has to end somewhere. I find it hard to look forward and imagine the future of this big new endeavour that so many of us have embraced. I can’t help but think that capacity will become an issue but what form will it take? Will we run out of internet space? Will we max out on our ability to take it all in? Will the web simply become so saturated with information that value is too hard to find?

Whatever it is, it will happen sooner or later. We don’t know how long this content machine will last so we need to make the most of the opportunity. As content creators, we want to provide the very best value we can. As readers, with increased volume, we’ll need processes to recognize credibility.

photo by .sanden.

November 19, 2013

Secret Sauce

As a teenager, I can remember resolving not to nag my kids like I felt my mother did to me. Now, I’m pretty sure my stepson would say I’m a master at it. Funny how that happens.

Recently, I was reminding a client to send me the article for her newsletter. A few minutes later, I received an article titled “Nagging, Tracking, Monitoring and Control”. Once I stopped laughing, it got me thinking about the conversations I've had with other clients. One had said that she likes that we never back off from a deadline. Others have said they appreciate the accountability that our reminder process provides. It seems that one of my professional success factors is, in fact, nagging.

Our website says nothing about nagging. I never mention it when I’m talking to potential new clients; I’m quick to dazzle them with our expertise and to reassure them about our quality assurance process. It turns out that nagging is really what many of our clients want and need. Mom will be proud to find out that I make a living from it.

I bet you also have factors like this that you don’t even realize are contributing to the success of your company. Recognize the trends in what people are telling you, ask a few clients why they like working with you, and you might discover you've got a ‘secret sauce’ that you didn't realize as well. (Now I have to figure out how to add nagging to the list of services on our website.)

photo by findingthenow
Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on November 19, 2013

November 15, 2013

Content to Wrap Up the Year

photo by Neil Kronberg

December and January are good months to publish articles that sum up the past year and preface the new one. If your newsletters (or blog posts) are informational, this can be a good strategy for several reasons:
  • Website traffic is increased by directing your readers to past newsletter issues or blog posts.
  • Readers are reminded of what they’ve learned which strengthens the learning process. It also reminds them of the value you’ve provided.
  • You are reminded of what you’ve already covered. A review of your past articles will always prompt more ideas for future articles - I guarantee it!
  • It also gives you the chance to critique your work. You’re more objective after time has passed.
  • You can use it as an opportunity to update recommendations or opinions based on new learning or changes to your strategy.
  • You get a sense of accomplishment!
Here are 5 ideas for ending the year:
  1. Top 5, Top 10, Best of... your own 'stuff': You can be the jury or report based on statistics.
  2. Top 5, Top 10, Best of... other people’s 'stuff': You be the judge and critic.
  3. Wrap-up: Group articles that are similar in topic. Write an article that summarizes and links to each past article.
  4. Recap: Use point form or a visual graphic to review what you've covered this past year, what has happened in your industry, the development of a new product, your business’ evolution... you get the idea.
  5. Feedback: You can encourage interaction by inviting readers to vote on your best.
And here are some ideas for starting the new year:
  1. Outline what you'll cover in the next year: This forces you to do some planning!
  2. Predictions: These can be serious or fun.
  3. Gather ideas: Ask readers for topic suggestions.

November 9, 2013

Guest Post: 7 Steps to Integrating eNewsletters with Social Media

Anita's newsletter
Anita Hovey, Head Twirp at Twirp Communications, was kind enough to do a lunch and learn workshop with me to show people how social media and enewsletters work so well together. Here's the article she wrote to sum it up.
Does your newsletter help your social media? Or is social media helping your newsletter? Whether you’re sharing, connecting or promoting, the two go together like milk and cookies. Integrating enewsletters with social media is really quite simple and there are many ways to do it. 
How does your newsletter help your social media? 
According to a recent study published by eMarketer, 48% of marketers include “forward to a friend” features in their e-mails, but only 13% include features that make it easy to share content on social networks. If you’re still sending out your email newsletter as a PDF attachment, or heaven forbid, a picture within the body of the email, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities for social media posts. 
A good enewsletter will
  • Give links to all your social profiles;
  • Drive traffic to your website through republished blog posts;
  • Give readers easy ways to share your articles/newsletter to their own social profiles;
  • Help you identify key influencers (those who like and share your content).

