December 29, 2016

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

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:
  1. do an outline
  2. research if necessary
  3. write a draft
Second sitting:
  1. review and edit your draft
  2. add appropriate links to past articles
  3. run 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 results. Another bonus is that it doesn't cost you more money or take much more time. All you have to do is not wait till the dreaded last minute. Easy, right?​

photo by delgrosso / Flickr

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter Dec-30-16

December 22, 2016

Newsletter Example: Local Restaurant

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.
  • The 'advertising' part of the content felt more like something I needed to know from one of my favourite places to eat.
  • The hours are also useful to me. If I want to get there for my fav Guinness & Bacon Mac & Cheese before Christmas, lunch on Saturday is my last chance.
  • Finally, the contest winner announcement is social proof, important to building your reputation online.
What did this great email do for Finbar's? I only know that I'll be in for Mac & Cheese over the holidays. I bet I'm not the only one.

Thanks to Michelle at Finbar’s Forest Hills who good-naturedly agreed to me using their newsletter as an example. (I wasn't paid to write this and Finbar's isn't a client of mine.)

photo by Meghan Tansey Whitton

December 16, 2016

Home Office Holiday Party

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 doing this for.

I'm so tired, in words I'm mired!
I just can't seem to get inspired.

Feeling stumped after several tries,
I think I just need to rest my eyes.....

Sunlight streaks across my bed.
I wake up fast and shake my head.

To the bathroom I must race
And in the mirror I see my face.

I'm so surprised I can only squeak.
There's keyboard marks across my cheek!

The lesson for bloggers is not too deep:
Move your laptop aside before falling asleep.

When I was done, Romeo was looking for a place to sleep (I'm sure because he was full of treats) and Danielle said, "Didn't I already hear that story?" I had to remind her it was true.

We wish you a fun-filled holiday season! (And heed my true story - you really don't want keyboard indents on your face when you have to go to a party in person ;)

WAIT! Before you take off...

If you've enjoyed my (almost) solo Christmas Party, I'm sure you'll enjoy the other bloggers who have joined me in this fun, new tradition. Please visit all of the blogs and leave a comment. Not only will you make them feel good, you might win some other awesome prizes, too. Next up on your holiday party tour is Lori Byrne at Farm Fresh Style - click here to party on!

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December 10, 2016

Create the Content; Promote the Content

Are any of these your reasons for publishing a business blog... ?
  • to be found (on Google or anywhere else)
  • to build your reputation
  • to be seen as an expert
  • to be useful
  • to 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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December 4, 2016

Protect your Investment in List Building

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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November 30, 2016

Stock up on Content for your Busy Season

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.

If you’re a small business owner who faithfully takes vacation time at the end of December, this article isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you are like me, you can take advantage of the slower pace to get creative with your content marketing.

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 in the new year.

  1. Write a wrap-up article – a summary of *something* from the past year that you’ve written about several times.
  2. Brainstorm a long list of topics. Nothing is too wonky to put on your list.
  3. Go online and do a little research to get more ideas to add to your list.
  4. Pick 10 article ideas from your list and write a brief point form outline of each.
  5. Pick a handful of those outlines and draft full articles.
  6. Pick 2 of those drafts, edit and proof them in preparation for publishing. (Or send them to your editor.)
  7. Source images to use with your 10 article ideas.
  8. Create promotional social media messages. Assembling and posting messages on the fly takes more time than you realise. Create a database of evergreen promotional messages you can draw from. (Here's one for promoting your newsletter.)
  9. Create graphics to post along with some of those social media messages.
  10. Schedule promotional messages into the future - responsibly. There are so many tools available to help you deal with your routine posting.

During your busy season you'll be really glad you did this. Remember to pat yourself on the back!

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter November 30, 2016

November 24, 2016

Lost in the Forest and Finding the Trees

"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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November 19, 2016

11 Ways to Make Your Newsletter More Interactive

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 easy, people will share.

#7. Include a menu. An 'in this issue' menu at the top of a lengthy newsletter, allows readers to easily pick and choose what they want to read. Clicking a link in the menu takes the reader directly to the item they want to read. These anchor links can also be used to promote specific items in the newsletter.

#8. You can also have a menu similar to what you have on your website, linking to pages on your website to send more readers there.

