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Showing posts from 2017

10 Most Read Blog Posts from 2017

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It's always a good idea to review your stats, so you know what people are interested in reading. You might want to spend more effort promoting your top posts - use your best value to attract new readers (something like this article).

#1. Is Your Canadian Small Business Compliant with CASL Yet?
The Canadian Anti Spam Legislation came fully info effect on July 1, 2017. Here are the 4 most obvious ways businesses aren't yet fully compliant.

#2. Favourite Free Image Sources and Graphics Tools for Small Business Marketing
Wondering where to find free images for your newsletter or blog? These are the most common sources we use for free images.

#3. LinkedIn is a Resource, Not a Mailing List
"Can I add my LinkedIn contacts to my email list?" I get asked this a lot with regard to the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation (CASL). Find out if you can, if you should, and if it's legal.

#4. No Love from your Newsletter? Here's Why
A newsletter does not make a marketing plan. And se…

Sometimes You Need a Boring Subject Line

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This email message below arrived in my inbox shortly after sending out my weekly small business event listing (for Halifax, Nova Scotia). I love it when instant blog posts arrive by email.
Hello Linda
I've been getting emails from you for a couple of years and, sorry to say, I've always ignored them. Here are two reasons:
1— your subject line is boring. I get lots of emails like these but only open the ones with an interesting subject, e.g. "How to fight your phone fear" or "Learn web design in our latest WordPress meet-up."
2— There is no website that collects these items in an easy to scan format. As a WordPress developer I can set you up with a terrific visual calendar that can easily talk to your personal appointment book.
We can talk about improving your business any time.
It was a well-intentioned message; here was my response:
The subject line is boring on purpose - you can easily ignore it if you're not interested in knowing about events. I'm not…

End the Year with a Blog

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If you're buried in holiday preparations - at home or for your business - perhaps blogging is low on your to-do list. What if you knew exactly what to write about for the rest of the year?

Here are a few no-fail ideas to wrap up the year with a bang.

#1. Top selling products or services
Check your sales reports and make a list. You might include additional items like photos, detailed descriptions, tips for use, and customer testimonials.

#2. Most read blog posts (or newsletter articles) of the year
Check your stats and make a list. Include a short preamble for each and a link to read more.

#3. News and trends that impact your target market
Do a summary timeline of this past year, or write your predictions for the coming year. This one can be serious or fun.

#4. Best of... lists
You can do a best of... lots of things: videos, books, trends, apps, tips, resources, infographs, others' articles, music, products, services, customers, suppliers, dates, events, celebrities, and so on.

A…

Small Business Blogging Tools and Resources

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Colour of the Year for 2018 is No Shrinking Violet

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Purple is my favourite colour so I couldn't be happier about Pantone's latest announcement. Pantone says, "Inventive and imaginative, Ultra Violet lights the way to what is yet to come."

Purple is an emotional colour and has always been considered a little tricky for marketing, tending toward the sentimental and feminine. I'm looking forward to finding ways to use it in my own marketing. How about you? Will you use more purple in 2018?

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What Feedback Do You Pay Attention To?

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Have you ever fallen into the trap of making a change because of one single piece of feedback? It's happened to me and I've seen it happen to others. Don't change your brand's font (or anything else) because one person doesn't like it.

One person's preferences will never represent a significant sample of your target market.

We want feedback, we ask for feedback, and when we get it, we feel we have to act on it. Not so. Instead, we need to think about it, give it careful consideration, and get more feedback from our target market - because it's their opinion that matters when it comes to our marketing.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter November 30, 2017

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Where Do You Get Stuck?

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When it comes to writing articles for your blog or newsletter, what's your stumbling block? Perhaps it's...

coming up with ideasadapting your ideas for writingstarting to writefinishing writingediting and proofingfinding or creating graphicskeywords and publishing
If you can identify where you get hung up, you can find a solution!

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What are Your Competitors Writing About?