How does social media help your newsletter? 
According to Social Media Examiner, 63% of businesses say social media has a positive impact on growing their opt-in lists. Are you using your social network to encourage sign-ups? Talking about your enewsletter on social media can
  • Drive awareness / extend the reach of your emails;
  • Garner signups;
  • Through reader sharing, drive even more awareness and sign ups;
  • Elicit testimonials, i.e. “Great info here this week”;
  • Provide content for the newsletter, i.e. through advanced search on Twitter, or simply articles you see in your own newsfeeds as you’re reading.

Seven Steps to Integrating eNewsletters with Social Media
  1. Include links to all your social profiles in your template.
  2. Include sharing buttons and forward to a friend buttons in your template.
  3. Republish content from your blog in your newsletter (just some, not all of it, don’t be lazy).
  4. Tweet out/post a signup reminder the week before or days before your newsletter is due.
  5. Tweet out a link to the online version of your newsletter a couple of times after it is published. Try to vary the headlines or content you feature to attract different people.
  6. Include a signup form in the app boxes on Facebook (and any other network you are able to). While researching this topic I came across the idea of including a link to my signup form in the links listed in my LinkedIn profile, and I made that addition instantly.
  7. Include “click to tweet this” snippets in emails. This is something I see very rarely from small businesses and something I need to integrate into my own marketing.

Anita Hovey is a social media consultant for small and medium-sized businesses who need help understanding, using and managing their social media profiles. As your trusted advisors, Twirp Communications' consultants live on social media so you don't have to. Originally published:

November 5, 2013

Picking and Choosing

Picking and Choosing
I am often talking about the value of networking and the importance of online strategy and social media engagement. The most common problem people express to me in these conversations is... "How do I engage without being a bother?"

This question used to confuse me. I would talk a LOT about value in what you offer, when I answered. In other words, if you are offering value, how could you be a bother?

What I have come to realize is that this questions is not always driven by the content or volume of an individual poster. It is often about the volume of content online in general. People are feeling overwhelmed. The solution?

Approach online the same way you do any other network development. Find the posters that are putting out consistent value. The ones that are wrapping up the best of the week, vetting content and connecting with their readers. If they are answering, participating and putting out real value, you have found a literal goldmine.

Choose who you follow as if you were adding them to your network. Would you recommend this person to a valued client? Do you find yourself repeating their ideas and adding their solutions to your list of things to try? Have you had success when following their recommendations? Do you agree with their philosophy? Do you have target market overlap?

As the volume of online content grows, the need to develop an infrastructure to identify real value and true experts also grows. You want to be following world leaders in your field but pick and choose carefully. If you follow and they offer no value, unfollow and move on. Spend the bulk of your time developing an online network in your local market and the clutter is instantly reduced while business continues to grow!

November 3, 2013

Gift Certificates, Holiday Specials, and Stocking Stuffers

If your business sells to consumers, you definitely should consider doing some extra promotional emails leading up to the holidays. This is something you need to plan now and start executing soon.

You could simply add more targeted promotional messages to your regular newsletter. BUT you've worked hard all year to build your reputation and gain the attention of your readers. Now is the time to capitalize on that a bit. I'm not suggesting that you start blasting your readers with advertising. I am suggesting that a well-planned campaign can be very effective at this time of year.

Here are some ideas to consider:
  • If you sell gift certificates, you'll definitely want to promote them. Recommend who they will be suitable for. Insert Buy Now buttons directly into your newsletter with an immediate call to action.
  • Do a holiday countdown with number of shopping days left.
  • Create special offers or promotions only for your email subscribers. This can also help to get you new subscribers!
  • Make limited-time offers on, for example, a different product or service each week. 
  • Provide unique gift ideas. This might be an opportunity to bundle products and services.
  • Create urgency around ordering deadlines. Include a link to Canada Post mailing deadlines if it makes sense.
  • Close to Christmas, promote stocking stuffer ideas and gift suggestions. Become the best friend of the last minute shopper!
Along with your holiday calls to action, you might also consider sharing your own holiday preparations. Behind the scene photos are great of, for example, decorating your store/office or packaging up products with holiday wrapping.

photo by Steve Rhodes

October 30, 2013

Permission Marketing for Membership Lists

photo by HowardLake

Any of the reputable bulk email service providers (ESPs) will expect you to have received permission to email your subscribers. In many cases, this requirement can be satisfied by having a public sign-up form. Of course, this isn't an option for organizations sending private messages to a membership list.

Just because someone has agreed to become a member, paying or free, doesn't mean you have permission to email them - unless you have asked for it during the membership process.