#9. Ask readers to connect with you on Twitter, Facebook and so on. Use icons to draw their attention.

#10. Include a list of your recent blog posts, or a collection of blog posts on a particular topic. This moves readers from your newsletter over to your blog. You could include a curated list if you don't have a blog yourself.

#11. Ask for suggestions - for your next issue, for your blog, or for something else entirely. Encourage readers to 'hit reply now'.

photo by The-E / Flickr

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November 14, 2016

Is Planning Becoming Passé?

"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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November 8, 2016

Why is List Building so Important for Small Businesses?

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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November 3, 2016

The Undiscovered Gold Mine in Your Own Backyard

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 the most valuable asset your small business has. Once you have a list, a world of possibilities immediately opens up for you.

photo by ♡ dare to share beauty / Flickr

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October 29, 2016

The Colours of Your Christmas Campaign

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't know about you but I sense a party coming on. This palette has a festive, feel-good vibe that would be appropriate for any holiday event or sale.

Dramatically different for a holiday palette, these earth tones are inviting and warm. They call out to come in from the cold, warm yourself by the fire, enjoy a quiet, conversational gathering with friends.

Pretty in pink and grey is fun and festive. Perfect to promote holiday events or products with a feminine appeal.

Whatever the mood for your holiday campaign, there is a non-traditional palette for that!

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October 25, 2016

Writing is Not the Only Ingredient of a Winning Blog

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. Measured
Pay attention - watch your statistics. Revise your strategy. Expand your plan. If you aren't interested in staying on top of your blog schedule and watching your results, certainly no one else will be.

You might be thinking, "Ick! These things aren't fun." And you might be right but, if blogging is part of your marketing strategy, these things are just as important as writing the article.

These aspects of blogging can also be fun and creative. In fact, if you aren't a star writer, these areas are where you can shine.

October 18, 2016

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

“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?"

I've been using graphics applications for over 20 years - for fun and work. Nothing beats Canva's 'magic resize' option for creating multiple sizes of the same design in just seconds.

FollowUpThen (aff)
'Out of sight, out of mind' has sometimes been a problem for me. Now it's a really good thing (for my mental health) because this application lets you forward or send messages to your future self.

This application can save you a whole bunch of time when it comes to content promotion. Preload social media messages, attach images, give it a schedule, and it'll do the rest. Don't forget about it, though. Keep adding new messages and filtering out the stale ones.

I pay for each of these applications and the cost is definitely worth it for the efficiency I gain. Pick one and give it a try.

photo by timsackton / Flickr

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder October 18, 2016

October 13, 2016

An Email Marketing Happy Dance!

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 dark coloured design blocks where you would normally change the links to a lighter colour than the standard blue. Smartphones automatically convert dates, times, locations and phone numbers into links that are standard blue. These links will create unreadable text on a dark background.

If the majority of your audience is reading mobile, the default smartphone settings will stack all your content blocks. You need to be aware of the stacking default order or your content may not make sense or flow for the reader in the mobile version. Images often show up in awkward places in the stack. Use less text wrapping for optimum mobile viewing.

Audiences that are overwhelmingly opening your email on computer make it much easier for you to brand your email and use funky, eye catching design within the email itself. Many design elements disappear when the content blocks convert to a stack.

Now you can tailor your design for your audience. It's as good as a giant scoop of ice cream on top of a cake :)

originally published at, September 13, 2016

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October 8, 2016

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

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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September 26, 2016

Even Good Advice Expires

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, then check some other sources - just like a good reporter would.

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September 18, 2016

Dates Add Context

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.
Dates add context, online or off. I usually check the copyright date of a book before buying it. Likewise, a date on a blog post tells me how current the information is.

photo by abalagotphotography / Flickr

September 13, 2016

Colour Palettes for Fall Marketing

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

These are the colours of October and Thanksgiving - bright, warm colours.

For Halloween, add some purple for a sense of the mysterious.

Muted shades, these colours feel outdoorsy and healthy.

This scheme feels serene and comfortable, yet polished, Great colours for a coach.

This last one is my favourite of the bunch. Fall doesn't have to be all about the warm colours.

