Tuesday, December 29, 2015

5 New Year's Marketing Resolutions

Say goodbye to 2015 and say hello to 2016! A new year brings new marketing opportunities, so this is the perfect time to make some New Year's resolutions aimed at sharpening your organization's marketing savvy. Here are 5 such resolutions you may want to put on your list.

1. "I will track my marketing success."

If you want an amazingly clear way of telling just how effective your marketing content is at specific points, you'll find that the magic is in the metrics. Resolve right now to track such important numbers as web page traffic, visitor duration, where people are viewing you site from (not just geographically, but on what type of device), first-timers versus repeat visitors, how often the repeat visitors repeat, and how many viewers respond to your call to action. The same obviously goes for the success of your per-per-click and other paid advertising tactics. If you don't track it, how will you know what works and what needs fixing?

2. "I will improve the quality of my inbound marketing content."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Google cares about a lot more than just keywords these days; if you want high rankings on search results, you'd better bring relevant, high-quality content to the table. If you've been grinding out "okay" content mainly as a coat rack to hang keywords on (or even worse, just to fill a blank page), then pledge to make 2016 the year your content works actively to build authority and trust, not only with the search engines but with every potential customer who encounters it.

3. "I will blog regularly (and often)."

How was your 2105 from a  blogging standpoint? Did you produce a steady stream of entertaining, engaging, useful posts on topics that reinforce your own expertise, or did your company blog sort of sputter and lurch like Jack Benny's jalopy? Make a resolution to give your blog the care and attention it deserves so it can attract new visitors to your site and turn them into regulars. While there's no hard and fast rule for how frequently a particular type of organization should blog, companies that post at least 16 times a month get more than 3 times the web traffic of companies that post infrequently. Food for thought! 

4. "I will make better use of my social media channels."

How well written and logically organized are your LinkedIn and Facebook pages? How regularly do you add updates, links to blog posts and other fresh content? How much time do you spend contributing to conversations in relevant social media forums and groups? If your social media channels are just, well, there, resolve to focus your attention on the ones that do the best job of attracting your ideal audience. Then freshen the content on those channels and put your company over as a major thought leader and key influencer there.

5. "I will invest in my moneymaking machine."

Look at all the departments and initiatives in your budget, and I'll bet you see only one designed purely to make money for your organization -- and that's your marketing. So many companies make the mistake of tightening their belts in this department whenever things get tight, when in fact they should be beefing up their marketing efforts so they can get the word out, get the leads coming in and put themselves in a more profitable position. Whether you need to hire a copywriter, some new design talent, SEO specialists or an entire turnkey marketing agency, I urge you to take a big step forward to ensure a bigger 2016!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Numbers Game: How Metrics Can (and Should) Influence Your Business Marketing Content

Like so many other right-brained individuals, I was never any good at math. Even today, I feel much more comfortable working with words than navigating numbers. I’m sure many businesspeople feel the opposite way. But when you’re tasked with creating marketing content for your business (with or without the aid of a freelance marketing copywriter), you should know that there’s one area where words and numbers can enter into a powerful partnership -- and that’s in the relationship between your marketing content and your marketing metrics.

Metrics, or key performance indicators or whatever you want to call them, are the numbers that tell you how well your current efforts are working for you. The king of all marketing metrics, of course, is the revenue generated by your marketing. But that grand total won’t tell you which bits of your marketing content are actually helping to boost it and which one are doing no good at all. To obtain that level of detail, you need to examine the performance of each piece of marketing content -- every web page, every contact form, every blog post, every video, every step along the buyer’s journey. Here are a few ways your metrics can enlighten you:

Web traffic and referral sources - How many visitors does your website receive in a given period of time, an even more importantly, where are they coming from? If you’re getting the lion’s share of them from ads or blog posts, which of these items are scoring highest -- and which keywords seem to be at the center of this success? If, for example, the phrase “alligator shoes in Austin, Texas” is pushing thousands of new friends onto your custom shoe retail site, then you’ll know you need to pump out more ads and articles mentioning this hot property. On the other end of the success scale, if your B2B services company is getting surprisingly few click-throughs from your LinkedIn page, then maybe the LinkedIn page's content could use some polishing.

Drop-off points - Are there specific spots in your online marketing content that seem to be sabotaging your lead generation efforts? If so, the right metrics can point those places out.  For instance, if your red-hot lead suddenly grows cold when faced with a call to action or a request for personal data, then he will likely drop off of your site at that point -- possibly never to return. If lots of people seem to be exiting your site at that specific point, then maybe you’ve introduced the hard sell a little too early in the process. You might need to create additional content, or improve the content you have, on the pages leading up to this one so the viewer is better primed to sign up for that newsletter or click that “Order Now” button.

A/B Test Results - This method of testing your marketing content’s effectiveness works equally well for both online and print content. Say you want to entice a specific target market into trying your products by offering a free gift, but you’re not quite sure what kind of offer will make the biggest impact. With A/B testing, you might simply create two different marketing postcards, each one offering a different freebie, and mail them out to a sliver of your audience. The gift that gets the biggest response is clearly the more effective choice, so now you can switch all your efforts toward distributing that postcard. You can do the same thing with a landing page by subtly varying the page layout, offer, call to action, or some other aspect and then showing one of two versions to each half of your incoming traffic. Whichever one scores the highest number of responses is the one with the Right Stuff. 