Granted, this may seem like overkill. Generally, when someone becomes a member, they'll expect to receive some email communication. But the problem likely won't arise from your members. It'll come when you (wisely) decide to use a bulk ESP to communicate with them. That is when it will be important to be able to demonstrate that you have permission. While you might be asked to provide proof of permission for all subscribers, being able to show a process that gathers this permission will often satisfy the requirement.

Any organization that wants to communicate with its members in a way that is compliant in this increasingly regulated industry should include a simple request for permission during their membership process. This will save you time and trouble in the future.

October 26, 2013

25 eNewsletter No-No’s

photo by Jamwhy

No matter who's reading it or the nature of the subject matter, these are things about your newsletter that you just shouldn't muck up:
  1. Sending it as a file attachment.
  2. Sending it out in the middle of the night.
  3. Using a misleading subject line.
  4. Pleading for anything – in the subject line or the body.
  5. No value within – neither interesting nor useful.
  6. Using plagiarized content.
  7. Using ‘canned’ content.
  8. Using copyrighted images without permission.
  9. Poor formatting.
  10. Spelling mistakes and other typos.
  11. Misleading links that don’t go to where the text leads the reader to believe they are going.
  12. Links to automatic downloads without identifying them as such.
  13. Links that are broken or take forever to load.
  14. Pictures that don’t load or take forever to load.
  15. Including tacky clipart or poor quality images.
  16. Including over-used common free images.
  17. No unsubscribe link.
  18. No subscribe link.
  19. Missing contact info.
  20. Not mobile-friendly.
  21. Not including some call to action.
  22. Leaving out links to your social media accounts – missing an opportunity to grow your following.
  23. Leaving out social sharing buttons – readers won’t share unless you make it easy.
  24. Not tracking your open, click and bounce rates.
  25. Start, stop, start, stop – an inconsistent newsletter makes you look inconsistent.

October 23, 2013

Prove by Deeds, not Reasons

Prove by Deeds, not Reasons
Intentions don’t make a bit of difference. It’s perceptions that matter.

Intentions can get us motivated and keep us honest. But those things are about us, not the other person. The other person often doesn’t know or care about our intentions.

My intention might be to do an excellent job. If there’s a spelling error, that intention won’t mean a thing. The perception will be of a sloppy job.

Having good intentions is, well, good. But they only point us in the right direction. Intentions need to be translated into actions that ‘walk the talk’. Demonstrating our intentions is the only way to influence others’ perceptions.
“In art, intentions are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish, love must be proved by deeds and not by reasons. What one does is what counts and not what one had the intention of doing.”
- Pablo Picasso -
Intentions might pave the way but success in business is all about perception.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder, October 23, 2013



There is nothing like a beginning. New friend, new job, new idea - all of them bring the excitement of beginnings. Better still, that excitement breeds motivation. Never do you have a better opportunity for rapid growth and change than in the beginning.

So the question is, how do you maintain that excitement? As entrepreneurs, how do we turn that new idea seed into a plan we can implement?

Share the idea. Spread the word. Brainstorm.

Choose a method that works for you: find a like-minded colleague you trust and book some coffee dates, join or start a mastermind group, have an employee meeting, share with an online business community. Reach out. Turn that idea spark into a real strategy.

Once you share your excitement, it is easy to harness that energy to implement that strategy. Just be open to change and adjustments based on your collaboration.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder, October 23, 2013

October 18, 2013

Guest Post: 10 Ways to Figure out What to Write on Your Blog When You Don’t Know What to Write on Your Blog

