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Showing posts from 2016

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

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

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

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

First sitting:
do an outlineresearch if necessarywrite a draft Second sitting:
review and edit your draftadd appropriate links to past articlesrun spell-check and proof (read aloud if you don't have a proofer) Coming back to your writing with fresh eyes will almost always result in improvement. Because you are taking extra care to craft your messages, you'll feel more confident about the result…

Newsletter Example: Local Restaurant

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

The content in this email is just right for several reasons.
The subject line clearly said what is was - a holiday greeting. If I wasn't in the mood for holiday cheer, I could have deleted it with little hassle (but stayed subscribed for future news). I was feeling cheery when I received Finbar's email.A good overall balance of images and text - and not too long. It looked like it wouldn't take much time to read.A colourful photo of the young kids dressed for the season - you won't find this on shutterstock; it connects on a personal level.A funny personal story - curiosity got me reading the whole thing.Th…

Home Office Holiday Party

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


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

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


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


Ode to a Midnight Blog
Silent night, late at night, I've still got my blog to write.
My laptop propped up on my bed, I'm hoping ideas will fill my head.
Yawns escaping, eyelids drooping, Neck is stiff, my thoughts are looping.
My brain is sore, I think some more About what the heck I'm doin…

Create the Content; Promote the Content

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Are any of these your reasons for publishing a business blog... ?
to be found (on Google or anywhere else)to build your reputationto be seen as an expertto be usefulto start relationships All of those are great reasons to blog! But, regardless of why you've been writing, your efforts will only pay off if people are reading your stuff.

Aside from creating content, does your content strategy also include a plan to both distribute your content and attract new readers?

Create the content, then promote the content. It's an ongoing process that you need to keep alive - both for your own benefit and for your fans.

photo by wallyg / Flickr

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Protect your Investment in List Building

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Building a contact list is a long slog, which is why most business owners don't have a good one. And why, when you have a good list, you need to appreciate every single entry in it. One of those contacts will bring your next big opportunity.

Protect your contact list - don't ever sell it. And don't give your list away for free, either. Keep it all to yourself - it's a gold mine.

People may know you've given away their contact info but, even if they don't, you've given away their attention - a most valuable thing, today and tomorrow.

photo by Franck BLAIS / Flickr

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Stock up on Content for your Busy Season

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Whenever the busy time is for your small business, you can't avoid it - at some point in the next year, you'll be overwhelmed. Help out your future self by preparing a bunch of marketing content during your slow season.

Having a whole day to spend on content sounds awesome to me. Perhaps not so much to you. If you want a little guidance, here are 10 activities that will set you up for success for months to come.

Write a wrap-up article – a summary of *something* from the past year that you’ve written about several times.Brainstorm a long list of topics. Nothing is too wonky to put on your list.Go online and do a little research to get more ideas to add to your list.Pick 10 article ideas from your list and write a brief point form outline of each.Pick a handful of those outlines and draft full articles.Pick 2 of those drafts, edit and proof them in preparation for publishing. (Or send them to your editor.)Source images to use with your 10 article ideas.Create promotional social…

Lost in the Forest and Finding the Trees

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"Which is better?" I asked. "'I need to capitalize on the time I've invested in writing.' or 'I need to leverage the time I've invested in writing.'"

Danielle said, "'I need people to read my stuff.'"

Two lessons here, one obvious and one not so obvious.

1. Using plain language and simple words is critical - and often surprisingly difficult. But, when you use simple words in your marketing, you reduce the risk of something being misinterpreted. (Tweet This!)

2. Brainstorming by phone has a big advantage. I was looking at the sentences, hung up on the visual impact of the decision. How would the words look? Would they fit where I needed them to? When I read those two carefully crafted options out loud to Danielle on the phone, she immediately simplified the whole concept.

Isn't brainstorming wonderful?!

photo by michael pollak / Flickr

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11 Ways to Make Your Newsletter More Interactive

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An interactive newsletter will provoke responses from your readers. Aside from calls to action related to a sales process, interactivity is also good because it makes you more memorable.

