Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How's Your Marketing Health?

For many, the transition from Christmas into the New Year represents a drastic course correction, especially in terms of health and wellness. If you've ever glutted yourself in December with the notion of transforming your eating habits come January, then you know what I'm talking about. Or maybe you'll resolve to take up a rigorous exercise regimen after a year spent lounging around in tattered underwear watching TV. Why? Because you suddenly realize that your physical health matters to you.

But what about your marketing health?

Your business or organization runs on revenue, just as we fuel ourselves with food. That revenue comes from customers who were drawn to your products and services by -- you guessed it -- marketing. That means your marketing "body" needs to achieve and maintain tip-top condition. How would you rate the health of that body's following parts?

Heart - We romanticize the heart as the seat of emotion -- but in marketing, feelings, drives and compulsions mean a lot. Not only must your marketing "heart" contain your company's mission and values, but it must also use emotion to convey those convictions to your target market.

Brain - The brain plans, conceives, evaluates and initiates everything you do; it's your master planner. Your marketing "brain" has the same job. It consists of your detailed short-range and long-range marketing plans, as well as the key personnel who write those plans, update them as needed, and occasionally throw them out entirely in favor of a new direction. Do you have these key personnel? Is your marketing plan still valid?

Eyes and ears - Your eyes and ears bring you the wide world in all its detail (with or without some help from your optometrist and audiologist). Your marketing body must see and hear clearly, too. To do this, it needs to position its "eyes" and "ears" along the huge array of media channels available to it -- from Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/et cetera to client reviews and comments posted throughout the Net.

Tongue - To engage in normal speech with others, you need a tongue that is capable of forming words properly and stating ideas effectively. Your marketing "tongue" is your copywriter or copywriting team. These professionals can receive instructions from your marketing "brain" and translate them into the most effective message for your specific goals.

Fingers and toes - When you want to grab something, you reach out and pick it up with your fingers. Your marketing body does much the same. Its "fingers" are the advertisements, Tweets, blog posts, emails, and business calls sent out to reach prospects and clients. (They call them "touches" for a reason!) And what about the toes? Toes help you maintain your balance when standing, walking, or running. Your marketing body's "toes" are your marketing metrics -- those critical numbers that, when properly assessed and interpreted, can help you adjust your marketing efforts and keep your business upright.

Digestive system - When you eat, you don't just put food in your mouth; you chew it, swallow it, and (hopefully) digest it. Well, your marketing body can't be content simply to bring new prospects to your business. It must process those prospects by converting them into satisfied paying customers, just as your digestive system must process the food you eat before it can do you any good. Think of your conversion tools and strategies -- a well-designed website, easy-to-use points of sale, opportunities for buyer/browser feedback, big data collection and interpretation, and followup communications -- as the "guts" of your marketing body.

So while you're making those New Year's resolutions to lose weight, build muscle, increase your flexibility, or engage in smarter wellness practices, give some additional thought to your marketing wellness. Then resolve to enjoy optimal business health in the coming year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Freelancing on the Move: How to Write from Anywhere

One of the great advantages of being a freelance writer is the fact that you can write for any client, anywhere. This opens up fascinating possibilities for people who need to earn a living but don't necessarily want to spend every moment of their lives cooped up in the same office -- or even the same city. I've heard of folks writing entire book manuscripts and other large projects while roaming the country in an RV, for instance. After all, how hard could it be? All you need is email, a Web connection, and a laptop. Right?

Well, sort of. That’s a good start, but there are other considerations to think about, too. I would expand that list to include:

  • Internet/email connectivity
  • Voice connectivity
  • A writing machine
  • A solid client base
  • Peace and quiet

The technological challenges are fairly easy to overcome. Most major cell phone services have an option that enables you to use your cell phone or smart device as a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, so you can work and communicate online as long as you’re in a place that gets decent coverage. Some RV parks offer wireless connectivity as part of their service. If your “day job” boss has sent you on an assignment that includes a hotel stay, you can simply use that facility’s Internet. Then of course there are all those free hot spots in coffee houses, restaurants and libraries across the U.S. I wouldn’t want to share sensitive information over public airwaves, but for everyday writing tasks they’re safe enough.

