December 28, 2017

10 Most Read Blog Posts from 2017


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 sending out a newsletter is only a small part of a content marketing strategy. Here's a checklist to help you identify what actions to take to improve your results.

#5. Complex to Simple: Images for Social Media Posts
The sizing of images for the various social marketing platforms, post types, and headers is becoming a bit complex. This post has everything you need to know.

#6. Are You Ready to Start a Newsletter for Your Small Business?
If you're going to invest time and money in email marketing, you'll need to step out strong. Here's a checklist to help you gauge your readiness.

#7. How to Get People to Open Your Emails
We can all make our subject lines more useful. And we have easy tools to help us do that. This will mean less time spent in our inboxes and less of the accompanying stress.

#8. Have a Party on Your Website
Spending time and money to promote your business online is a bit like sending invitations to a party on your website. You want your place to be ready when the doorbell rings.

#9. Jumping Up and Down, Waving for Attention
It's not easy to get people's attention. In fact, it's darn hard work trying to stand out in a sea of other people trying to stand out in a sea of other people. Remember why you're doing it.

Frame all your messaging around the thought, "What's in it for my readers?" If you make it valuable to them, you'll feel the love in return.

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December 23, 2017

Sometimes You Need a Boring Subject Line


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 into getting people to open something they don't want to read. It's a strategy that's quite different from the one I use for my blog and monthly newsletter. Three times in 4 years I've experimented with the subject line of the event listing, and every time the open rate dropped. People who want the listing are used to the title and might miss it otherwise.
Every type of email campaign needs its own strategy, which comes from your goals and intentions. There is very little advice about email marketing that applies to every situation.

It's also nice to get emails like this, which followed the one above:
Hi Linda,
Dropping a note to say "thank you" for your Small Business Event List. It's great having all the goings-on sent to me every week, and very much appreciated.
Meeting expectations means people know what to, well, expect. Exceeding them has the potential to confuse. Sometimes boring is better.

December 18, 2017

End the Year with a Blog


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.

Any of these types of articles are popular because they're useful and interesting. They can be fairly quick to assemble (or delegate) and are a great way to end the year on a high note.

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December 12, 2017

Small Business Blogging Tools and Resources


Whether you're getting started or have been blogging for awhile, you'll find this collection of all my favourite business blogging resources here in one place.

Idea Generation Tools
hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator
creativity-portal.com/prompts/imagination.prompt.html
workbetternotharder.com/2014/04/reusable-content-ideas-to-get-you.html

Outlining and Writing Resources
templates4content.com
podiumcoaching.com/store/free-resources/#!/Tighter-Brighter-Writing/p/45076103/category=11489027
hemingwayapp.com

Headline Analyzer
coschedule.com/headline-analyzer

Image Sources and Tools
workbetternotharder.com/2017/03/favourite-free-image-sources-and.html

Creating Graphics
pablo.buffer.com
snappa.com
canva.com
crello.com
spark.adobe.com
typographyeditor.com

Recycling Content
workbetternotharder.com/2016/04/my-blog-post-recycling-process.html
twirp.ca/2016/06/recycle-content-infograph/

Do you have favourite blogging tools and resources I haven't mentioned? Tell me about them in the comments.

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December 6, 2017

Colour of the Year for 2018 is No Shrinking Violet


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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November 30, 2017

What Feedback Do You Pay Attention To?


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.

I've been intrigued lately watching the series Wisdom of the Crowd based on the concept of crowd sourcing to solve crimes. It's a great example of how important feedback is to our success, and how to cautiously use that information in a useful way.

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

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November 25, 2017

Where Do You Get Stuck?


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

  1. coming up with ideas
  2. adapting your ideas for writing
  3. starting to write
  4. finishing writing
  5. editing and proofing
  6. finding or creating graphics
  7. keywords and publishing

If you can identify where you get hung up, you can find a solution!

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November 19, 2017

What are Your Competitors Writing About?


Whether it’s for your small business blog or newsletter, researching what your competition is writing about will benefit you in two important ways:
  1. You will have something with which to compare your own content strategy and your execution of it.
  2. 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 interaction
  • keywords and topics covered
  • writing style and formatting
  • frequency and consistency
  • the 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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November 14, 2017

Editing Tips to Benefit Your Readers


“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 from an article.
  • And the reasons or excuses for anything should be left out completely. You wouldn't stand up to give a speech and start with, "I'm not a very good speaker."
Here's another tip: when editing, ask "So what?" at the end of every sentence. Your brain needs to be thinking creatively when you're writing but critically when you're editing.

