March 28, 2013

Resist the Impulse

Every day I’m faced with opportunities to offer a deal. I receive calls asking me to invest in print ads. I can easily tweet a deal or insert it in our newsletter. I can offer an added bonus. I can low-ball requests for quotes. It would be like standing up and waving my arms and yelling, “Look over here. Have I got a deal for you!”

It would be so easy to do. Every day I resist the impulse.

Easy is not always better.

A recent article by Bernadette Jiwa at The Story of Telling reminded me why. Take a minute to read it. It’s short, I promise. You need to remember why, too, and she’s a much better writer than I am.

The ending is perfect: “…build your brand around being chosen on purpose.”

Photo: elvissa / Flickr

March 24, 2013

Email Addresses Galore

I recently received an invitation to purchase mailing lists... lots of them!

Informational email marketing is quite different from promotional email marketing and they have very different goals. If your goals are to build your reputation and relationships, then buying email addresses is definitely not for you!

Reputable bulk ESPs (email service providers) insist that you have permission to email the contacts you add to your databases with them. So if you buy mailing lists, there's the potential risk of having your bulk email account shut down. The trigger for this would be a high number of bounces on your first send.

Aside from being a nuisance, there are other downsides as well. You don't even know if you're buying valid email addresses! Daley Progress has 17 imaginary employees who regularly receive email because someone made up their names.

March 21, 2013

10 Reasons to Love Being a Small Business Owner

photo: Michael Lokner

There’s nothing like a vivid reminder of your past life to cause you to take stock of your current situation and do a little comparison. That happened to me recently after having a catch up phone chat with someone I worked with 15 years ago. Marcia and I were talking about an industry, a work culture, and processes that now seem so foreign to me, yet at one time were so imperative. At that point in my life, I certainly never envisioned the lifestyle I enjoy now.

I absolutely love being a small business owner and working with other similar people.

Here are some of the perks that I especially appreciate about being a small business owner:
  1. Not having to wear pantyhose
  2. My garden is 25 steps from my desk
  3. I can go into the office at midnight if I feel like it
  4. Getting the whole team behind decisions is easy, when the team is two!
  5. Team building is easy, too
  6. I can work all day with my cat in my lap
  7. I don’t need a briefcase to take work home
  8. I can wear pajamas to work once in awhile
  9. I can choose who I want to work with
  10. I can daydream whenever I want
Take a few minutes now to appreciate the things you love about being a small business owner! I'd love to hear about them.

March 18, 2013

When to Send

photo: The Stakhanovite Twins

We get asked this a lot, “When is the best time to send out my newsletter?” The short reply is usually this: Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday between 9:45 and 10:15am.

Then one Thursday morning I received 4 newsletters at exactly 9:45am.

The fact is there is no magic answer - no set of best practices or generally accepted principles. There are lots of opinions though and we've seen many of them disproved through our own work.

If you review overall average e-marketing statistics for time of day and day of week, no real trends stand out. See an example below.

At first I found that kind of surprising but now it makes total sense - because email marketing is so diverse. More specific statistics, such as industry averages, offer some insight... but who wants to be average?

This is why it's so important to know your target market!
  • Where will your subscribers be when they receive your newsletter: at home, at work, or on the road?
  • When, during a typical day or week, are they most likely to take the time to open your newsletter? And when will they have the time to read it and act on it?
Here are some things that impact the answers to those questions.
  • Are your subscribers consumers or businesses (B2C vs. B2B)?
  • Are you sending a promotional email or an informational email?
  • To add to the confusion, what time zone are they in? Are they all in one or widely distributed? Where are the bulk of them?
What about social media? Is your reach broader there? Consider the best time to post your newsletter on Twitter or Facebook - that will impact your strategy around auto-posting.

Tip: Social media analytic tools can give you some good intelligence about when to send your newsletter in addition to when to post.

Does it really matter?