Don’t keep using the same old marketing content just because it sounds good and looks good. Measure the effects of that content on your audience, and then refine it accordingly until the results it gets are good, too. Let your numbers help shape your content, and you’ll find that your content starts to pull in some nicer numbers!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Outsourcing Your Marketing Content Creation? Watch Out for These 3 Issues

Have you been thinking about outsourcing your marketing content creation? Whether you're a small business owner or a turnkey provider of marketing solutions, strategic outsourcing can make your life a lot easier. But it's not as simple as posting an ad on an online job board and scooping up the lowest bidder. Here are three potential headaches you want to watch out for.

1. Language Barriers

The modern age of cloud collaboration and digital outsourcing has created a wealth of options for getting stuff done quickly and cheaply -- as any devotee of Timothy Ferriss's 4-Hour Work Week will tell you. But when it comes to creative, informative, well-written content, you still get what you pay for. Outsourcing's ability to turn the whole world into your marketplace can create problems in this regard. Many freelancers are willing to work for an astonishingly low price because they live in parts of the globe where a little money goes a long way -- and English is not necessarily the native lingo in these areas. No matter how fluent these writers may be in the language, their writing may contain some quaint surprises based on local usage habits.

Even where English is the dominant tongue, you need to watch out for national or cultural differences. The English language has taken on a wide range of fascinating colorations over the centuries, not only within its mother country but also in the course of its travels from one culture to another. The subtle but clear differences between American English and British English are an obvious example. Make sure your freelancer is both functionally fluent and colloquially fluent in the style of English you need for your target market. If you're catering to a UK audience, for instance, make sure your American freelancer is making proper use of British English ("jumper" for "sweater," "colour" for "color," single quotation marks instead of doubles, et cetera).

2. "Writers" Who Aren't Writers

Your outsourced writers may not be writers at all, especially if they're part of some larger online marketing package you've signed on for. Case in point: I recently had a client present me with a pile of blog articles that were almost unreadably bad -- randomly structured, repetitive, and in some cases not even relevant to the business's target audience. The client explained that he'd been getting this level of quality (?) on a regular basis, fixing the articles himself as best he could before publication. He could no longer spare all the extra hours required for editing them, so could I repair them or replace them with all-new pieces. I asked him why he hadn't simply assigned the job to me in the first place. He answered, "Well, these guys offer free blogging along with the website hosting and SEO I'm already buying from them." I pointed out that the blogging wasn't exactly "free" if he had to waste his valuable time fixing them (or hire a professional writer to make them work).

When an inbound marketing company includes content creation among its various other services, always ask about the credentials of the person doing the writing. The firm might think it just makes sense to hand the job over to the SEO guy or the web designer or whoever. But if you want articles that are not only well optimized and nicely laid out but also compelling and engaging, then you need to confirm that the company has a freelance writer -- or go find one of your own.

3. Lack of Communication

If you do bring a separate freelance copywriter into your outsourced marketing mix, then you're also dropping one more cook into the proverbial kitchen. An additional member of the marketing team means additional opportunities for communication failures and disagreements. This is particularly true if your writer has no direct access to the people managing your account. If your writer communicates only with you, and you communicate only with your marketing provider, then you're stuck in the middle as liaison, interpreter and peacekeeper. Outsourcing is supposed to free up your time, not swallow more of it.

The smart strategy here is to get your writer and your marketing company talking to each other directly. This allows these two parties to do their thing, talk to each other efficiently using marketing-industry-speak, and genuinely collaborate on a powerfully effective final result.

Outsourcing your marketing content can do fabulous things for your productivity, not to mention the quality of the content itself. Just take care to hire the right professional for the job, and then make it easy for that professional to contribute as a real part of the team.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Want More Effective Marketing Content? Start by Defining Your Audience

If you want your business to get noticed, reinforce its credibility and ultimately win new customers, you probably know that you have to create an ongoing stream of high-quality marketing content. But what if you're already doing that, only to find that it's having no effect on your bottom line? It may be time to take a closer look at whether you're actually aiming that compelling content at the right people -- because if you aren't, then it isn't (compelling, that is).

Content Marketing for One

Drawing the clearest possible picture of your target audience involves getting as granular as you possibly can, visualizing not a specific industry, not a specific audience segment, but a specific person. It's no wonder that some of history's most successful authors pretended that they were writing for one particular individual; this approach clarified their approach, style and tone, while guaranteeing that at least one sort of reader would be electrified by the content. On a less elevated level, "King of All Media" Howard Stern has often said that he doesn't even try to entertain the whole world; instead, he focuses entirely on making co-host Robin Quivers laugh. The purer an image you have of your audience, the purer (and more effective) you can make your marketing content.

How do you create this ideal client or customer? Don't just use your imagination or instincts -- use data. Collect all the information you can about your current clientele's demographics, behaviors, likes/dislikes, geography, et cetera. Then distill all this information on paper in the form of an audience persona. There's a great sample here with no fewer than 50 relevant questions to help you build a detailed, if hypothetical, ideal target for your marketing content.

Finding the Right Words for Your Target Market

Specificity is critical regardless of which marketing channels you use. For instance, my networking group gives each member a moment during the meeting to describe his or her ideal referral for that week. That's a powerful marketing opportunity -- but not when the description consists of phrases such as "somebody who needs X" or "any company who could use help with Y." These folks aren't likely to get any referrals from me that week. Why not? Because "someone" or "anyone" doesn't give me a clear mental image of the person that networking partner wishes to get hooked up with. And if you're having trouble stating exactly who your ideal referral is, there just might be a chance that you haven't defined that image clearly enough in your own mind. Time to get to work on that audience persona!