September 6, 2016

Content Plans were Made to be Broken

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 Learned' template for tips on writing this article fast.
  • You receive a testimonial. Get it up on your website, include it in the footer of your next newsletter, write a success story.
  • You have to troubleshoot or fix a mistake. Write a 'What Not to Do' or 'Wrong Way, Right Way' article.
  • You disagree with someone else's advice. Write the wrong, including a link to the original article.

You'll quickly find this type of content also reflects your personality more, helping you make a personal connection with your readers.

You may not want to get distracted by writing content every day but taking a break from your plan now and then will pay off.

August 31, 2016

Ink It when you Think It

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 message, email or even voicemail.

This article was inspired by a client who teaches memory techniques. Eileen Pease told me, "The faintest pencil mark is better than the best memory."

If you regularly think about your content, develop ideas, and record them, you'll never be at a loss when there's a deadline looming.

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August 23, 2016

Are You an Ad Agency of One?

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Stay current. It's so very easy to do a little research while sitting at your desk. This one is a no-brainer!
That's 90 minutes per week to work on your promotional messaging. You'll soon discover it's a worthwhile time investment.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder August 23, 2016

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August 16, 2016

Does your Content Strategy Match your Small Business?

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’ article is another example; you can add, “If you don’t want to go through all of this, call us and we’ll do it for you.”
Generally you’ll want to use some combination of direct and indirect promotion. This will vary from business to business. BUT your online marketing strategy should include making a decision about this ratio, and using it as a guide for creating content.

For a retail store whose strategy includes sales discounts and special offers, perhaps the ratio will be 80% direct and 20% indirect promotion. For a consultant, it might be the exact opposite.

You’ll also have a different ratio for all of the platforms where you are publishing content. For example, on your blog or in your newsletter many of the articles might contain indirect promotion (or none), and the sidebar may contain an ad for your latest book. On Twitter, experts recommend only 10% promotional content, and on LinkedIn there are other conventions.

Why is this important? If you don’t manage it well…
  1. Your target market will think you’re too ‘salesy’ and be turned off (too much promotional content) OR
  2. Your target market will not act because you’re not telling them to (not enough promotional content)
The ONLY way you will know if you’re doing it right is to monitor your platforms, and make tweaks based on results.

photo by Le_Morgy / Flickr

August 10, 2016

Why and How to Do a Wrap-up Article

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...
  1. serve as a great resource - valuable information grouped together
  2. use commonly searched keywords and phrases (good SEO)
  3. encourage deeper reading
  4. are often faster to create
  5. provide a process to repurpose past content
  6. remind 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 tips
  • by use - e.g. how-to, conceptual, tips
  • by thing - e.g. infographics, videos
  • by user - e.g. for beginners, for experts
  • to conclude a series - e.g. after parts 1, 2, and 3
  • to continue a series of previous wrap-up articles (example)
After reading this far, if you don't already have your wrap-up concept, scan your past content.
  • On your blog, the fastest way to find content groupings is to use your keyword links. For example, you may have tagged all of your articles about being more productive with the keyword 'productivity'.
  • For both your blog and newsletter, review the titles in the archives. I recently put together a compilation of 'how-to' advice after reviewing a client's newsletter archive while she was on vacation.
Writing your wrap-up article can be as simple as writing an introduction, listing and linking the past articles, and writing a conclusion. Use the introduction or conclusion to explain why this particular content grouping is valuable and how to use the information.

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August 3, 2016

Content Ideas for Consultants - Teach Something (Part 3)

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 might be to start with the big picture but I encourage you to start with the smaller pieces. One learning experience for you can result in many pieces of content. Don't try to teach it all in one article - create a list of topics and work to a plan.

If you want to take a simpler approach to this content creation technique, click here to get the 'What I Learned' content template and just fill in the blanks.

photo by University of Minnesota Duluth / Flickr

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July 29, 2016

100 Days of Content Creation and Promotion

I recently published issue #100 of the Work Better, Not Harder newsletter. When I started it, I didn't envision how long it would last. In fact, I didn't look very far into the future at all - I just did it, and kept doing it. It's changed quite a lot since that very first issue (I even had a different logo back then) but my focus has always been to give good value to small business owners.