You choice of writing device will have an impact on how easily you can do a day’s work. For me, a proper writing machine has to have a proper keyboard, so that rules out touchscreen solutions such as tablets. I’ve found Chromebooks perfectly adequate for writing on the road, at least in most situations -- especially since you can save documents to an external thumb drive or hard drive, solving the question of limited storage. If you plan on doing a large percentage of your writing offline, however, you may want to spring for a more fully functional traditional laptop.

A solid client base is always desirable for any freelancer, but it becomes an even bigger deal when you spend long periods of time away from your home base. That’s because you’re losing opportunities to network and have face-to-face meetings with local clients and prospects. Sure, you’ll meet people on your travels, but it’s harder to turn those encounters into long-term business relationships. My advice would be to develop a deep pool of strong hometown client/colleague connections before hitting the road.

Don’t discount peace and quiet as a critical factor in your success as a mobile writer. You can’t write if you can’t hear yourself think, and that isn’t always easy when you have little no control over your surroundings. The friendly hustle and bustle of a coffee shop might boost your mood and energize your imagination -- until a screaming 2-year-old sits appears at the next table. RV parks and campgrounds can be notoriously rambunctious. Even the most sophisticated executive suite may have paper-thin walls, which is pretty much like inviting all the neighbors over to party while you try to meet that writing deadline. But don't lose hope; earplugs and iPods are among the traveling writer’s best friends. You might also get good results from synchronizing your writing schedule with quieter times of day or night.

Give these issues some thought before your next great adventure -- and then have fun writing from (and for) Anywhere, U.S.A.!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Want to Understand Your Business? Write About It!

Not too long ago I sat down with a business owner to discuss the creation of a print marketing piece. This person had owned and operated a fairly lucrative enterprise for several years, but he had never really moved beyond the word-of-mouth stage of marketing. Now that it was time to expand, I asked a few of the questions I routinely throw out in an intake interview. What was his company's stated mission? How does that mission set it apart from its competitors? What was the target market's most painful problem, and which promised solution would get them the most excited?

And every time I asked one of these questions, the client would pause, smile, and say, "Let me think about it. That's actually something I've never asked myself."

This little scene demonstrates a couple of things. First, it points out how valuable it can be to have a third party look at your business from the perspective of the general public. Second, it indicates that writing about your business can be an effective method for discovering what it's really all about. My client knew how to run a successful business. He had an instinctive feel for what the public wanted from him and how to deliver it. But he'd never put all that down in writing -- and writing sometimes makes all the difference between working instinctively and working consciously.

If you ask a business coach to help you improve your career performance or clarify your company's direction, you'll probably be told to write down your objectives, goals, challenges, deadlines, milestones and so on. Why? Because all those thoughts floating around in your head may give you the idea that you have a plan when all you truly have is a bunch of thoughts -- none of which may actually come to a conclusion or link together in a constructive way. When you put your ideas down on paper (or screen, or papyrus, or the nearest big rock), you're forced to condense, codify, and make some sort of sense out of them. Your half-baked notions become fully-realized statements. Your hopes and dreams become concrete goals with set timelines.

The same principal holds true for your marketing efforts. When you sit down to write a website or brochure, you may find yourself faced with questions you always figured you sorta-kinda had the answers to. Suddenly you have to explain to your audience precisely how you can give them the exact solution to the specific problem they're having. And to answer all those questions for your audience, you first have to answer them for yourself. What do your ideal customers want? How do you soothe their pain? What makes your company a better choice for that task than your competitors? Addressing these questions and nailing down the answers once and for all is a powerful thing, not just for your marketing but also for your ability to steer your business into the future you want for it. So when in doubt -- write it out!