Now that I've asked more questions than I've answered, you’re probably wondering if it’s really worth all this deep thought and research. That answer is a definite YES. In our search for the magic answer, we've come across all kinds of examples. Here’s one of our own.

A couple of years ago, our subscriber list was just shy of 1000 with 95% of the subscribers in NS. It was a Thursday and I was late getting our newsletter ready for issue. I knew that if it didn't get out on Thursday, I’d have to wait till Tuesday. I was impatient and sent it out about 3:30pm. Big mistake! Our open rate dropped by over 10%.

That may not sound like such a big deal till you consider the math. Our open rate was consistently about 35% at that time. Take that down to a 22% open rate and we lost well over 100 readers on that issue. That’s significant for a small list. Think of the impact on a large list of several thousand.

This is also an example of why it’s so important to stick with a schedule once you go through all the trouble to create it! And it shows you that it’s important to review your email statistics so you know what is and isn't working.

March 15, 2013

Encourage the Connection

example of connection links
Not every newsletter reader is going to want to engage with you in the same way. Each will have a platform they prefer to use. Linda and I are a perfect example of that. Linda likes Twitter. I prefer Facebook. But none of that will matter if you do not include social media connection links in your eNewsletter.

Different than social sharing links, social connection links are the ones that take the reader to your page or profile on that platform. These links allow readers to find you everywhere online instantly. If they can't find you, they can't connect with you. Facebook, particularly, has a really crappy search feature. It is common to not be able to find what you are looking for. You want your reader to be able to find and connect with you in a couple of clicks.

Encourage the connection by including social connection links.

March 13, 2013

Guest Post: Marketing to Your Tribe

Stephanie Holmes-Winton
Stephanie Holmes-Winton, The Money Finder, is a crusader for financial freedom. She doesn't wear a cape (but that would be kind of cute). She does have an important message for you and me and every small business owner...

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... or they might just ignore me. And after I have a good cry over people who don’t care about my cause, my message, or me and wouldn’t care if I was on fire, I get completely over it. Do you know why? I wasn’t talking to them anyway! 
While my message may come across the eyes or ears of many, only some will be my tribe. Only some are already marching to a similar drum, or looking for a new beat to march to. I’m only talking to them.
When you market your business, it can be so easy to default to the win-the-popularity-contest-at-all-cost mode but that will get you no one - no one fiercely loyal, no brand ambassadors. People do not stand passionately behind vanilla. There are no parades for the completely neutral, those who never had an opinion. 
So if you are building your brand to fit in, or your blog posts are not ruffling anyone’s feathers, you may succeed at doing a great impression of vanilla pudding, but you will never build a fiercely loyal, people-who-change-your-life-as-much-as-you-change-theirs kind of tribe. 
If you think I’m obnoxious, or silly, or a waste of time, that’s ok. Please tune me out; I wasn’t talking to you anyway. 
For those who do me the kindness of commenting on my posts, reading my newsletters, buying my books, attending my FREE Webinars or trainings, any genuine heartfelt interaction, on any level, it’s for you I create my art. You are my tribe. I am marketing to you. When one of you says something to me I listen.

Stephanie Holmes-Winton is a Halifax-based advisor, author, speaker, radio columnist and CEO of The Money Finder. She is on self-appointed mission to see that Canadians get the kind of financial advice they need to get what they truly want from their money. This article originally published .

March 9, 2013

Make it Obvious

“Put a sign-up form on every page of your website.”

You’ve heard this, right? Well, it’s good advice… sort of. Half the story is missing. Here’s the other half, with context.

Imagine that your best friend has just forwarded to you a newsletter that they’re raving about. You have a look and realize that you really like it too and want to subscribe so you don’t miss future issues. (This happens to me a lot.) You scroll around and can’t find anything about subscribing. Being tenacious, you click through to the website and spend a couple of minutes scrolling around and clicking. Still no sign-up form.

I once called a lady in New York because I could find no way to subscribe to her newsletter, either in her newsletter or on her website, although apparently, it was there somewhere.