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Whether it’s for your small business blog or newsletter, researching what your competition is writing about will benefit you in two important ways:
You will have something with which to compare your own content strategy and your execution of it.It’ll trigger new content ideas and topics to write about. After you've assembled a list of blogs to inspect, these are the things to pay attention to:
layout and design (look and feel)ease of reading and interactionkeywords and topics coveredwriting style and formattingfrequency and consistencythe value offered Now consider:
How does your content measure up?What holes do you need to fill?What can you do to improve? Make a plan. You don't have any competition, you say? OK follow this same process and research others in your industry or servicing the same target market. You'll get the same benefits.

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Editing Tips to Benefit Your Readers

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“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” - Henry David Thoreau -
It is always easier to edit someone else's writing. We're emotionally invested in our own words, wanting to hoard them and take ownership of them.

The thing is, you don't need to justify anything you write. I often see words and phrases like this which can be completely eliminated:
"I want to say that..." or "I want to let you know that..." or "I want you to know...""It's my opinion..." or "I personally think/feel that...""... of mine" (as in "friends of mine" or "colleagues of mine") Then there are those phrases and even whole paragraphs that should be about the reader instead of the writer: "I'm planning to..." or "I'll send you..." Try starting with "you" instead, as in, "You'll receive..." You can often eliminate many "I"s

13 Ways to Make Your Small Business Blog More Interactive

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Why do we want our blogs to be more interactive? I googled that question and didn't find any kind of consensus or a clear answer to share. This seems a little odd with everyone talking about engagement (and lead magnets and sales funnels).

As soon as a reader takes some action (often a click), they are much more inclined to take a second action, and a third, and so on. It's exponential, and it's what engagement is.

If we know we want our readers to keep taking actions, we need to give them encouragement to do so... but not all at the same time. Here are a few ways to make your business blog more interactive.

#1. Use a link strategy within your posts to move readers along to more relevant content.

#2. Conduct a one question poll. Link to your poll in an app like SurveyMonkey which allows you to show results after someone answers. This poll could be legitimate research or a fun distraction. You can even publish the results in a future blog post.

#3. Include a special offer f…

Long Term Planning for Your Small Business Blog

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While teaching a blogging class to small business folk recently, we were doing an exercise to get us thinking about our blogging strategies beyond the next post or the next month.

We posted flip chart sheets around the walls and together filled in all the topics and themes we could think of for each month (or season). The answers reflected the different types of businesses represented in the room - lots of variety. By walking through the months, paying attention to the many holidays and seasonal activities, we mapped out the whole year.

Sure, we all know when Christmas is, and that September is back-to-school. Some people are romantic at Valentine's, and others are gardening in the summer. Go the extra step and think about how your target market is impacted by these events, how they're feeling about these things.

Even if you can't solve their biggest problems, maybe you can make them feel better by helping in a smaller way.

To find those opportunities, you'll want to …

What's Black and White and Read All Over?

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OK so the joke is ancient... and really only works when spoken. The answer has even changed - now it's newsletter instead of newspaper. But people are still reading, and more than ever.

Whether you choose informational or promotional marketing or both, you're missing opportunities if you're not using email to market your small business.

B2B: Email is the third most influential source of information for B2B audiences, behind only colleague recommendations and industry-specific thought leaders. (source)

B2C: 80% of retail professionals indicate that email marketing is their greatest driver of customer retention. (source)

If you're going to invest time and money in email marketing, you want to step out strong. Feel the pressure to get it right. Here's a checklist to help you gauge your readiness.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter October31, 2017

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What Do You Need To Say YES To?

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(guest post by Natasha Marchewka)
Do you find you are saying NO to everything lately, to keep the status quo?

I was... because I was overwhelmed and afraid. I already had enough daily commitments to keep me busy for the next 10 years.

And then, I had a shift of perception.

I realized that to grow (or be happier or fulfilled), I needed to say YES to things that stretched me. Further, what is entrepreneurship without risk taking? It doesn’t exist.

That said, I’ve taken on MANY new commitments that I suddenly have the energy for because they all seem like where I need to be. In all cases, the yes’s come in the form of helping others in some way.

When’s the last time you said yes to something that you felt enthusiastic about? Even when our plates are full, I believe there is room to say yes to commitments that ring true with us on a deep level. Taking a risk is part of living fully with the potential to fail or succeed. Either way, you succeed.