#1. Conduct a poll. Use an app (like SurveyMonkey) that allows you to show results after someone takes the poll. Keep it to one question. Publish the results in your next issue.

#2. Include a special offer only for those who make it to the very bottom of your newsletter. Tell readers how to contact you to take advantage of the offer.

#3. Link to a video. This can even be cleverly disguised as a screenshot of the video inserted into your newsletter.

#4. Link to a free resource or some other type of giveaway. Upload the file to your website or Dropbox first, then use that link in your newsletter.

#5. If your newsletter article is also on your blog, link to it and ask people to leave comments there.

#6. Use click-to-tweet and other social media sharing options. Encourage readers to share. If you make it…

Is Planning Becoming Passé?

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"Plans are nothing; planning is everything." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Planning is a noble task, full of focus and good intention. It's always been one of my favourite things to do.

Now I hear about the newest trend: the 'anti business plan' entrepreneur. Here's a not-so-secret secret: most business owners don't have business plans. And I'm pretty sure that's not a new-fangled idea.

Most of us spend a lot of time planning... in the car crossing the bridge, in the Starbucks drive-thru, walking the dog. We don't always write our plans down but we do plan.

Planning is a most worthy task because it helps us understand options and make better decisions. No one will ever convince me there's no value in planning, even if the plans are eventually broken.

originally published in PM News & Views on November 1, 2016
photo by carfreedc / Flickr

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Why is List Building so Important for Small Businesses?

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Your contact list should be the most valuable asset your small business has, like a privately owned gold mine.

Once you have added someone to your contact list, you can create more chances to get them as a client or fan, sell them a product or service, and get a referral or testimonial. The possibilities open up.

How many times have you stifled a good idea because you didn't have an interested audience waiting to hear from you?

photo by Merlijn Hoek / Flickr

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The Undiscovered Gold Mine in Your Own Backyard

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There’s a reason that finding new clients is described as prospecting, and researching our contacts is called mining. It really can be long hours of hard work for little immediate return.

In 1849, when Dr. Matthew Fleming Stephenson proclaimed, “There’s gold in them thar hills,” he wasn’t telling his friends to rush off to California. He was suggesting they stay and mine in their own neighbourhood.

That’s a lesson for small business owners, too. Greener pastures aren’t always greener. Have you fully mined the possibilities within your current circle of contacts?

Before you do any prospecting, you need a mine. It might be a spreadsheet, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool, a bulk email account, or some other ‘place’ where all your contacts (clients, vendors, colleagues, potential clients, referrers, press, and so on) are gathered together. If you don’t have that yet, start now – make it the next priority of your small business marketing strategy.

Your contact list should be t…

The Colours of Your Christmas Campaign

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If you are looking for new palette options for your Christmas marketing campaign, once again the image is the best place to start. Choose an image that is obviously holiday themed but in colours outside of the traditional red and green colour combinations. Pull the colours out of the image to create a palette that is exciting but non-traditional. Here are a few ideas that might spark something for you.


You can pair almost any colour with gold or silver metallics to make it festive. So it stands to reason that the non-metallic versions of gold and grey would pair well. Together they create a feeling of warm elegance that is very inviting.


Pair blue with silver and you get the same elegance with a cool tone. A little more formal or a little more relaxed depending what your text is. This palette can evoke cool breezes and festive nights or it can be used to trigger thoughts of grey, relaxed cottage days. It will be all in the word smithing.

Purple and gold, paired with pink! I don…

Writing is Not the Only Ingredient of a Winning Blog

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Blogging success has less to do with your writing skill than you might think. Yes, it has to be interesting or useful... hopefully both! But if it's not also these other things below, it likely won't be successful for your business:

#1. Valuable
What’s in it for your audience? What will be valuable to them? Why would they take the time to read - and share - your blog? After writing, double-check to make sure there's value. When you reread your article from your readers' perspective, you might be surprised. Would a complete stranger find it valuable?

#2. Repetitive
At least once a week if you want your blog to help increase sales. Over time, repetition will show up as diligence and tenacity.