November 8, 2017

13 Ways to Make Your Small Business Blog More Interactive


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 for your blog readers. Make it easy for them to take advantage of the offer... make it one simple click to solve their problem.

#4. Link to a video. Depending on the platform you use, you might also be able to embed the video into your blog post.

#5. Link to a free resource or some other type of giveaway. Make sure to gather new email addresses.

#6. Use click-to-tweet and other social media sharing options. Encourage readers to share because, if you make it easy, people will share.

#7. Have a menu on your blog so readers can seamlessly move between your blog and website.

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

#9. Use a sidebar widget to show a list of popular articles, or other articles on the topic being read about.

#10. Display a blog subscription form prominently!

#11. Run a contest or game. If you have lots of blog posts, a scavenger hunt is a good way to get people to have a deeper look. You might offer a prize or make it just for fun.

#12. Include a search option. There is nothing more frustrating than looking for info on someone else's blog and there's no way to search. Including a tag cloud in your sidebar will also encourage deeper reading.

#13. Encourage comments to get feedback and new ideas.

The caveat? Don't try to do them all in your next blog post. Too many choices can often result in none being made.

(Thanks to my business blogging class for helping to brainstorm this list!)

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November 2, 2017

Long Term Planning for Your Small Business Blog

blog planning

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 think beyond the event or the season. Try to walk in your customers' shoes. Making people feel good is where it's at and you can absolutely do that on your business blog. (This applies to more than blogging, too!)

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October 31, 2017

What's Black and White and Read All Over?


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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October 27, 2017

What Do You Need To Say YES To?


(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. I’ve made room in my business and my life for new risks to help me to continue to evolve.

What can you say YES to?

October 20, 2017

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


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 also make you appear erratic. You want to be consistent and repetitive.

4. Do you know what bulk email software you're going to use? Ask others for advice - make sure you're hearing from people who have actually used the application. Pay money for a good, unbranded app because free is free for a reason.

5. Have you assembled your mailing list? And do you understand how the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation (CASL) affects your list building efforts and sending procedures? Here are several articles about the various aspects of CASL and the possible impacts on your small business.

These items are hefty and each requires considerable thought and research. It's worth it to make the effort to get it right!

Want a little help? Or a lot of help? Schedule a virtual meeting with me to get your questions answered and receive my best advice - click here.

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October 14, 2017

Using Pinterest to Create Brand Moodboards: Part II

(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 want to connect with that market. Where do you start on Pinterest, then? Well here are some ideas guaranteed to get you started.

Colour Palettes: because there’s literally 500 shades of light blue out there

What common colour combinations did you see in your research? Maybe it’s a good thing that they’re all the same and you want to do different. That will set you apart. On the other hand, it’s possible you will lose credibility for certain industries, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons. Additionally, a colour palette may contain a surprise tint you didn’t consider!

Using Pinterest for branding: colour
tropical colour palette

In the case of Parrot Party, we started with searching "tropical colour palette" but didn’t like how they leaned more toward beach scenes. What we were attracted to are these, inspired by flowers. Also, it turns out some of these swatches are similar colours to the plumage of various parrots - bonus!

Typography: we’ve all got opinions on fonts, who are we kidding?

Jokes about Comic Sans aside, different fonts evoke different sentiments. What fonts will best represent your business when you’re not around? Is it always script-like? Very stern blocks? A lot of detail or very straightforward typography? Bonus points if what you pin includes the font name. But if you’re not sure, there’s a great website called WhatTheFont? that can help you identify the typeface just by uploading an image.

Using Pinterest for branding: typography examples
bold fun fonts

For Parrot Party, you didn't like all the super whimsical, so you search "bold fun fonts", thinking about all those funny parrot videos online. Bingo - lots of character in these picks.

Patterns, shapes and graphic representation of your keywords

A designer can do a LOT with a great pattern. They’re an excellent way to create graphics when you don’t have any photography available. I recall a branding session with a client in which we spent 20 minutes just looking around us for what sort of patterns she liked. My idea of ‘geometrics’ was way different than hers. Are we talking tiny, intricate repeats? Bold circles of two colours? Again, pin with purpose.

Additionally, you can be literal with a word that's in your branding, and then search to see how other designers and illustrators have designed that item.

