How to create a content marketing habit that sticks.

Determined to make 2019 the year you finally create a content marketing habit that sticks?

Are you as fed up of the anti-New Year Resolution crowd as I am?

Admittedly most resolutions are bullshit (giving up all sugar/alcohol/gluten/food with flavour? We know that’s not gonna last) and you’ll have abandoned the gym or your new 5.00am ‘ritual’ by the 23rd of Jan. Guaranteed!

But…I still freakin’ love a New Year’s resolution. January is miserable. We have about 5 hours of daylight, tops — and that’s only on a day that it’s not raining. The kids are whingeing about being back at school. And all you want to do is crawl under the duvet with Netflix and a Toblerone.

If you’re anything like me you NEED a project, something to get fired up about and something to plan. It’s the only thing that’ll keep you away from that effin’ Toblerone.

This year, for me, it’s to spend more time on my own content creation.

I’m the total cliché of the content writer who doesn’t produce much content of her own. But I see the results of consistent content creation month after month. I see my clients making sales, gaining new clients and growing their numbers because they constantly put themselves out there in their newsletters, their blogs and their email sequences.

And it works because we have a plan. We know in advance how they’re going to reach their people, how often they’re going to do it, and the type of info they want to share.

Throwing random content out into the ether and hoping it sticks doesn’t work.

Blogging now and again when you can be arsed doesn’t work.

Consistently creating and sharing content in a strategic way Does.

Creating content has to become a habit so that it doesn’t fall by the wayside as soon as you get too ‘busy’ or whenever coming up with a new topic starts to feel like too much of a struggle.

how do you make content creation a habit? The same way you stick to any New Year’s resolution…

You decide what you want to achieve.

Thousands of people take up running every January; very few of them are still pounding the track come March. What does turn a dabbler into a runner? A clear goal.

Instead of saying “I want to take up running this year”, they decide they want to run a 5k, a 10k, a marathon. They want to fit into those skinny jeans they bought 5 years ago or run 3 miles a day.

How to create a content marketing habit

Choose your goal…
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Because they know what they want to achieve, they can break it down into manageable chunks and they know exactly why they’re doing it. So it is with content creation.

So why do you want to produce content? Are you launching a new webinar this year and you want to get more eyeballs to your sales page? Is this the year that you become a well-known name in your industry? Determined to push your website rankings higher up the Google charts?

If you know the purpose behind your content you’ll be able to reverse engineer your content (more on that in a post coming later this year) so that it accomplishes the goal you’ve set. For example, if you’ve decided that you want to improve your SEO you might want to create a blog post full of actionable advice from others in your industry, which would give you a great reason to include lots of lovely backlinks. If your focus is on working with more blog clients, you’ll write a post that includes tips on how to make content creation a habit — and include a section on how hiring a professional blog writer can help (keep reading to see what I mean! 😉 ).

you monitor your progress.

Those skinny jeans you’ve resolved to fit into? You’ll try them on every few weeks to check on the progress you’re making. You’ll time your next 5k run to try and beat your last PB.

And seeing steady progress — those little wins –is what helps keep you going when the going gets tough — when the weather is crap, and your hamstrings are burning. Or when you’ve run out of inspiration and your inbox is overflowing.

When you check your marketing stats and realise that your sales/subscribers/comments are increasing, or that you’ve jumped a page on Google, you’ll suddenly find your motivation again, even if sometimes you have to dig deep to keep at it.

How to create a content marketing habit

Check those metrics…but be prepared for the long game.
Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

 

You use the right resources.

It’s minus 2 outside, you’ve done no exercise for 6 months and it’s pitch black for most of the day. The last thing you’re going to do is just grab your old trainers and hit the pavement.

No, you’ll use your lovely Christmas pennies to buy some new gear: proper running shoes that’ll give you the right support, a reflective band or two so you don’t get run over before you’ve finished your first run.

To do anything right, you need the right resources.

For me, to help keep my blogging on track, I’m using three things: Asana, constant access to note-taking supplies and Janet Murray’s media diary.

Asana — this is a great task management tool. You can use it to set yourself an editorial calendar where you specify what you’re going to publish and when. Set yourself a deadline to complete each task and make it official. It’s also handy if you have other people working on your content with you, whether that’s a writer helping you produce the content, or a designer or VA working on the layout, on-page SEO and other back-end techy stuff.

Note-taking supplies — the more time you spend working on your content creation the more you’ll find your brain is automatically wired to come up with ideas. You’ll find things that pop up on your social media feeds, your interactions with customers or even aspects of your daily routine will suddenly fire up those creative little neurons and become fodder for your content.

You want to make sure that when an idea leaps out at you when you’re getting ready for bed or on the train heading to a meeting, you’re ready to capture it. I mostly use the notes app on my phone but I like to keep a small notebook and pen in every room of the house for those eureka moments!

How to create a content marketing habit

Get one of these for every room of the house!
Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

Janet Murray’s Media Diary — this is the first year I’ve used this so it’s too early to give a full review but so far I like it. It contains lots of key dates and awareness days that you can use as a springboard for ideas and space to plan your content for the quarter, the month and the week. I’ll save a more comprehensive review for the end of the year 😊

These are the tools that work for me as a blog writer. If you’ve decided that a podcast or vlog is the best way for you to build your audience, you might want to invest in a decent microphone or phone stand. Whether you’re running a 10k or producing content, working without the right tools will make it a total slog and you won’t go the distance.

You schedule it in.