I’m saying YES because I know how to say no.…

Are You Ready to Start a Newsletter for Your Small Business?

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An email newsletter is a well proven way to provide value to your customers and contacts. But the competition for space in people's inboxes is fierce. If you're going to invest time and money in email marketing, you'll need to step out strong. Your first message will set the stage for what your readers can expect in the future. Feel the pressure to get it right.

The trouble is, you don't know what you don't know. While there are many things you'll learn from trial and error, there are a few critical things you need to do well from the start.

Here's a checklist to help you gauge your readiness:

1. Have you clearly defined your goals? If not, write them down now. Here's a list to help.

2. Do you know what your potential readers want? What's of value to them? If not, get this straight before you go further. Here are some ways to think about that.

3. Are you ready to commit to a schedule? Once you start sending a newsletter, an erratic schedule will al…

Using Pinterest to Create Brand Moodboards: Part II

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(guest post by Alison Knott) Nailing it down with a pin!

Now that you’ve spent some time getting up close and personal with other brands in Part 1, it’s time to find those patterns on Pinterest!

You know 30 ways to look for ‘healthy snack recipes’ (who am I kidding, I’m married to Frito-Lay), so I know you’ll be set to start searching on Pinterest. But don’t stop at the obvious keywords like ‘bespoke logo’ or ‘life coach brand’. Branch out to of all kinds of brand application.

Parrot Party: our new venture

For this exercise, let's pretend you're starting an online store and forum called Parrot Party - a site for all the things parrot owners want and need. Most parrot-owner related websites are just breeders with old websites, and you want something that's going to appeal to parrot owners. Fresh, vibrant and speaks to owners ready to spend big bucks and share their knowledge on owning these birds. They choose to live with loud, colourful pets that live for 30+ years, and you…

What Will You Write After the Conference?

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Many business people are busy preparing to attend large conferences this fall. It can be quite an expense and a lot of hard work to prepare for these big events... booking sales meetings with other attendees, preparing marketing collateral, booking flights and hotels, and maybe even training in sales skills.

Certainly when you return from the conference, you'll have lots to write about for your blog or newsletter.

1. Summarize the overall experience of preparing and attending. Perhaps include 'what to do or not to do' tips for future attendees.

2. Summarize the conference itself, highlighting key learning points.

3. Write articles about each of the presentations, focusing on what's important to your readers.

4. Capture and share the data, the important statistics and trends impacting your industry and customers.

5. Interview presenters and attendees. Prepare a series of questions in advance. This could be video or audio transcribed into text. The really good interviews can…

Good, Fast, Cheap

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On the inside of one of our garage doors, in black permanent marker, the previous owner - a mechanic and race car driver - wrote:
good fast cheap pick 2!
I know Mike was talking about cars but this trifecta has implications for other (small business type) things, like marketing, product development, project management, and problem solving.

Let's say you can get a good website built fast; you shouldn't expect it to be cheap. If it's fast and cheap, don't expect quality, and so on. If you think you're getting all three, beware! Economics - and people - don't work like that.

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Using Pinterest To Create Brand Moodboards: Part I

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(guest post by Alison Knott)
So you’re starting the process of making a brand or logo for your new business. Or, you’re about to hire someone to do it for you. Congratulations! It’s now time for the daunting task of articulating whatever the hell is in your head into something concrete. Eep!

I’m here to help you help yourself. It can seem difficult to put into words how you do (and do not) want to represent your brand that doesn’t exist yet. So… how do the pros do it?

We do research and create moodboards, which are a visual collection of images, colours and graphics to illustrate a certain mood. Now, as a brand designer I use Adobe InDesign and Illustrator to put final mood boards together for my clients. But you want to know what has saved me and my clients so much time?

Having clients send along their own little Pinterest brand modeboard collection to help me get inside their head.