Having that all that, I should point out that it's possible to make your parameters too narrow. For instance, I might declare that my ideal prospects are people with the job title of Marketing Coordinator. After all, marketing coordinators are the ones who assign marketing tasks such as content creation to professionals like me, right? But what about business owners -- don't they need the services of freelance copywriters and other marketing experts? Maybe I should step back a bit and name my ideal prospects as "marketing decision makers." This still gives me a well-defined chunk of the population to address, while ensuring that I don't accidentally exclude an important market.

Get clear on who you want to talk to, and finding the right words will come a lot more easily. If you're not a natural wordsmith, a professional marketing writer can help you craft powerful, persuasive statements aimed at that perfect prospect. But however you do it, get specific -- and get results!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Different Content for Different Applications: Blogs vs. Email Marketing vs. Direct Mail

If you've been involved with marketing for any length of time, you're well aware of the need to put fresh, relevant content in front of your target audience on a regular basis. You may also understand the need to approach different kinds of audiences with variations in content, style and tone. What how does your choice of medium impact what you say and how you say it? Let's look at three popular content marketing channels -- blogs, email drip campaigns and direct mail -- to see how these different media use written content.

Content for Blogs

Your organization's blog can serve a multitude of purposes as a powerful inbound marketing tool. It's your website's dedicated news channel, announcing important advances, product or service rollouts, changes in key personnel and other exciting tidings. It's a thought leadership resource, feeding your readers valuable information that they can use in their own lives. It can even act as a straight-up billboard to promote that big upcoming sale. For the most part, however, these tidbits are presented in the form of articles -- articles meant to pop up in search results when your prospect seeks the online solution to a pressing problem or question. So you want to create genuinely helpful, interesting, engaging articles on a wide range of "evergreen" topics that relate directly to what you do. Some of them might be bound to a specific time of year or situation, while others are presented more as introductions to basic concepts -- not sales pitches. A critical feature of blog articles is the judicious use of keywords in your titles, headers and body text -- with them, you can expect your wisdom to go unread.

Content for Email Drip Campaigns

On the surface, email articles for drip marketing campaigns may not appear too different from blog articles, offering a few hundred words of useful information in an entertaining, readable manner. But there's one big difference -- these articles are written as responses to specific actions taken (or not taken) by the readers. For example, prospects who expressed initial interest in a product but failed to buy it might receive an article about how to select the ideal (whatever the product is) for their needs, prompting them to take a second look at the item they passed up. Email offers can be triggered in the same way. Customers who haven't purchased anything in, say, six months might receive a special "thank you" offer such as 10 percent off their next total purchase price. When you prepare these pieces, you first need to lay out a decision tree of directives: "If they do X, send them email Y," "If they don't do X, send them email Z," and so forth. You then create the individual content to suit each "if/then" trigger point in your plan.

Content for Direct Mail

Direct mail print marketing campaigns can take lots of different forms, from "personal" letters to colorful postcards, and they may use the same automated triggering strategy as an email drip campaign. But they also tend to have a broader, more general reach because the initial round of mail is sent out to everyone in a particular set of zip codes, not just those who have had previous dealings with the brand. The content you create for these pieces must therefore make a bigger, louder, more sales-y splash than either blog content or targeted email content. You might include a few lines of information or education text in there somewhere, but let's face it -- most people are conditioned to receive their serious information online, especially in this age of mobile marketing via smart devices. So save your brassiest, most blatant promotions, sales, announcements, and calls to action for the printed word, and let the other media do the heavy lifting.

All three types of marketing can be highly effective in helping you increase sales and grow your business. Just make sure you're using each medium to its best advantage by providing the right content for the right job. And if you find it all a bit overwhelming, don't hesitate to contact a professional copywriter for help!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How to Streamline Your Marketing Content Review Process

A thing worth doing is worth doing right -- but if you keep re-doing that thing just to get it to a certain level, then maybe the way you're doing it is wrong. Of course, high-quality marketing content is worth its weight in gold for any business trying to improve its impact on prospective customers and its reputation with the major search engines. But if you could get that content from rough first draft to gleaming final product in less time, and spend less money in the process, wouldn't you leap at the chance?

Well, the good news is that you can indeed make your content creation and revision system more efficient -- by tweaking your review process. Here are some tips:

Decide on a point person. If you have more than one person "in charge" of commissioning, evaluating and approving content, then you really have no one running the show at all. The confusion is compounded if you're trying to communicate your wishes to the writer through a third party such as a marketing agency. Pick one person to issue any and all requests for changes to the writer. If you're communicating with a marketing agency, make you're talking to the one person in that agency assigned to your account -- and make sure that person then sends the instructions to the one person who's supposed to relay them to the writer. 

Remove the extra cooks from the kitchen. Designating a chief decision maker won't solve your content review woes if that decision maker is listening to conflicting opinions from too many people in your company. This not only causes a massive slowdown as dozens of responses trickle in, but it can also turn the draft into an unholy mess of redundant or conflicting requests. Instead of automatically distributing the draft to everybody you can think of, give your email list some judicious pruning first. Who really needs to read and comment on this, and who doesn't? You'd be amazed at how much faster and smoother the review process becomes when you dispose of the "review by committee" approach.

Choose a decision maker who won't waffle. I had one client who'd rave over the wonderfulness of the press releases I was sending him, only to contact me a few days later asking for changes. I could tell from the attached email trains that he'd sent the draft out to various third parties (colleagues, friends, casual acquaintances) and gotten some suggestions back, most of which were horrifically off the mark. I was able to talk him out of these "improvements" fairly easily -- but that achievement just confirmed the underlying problem, which was that he allowed himself to be swayed with every breeze. Do not assign someone with this trait as your reviewer in chief! Give the job to someone with a firm, unwavering grasp of your marketing plan, or outsource it to a marketing firm staffed with such individuals. 