Frances Leary
When I saw this blog post by Frances Leary, I immediately asked her if I could share it with you. Frances is owner of Wired Flare, specializing in SEO, Internet Marketing & Social Media for franchises and organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. While she's blogging about blogging, all of these tips below work for newsletters as well...
We've all been there. Complete brain freeze. 
The only problem? You need, need, need to get this blog article out STAT. You've already pushed it to the last minute, and you’re down to the wire. It simply can’t wait. 
So you’re in a predicament. What do you do? 
Truth be told, we often find ourselves in this predicament, and when we’re in it, these are some of the things we do…hopefully they can be a starting place for you, too.
  1. Tell a success story – Think of moments big or small that have happened in your business recently that can be a celebration. Did a client give you a pat on the back? Can you give an employee a pat on the back? Did you achieve a new benchmark? Successes come in big and small packages, and your audience always wants to share in them. So let them.
  2. Turn a frustration into a teachable moment – Has something frustrated you recently in your business? Why? How can you use that frustration to educate your audience about your business?
  3. Repurpose a presentation – Look through old presentations you've given. Choose one and put the highlights together in a blog post. It can be bullet points and very high-level. You don’t need to give it all away. Just an overview will do.
  4. Make it personal – Share your story. Talk about you. After all, people do business with people, not businesses. Whether you write about yourself or your boss or your employee, give an inside glimpse into who you, the people behind the business, really are.
  5. Spread the love – A.K.A. Delegate – Not every blog has to come from you. Ask employees to contribute their stories. This gives your audience even more insights into who you are as a company. Plus, it keeps content and writing styles fresh and new.
  6. Invite a guest – Ask someone you respect from another business that somehow compliments yours to contribute a blog. This will benefit them because it will give their business added exposure and boost their credibility. It will benefit you because you’re showing your audience a larger spectrum of content that is beneficial to them. It’s a win-win, and you didn't have to write anything. The only downside? You typically have to plan this one a bit in advance.
  7. Ask your audience – Seriously, ask them a question. What’s something you want to know. Start a conversation. Create a poll or a survey. Make it fun or make it market research or both.
  8. Make a Top 10 list – Top 10 menu items, top 10 dress styles, top 10 favorite performers, top 10 learning tips, top 10 blogging tips... Think of 10 things your audience should know about and put them in a list.
  9. Write a How-To – You know you’re the expert at what you do. You have knowledge that your audience needs, so share it. Tell them how to do one thing they need to know how to do. Just one thing. Save the next thing for another blog.
  10. Show your appreciation – Write a thank you post. You could thank your employees, a supplier or service provider, a client or anyone else who deserves a big thanks. Appreciation doesn't always have to be private... if you can share with the world just how great someone is and how grateful you are... do it!
Happy blogging.  :)

Frances Leary is a Texan-Canadian entrepreneur - a writer, speaker, online strategist and storyteller who uses the Internet to tell my clients' stories. Her company, Wired Flare, works with businesses all over world to help them achieve their goals using targeted online SEO, Internet Marketing, and Social Media strategies. This article originally published

October 14, 2013

Building Relationships by Being Thankful

photo by barriebarrie

All of our new clients get a little lecture about responding to emails they receive after their newsletter goes out. Aside from triggering business transactions, responses might vary from requests to reconnect over coffee to lengthy catch-up messages. You don’t want to let these sit in your inbox – make that coffee date, take advantage of the opportunity to connect.

Then there are the short messages, like “Thanks!” or “Great issue!” Don’t just pat yourself on the back and delete them. Make sure you respond to these too. At the minimum, reply and say something like “Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it.” You might also take advantage of this opportunity to ask what in particular the reader liked, or some other useful feedback. If the reader expressed an interest in something specific, you might provide links to more resources.

Publishing a regular newsletter can definitely be a relationship-building tool but you have to work to make it that way.

OK, yes, I used cute animals again!

October 9, 2013

There's a Solution for every Problem

photo by derekbruff

That’s a pretty bold statement for me to make, I know. I’ll qualify that by saying that sometimes the solution is tougher than the original problem, so isn't viable.

When someone says, “There’s no way to do that,” my ears perk up. It’s like throwing down a gauntlet and I immediately want to prove them wrong. It’s the ultimate challenge to my intelligence.

Sometimes I discover that there is no way to do it... that makes sense, is reasonable and viable. But at least I know and I learned something.

In my past corporate career, I attended days and days of training in problem solving - different philosophies, different techniques. I've even written and delivered my own problem solving workshops. As a society, we've been conditioned to embrace problem solving as a key skill. We identify a problem and then we initiate a flurry of activity to try to solve it.

When we compile our lists of alternatives, there’s often a key choice that’s left off: the option to do nothing. Oh yes, it too has consequences.

I’m not suggesting that we all adopt a ‘do nothing’ strategy to deal with all of our problems. I’m saying that it's an option that we often miss among the noise of other alternatives and our urge to ‘do something’.

Sometimes the solution is to do nothing... and to be confident that is the best choice.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder October 9, 2013

October 4, 2013

Finding more than Money in the Mail

Stephanie's newsletter
“I’m not sure that I can picture the success I've had without the newsletter being part of it,” said Stephanie Holmes-Winton, The Money Finder. This was her response to my query about the ROI of her email campaigns during a recent chat.