Using Pinterest for branding: feather graphics examples


You don't have a clear idea of the Parrot Party logo yet, but you do know that you want to represent all parrots. Using "feathers" in some capacity would keep the brand inclusive. That turned into another search for "feather illustration" to see how other people render feathers. There were lots of watercolour options but they're too soft for your audience. Instead, you're drawn to these more bolder, graphic renderings.

Storefronts, office design and other interiors

Even if you work exclusively in digital/online, who’s to say you can’t dream. What would the physical location of your company look like if it did exist? A brand is more than a logo – it’s a whole experience.

Using Pinterest for branding: interior examples
Aviaries and flight cages

So what if Parrot Party had an office space? "Aviaries and flight cages" are every parrot owner’s dream – a large space for their pets to fly around. Then you think about other online giants like Google and their wide open spaces... there’s something to pin there, too. Now you've seen some design pattern themes of natural wood, green plants, black or metal wire. There may be merit in drawing upon those textures later on.

Stationery, such as business cards, envelopes, letterheads

This isn’t to dictate to your designer how to design your calling card, but rather to get your head wrapped around execution possibilities. Explore words like foil, spot varnish, handmade and so on for more unique applications.

Your initial search of "feather stationery" didn't really reveal the level of bold you're looking for, but there were some neat ideas around cutouts and geometric shapes to render birds that you might consider for your business card.

And there you have it.

A whole bevy of imagery that you curated and approve of to start designing with. They say an image is worth a thousand words, and you, dear reader, just collected about four billion.

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Alison Knott is the owner of Eraserheader Design, a one-stop web consultant and brand shop. She’s been turning client napkin scribbles into purposeful business brands since 2007. You can find more great branding and online business tips from her weekly Facebook Live show LunchPress

October 8, 2017

What Will You Write After the Conference?


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 be used for blog posts.

6. Do market research. You don't often get the chance to be in the same place as so many industry counterparts and potential customers. Prepare one or two questions in advance and ask those same questions to everyone you meet. Your questions might be specific, like "How many times do you ...?" Or your questions might ask for opinions or advice, like "What do you think about ...?" or "What do you recommend for ...?" Collate the responses and share the results with your readers.

You will learn many things at the conference. Figure out what's important to your readers and prepare beforehand to create compelling content upon your return to the office.

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October 2, 2017

Good, Fast, Cheap


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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September 27, 2017

Using Pinterest To Create Brand Moodboards: Part I



(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 around to can help you design your brand!

The goal here isn’t to have a brand set in stone, but to be an exercise in articulating visually what you want your brand to be. Think of it as a blueprint of what your brand could be, by defining some clear visual direction.

Before You Pin: Where To Start Your Research

As unique as you may feel your business will be, it does not exist in a vacuum. There’s going to be competition, assumptions about what your industry is (or is not), and bias due to the colour you use or even the font you choose.

We designers refer to these as ‘design patterns’: similar visual elements that are found when one looks at a certain topic, industry or concept. Lawyers may use corporate blues and golds to denote ‘trust and success’. Eco-companies may choose greens and natural textures to denote ‘organic’. Coaches may use their own hand signature to denote ‘approachable’.

Your job, dear reader, is to start looking out for the design patterns that exist in your industry, and figure out which ones you want to use, or completely avoid.

So, before you start pinning with no real direction, put aside three hours to look at the following kinds of business online, bookmarking their pages into a folder as you go:
  • Your competition: You are going to be placed along side them, so it’s important to see what their brand looks like, what they’re doing, and what you agree and don’t agree with.
  • Those you look up to: doesn’t have to be directly related to your business, but it is good to keep track of things that you are attracted to. Ultimately, you will be the best representation of your brand, so you have to like it. It’s important that you know what you naturally gravitate towards and what you can’t fake being.
  • Business totally unrelated to yours: I’m serious. It’s not enough to look at those like you. My most successful brand designs have come from showing patterns I’ve found in other unrelated industries I think my clients can take a page from. I’ve compared life coaches to perfume brands, local produce companies to candy brands and mining companies to NGOs. Always reserve the right to incorporate the unexpected into your brand if it’s the right fit.
What Patterns To Look For

Don't just look at the homepage of a site. Take a moment to click through the main navigation, and you'll start to notice design patterns page to page. These could be graphical, textual or technical in nature:
  • One site might always places an arrow to the right of any text in a link or button. This helps remind users that all interactive items will have an arrow on it, so they can spot them easily.
  • Perhaps another site is light on images but makes sure to divide content up with geometric repeat patterns in the background. They are associating their brand with a certain kind of visual treatment, without the help of pictures!
  • Make sure you read website content to see if there are any keywords that keep coming up that you might like to use with your own brand (and make for easy Pinterest searching). Also take note of the tone of content. Is it casual, authoritative, uses slang?
Now that you know what patterns to look for, go out and start bookmarking your collection of inspiration. Once you have that done, you can move onto the next part of this blog series.