If you ask people to 'subscribe', in your newsletter or anywhere else, you want to send them to a webpage where they can’t miss your sign-up form. If you don’t have it on a page of its own, where will you send them? If you send them to your home page, they'll have to hunt for the form unless you also give them directions like 'subscribe via the lower right sidebar on our website'. Having to provide directions is complicated for your subscriber. You want to avoid it.

Here is our best advice:

Yes, put a call to action on every page, asking me to subscribe. Then use a link to take me to a page featuring your sign-up form. On that page, your ‘sign-up’ or ‘subscribe’ page, give your form the attention it deserves. Make it clear to me why I want to sign up for your newsletter. How often will I get it? What can I expect to find in it? Sell me on it. At the same time, don’t try to sell me on something else. You have me there... make sure I sign up before you ask me to do something else!

March 7, 2013

Why Use a Bulk Email Service?

For a small cost, a bulk email application gives you LOTS of benefits:
  • Cost is minimal.
  • It allows you to schedule your email sends.
  • It allows you to auto-post to your social media accounts.
  • It handles subscribes and unsubscribes effortlessly and accurately.
  • It has built in functionality to manage your contact lists and segments.
  • It saves you time and mistakes. Take advantage of templates plus spell/spam checkers.
  • It keeps you compliant.
  • It keeps you up-to-date and ready to take advantage of new functionality.
  • It raises you above amateur status.
  • Statistics drive strategy. Without them there is no way to know if you are being successful, what works and what doesn’t, and what readers are interested in.
The real question is, why not use a bulk email service? If you can think of a reason, please share!

Photo: markyweiss

March 4, 2013

The Point of Sale Advantage

If your customers and clients come to you, you have a big advantage over the rest of us when it comes to growing your contact list. Here are some suggestions that you can adapt to your specific situation.

Put a large jar with a sign on the check-out or reception desk:
WIN a FREE lunch! To enter our monthly draw, drop your business card to subscribe to our email specials.

How easy is that as a way to grow your contact list?

Run a contest among your staff. Offer a free service, product or time off for the one who signs up the most new contacts.

Place paper copies of your newsletter or email flyer at reception, check-out, waiting areas, dressing rooms... you get the idea.

Have a computer handy so contact information can be entered on the spot or soon after. Contact information sitting in a drawer wrapped in elastic bands is lost opportunity!

You’ll lose about 30% of your subscribers during a year (called ‘list churn’). You need to continually work just to maintain your list. Continued growth requires some effort.

March 2, 2013

A Networking Philosophy

In conversation last week, I was surprised to hear for the third time in as many weeks, a similar reason for resistance to joining a networking organization: "I don't want to connect with people that are just looking to sell me something."

It has me speaking up this week. Never did it occur to me, before I joined a network, that this would be a problem. And never, since I joined a network, has it been a problem.

All of the small business owners I have encountered through organized networking seem to have the same goals, desires and philosophy as we do - find other small business owners and independent professionals to:

connect and share
Both experiences and lessons learned. Meeting new people only brings more lessons learned to the table. It is possible to learn from others mistakes. Use your network as an educational tool.

support and collaborate
Whether support comes in the form of sharing social media content, attending events or spending dollars - it is equally appreciated! Often working alone for long and thankless hours, any support is appreciated by small business owners.

Our philosophy of networking is to build a cooperative community that can collaborate to support business growth for everyone.

I have never found a fellow networker that was more interested in talking to me about selling me a product than the coolest new thing they saw on Facebook. Most of us are all just looking for ideas that work. Idea execution comes from brainstorming and that is what a network gives you. The opportunity to work together even though you work alone.

Not to mention support when things just don't go your way. Trust me, they won't always go your way. Wouldn't it be nice to have someone to lean on? If you have been resisting, take a chance and join a network. Get involved with an open mind and you might just get a pleasant surprise. I did.


Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on February 26, 2013