Streamlining your review process can be a big step forward in optimizing your marketing content machine. Hiring a copywriter with the skills and understanding to provide you with cleaner, stronger drafts in the first place is a pretty great idea too. After all, the easiest revision is the one you don't have to make!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Copywriting for SEO: Dos and Don'ts

I often hear clients say things like, "We need this marketing content for SEO purposes." But that's never completely the case. Search engine optimization can do great things for your online marketing efforts, but only if the content you use makes its own impression. Let's look at a few SEO copywriting dos and don'ts.

Do write content that naturally features your keywords. Keywords are pure representations of what matters to your audience. If you're writing a piece that directly addresses the concepts they're scouring the Web for, you can hardly help but use the words and phrases they're using in their searches. I mean, I couldn't write an article about copywriting for SEO without actually using that phrase. (I guess I could, but it would require a conscious evasive effort on my part.) This is the best kind of SEO copywriting -- the kind that laces keywords elegantly into the text to provide genuinely helpful information for those who actively seek it.

Don't indulge in keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing used to be all the rage back when the cyber-landscape resembled the Old West and you could get away with all kinds of black-hat SEO tricks. Some entities would create entire websites merely for the purpose of slapping as many high-ranking keywords into them as possible, whether they really had any relevance to the subject matter or not. Of course this caused a big spike in the offenders' search rankings, until Google finally cracked down on the practice by emphasizing relevance as the new gold standard for SEO success. But even without this new requirement, keyword stuffing would still bring you nothing but frustrated visitors in the long run. Even if your keyword is relevant, using it a hundred times per page isn't going to do wonders for the effectiveness of your writing.

Do create fresh content on a regular basis. The major search engines require proof from time to time that you're still a mover and a shaker. Google and others reward businesses whose content reaches and maintains a certain critical mass indicating that the businesses are working to provide helpful, engaging content for their clientele. The more content you upload, the larger a shadow you cast over the Internet, and this will boost your search rankings (or at least keep them from dropping in relation to your more diligent competitors). 

Don't post just for the sake of posting. Okay, so you need to update your online content periodically. That's doesn't mean, however, that anything you post will do your business good. True, sometimes the right keywords will draw traffic no matter what else you include. But if you post thin, irrelevant text, you'd better hope nobody actually notices it. No business ever profited from an enormous quantity of lousy marketing. Your content needs to deliver a meaningful experience instead of just serving as "clickbait."

Do optimize your titles. This post is entitled "Copywriting for SEO: Dos and Don'ts." Why did I choose that title? Well, that's what the article is about -- but it's also optimized for my prospective client base. Maybe you arrived at this article because you wanted learn more about copywriting for SEO, so you entered the keyword phrase "Copywriting for SEO." Or maybe you were concerned about what to do or not do when pursuing your own SEO strategies, so you searched for "SEO Dos and Don'ts." Either way, you're here reading this now, aren't you? Make sure your own web page/article titles pack the right keyword punch to draw the audience most likely to need your products or services -- don't just call it any old thing.

Don't write to a specific word count. Ask a marketing expert how many words a typical web page or blog article should be, and you'll get as many different answers as there are people to ask. In the area of blog article writing, for instance, I've heard everything from 200 words to 1,000 words suggested as the "best" length for a given piece. This is another situation where everyone is trying to guess at Google's magical word-count algorithm, as if there were such a thing. But the simple truth is that Google isn't concerned with word counts -- only with the relevance and authority of your verbiage and links. 

Does word count matter at all, then? Absolutely. Too little verbiage may skate over your subject instead of fully addressing, to the point that readers wonder why they bothered to click on you at all. Too much creates a wall of text that nobody has time to deal with. Remember, search engine optimization can bring more traffic to your site, but it can't make them want to experience it.

Think about these SEO copywriting dos and don'ts as you flesh out your marketing battle plan. If you've figured out your SEO strategy but not your copywriting solution, contact me and I'll help you put those pieces together!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Words and Pictures: Combining Copywriting with Visual Media

We live in a very visual world. Even experiencing written text is a visual process (unless of course you're reading this in Braille or listening to it through your computer's voice). Marketing has always combined words and pictures to hit prospective customers from two different directions in a coordinated attack. So let's look at how a copywriter works alongside various visual artists as part of an organization's potent creative team.

Print Design

Copywriting and graphic design have always gone hand in hand in the creation of print marketing collateral such as brochures, onesheets and media kits. But how do these two forces collaborate smoothly? In my experience, that all starts with you -- or at least with your business's marketing coordinator. You must have a clear vision of the piece's objectives (brand reinforcement, promotion of a specific service), target audience, and call to action.

Once you've got that settled, it's time to call in the troops. There are times when the visual elements of a piece are intended to dominate everything else in the message, and on those occasions it will be natural for the graphic designer to take the lead, providing the writer with a concept to draw inspiration from. Other pieces may be largely driven by the text, which means that the writer takes the lead and the designer designs around the marketing copy. Plan your production and communication pipelines accordingly to ensure an efficient, non-confusing workflow.

Web Design

The relationship between copywriting and web design can prove somewhat tricker than that between writer and graphic designer. Proper website design must accommodate all sorts of variables, from the visual elements of your brand (logo, color scheme etc.) to text layout that creates maximum impact and directs the reader to click through to the next stop along your online sales funnel. This is complicated by the fact that today's commercial websites really need to be responsive in design, scaling up or down not only in size but also in the amount of content displayed on different types of screens. The copywriter must be able to provide text that can selectively "drop ballast" from one screen resolution to the next while still providing all the key points.