Yes! That thing you’ve been using to save 783 pictures of living room renos you’re never going to get …

11 Lessons Learned from 500 Blog Posts

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Sometimes we surprise ourselves. I didn’t imagine there would one day be 500 posts on Work Better, Not Harder when it started back in 2010. I wasn’t thinking beyond the stress of getting that first post published. Yet here we are and I’m feeling a little emotional… in a good way.

It’s not easy to pinpoint one or two blogging success factors so I settled on eleven - down from a much longer list.

1.Give value to your current/potential customers plus referrers.

People who know me are surely tired of hearing me say this: figure out what would be useful or interesting to your target market and give them that. Writing for your current customers is a great way to get started.

2.Watch your stats frequently.

Pay attention to what readers are interested in and do more of what gives you the best results. If something isn’t working, ditch it and start something new. If you aren’t watching your stats at least weekly, you won’t know what’s working.

3.Just start.

Don’t let technology hold you up. If yo…

Start Using This Today: Client Relationship Check-in Checklist

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(guest post by Natasha Marchewka)
Life is good as a freelancer or small business owner. No one to answer to, but our own clients, of course. No one breathing down our necks to make sure we’ve done THEIR job correctly. We get to “do it all” ourselves.
Autonomy. It’s a freedom we’ve longed for... And now, we get to “do it all” ourselves. Sales, inbound and outbound marketing, bookkeeping, client management, admin, social media... oh, and that part about providing a product or service... We have to do what we do best and a bunch of stuff we, maybe, don’t do that well. So, we hire out when possible. (Thank you @daleyprogress!)
In the process of putting the pieces together of my own business as a voice actor, I’ve managed to figure out how to do a lot of things on my own. On top of it all, I work at documenting everything because I happen to be a list maker. And as I dig deeper and deeper to give back to the world, I’ve discovered not everyone IS a list maker, and most people can use help in…

Design Colour Trends for Spring 2018

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We're just getting back to serious work after summer vacations and the design world is already thinking about spring. I like what I see but then I'm a sucker for bright colours. You'll find these used online next year, too, not just in clothing stores.

Pantone says:
The Spring 2018 palette encourages a sense of fun and playful release. With an air of complexity and distinctiveness, we find ourselves in a sanctuary of color that is ideal for some more unique and dramatic color mixing.
Click here to see all 12 colours in the Spring 2018 Collection on Pantone's website.

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Complex to Simple: Images for Social Media Posts

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Rocket Science Version

The sizing of images for the various social marketing platforms, post types, and headers is becoming a bit complex. In fact, it would be a very practical way to teach equivalent fractions and geometry in Grade 9. But if you're long out of school and want all the details, get them on Twirp's Cheat Sheet: The ONLY social media image sizes you need to know.

Squares and Rectangles

The diagram below shows a very simplified rule of thumb for matching image shapes to social media posts on common platforms.


Size Matters

While bigger is better, it often means a larger file size and then icky compression stuff happens and... well, you've probably seen it on other people's feeds. I suggest your squares be a minimum of 600px by 600px; and 1200px by 1200px is about the largest you'll need. For rectangles, use minimum 600px by 300px, or maximum 1200px by 600px.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter August 31, 2017

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Best Beginner Business Blogging Advice

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If you're planning to begin blogging for your business, I'd like to shorten your learning curve. Because, oh boy, do you ever have lots to learn.

The good news is that you don't need to know it all before you start, and learning as you go is fun. I asked a couple of award-winning business bloggers to give me their best advice for beginners so I can pass it onto you.

Mary Jane Copps, aka The Phone Lady, has been blogging weekly for her business since 2009. Here's what she says:
1. Embrace a schedule. While it feels daunting to commit to a daily, weekly or monthly blog, staying true to a posting schedule will make you a better writer, and you will develop the ability to create and uncover great story ideas.
2. Be observant; write it down. No matter what the theme of your blog, things will appear in your life each day that can become a post. Stay present to every phone call, meeting and event. Great content is everywhere. But don't rely on your memory; keeping notes is …

An Image Tool You Don't Know You Need

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Sitting in the home office of a friend last year, she mentioned she would love to find a particular photo to use on her new website. She unpinned a much-handled postcard from her bulletin board and passed it to me. The black and white photo on the front was of a young girl on a beach in a very specific pose. We spent a half hour doing intricate searches on photo sites before it became obvious we weren't going to find it easily.