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Alison Knott is the owner of Eraserheader Design, a one-stop web consultant and brand shop. She’s been turning client napkin scribbles into purposeful business brands since 2007. You can find more great branding and online business tips from her weekly Facebook Live show LunchPress

September 23, 2017

11 Lessons Learned from 500 Blog Posts


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 you don’t know the best way to do it, find someone who does. If you can’t afford the best, find an interim solution. There’s nothing about blogging that can’t be redone or improved on later.

4. Learn to write better.

Sure, being a great writer is helpful but not essential. It’s easy to work on improving your writing skills if you really want to. Check for free and paid courses online as a start, ask someone who writes well for some pointers, and practice lots.

5. Have a strategy for guest posts.

Since the first guest post went up on Work Better, Not Harder, I regularly get requests from total strangers to write articles for my blog. I have worked hard to build my blog following so giving strangers access has never been part of my strategy. I do, though, solicit articles from colleagues and clients now and then – but they are always highly relevant. Know what you’re going to say when someone asks to write a guest post for your blog.

6. Use keywords and phrases your target market will search.

Think about your customers and the questions they ask. There are others looking for those answers, too. Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, check to make sure you’ve answered all the questions you can.

7. Link from one post to another as often as it makes sense.

Keep people reading after they have finished one article by giving them links to more on the same topic. After writing a new post, go through it and add links to past relevant posts. Aim for 3 links per article.

8. Have a call to action on every post.

Whether it’s part of the post, in your author bio, or in the sidebar, make sure to include a call to action. You have someone’s attention when they’re reading your article; next you need to ask for more attention or it’s a lost opportunity.

9. Make it easy to share and ask people to share.

Depending on the blogging platform you use, this may be easier said than done but there are lots of separate apps and tools you can use. Having your posts shared is the best way to get new readers you can turn into fans.

10. Follow other blogs that give you inspiration.

Who are your blogging heroes? They might be in your industry or not but find other bloggers who you can learn from just by watching.

11. Be consistent.

Keep showing up. Keep the commitment you make to yourself and your fans. Feel the pressure to write regularly. If you are consistent, there’s no question your skill will improve and your results will improve.

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September 14, 2017

Start Using This Today: Client Relationship Check-in Checklist


(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 that area.

So, I'm sharing one of my lists with you - ideas to build a tighter relationship with existing clients:

Client Relationship Check-in Checklist


Ø Check a client’s website for their social media icons – follow all, or follow new ones they’ve recently added.
Ø Check client’s social media fees and share one of their relevant or remarkable posts.
Ø Check out, comment on, or share any blog posts the client may have published.
Ø Google the client’s business name, and personal name, to research and congratulate them on any recent successes.
Ø Sign up for the client’s newsletter, if you haven’t already.
Ø Email your client on the anniversary of your first job together with a nice note.
Ø Send general gratitude postcard mid-year, “Thank you for keeping me in mind...”
Ø Send a small gift, or card, at year end.

Save this checklist! Enlarge the image below or right-click to save.







You can sign up for Natasha's Master VO TO DO List here.

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September 8, 2017

Design Colour Trends for Spring 2018

excerpt from Pantone's NY Fashion Week Spring 2018

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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September 2, 2017

Complex to Simple: Images for Social Media Posts

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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August 31, 2017

Best Beginner Business Blogging Advice


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 essential.

Anita Kirkbride of Twirp Communications, blogging about social media marketing since 2011, had something different to say:
Think about what your ideal customer would be typing into a Google search. Make that the focus of your blog posts. Maybe even make that your headline. Use the keywords and phrases that your ideal customer will use, not the ones you wish they would use. Get them to your site first and then educate them on how to speak your language. If you're speaking a different language on your site, they may never find you in the first place.

What do I think? I'm glad I asked them first.

My own advice for beginners is a little leaner:
Just start! You can erase and start again. And you won't know what you don't know till you start.