The balance between copy and layout is also crucial for landing pages -- those deep product or service pages where you really drive home the sales pitch. Landing pages are always text driven, but the way that text is arranged on the page can make a huge difference. You'll want to make sure that your designer has placed the text front and center, in an ultra-legible font and surrounded by plenty of white space for easy reading. The copywriter should break his content into lots of short-ish paragraphs, punctuated by dramatic headings that the designer can present in a bold, sensationalistic manner.


How does your copywriter collaborate with your video production team? First and foremost, there's the script. Even a marketing video with no dialogue or dramatic scenes needs a narrative spine, from a shot list that tells the director and videographer what to shoot to a voice-over script that makes sense of what the viewer sees. You'll want to bring your copywriter into the video production process right from the very beginning, because it's a lot easier (and cheaper) to revise a script draft, which is essentially just a blueprint for later collaborative action, than to rearrange an entire production schedule.

Once you've made your video, you still need to promote it, and here's where copywriting plays yet another essential role. If you plan on posting your video on YouTube, Kickstarter or some other online platform, your copywriter can create descriptive text to go with it on the appropriate page. This can range from a cute or exciting introductory blurb to a full page of product description and promotion. 

Anyway, you get the idea. Words and pictures go together like peanut butter and jelly in practically any marketing strategy. So assemble your go-to creative team, give them the right guidance to get them started, and then watch them deliver the total experience you need to sell your stuff!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Do You Dare to Freelance?

I've talked to many writers are either do all their writing for an employer or moonlight with a little part-time writing here and there. Some of them are happy with their current situation, and some aren't. The ones who aren't often express their wish to go freelance, but always follow up that wish with phrases like "I'm still weighing the risk," or "I know I could do it, but I'm scared to make the big leap." 

Perhaps you've been toying with the idea of offering your writing (or other) services on a freelance basis, but something always seems to hold you back. Maybe you've gotten used to a comfortable existence that could well suffer upheaval; maybe someone is constantly in your ear about why you shouldn't bother; or maybe you're just waiting for all the planets to line up and spell out your marching orders. It's true that freelancing involves risk -- which means that on some level, you've got to be a risk-taker. Here are some thoughts on how to see risks for what they are (or aren't) and control what you can control.

There's Never an Ideal Moment to Go Freelance

If you're waiting for that perfect moment to take up a freelancing career, you'll still be waiting when they stuff you into a pine box. There's no such thing as the perfect time to uproot one way of life for another, especially one as potentially unstable and stressful as freelance work. But there's also no perfect time to get married, have a baby, move across the country, or undertake so many other major life transitions. In the end, your desire to do it has to be strong enough to outweigh potential risks and obstacles. Having said that, you might decide that layoffs in your workplace or some other unsettling issue provide a reasonable trigger.

You Can Reduce Your Risk Up Front

While the risks are real, so is your ability to minimize it before you make the leap. For starters, keep your relationship with your present employer and co-workers solid, just in case you have to ask for some job placement assistance someday. At the very least, don't burn your bridges (or a bagful of dog poop placed outside your boss's door). Any professional network is a potential gold mine for future connections, whether you're freelancing or returning to the 9-to-5 world.

Next, examine your current lifestyle. If you're just making your monthly nut on your current handsome and predictable salary, then you'd better downsize right now. Move to a smaller place, get rid of that extra car payment you could probably live without, stop dining at restaurants every night, et cetera. Live as if you're poor -- because there are times when you will be. This downsizing not only helps to buffer you against financial swings, but it also forces you to think more carefully about how you handle money, a critical skill for any business owner.

Not All Naysayers Are Qualified to Say Nay

In the minds of some, there's never a good time or sufficient reason to take a risk -- any risk -- and an infinite number of reasons not to do so. These are the folks who tend to reply to your every argument for doing something with "Yes, but..." Don't fall into the trap of defending your position against this brand of naysayer, because there aren't enough counter-arguments in the world to shoot down the list of objections they seem to carry around in their shirt pocket. Instead, think hard about who's doing the naysaying, and why.

Ask yourself: Do they actually know anything about freelancing at all? Do they just play it safe in all aspects of their own lives by nature? Did they actually try freelancing and fail at it -- and if so, did they make specific mistakes that you could easily avoid? Is there some other hidden emotional agenda at work? Are some of the arguments legitimate? Are you the naysayer? Analyze the source of the naysaying, and you'll know what portion of it give due consideration and what portion to ignore.

Of course there are other factors in considering a freelance career, such as whether you can thrive in isolation, maintain a sharp mental focus, and summon the necessary self-discipline to complete projects on time (and sometimes under pressure) without a supervisor. But for many writers, it comes down to how willing or able they are to roll the dice. In the end, no one can else can make that call for you -- but the more you understand about the risks involved and how to address them, the better informed your choice will be. Good luck!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Could Your Branding Take a Lesson from Alphabet?

There are brands, and there are BRANDS. Surely one of the most recognizable brands in the world is Google, which over the years has blossomed from search engine to search leader to ultimate judge of countless enterprises' online fates. So its decision to create an entire new brand called Alphabet doubtless caused some confusion and apprehension out there in cyberspace. Was Google reinventing itself? Will its mission change? Why redefine a brand that itself has helped define the nature of, and set the rules for, modern SEO as we know it?

Not to worry -- the Google brand remains alive and well, and it will continue to be the search engine we all defer to for the foreseeable future. Alphabet is a larger entity that encompasses not only Google's search engine and associated products (like YouTube), but also the company's ever-growing array of non-search products and services. The latter range from financial enterprises such as Capital and Venture to innovative efforts such as X Lab and the Calico life extension project.