#3. Consistent
Being inconsistent makes you seem inconsistent. Over time, consistency will show up as loyalty... for you and your readers.

#4. Distributed If you write it, they will not come. How will you get your articles in front of people? You need a plan for marketing your blog. 
#5…

If Efficiency is Your Goal, You'll Want These Tools

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“You’re assuming efficiency is my goal,” my good friend replied one day when I suggested a better way (to me) of doing something. Oddly, I might be inclined to say that about some parts of my own work (just not whatever it was we were discussing at the time).

This is not a story about the dangers of assuming (although that could be another article). This time I want to dish out some advice about how to be more efficient (since Danielle doesn’t want to hear it).

I’ve written before about my essential small business tools (Part 1 and Part 2) but these ones below are especially important to my productivity.

FreshBooks (aff)
Immediately upon implementing FreshBooks, I saw an improvement in outstanding accounts receivable. Reminders are automated and I rarely have to follow up with anyone myself. No more wondering, "Did I already remind that client?"

Canva
I've been using graphics applications for over 20 years - for fun and work. Nothing beats Canva's 'magic resize…

An Email Marketing Happy Dance!

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iContact has NEW stats! We think it is the most awesome new feature ever!! Drum roll... now, you can see how your audience is opening your email messages! How great is this?

The new statistic will tell you what percentage of your audience opened your message on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Gone are the days of guessing based on target audience demographic and wondering if the assumptions behind the guesses are good ones. Whoo hoo! I could not be happier. In fact, I am certain I have to stop here and do a happy feet shuffle...

Why is this important?

From a design and build perspective, it is huge. Each email looks different on each device. User settings on devices can change what the email looks like on the same device. It has always been a challenge to design email for optimum usability on all devices. In fact, it is a challenge that is impossible to conquer. But now it can be managed!

For example:

If the majority of your audience is reading mobile, you want to reduce your use of …

If You Pay Attention to Your Headline, It will Get Attention

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When a client mentioned CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer, I hopped on over to check it out. (Thanks Natasha!) Here's the promise I found there: "The free blog post headline analyzer will score your overall headline quality and rate its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value."

My initial thought was that it would have to be run by algorithms so its value would be limited. But my skepticism turned to enthusiasm with my first use. The rather mechanical breakdown of my proposed subject line was detailed and looked at different success factors.

The Headline Analyzer was useful to help me brainstorm alternatives and especially to consider options I wouldn't have otherwise devised. I think success came partially from paying more attention instead of rushing to publish. Go check it out - it'll take only a few minutes to improve your headline score.

photo by Benjamin Ellis / Flickr

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Even Good Advice Expires

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One of the questions I get asked the most is, "When is the best time to send out my newsletter?" It's a great question because the timing really is important.

During a lunch and learn workshop a few years ago, I suggested that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays were best, at about 9:45am. At the time that tended to be the rough schedule I followed for myself and some of my customers. I even said that I felt Wednesdays were the better than Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Two weeks later on Wednesday morning at exactly 9:45am, I received 3 newsletters - one I sent on behalf of a client, and two others from workshop attendees. Suddenly 9:45am on Wednesdays seemed not quite as stellar.

It's a paradox that the more a piece of advice becomes popular, and the more it's implemented, the less effective it may become.

There are many other reasons for good advice to expire, mostly to do with changing conditions or specific situations. Check that your source of advice is reliable, …

Dates Add Context

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Using a date in your newsletter sends a signal to your reader about how often they can expect to hear from you. Not everyone will realize your newsletter is biweekly or monthly or quarterly, even if you've said it somewhere inside.