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

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August 26, 2017

An Image Tool You Don't Know You Need


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 different marketing reason. See, TinEye tells you everywhere you can find that photo being used on the internet, not only where you can buy it.

If you have just picked out the main image for your next marketing campaign or book cover, it would be very useful to know if it's already being used by 62,451 other people. TinEye can tell you that. If being unique is part of your brand, bookmark TinEye. (And hey, it's made with love in Canada.)

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August 22, 2017

Back to the Grind Content Ideas


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; adults are looking for learning opportunities, and organizations are looking to use up their training budgets. Can your business fill some of these needs with either free or paid content?

Many in the small business community think of September as the start of a new year. Kick it off with killer content in your newsletter or on your blog to help your fans get back to their routines and to work on achieving their goals.

August 12, 2017

When is a Discount a Gift?


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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July 29, 2017

Do You Need an Editorial Calendar?


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 organization among the chaos (another benefit).

Here are three suggestions for creating your editorial calendar. These are simple and easily customized (even combined) to work for any small business owner who doesn't need a super fancy system for managing content plans.

#1. Big Picture View (whiteboard)

This is my preferred planning tool. It's very fast and keeps my plan top of mind as it's propped by my desk. I use two sheets of white corrugated plastic (backs of old transit signs). One is my active editorial calendar, reaching out for 6 months. The second becomes my active calendar as time goes on and plans change.

#2. Monthly or Weekly View (paper)

Another simple method - you already have everything you need at your desk. Use sheets of (coloured) paper, one for each month or week, as you prefer to plan. Transfer your content ideas from your idea catcher to your sheets on a regular schedule, perhaps once a week. Keep these sheets in a folder on your desk, or pinned up side-by-side near your desk. The more in-your-face, the better.

#3. Flexible View (file cards)

If you've read any of Sue Grafton's mysteries, you know her private investigator Kinsey Millhone uses file cards to organize clues and generate new leads. Put all your content ideas on separate (coloured) file cards; this makes it easy to add inspiration as it comes to you. To organize your ideas, grab some (coloured) envelopes and label them by month/week, or whatever works for you. Sort your file cards into the envelopes, or use elastic bands and tags. As a bonus, these cards are mobile-friendly; throw them in your briefcase and review while waiting for your first coffee meeting. Carry around a few blanks for those ideas that hit you on the fly. To change your perspective, shuffle the cards as Kinsey does.

The only way to make an editorial calendar work best for you is to try it, and revise. Start somewhere. Make sure it is easily accessed, visual and tactile. Use stickers and highlighting to spark inspiration!

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

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July 24, 2017

Storage for Great Ideas - Back of Book (BOB)


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.

July 18, 2017

Quick Prep for Business Phone Calls


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:

  1. 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 to business.
  2. Ask up front how much time is available. Does the other person have time to chat, or should we get right down to business?

No doubt about it, I love to chat. That's why it's important to remember how it can impact my own and others' time. Please share more tips in the comments.

(Yes, Mary Jane, I'm sharing a phone tip!)

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July 13, 2017

One Little Word Can Go A Long Way


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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July 8, 2017

How to Get People to Open Your Emails


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 form or other, thoughts that percolated while I worked.

From their perspective, perhaps something that's not a rush sounds more interesting than something that is. Putting the potential for reverse psychology aside, there's more than one lesson here.

First, it seems that over time I've figured out an effective way to communicate ideas to my confederates.

Second, and much more important, we can all do this with every email we send. I'm not talking about manipulating people. This is about building (dare I say) best practices over time that work efficiently for us and the people we communicate with most.

In the example above, I used the words 'no rush' in my subject line to make a distinction about the content of the email. Words aren't our only tool. We have all used urgent or privacy flags in email. And even formatting options, like ALL CAPS or exclamation marks - but discerningly!

We can all make our subject lines more useful. And we have easy tools to help us do that. This will mean less time spent in our inboxes and less of the accompanying stress. I'm going to more actively step up to the challenge starting now. Join me?

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June 27, 2017

Behavioural Economics and Small Business Marketing​


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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June 25, 2017

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


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 referrers and clients, and putting a message on my website.

I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comment box... what is a good strategy for temporarily scaling back sales without sacrificing the hard work you've put into marketing?

photo by Philippe Vieux-Jeanton / Flickr

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June 16, 2017

Crello is Not Just Another Pretty Graphics Tool

screenshot of Crello home page

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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June 12, 2017

Great Learning Option from Your Local Library


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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