Google has been acquiring more and more of these bold forays into areas that don't bear much relation to SEO -- and the more of them they add to the Google brand, the more watered-down that brand name is likely to get. By breaking the non-search initiatives off from the Google brand and putting everything under Alphabet's umbrella, the Google brand can stay pure. At the same time, Alphabet will give these new companies freedom to promote and reinforce their their individual brands instead of simply being absorbed into the Alphabet brand. Everybody wins.

This is a very large-scale illustration of a situation that I've encountered when writing for independent sales reps in various fields. For example, let's say that John Doe has been marketing himself as a seller of BigCo Home Insurance (all names have been changed to protect -- well, me) and finds the situation limiting. He might prefer to expand into other lines of insurance such as life or health, or he might wish he could make multiple brands of one kind of product available to his customers. What can he do? He can re-brand himself as John Doe Inc. Instead of letting his own identity get lost  in the shadow of the giant like BigCo (with however many thousands of independent reps it boasts), BigCo becomes a product line within the brand he really wants to push -- his own. Of course this means creating all the marketing content necessary to grow and sustain a new brand, including compelling website content, print marketing collateral, press releases to announce the new brand, sales letters to inform existing customers of the change, and social media content to raise awareness of the brand. But the great advantage is that John now has control over his brand identity. Let BigCo do its own marketing! 

What about you? Has your business diversified to the point that the brand could use some clarification? Do you need to re-brand yourself or your company, or even launch a new brand alongside your current one as Google has done? Think about it -- and then contact me for the written content to make that brand stand out!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

3 Tips for Steering Your Small Business Through a Summertime Slump

Small businesses typically see less activity during the summer months (and as a one-person shop, businesses don't come any smaller than mine, so I know whereof I speak). For one thing, it's hard to get vacationing decision makers on the phone or schedule one-to-one meetings with them. But it's not just you -- even Wall Street tends to take a nap at this time of year. So how do you keep afloat and productive during this annual lull? Here are three suggestions.

1. Offer Summer Specials

As soon as school is out and the mercury starts to rise, what do you see? Special offers everywhere, from holiday-themed sales to back-to-school discounts. You've probably responded to a few of these hot deals in your time -- and you can employ the same strategy to boost your own business during the summer doldrums. You don't have to sell swimming apparel or barbecue frills to benefit from this strategy, either. Anything that appeals to a B2C or B2B audience can move if it you give it the right kind of push. A back-to-school sale, for instance, can pay off hugely whether you're selling clothes, electronic gear, Internet bandwidth or just about anything else that you can tie back to the theme. People are always ready to take advantage of a great offer -- and summertime always provides a great excuse to make them one!

2. Keep Networking

I've written more than once about the power of networking to put you in front of prospective buyers, vendor partners and referral buddies. But at this time of year, I usually see a drop-off in the number of business owners and sales reps attending networking groups and events. Some of these people are on a well-deserved vacation; others are wrangling kids at home and can't make their usual breakfast or lunch meetings; still others are ducking the oppressive heat we get here in Central Texas. The scrawny attendance numbers only encourage others to skip as well. ("Ahh, nobody's gonna be there anyway....") Come September, of course, these folks realize that they have zero new business coming in. Oops!

Don't let all the great excuses for not networking keep you out of the mix this summer. By all means, enjoy your vacation and keep your kids out of trouble -- but whenever possible, go out of your way to make strategic appearances here and there. You want to remain visible, stay in the interactive groove, and have those lucrative business conversations with networking partners, if only to make sure you're actually laboring by Labor Day.

3. Spruce Up Your Marketing Content

One of the biggest obstacles for so many of us who are responsible for our own marketing is the sheer time and effort required to get our marketing content up to date and up to scratch. Blogging, for instance, requires a steady commitment, while permanent website content must reflect the business's current products, services, brand identity and overall mission. On top of that, there may be sales letters to create, press releases to write, and who knows what else.

If your summer is a bit on the sleepy side, why not use it to get caught up (or even ahead) on your marketing content? For instance, you can create a whole pile of blog articles on evergreen topics for later publication. You can rewrite or even redesign your entire website to make sure it's packing a stronger punch. Or you can sit down and devise that new long-range marketing plan you've really needed ever since you first opened your doors. Summertime can be a very productive marketing time, with or without professional assistance.

So don't let the dog days of summer drag your small business down. Fight back by making this time of year pay off big time. Have a great summer -- and a profitable year!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How to Put Your Marketing Content on a Summertime "Weight Loss Plan"

Summer is swimsuit season, which also makes it weight loss season for many self-conscious individuals. But while you're subsisting on salads and watching the scale like a hawk until you're rescued by the return of sweater season, ask yourself whether your marketing content could stand to lose some extra flab as well. Here are some tips for helping your writing lose weight.

Go On a Verbiage Diet

The English language has an astonishingly huge number of words, most of which you'll never need. Heavy words make for heavy writing, which in turn makes for heavy reading. You can't take that risk when you're trying to spark excitement in your audience. Luckily, for every slug-like five-dollar word in the vocabulary, there are plenty of smaller ones that can do the same job. Use short, simple, peppy words to give your readers a tasty, low-calorie experience.

Remove the Fat...

Okay, you may not be concerned enough about your waistline to consider liposuction just yet, but that doesn't mean you can't perform some beneficial, (mostly) painless surgery on your marketing content. Go nuts in the draft -- that's what drafts are for -- but then examine the results with a surgeon's eye and cut anything that seems redundant, overstated, or just plain unnecessary. You'll see your writing grow more slim, attractive, and compelling right before your eyes -- and before your prospective customers' eyes as well.