Stephanie’s strategy is very precise and all her own. Our role is to help her execute it and we've been working together for close to 3 years. A whole lot has changed with Stephanie’s business during that time. She’s become an international speaker, author, TV personality and software developer - and a strong voice for change in her industry.

When Stephanie and I first met over lattes at Starbucks to strategize, she had recently sold her financial services business and was embarking on a mission to change the way that industry deals with debt (or rather, doesn't deal with it, according to Stephanie). She had tried using an online newsletter service for advisors but found that it had an unimaginative, templated look. As well, the pre-selected and pre-screened content often contradicted her values and opinions. It wasn't authentic and Stephanie needed to be authentic – it’s an integral part of her brand. Stephanie said, “It wasn't my material and it was so obviously not mine.”

Stephanie had already discovered the value of getting into her prospects’ inboxes and how that helped to maintain relationships over time. It also demonstrated her persistence and commitment to her readers. Stephanie said, “You can’t be inconsistent. It’s the greatest betrayal of their trust.”

Stephanie’s target market is the financial services industry, particularly financial advisors and similar professionals. She claims that her newsletter campaigns have played an important role in growing from interacting with 200 advisors then to interacting with over 5000 advisors now on a monthly basis. That kind of list growth doesn't just happen; Stephanie has worked hard to recruit her tribe.

If you think that a newsletter is a one-way method of communication, ask Stephanie about all the people who have sought her out at events and said, “Hey, I read your newsletter!” She told me, “There wouldn't be a reason to connect so quickly and so deeply without the newsletter.”

Stephanie shared other benefits, too. Her blog readership has increased. Her newsletter has enabled her to inject more of her personality into her marketing. It’s also a conduit for promotion, but that promotion is offered up among a whole lot of real value. Stephanie advises, “You can’t only do a newsletter when it’s convenient to promotion. You have to maintain the capital you establish.”

Has Stephanie ever got any real business due to her newsletter? You bet. Her newsletter goes out and advisors sign up for her Bootcamp. Recently a speaker’s bureau approached Stephanie by replying to her newsletter. And that's not the first speaking gig she’s landed that way. Being an advocate for change, Stephanie has been able to grab the attention of key people in her industry and further her cause. She’s been interviewed many times about topics that appeared in her newsletter by journalists who subscribe.

To execute her strategy, Stephanie told me that she appreciates the accountability that comes with working with a service provider like us. The reminders keep her accountable and on schedule.

Stephanie feels her newsletters are “robust, tangible and helpful” and she knows that because they get shared... a lot.

September 29, 2013

Consistent and Repetitive

Keeping a consistent schedule is something we coach our newsletter clients about. Over time, consistency will show up as loyalty - from both sides of the equation. You are demonstrating your loyalty to your readers by creating and meeting expectations. Your readers become more loyal when you do that.

Being repetitive is also important. Sales gurus say it takes 7 tries to get someone’s attention. Of course, I don’t mean that you should do the same thing 7 times. Be creative and try 7 different approaches. Over time, repetition will show up as diligence and tenacity.

The key words to note are 'over time' because neither of these strategies is instant.

September 25, 2013

13 Small Business Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

  1. Assuming that I could sell. And then assuming that I would sell. Two completely different things!
  2. The real meaning of niche. I had an inner resistance to reducing the size of my target market. Until I started to go down that road, I really didn’t ‘get it’.
  3. Logic doesn't sell; emotion does. This is a hard lesson for someone like me who values logic and reason.
  4. A great network is EVERYTHING. Building staunch relationships with inspiring, talented people that I know, like and trust has strengthened EVERY part of my business.
  5. I don’t have to work with anyone I don’t want to. I was a customer service manager for years and the thought of turning away a potential customer was completely foreign. Now I've done it, glad I did it, and will likely do it again.
  6. Too many choices can lead to inaction. I prefer to know what ALL my options are, then decide for myself. I expected that everyone else felt that way too. Not so!
  7. People buy the benefit, not the product or the feature. It’s easy to understand; not so easy to execute.
  8. The experts aren't always right. Nothing beats good old fashioned experimentation.
  9. Some people really are dishonest, unethical or both. Enough said.
  10. Listening is a challenge for me, but listening is when relationships happen and I’m getting better at it.
  11. The absolute necessity of doing a good needs analysis. I've learned this one the hard way more than once and now it’s rock solid.
  12. Engaging in social media is not a choice. It’s an integral part of my marketing strategy, one that can’t be put on hold when I get busy. Developing tactics and skill in this area has been critical.
  13. When using technology, something will break sooner or later. Contingency plans are good but I can never plan for everything. Trouble-shooting and ‘winging it’ are essential skills.