Inside, near the top, the format of the date sends a message.
Using month-year signals it's monthly but might also be used for less frequent, too.Using the specific date tends to signal a more frequent distribution. But not always because I also recommend this date format if you want to simulate the feel of a personal letter.Using season-year signals quarterly or less frequent. (e.g. Summer 2016) Your date could also be in your subject line, where it's purpose is to make life easy for your subscribers (or at least make sorting their email easier).
Using month-year sends a clear message that it's a monthly newsletter as it sits in an inbox.Using a specific date in a more frequent mailing helps your subscribers easily trash out of date issues.Da…

Colour Palettes for Fall Marketing

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An image might be worth a thousand words but it's actually worth more in colours, likely several hundred thousand. No doubt a photo will first catch your eye because of the overall composition, and the foremost colours play a role. Not only do each of us see colours differently, we feel about them differently, too.
We think of autumn colours as vibrant reds, golds and oranges, or muted browns and greens. But they can also be cool shades, like frost on the morning grass or the pale blue sky.
What does your fall marketing campaign look and feel like?

Here are some traditional colour schemes, plus a couple of not so common themes to spice up your fall marketing. All of these images are free to use and can be found at pexels.com.





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Content Plans were Made to be Broken

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You might be very successful if you're working on your content once a week for a couple of hours, independent of your other business activities. You're working to a plan and that's great.

Break away from your routine this week and be spontaneous. (The planner in me loves making plans and the rebel in me loves to find creative ways to break them.) You'll find the content you develop is more inspired if you can take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Here are some examples of short pieces of content you can write in the moment.
You have a phone discussion or meeting with a customer.Write a success story, answer a question, describe a service, describe something that makes you unique.You receive an inquiry by email, or on Facebook or LinkedIn. Answer the inquiry on your blog and include the link when you reply.You learn something new. Perhaps you took a course or maybe you read an article. Learning anything translates into great content. Check out the 'What I L…

Ink It when you Think It

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Do you lose track of your great ideas? I do and I know my clients do, too.

I've written before about using an 'idea catcher'. Mine is a notepad but sometimes that's not good enough. Many people have said they get their best ideas in the shower (here's a tool for that), while driving or walking, or standing in line.

Our ideas are precious but fleeting, and it may not be easy to capture them all in one place. The important thing is to capture them somehow.

Handwritten notes: If your notebook isn't handy use the back of a receipt or a napkin. When you eventually write the article, include a photo of your note for visual interest.

Typed notes: There are many ways to capture your ideas if you're sitting at your computer. I tend to use Word for lengthier articles or series (kept in a folder called 'content ideas') and I start a draft on my blog for brief articles.

Phone or tablet: When you're out and about, use notepad apps, or send yourself a text mess…

Are You an Ad Agency of One?

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Advertising agencies get paid big bucks to create witty, actionable slogans and calls to action. So what do us small businesses who can't pay big bucks do? The answer is not to call on a friend. And it's not to just ignore call to action opportunities.

It's you who has to develop those clever calls to action for your business. It can be stressful and time consuming. Pacing around the office doesn't help much but I continue to do it.

Keep your inhouse ad agency sharp by scheduling a weekly repeating 30-minute spot in your calendar for each of these activities below:
Seek inspiration actively, not just when you stumble upon it. Check what experts in your industry are talking about. Find a free ecourse. Buy (and read!) a new business book.Find an inspiration buddy. We often find it easier to come up with ideas for other businesses. Reciprocate with another business owner by brainstorming together regularly.Stay current. It's so very easy to do a little research while …

Does your Content Strategy Match your Small Business?

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You sell services or you sell products, or you sell both. Whatever your product mix, a component of your small business content strategy needs to be informing potential customers about those products and services.

Make sure your promotional messages fit with, and flow from, your informational content. It’s a balancing act. We’re all familiar with the feeling of being blasted with too many repetitive sales offers (not good for us). At the other end of this spectrum is creating great information but having no call to action (not good for you).

Direct promotion
This includes things like advertising and special offers. A banner ad is pretty direct. A BUY NOW button is also pretty direct.Indirect promotion
This is where you work your promotional messages into your informational content, writing articles that naturally lead into a call to action. Success stories are an example of this; at the end you can say something like, “If you want to feel like this, get in touch.” A ‘How to Start’ artic…

Why and How to Do a Wrap-up Article

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A wrap-up article is a logical and unique grouping of pieces of content where the grouping provides value to the reader beyond the individual pieces on their own. You might think of it like a themed gift basket.