Debi snapped a photo of the postcard and emailed it to me. Once back at my desk, I discovered TinEye reverse image search and was amazed when the search identified where I could buy the photo... in colour. I felt that my first use was a pretty darn good test - a battered black and white postcard, photographed with a phone in poor light.
I filed away my knowledge of this little tool for when it might be needed in a similar situation. I'd be able to come to the rescue again.
Then someone else told me about this great tool called TinEye - for a completely…

Back to the Grind Content Ideas

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As you get back to your routine after summer’s break, remember there are lots of ways to make the return to school and work useful to your small business content marketing plans.

Back to School

Stress and excitement go hand in hand for many families as they prepare for the start of a new school year. You have many opportunities to give every family member value in the form of organization tips, tools, worksheets, checklists, shopping lists, how-to’s, recipes and much more. Plus, think ahead and start planning your marketing messaging for all of those upcoming school related activities, like sporting events, exam schedules and school breaks. Teachers are an important segment of this market; don’t forget them!

Back to the Grind

Summer vacation is over and businesses are gearing up for that last big push before year end. Business people are looking for productivity and project management techniques and tools to help them meet their annual goals. And it’s not just kids going back to school…

When is a Discount a Gift?

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If you give someone a $25 giftcard to a shop where the lowest priced item is $50, is it a gift?

What if a complete stranger gifts you 50% off the price of a conference ticket? Is that a gift?

The headline said: Our Gift to You: A Special Discount for Generators Summit. When I followed the link in the email to get my gift, I was taken to an Eventbrite ticket purchase page. Currently I can get the early bird price. What a generous gift... not.

Usually I would tweet or otherwise share information about such an interesting event, even if I won't attend. This particular event is actually getting a whole blog post.

Be aware of the perceptions of people opening your emails or clicking on your links.Using the word 'gift' in any marketing context is tricky because it mixes up social values with economic values. Just because others do it, doesn't mean it's right (for you).

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Do You Need an Editorial Calendar?

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An editorial calendar makes it easy for people to work together, helping them follow a plan.

What if there's only you in your business? Does it make sense to create an editorial calendar? Absolutely, but for different reasons.

If your plan is in your head, writing it out will reduce stress - now you don't have to remember it. Handwriting activates the creative part of your brain and your memory. More importantly, having a plan will prep your brain to be on the lookout for appropriate content.

You can use fancy spreadsheets, or find a detailed editorial calendar online. You can use coloured file cards, sheets of paper, or a whiteboard. The most important thing is that it works for y-o-u. It doesn't have to be like anyone else's editorial calendar.

Of course, before you create an editorial calendar, you need to generate a bunch of content ideas.

If you are like me, your content ideas may not be well organized. Creating an editorial calendar forces you to create organiza…

Storage for Great Ideas - Back of Book (BOB)

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Do you often flip to the back page of your notebook to jot down content ideas? If not, start!
When I'm teaching small business classes about online marketing, I insist they start a page in the back of their notebooks for jotting down ideas for blog or social media posts. This page will extend beyond one, but it's the start of something great. BOB (for back of book) becomes a new friend... your idea catcher.
When you are looking for something to write about or post, check your BOB for ideas.
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Quick Prep for Business Phone Calls

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Imagine this happened to you earlier today...

You chatted on the phone for two hours with one of your favourite customers. You both laughed a lot and enjoyed catching up. It had been a while since you had a relaxed conversation with her. You're smiling as you hang up the phone.

Then reality strikes. A quick check of the time and your to-do list confirms you've lost control of your day. Your smile fades. You aren't feeling as cheery as you did a few minutes before. Now you'll have to hustle and compromise the rest of the day.

And that's not the worst impact. Your favourite customer is in exactly the same situation. She hung up smiling, too, but quickly realized the impact on her day. (I suspect this story may ring true for some of my customers.)