...But Leave the Muscle

One problem with starvation diets and other radical weight loss strategies is that they can weaken you by robbing you of energy and muscle mass. Similarly, it's possible to starve your writing in your efforts to make it more compact. If you're cutting content, make sure you retain all the information you really need to convey. If you're too close to your products or services, it's easy to omit a critical detail out of an assumption that readers will know what you're talking about -- when in fact they haven't a clue.

Get Active

Most doctors and fitness gurus would agree that safe, effective weight control depends on a combination of healthy diet and regular exercise. Does your marketing content need to get moving? Inspect it closely to see how many passive verbs you've stuck in there, replacing them with active verbs wherever possible. The more dynamic you can make your writing, the more engagement you'll get from your audience.

Once you've restored your marketing content to its ideal weight, keep an eye on it in the months to come. Consult a professional copywriter if you need help producing slim, trim, effective content all year round. The marketing calendar doesn't include a sweater season!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Start the Presses! How to Write the Right Press Release

So you want to take the business world by storm by calling attention to your products, services or achievements? Your first thought, quite rightly, is that you need a press release. But every time you submit these little nuggets of self-promotion to your chosen media, they seem to disappear into the ether without a trace. How do you create a press release that does the job well enough to get published and make a meaningful  impact? Here are some things to keep in mind when crafting a press release for your company or organization.

Follow the Inverted Pyramid

A press release is a marketing document in news article's clothing. No self-respecting journalistic publication will host a press release that's obviously nothing but a gushy self-plug. (Those "sponsored content" pieces you see online are clearly marked as such, so they get a pass.) Your piece needs to read like news, and that means starting with the proper format. Structure your press release in the journalist's traditional "inverted pyramid," top-loading the article with the most critical facts before moving on to supporting details and additional data of interest. It's also critical that you answer the "5 Ws" of journalism -- What, Who, When, Where, and Why -- in your press release. Above all, the subject of your press release should seem newsworthy. Ask yourself, "Why do readers need to know about this?" Then make sure your readers can readily see that relevance.

Balance Objectivity and Subjectivity

With the exception of editorials, journalistic writing strives to maintain an objective point of view. Gushing, condemning, or endorsing the subject matter just isn't done by competent, responsible news writers. So how in the world are you supposed to generate the enthusiasm necessary to attract prospective customers or business partners in your press release? That's easy -- put the editorializing into the mouths of others.

Press releases, like other types of stories, typically feature multiple quotes from individuals who are either directly involved in the events or adding their two cents as an expert in the subject at hand. You, the writer, don't have to play your emotional hand as long as you have company representative and industry pundits ravings about how exciting this new development is or how brilliant a solution this new product provides. Your quotes are the beating heart of your press release; the surrounding narrative is the brains.

Become Your Own Newsroom

Don't rely 100 percent on your target news publication rushing your story to the presses, no matter how well-crafted it may be. Publishers juggle tons of submissions at any given time, forcing them to give preference to those lucky few with the perfect combination of relevance, writing skill, and word count for the current issue's particular needs. Instead of depending entirely on other publishers, be your own publisher as well. Post your press releases to the News section of your website, and use your social media channels to drum up interest and provide inbound links to those juicy stories. 

You might even profit from retroactive press release publication. I was once hired by a finance company to write 12 months' worth of "old" press releases covering the company's busy, exciting first year in the industry. The client posted each press release on the company website with an appropriate time stamp, making it look as if the pieces had been posted as the events occurred. This filled out the Company News section nicely and added welcome weight and authority to the business's online presence, while helping to set the tone for future postings.

Follow these basic tips, and you're more likely to get significant results from your press releases. You can make the process even easier and more effective by outsourcing the actual writing to a professional. See you in the headlines!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Content That Converts: Writing for Your Sales Funnel

We've all seen tons of websites that just didn't do it for us for whatever reason. Maybe you got hit with a gigantic wall of text covering everything the company does, thinks, and believes, when all you wanted was to find the right replacement part for your lawnmower motor. Or maybe you clicked onto a page promising to solve that exact issue, only to slog through more generalized, irrelevant content. It's enough to make you jump ship for a competitor's website, isn't it? Well, your online presence may be suffering the same problem -- a low conversion rate caused by folks ejecting themselves from your sales funnel.

Attention-grabbing Articles

If you've been in sales for long, you know of course that the sales funnel is your system from grabbing a large number of visitors and narrowing that number down to red-hot qualified leads. You scoop them into the top of the sales funnel by coming up in their online search for a particular problem, topic, or question. For instance, someone in the Austin area searching for "lawnmower trouble" might be rewarded with a link to your blog article on "Lawnmower Troubleshooting Tips for Austin Homeowners." The article itself might invite readers to click through to your website for more helpful information. So now you've got Austin homeowners coming to your site for answers to their lawnmower problems. Assuming that's what you wanted, congratulations!

Web Wrangling

But there's still the rest of the funnel to guide your prospective customers through -- and without the proper content, you'll lose them somewhere along the way. You might even lose them right from the home page, in fact. Some businesses try to land the sale immediately, which not comes across as pushy but also turns the home page into a gigantic mess of "Here's way more than you wanted to know. Now click here to purchase." Sales don't work that way! You have to route your visitors to specific areas of the site that offer solid, specific solutions. Make sure your site navigation is clear enough that they can find these portals quickly and easily.

Landing Leads

Your customers-to-be are now in the midpoint of the sales funnel: your product or service landing pages. These pages do a lot of the heavy lifting in converting your prospects. Now that you've gout your audience pared down to a specific need or interest, here's your chance to demonstrate your detailed understanding of their problem, along with an exciting sales pitch for your solution. There's a good chance that your visitor might be intrigued enough to make a purchase or contact your business at this point -- but don't count on it!