When I told some friends that I wanted to do something special for my subscribers to celebrate, the idea of a '100' list was born... about a month ago. Since then I've had a computer crash and some software problems but I've been working furiously when I could. It's amazing how a publicly announced deadline can motivate!

Until the end of August 2016, I'm giving away my plan - 100 Days of Content Creation and Promotion - for free to regular subscribers of either our newsletter or blog. It won't be for everyone but, if you are a small business owner doing your own online marketing, you'll find value inside.
  • Beginners - It's written with you in mind.
  • In Between - Even if you've been doing your own online marketing for a while, you'll benefit from the routine.
  • Experts - Always looking to up your game, you'll find some ideas inside that you haven't tried yet.
Go to and grab it now!

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July 23, 2016

Content Template - The Checklist

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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July 19, 2016

The Collaboration Movement

'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 true and definitely applies to ideas.

Tossing around ideas is one of my favourite things to do, mine or someone else's. I can do it for hours at a time. Finding that time is the challenge. Finding collaborators who can also find the same time is even harder.

I'm planning to take advantage of summer's slower pace to very deliberately generate and flesh out ideas.

What ideas will you start from seed this summer?

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July 14, 2016

The Absolute Best eMail Marketing Software

... 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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July 10, 2016

Colour Palettes for Summer Marketing

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 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 regardless of the subject matter. This scene makes me think of mysteries and romance. Pass the wine.

Warm, fuzzy, cute, cuddly, feminine, and youthful all come to mind. Pink elicits feelings of love and contentment.

Cool, calm, collected... and casual. I love these shades of denim blue!

Even if you don't live by the ocean, this photo shouts 'summer vacation'. A cool breeze lifts your hair and work feels very far away.

July 5, 2016

Why Graphics are an Important Part of Your Content

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 become used to getting our information in a visual format, and we can process it faster than written content. It only makes sense to create and use visual content to communicate important ideas.

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The next issue of the Work Better, Not Harder monthly newsletter will be Issue #100! We're working on an extra special resource and only email subscribers will get it. PLUS, if you sign up now, you'll also get a mini workbook with 5 Quick & Easy Content Templates to speed up your writing. Get it here.

July 1, 2016

Why You Need to Create Original Content

"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 sense.
  • Service Providers and Other Trusted Sources - A big one for me is iContact which is the email marketing software I use for most of my work. I watch what they're posting to share interesting articles and also to stay current.
  • Search Topics - I search for information on something specific because I want to learn. Then I share the best of the results.
  • My Own Content - I spend a fair bit of time creating content and want to maximize its usefulness to others. By far most of what I share is original content in one form or another.
I use a Twitter list and a Hootsuite stream to keep track of the first 3 items above. Twitter is my fave so that's where you'll find me most.

Being able to curate good content is important but not as important as creating your own original content. That's where your time is better invested.

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The next issue of the Work Better, Not Harder monthly newsletter will be Issue #100! We're working on an extra special resource and only email subscribers will get it. PLUS, if you sign up now, you'll also get a mini workbook with 5 Quick & Easy Content Templates to speed up your writing. Get it here.

June 27, 2016

Make a Personal Connection - A Success Story

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 letting me know they like them! I get to know people more and they get to know me.

When I asked about specific success stories, here’s what Brenda told me, “I have had a fair number of courses happen as a direct result of my newsletter. Several times people have told me that others forwarded my newsletter to them, suggesting they get in touch. Making connections with new people, who I may partner with or just connect with on LinkedIn, is a success, too. One of the nicest emails I got was from a woman in Quebec who said that her daughter is an aspiring project manager and she forwards my newsletter to her to motivate her.”

Of course, I had to ask Brenda what advice she would give to others who want to start a newsletter. “Write from the heart. Write down your ideas as soon as you can – I often compose articles in my head when I am walking or driving, and sometimes I don’t get them written down as quickly as I could. Don’t worry what people will think – if you like it and it is something you want to say, say it! Know that there will be many people who will relate to what you are saying.”

If it’s your time to start a newsletter, get in touch, or check out our Resource page for lots of advice and tips.

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June 23, 2016

Summer Action Leads to Fall Success

summer marketing

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 automated messages to keep people apprised about your availability.

Go forth and make progress this summer!

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on June 23, 2016

June 19, 2016

Content Template - How to Start

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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