What is a Gift?

Although there is a generally accepted definition, a gift means different things to everyone. And there are many different kinds of gifts. There are gifts for the occasion, gifts of time and attention and unexpected little twist of fate gifts that fall from the sky in a moment where everything comes together for your benefit. Those are my favourite gifts, I call them Karma candy.

In business, gifts typically have a marketing intent. Whether a free service or sample product, the purpose is to connect with a new customer. Gifts can be a great marketing strategy and if you have a great product, getting it into the hands of potential customers to try, is a sure recipe for success.

I caution you to think about the gifts you give. Because a marketing gift gone wrong can be a source of entertainment for a wider audience than you expect. Here's a story such as that...

We received a gift from our web hosting provider today. It arrived in the form of an email invoice for a new domain name with 1 year of web forwarding at no charge. No mention that it was a gift from them but there was a userid associated with the transaction. The domain name was not one that we would use and we knew that we had not processed a transaction. It ended with my calling them to find out that nobody had been in our account - it was a gift.

Think their marketing message missed the mark? Not only did they give us a gift we could not use, they neglected to present it as a gift.

They had a great idea and turned it into a missed opportunity. Had they informed us that we were eligible for this gift, they could have asked us what domain we would like. That would have been a gift that would more likely generate future income for them. If they gave us a domain we could use, we wouldn't be able to let it go after a year. The one we got, will expire without our even noticing.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder, September 25, 2013

September 22, 2013

Do what Feels Right to You

photo by tempophage

I had what I thought were a couple of smashing ideas for the newsletter design for a new client. She politely declined.

Of course, I asked, "Why?" (I must have been a real challenge at age 4.)

The discussion that ensued was insightful and interesting and helped me to understand my client's brand, image and personality so much better. Sometimes 'bad' ideas lead to great things.

The lesson here? When someone you're working with throws out an idea that they're obviously excited about, don't jump on the bandwagon if it doesn't feel right. Stand up for what's authentic to you, right there, on the spot.

Also, embrace the opportunity to explain your position so that everyone can get on the same page. That is how relationships are built.

September 17, 2013

Your Brand is more than Your Logo

I’m a visual person yet I find it hard to describe our own branding concisely: lots of white space, clean, bright spots of colour, fun but professional.

If you came to me and said that, how would I design a newsletter (or website or blog) for you?

Being able to describe your visual branding is important when you’re working with professionals such as designers and other consultants. How can they help you best if they don’t ‘get’ your brand?

How do you describe your own visual branding? Write it out right now and be concise. Use lots of descriptive words - make up words if you have to. Can you get what’s in your head onto paper?

Looking at examples is very helpful. Look at others’ websites and newsletters. Identify what you like and don’t like and put it into words on paper. Do you like curves or straight lines? Bold or subtle? Professional or whimsical? White space or lots of colour? Simple or busy? Keep going... don't stop here.

It’s not easy to do but it’s important. If you can’t communicate your brand, how can others understand it and help to promote it?

I see a lot of websites and newsletters where it's obvious that the brand was made to fit the design, rather than vice versa. Others can tell when your logo is simply dropped in.

photo by derekGavey / Flickr

September 10, 2013

Get Social with your Newsletter

Social media and email marketing go together like Batman and Robin. I got that line from The Rebel's Guide to Email Marketing and it's so very appropriate. There are tactics you can use to cross-promote and grow both communities.

Social Sharing is all about encouraging your newsletter readers to share your newsletter with their friends. This encourages new people to subscribe. You always want to include social sharing buttons in your newsletter whether you use social media yourself or not. In fact, I suggest putting at least 2 sets of social sharing buttons if your newsletter is lengthy - near the top and bottom.

Social Connecting means asking your readers to connect with your social media accounts - to Like you and to Follow you. This grows your online network.