Here are a couple of things I try to remember to do so a friendly chat doesn't go too far off track:

Jot down on paper a short list of points to cover during the call. I can use it as a reminder to bring the focus back t…

One Little Word Can Go A Long Way

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It's 2pm on a Thursday afternoon. I've been out all morning and discover urgent requests from two different customers as soon as I'm back at my desk. I already have a full plate for the afternoon and immediately realize I'm not going to be able to help both customers. I have to pick one over the other. Who do I pick?

The one who always says "Thanks!" It's a no-brainer.

Manners and respect will never go out of style. And they absolutely give you a one-up over those lacking... in business and in life.

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How to Get People to Open Your Emails

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How long did you think about the subject line of that email you just sent to your brand new client? Will they be interested or excited to open it? Or will they leave it sitting unopened, floating closer to the bottom of their inbox?

I've discovered a little quirk. In fact, it feels more like a secret I shouldn't acknowledge, maybe even a tad manipulative. It didn't start out that way but now I know what I know... well, I can't un-know it.

Here it is. If I send an email to any of my work friends with the words 'no rush' in the subject line, it's likely to get opened faster than any other email I send them.

Of course, this may not work any longer once my friends read this article. But let me be clear, I've never used that knowledge to manipulate. And that's why it works. When I send an email with 'no rush' in the subject line, I really mean there's nothing inside requiring their attention soon. Usually it's a business idea in some for…

Behavioural Economics and Small Business Marketing​

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After spending my adult life thinking I'm a mostly logical person (and being not so secretly proud of it), I just found out I'm not. And apparently the fact that I think I am is a little irrational.

You might think I'd be a little sad to discover this but I'm actually thrilled. A whole new perspective on marketing just opened up because Dan Ariely told me we're all Predictably Irrational.

Don't let behavioural economics scare you off. This book is insightful and funny, and a fairly quick read (because I couldn't put it down). I learned a marketing lesson in the first chapter that is so improbable... well, you'll have to see for yourself. It's powerful stuff and I recommend it highly.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder newsletter June 27, 2017

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How Does Your Marketing Change If You Don't Want New Customers?

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What's the marketing strategy for NOT attracting new clients? Is it to stop marketing all together? Or to scale back, everything or some things?

There are many reasons why a small business may not want to receive new customers for a period of time; I just hadn't considered it till now. I'm working on another business project so I need to free up some of my time and energy. I'm also trying to squeeze in some vacation time this summer.

Here's what has brought all this to my attention: the thought of sending out my monthly newsletter is making me nervous because I don't want anyone to call or email when they receive it. If that's not messed up thinking for a marketer, I don't know what is.

So, what is the answer? There are some obvious things, such as scaling back my social media posting and blogging a little, removing promotional posts from my scheduling, changing or removing my calls to action (in more places than I've thought of yet!), advising my …

Crello is Not Just Another Pretty Graphics Tool

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Just when I thought I didn't need another graphics tool, along came Crello... yesterday. It's brand new (and I haven't been able to break it yet). If you're frustrated with trying to use Canva, this might be the solution for you.

The interface is very much like Canva, yet Crello has veered away in the right places. I've always found the way Canva handles images as backgrounds and layers to be awkward; Crello takes a more simplistic approach.

Crello has 6,000+ free templates and 10,000+ free design elements! I know that's going to be exciting to many besides me.

Crello lacks some of my favourite Canva features, especially magic resize. But its ease of use and more intuitive interface is winning me over. I know I'll be exploring those 6000+ templates for many many more hours to come.

For more info about Crello's functionality, read this press release. Or pop over to Crello.com and jump right in. Have fun, it's free!

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Great Learning Option from Your Local Library

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Have you ever searched for a course on a specific subject online? How do you know which course is better than another? It can be hard to choose and expensive to find out you were wrong.

I was asking a WordPress consultant what she recommends for WordPress training and I found out something even better.

Apparently lynda.com is the best place to go for just about any technical training. This is because of the way they rigorously curate their content. Good to know. Even better, though, was finding out that I can access lynda.com for free because I have a library card. Just log into your local library's website and you should find access to lynda.com in the learning section. (Here in Halifax, check this link.)

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