There are several reasons we need to be creating these wrap-up articles. They...
serve as a great resource - valuable information grouped togetheruse commonly searched keywords and phrases (good SEO)encourage deeper readingare often faster to createprovide a process to repurpose past contentremind us of what we've written and provide inspiration to write more Wrap-up articles serve us better than just about any other content we might create. Of course, we have to be creating content on a regular basis to be able to wrap it up.

There are lots of different ways to group pieces of content:
by topic - e.g. content idea generation, writing tipsby use - e.g. how-to, conceptual, tipsby thing - e.g. infographics, videosby user - e.g. for beginners, for expertsto conclude a series -…

Content Ideas for Consultants - Teach Something (Part 3)

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It's been said that the best way to become expert at something is to teach it and I've certainly found that to be true. Teaching forces us to research and prepare, to find the answers to tough questions, and to be open to feedback.

This is where you write an article (or more) to teach something but first I challenge you to learn something new that's relevant to your business.

If you've already been through Getting Started (Part 1) and Useful Content (Part 2), you've had some practise. Keep your momentum going with this exercise.

First, pick something to learn. This shouldn't be hard but, if you don't already know of something you want to learn, search topics for your industry online.

Next, do the learning. This might involve taking courses, talking to experts, online research, and so on. Be tuned in for blog-worthy content. How you choose your learning method can also be part of what you write about. Make notes along the way.

Now, teach. Your inclination migh…

Content Template - The Checklist

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Using a content template can shorten your writing time and also keep you more focused.

The purpose of this particular template is to give people a useful tool to complete a task more efficiently.

This type of article shows off your expertise. Because it is so useful, people will bookmark it and return. Part of its usefulness is its simplicity: no long paragraphs, no complex sentences. Grab The Checklist content template here (.pdf).

Get More Templates

If you like this template, grab the mini workbook Quick and Easy Content Creation with 9 more templates, plus some tips for using them to be more productive.

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The Collaboration Movement

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'The Creativity Movement' - this headline caught my eye in the paper recently. Included were several inspiring articles about idea generation and I noticed a common thread running throughout. It turns out that idea generation works better with more people than just yourself. No surprise there; doesn't this sound like brainstorming? Whatever you call it, more people make it merrier... and more creative.

So, this creativity movement hinges on collaboration. And that's good news for small business! Most small business owners I know thrive on collaboration; having others to work with but having autonomy, too. It almost feels like we have an unfair advantage in this new age.

Small business owners dream of getting that BIG IDEA. The one that will make them rich or popular or powerful, or give them the means to do good for others. But to get to that big idea, we have to practice with lots of little ones. No matter how overused, "practice makes perfect" is still tru…

The Absolute Best eMail Marketing Software

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... is the one you don't have to learn yourself.

You don't know what you don't know. Hire an expert and go do what you do best.

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Colour Palettes for Summer Marketing

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A photo can be a powerful marketing message, an expression of brand with more impact than a logo. It's worth a thousand words and expressed through many thousands of colours. We have feelings about the image itself and about the colours.
You know how you feel when looking at a beautiful photo of sand, sun and surf? Aquamarine, white, pink, and deep blue. Even if you don't own a bathing suit, you want to be there. Summer colour schemes can be bright and vibrant, or cool and relaxed.
What does your summer marketing campaign look and feel like?
Here are some photos that inspired me. I've included html colour codes and links to the original photos on pixabay.com if you want to download for yourself.



Can a fallen leaf be elegant? I think this one is - elegant and earthy. And, if I have time to contemplate this leaf, I must be feeling relaxed and at ease.

Gazania are attention hogs in the garden with their warm colours and pinwheel designs.
Purple always catches my attention reg…

Why Graphics are an Important Part of Your Content

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Not everyone is a 'visual' person, by preference or physical circumstances. But many are, which is why you can't ignore graphics as an important piece of your content. Can I convince you?

Today we are exposed to about five times more information daily than we were in the mid-1980s - around 34 gigabytes of information, roughly equivalent to 174 newspapers. Out of necessity, our attention spans have become shorter as we attempt to process information faster.