Social Promoting means using your social media platforms to promote your newsletter and get new subscribers. You can do this by:
  1. periodically posting a link to your sign-up form with a compelling call to action
  2. posting teasers about your next issue, again with a link to your sign-up form
  3. posting a link to your newsletter when issued
  4. re-posting a link to your newsletter at a later date

September 5, 2013

Perceptions of Value

photo by Marcus Jeffrey

Someone recently asked me if a newsletter is still a good marketing tool for small business. After all, we’re inundated with newsletters and stuff that people call newsletters. The person who asked me this has been actively unsubscribing from newsletters to reduce her inbox noise. I asked if she’ll stay subscribed to some newsletters and, of course, the answer was yes.

What’s so good about those particular newsletters that you and I stay subscribed to, even when we’re purging? The answer is simple: we are getting some perceived value. It’s likely to be interesting, useful or timely information in some form or other.

I used the word ‘perceived’ above because what is valuable to one is not valuable to everyone. It’s your target market’s perceptions that you need to be concerned about - not your best friend’s, not your mother’s, not even your own. A successful newsletter is about what your readers want, not what you want to give them.

While the simple answer is give value, the execution is not so easy. How do you create such value that people want to keep getting it? Develop a strategy, formulate a plan, then work it... and stay tuned in. Monitor your stats, listen to unsolicited feedback, measure your results. Then refresh your strategy and re-write your plan. Even the best strategy can get stale over time.

To make your job even harder, individual needs change and their perception of the value you provide will change. There isn't a darn thing you can do about that and you will lose subscribers over time. That means you need to constantly add to your mailing list just to maintain your readership.

Is a newsletter still a good marketing tool for small business? For sure, especially if you can identify that valuable thing that you’ll give to your subscribers and then work to deliver it.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder September 5, 2013

August 30, 2013

The Best Mailing List Ever

photo by kreg.steppe

Do you have subscribers who jump on every email you send? Do they open and read immediately, eagerly anticipating interesting and useful information?

The best kind of mailing list is full of responsive subscribers. These are people who have:
  1. asked for your newsletter
  2. replied with positive feedback
  3. clicked on links in your newsletter
  4. shared your newsletter via email and social media
How many of those people do you have on your mailing list? The answer should always be: not as many as I want to have.

Once you have the basics in place, you can work to build your list into the best list. Concentrate on those areas of interaction listed above and think about tactics that will improve on your current performance in each. Take little steps and work steadily at improvement. A blitz approach will be surprising, and perhaps unnerving, to your regular readers.

August 26, 2013

Spam is coming off the Menu in Canada

Did you hear the one about the guy who protested the new Canadian anti-spam regulations? He started an email campaign and spammed thousands. No word of lie - you can read all about it here.

Spamhaus responded via their Block Listing for the fellow’s IP address:
IP is sending spam to scraped email addresses or purchased list. Spam asks recipient to sign petition against Canadian antispam law FISA. Is OK to protest law--even law we at Spamhaus think is good law. Is not OK to spam to protest law, or for any other reason.
Spamhaus is an international non-profit that tracks the Internet's spam sources, provides real time anti-spam protection for Internet networks, works with Law Enforcement Agencies to identify and pursue spam and malware gangs, and lobbies governments for effective anti-spam legislation.

Those of us who are doing legitimate business by email in Canada have no need to be concerned at all about the new regulations. If you have been following email marketing best practices, and using a bulk email service provider, you are most likely already compliant.

The great thing about the new regulations is that it will slowly weed out those who are giving the industry a bad name. Those doing legitimate business will no longer have to compete with those who aren't.

photo by isNoOp

August 23, 2013

Here's How to Get Inspired

I often say, “Write when you’re inspired... and take the time to get inspired.” This week I’m taking my own medicine because inspiration has been lacking. Thinking about getting inspired, with my newsletter deadline looming, led me to create this list of things that I sometimes do when I'm stumped. I can even do most of them without leaving my desk!
  • Read other people’s articles. I may learn something new that I can share. I may agree or disagree with the author. Either way, I've got something to write about.
  • Call a friend or client. You may want to prepare a couple of questions in advance, such as “What puzzles you most about what I do?” or “What’s the biggest benefit you get from working with us?” Or you might just wing it.
  • Think about processes. Write step-by-step instructions that are simple and easy to follow. Use screenshots or images if it makes sense.
  • Review old blog posts and articles. I often find ideas that I can expand on or tangents I haven’t explored.
  • Recall recent experiences. What happened this week that you can write about? What conversations did you have? Who did you meet? What did you learn or read? What did you start or accomplish?
  • Take a hot shower. I don’t know why but, for me, this really works. The problem is that I haven’t figured out a way to take notes in the shower!