Fulfilling Followups

Yes, there's usually one more level of the sales funnel to negotiate. Your visitor may be almost ready to buy from you, but maybe not right this minute. It's imperative that you grab their contact information at this point so you can continue to follow up with them later. You do this by enticing them to sign up for a special offer such as, say, a free ebook on "How to Keep Your Lawnmower Working for 50 Years." You can then send them periodic email blasts and e-newsletters to keep them interested until they finally buy.

As you can see, different parts of the sales funnel call for different kinds of marketing content. Once you've achieved this fine tuning, you'll be able to keep those visitors moving through the funnel until they emerge as genuine leads. Contact me if you'd like some professional help as you write your way to higher conversion rates!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why Is a Freelance Copywriter Like a Microwave?

My microwave went kaput not long ago -- the second small, cheap unit to have lived up to its price tag in a matter of months. Since this particular freelance marketing copywriter doesn't have a lot of kitchen expertise, this failure might seem like a major crisis to be resolved with an immediate replacement. But I'm obviously not having much luck with these contrivances, and since I can't afford to take out a membership in the Microwave of the Month Club, I'm content for the moment to steam and bake and boil and broil the old-fashioned way. Everything comes out just as well as it did under radiation. Why, then, are microwaves so popular in households the world over? Here are some reasons:

  • Speed - Microwave ovens can drastically reduce the time needed to produce the final result.
  • Convenience - Pop the food in, press some buttons, and wait a bit. No muss, no fuss.
  • Energy savings - Microwaves don't burn nearly as much as energy as running your burners and oven for an hour or more at a time.
  • Redundancy - It's a handy backup to your other cooking appliances.
  • Space savings - A microwave is like a little kitchen in a box, doing the job of multiple specialized tools within a single small "footprint."

While I was pondering these benefits, it suddenly hit me that we freelance copywriters are the microwave ovens of the marketing content world. How so? Let's go back over the list again:

  • Speed - A skilled, experienced writer can produce top-quality content in a fraction of the time it might take a non-expert.
  • Convenience - Pay the fee, hand over the background info, and wait a bit. No muss, no fuss.
  • Energy savings - Outsourcing your writing needs frees up your available energy to do a zillion other critical tasks.
  • Redundancy - Freelancers are a great backup to whatever writing staff you already have.
  • Space savings - Don't want to keep a full-time writer? Hire a freelancer as needed and save "space" on your payroll!

Yes, you can continue to write your own marketing materials, just as I can continue cooking my food using those bulky old appliances. But it's a comparatively wasteful, stressful and tiring process compared to letting the "miracle machine" do all the work. Consider freelance copywriters your "miracle machine" for producing effective marketing content quickly and painlessly. 

Well, that did it; I've talked myself into shopping for another microwave. Sure, I'll have to spend a little money, but I've got better things to do than slave over a hot stove. Don't you?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Web Content Not Working? Could Be Your Design

The title makes this post sound like it's focused on web design, but it isn't really. Why would a copywriter presume to write about web design? It just so happens that web design and written content are two sides of the same coin -- that coin being the revenue you make off of incoming site traffic and conversions.

Let's say your fabulous new business website is failing to turn visitors into buyers. You know it's fabulous because you hired a professional copywriter to cook up some fabulous content, which he did. The text grabs the attention right off the bat, makes a powerful statement, and closes with the appropriate call to action -- so why is it tanking?

Well, for starters, maybe it's sitting in an effective layout. Does the design make it easy for visitors to see where they can find the specific solution to the problem that brought them to the site? If the home page doesn't provide the necessary navigational cues, viewers may never drill deeper to encounter the rest of that fabulous content buried within the site. But the designer doesn't hold the sole responsibility in creating a viewer-friendly web page. If the writer presents an overstuffed wall of text, the designer may find it impossible to set that text in a visually appealing way. Writer and designer must be on the same page (so to speak) from the beginning, working in concert to create a final result that gets results.

Or maybe your written content isn't working because a large percentage of your viewers can't even read it on their weapons of choice -- mobile devices. Unless you're using a responsive website design that takes different forms to fit different screen sizes, your entire site may be squeezed down until the text becomes microscopic. This issue has grown so significant that Google recently decided to give search-ranking preference to "mobile-friendly" sites sporting responsive designs. The higher your search rankings, the more visitors you'll receive -- and thanks to your responsive design, they'll actually be able to read your content.

Landing pages pose challenges of their own. These pages are saddled with the task of pitching their particular product or service so compellingly that the viewer can't help but click through to the order page. This means that the content must take center stage with as few visual encumbrances as possible. If your landing pages are too busy showing off your web designer's visual flair, they may not be able to direct your prospective customers' attention from beginning to end in an uninterrupted flow. It's like having having someone repeatedly running into the room and shouting at you while you're trying to work on an important project.

Is your design doing this to your landing page content?

By contrast, a well-conceived landing page design will enhance the text instead of competing with it. This is another situation in which writer and designer can achieve great things by working as a team. Creating exciting headers and positioning them in the perfect font and alignment, for instance, will break up the text in a way that soothes the eyes even as it compels further reading. The writer can also indicate to the designer where it might make sense to post specific images, trust badges, and other eye candy that will keep the reader engaged.

Web content and web design are equally important pieces of the big branding and inbound marketing puzzle. That's why you should choose writers and designers who communicate well, work together effectively, and understand the roles they must play in your success. Configure your website so it's easier to read and follow, and you've made it easier for yourself to make customers. So... here's looking at you, website!