Over 50% of the human brain is devoted to processing visual information, and 70% of our sensory receptors are contained in our eyes. This means people are good at processing and remembering pictures. In fact, it only takes the average person one-tenth of a second to understand the content in a picture. It would take that same person over 30 seconds to read a description about the content in that same picture… over 300 times longer. Since 2007, graphic content on the internet has increased by almost 10,000%!

We have beco…

Why You Need to Create Original Content

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"If all you're sharing is other people's content, why do people need to follow you?"
~ Anita Kirkbride

Recently I've sat with a couple of small business owners who have been "on social media" for a while but have not been doing much. In planning to ramp up their social game, one of the first things they both wanted to do was to get apps that help curate (bring them content based on keywords). This way they would have content to share.

I couldn't understand why this was important to them. I'm never at a loss for something to share.

Granted, we all have different strategies and goals. Here's where I find my content to share:
Experts I Know - I'm really lucky to know a few of them and their information is very relevant for my target market.Clients and Friends - I follow all of my clients on all social media platforms. Their information is not always relevant to my target market but sometimes peripherally. I pick and choose to share what makes…

Make a Personal Connection - A Success Story

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Brenda Fay and her husband Dan of BrenDaniel Productions Corp. have trained people all over the world on project management. As a result, they have many contacts across several time zones. They had been using email marketing to promote their services.

A couple of years ago I suggested to Brenda that she can get more out of her email marketing if she also gives some value to readers. Now her brief newsletter is bringing her success every time it goes out.

Recently I asked Brenda where she gets her ideas. “From things that happen every day – talking with people, listening to CBC radio, and reading books are three main ways. I write about ideas that strike me as related to project management in one way or another.”

Brenda told me that her goals are to stay in touch with people and to get information out about public programs she’s offering. It’s not a one way street. “It is fun for me to write the articles, and I am very pleased when people write back giving comments on the articles and…

Summer Action Leads to Fall Success

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Summer may be a sluggish time for many businesses but it doesn't have to be. Use the slower pace to your advantage.

Take the Time to Get Inspired

Do more reading. Watch more videos. Have more chats over coffee. Take online or offline courses. All of these will generate ideas for content and beyond. Spend some time refreshing your marketing strategy.

Stick Around

Why don't you be the one who hangs around all summer while everyone else disappears? Whether it's your newsletter, blog or social media, or all three, maintain your commitment to your fans. If not, you might not be missed all summer but people will realise you deserted them when you show up again in the fall.

Use Automation

I'm all for vacations but even then you don't have to drop out of sight. Continue to give value by using tools to schedule social media posts. (My newest toy is Tweet Jukebox. Thanks Anita!) Prepare and schedule your newsletters and blog posts in advance. Use your voicemail and email autom…

Content Template - How to Start

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Content templates can simplify your content development time by providing structure - sort of like filling in blanks. That means you can be done and onto your next task in no time.

The purpose of this template is to create an awesome resource for beginners on a particular topic. This type of article will attract readers that could eventually become customers. Search engines will also like it because it will contain the common keywords people search when initially researching a subject. Download the "How to Start" template now (pdf).

Get More Content Templates

If you like that one, grab our mini workbook with 10 Quick and Easy Content Templates plus some extra tips for repurposing content.

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Content Ideas for Consultants - Useful Content (Part 2)

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If you've already mastered Getting Started (Part 1 in this series), you have gained some momentum and are ready to expand your skills and tackle some content that is useful to your readers and time-saving for you.

Save Yourself Time and Be Useful

There are so many types of content that can fit into this category; my concern is overwhelming you. So let's start simple and you'll begin to see all the possibilities yourself.
Think of a piece of information that you relay repeatedly, such as every time you take on a new client. If you can't think of it now, this will come to mind when you do it next.
My example is about writing the introduction to your first newsletter. Every time I started working with a new client, I wrote them an email giving advice and examples. The quality varied, the examples varied, and I was wasting time repeating myself.Either now or the next time you have to, take the time to write an awesome version of that information, detailed and with examples.T…