But you need to do this strategically. A note in your diary isn’t going to work unless you’ve discovered your ideal time of the day to work on your content. This will take some experimentation. Just as some runners are full of beans first thing in the morning and don’t mind jogging on an empty stomach, others will find that post-work, post-healthy snack is the moment they’ll have the energy they need to hit their target.

In the past, I always turned my attention to my blog AFTER I’d completed my client work for the day. Yeah, I hear ya, what a ridiculous plan.

After a full day of writing, the odds of me sitting down to do ‘optional’ writing are less than the odds of making it through an episode of Games of Thrones without a traumatic death.

Instead I’ve decided to dedicate the first 30 minutes of every workday to my blog. I’m typing this at 7.25am. I scheduled it in my diary to make it uber official and fired up the laptop before getting dressed or having breakfast. I’ve set my timer and I’ll stay here and write until the beep. Tomorrow I’ll do the same but the 30 minutes will be spent editing, uploading and optimising the post. The following day I’ll promote this one and start taking notes for my next post.

The feeling of accomplishment I get from a 30-minute writing session first thing gets me into that creative zone even more quickly so I’m champing at the bit to get to my client work afterwards.

Plus it’s becoming a habit, something I do automatically without thinking about it, which takes that pesky, flaky guy, Will Power — out of the equation.

how to make content marketing a habit

Set that timer and ready, steady, go! Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

If you’re sat here shaking your head and thinking, ‘hell no, I’m busy getting the kids ready for school/sleeping in/going to the gym first thing in the morning’, no worries! There will be a time in your schedule that’s right for creating, you just gotta find what works for you. But be consistent if you want to make it a habit.

 

You get help when you need it.

We’ve come this far with our running comparison so let’s stick with it. Studies consistently show that you’re more likely to stick to an exercise-based resolution if you rope in a pal.

Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives” agrees. During her research, she identified four different types of people who, when it comes to creating habits, are motivated by different factors.

She believes most of us fall into the ‘Obligers’ category meaning we struggle to meet inner expectations, those resolutions we set for ourselves. But we find external accountability harder to ignore. We’ll let ourselves down a million times but we’d rather give up chocolate for a year than let down someone who’s relying on us.

If an Obliger has an early-morning run marked in their schedule they may well hit the snooze button and go straight back to sleep. If they know their friend will be outside waiting for them, they’ll follow through. And once you’re outside and running, it’s lovely to have someone there to motivate you. Someone to give you a gentle nudge and to push you on when your legs are burning and you just want to collapse into the nearest Starbucks with a blueberry muffin.

So how do we relate this to our content creation?

Get a content buddy.

I’m betting you know other business owners, right? And if you don’t, then sack this resolution, you’ve just found an even better one!

So find a fellow entrepreneur who’s equally determined to conquer their content this year and buddy up. You can brainstorm ideas with each other if your content well starts to run dry and you can kick each other’s butts if you’re starting to lose motivation.

Use a business coach.

Alternatively, you could try hiring a business coach. Not only will a business coach help you devise a business goal roadmap, but they’ll also give you a good dose of tough love when you most need it.

Hire a content pro.

A pro content creator will help you with every stage of the process, from developing a content strategy to the final creation, publication and promotion of each piece. It takes a lot of pressure off your back and it can be great to have someone who can take the bare bones of your ideas and turn it into something that’ll really engage your audience.

My current packages are here but I’m teaming up with Fiona Robertson Graphics so I can offer more than writing services. Together we’ll take care of the whole blog process, including graphics, backlinks,  on-page SEO and all the other bits and bobs you need to make your blog work. We’re offering 4 packages a month so if you want to be first on the list, drop me an email here.

 

You manage your expectations.

This is the bit that frustrates so many people when they start any New Year’s resolution. On a diet? You knew it would take a while to see a difference but when you’ve only lost 2lbs after four weeks of eating nothing but kale and sadness, it’s no wonder you faceplant the first pizza you see.

Two months into the running habit and you STILL struggle to complete your weekly Park Run. You start to wonder if it’s worth all of the hassle and planning.

And three months into a run of consistent content creation you still haven’t gone viral/had a £5k month/been able to take early retirement in the Seychelles.

Are you failing? Doing something wrong?

Nope. You’ve just fallen prey to unrealistic expectations.

If running a marathon/fitting into your old jeans/smashing content marketing were easy, you’d have done it already. You wouldn’t have had to add it to your list of resolutions.

So do yourself a favour and give yourself a pep talk right now. Tell yourself that it won’t be easy, results won’t be immediate and commit yourself to a long-term creation habit.

 

You pick something you enjoy.

If you want to get fit you don’t decide to take up swimming if you can’t stand getting wet, or rambling if you hate the great outdoors. Your running habit will only take root if you actually enjoy running.

So if you can’t stand writing, maybe a blog isn’t the best form of content marketing for you. If you fancy getting in front of the camera, a vlog might be a better option. Or if you’re the king or queen of chat, consider starting a podcast instead. You’ll still have to do some writing, of course, planning topics, deciding on an angle, working out the bullet point of what you’re going to cover…but the excitement of getting in front of the camera or mic should be enough to spur you on.

If none of the usual forms of content marketing appeal, then it really is time to call for help. If you can’t find a way to enjoy creating content, it’ll be next to impossible to turn it into a sustainable habit. Bring a pro content creator on board and then you can forget about your content and set yourself a resolution you’ll actually enjoy.

Like spending more time with Netflix and a Toblerone!

Content marketing is such a powerful tool for growing your business, helping you build your authority, establish your brand and even (or especially!) make sales. But only if you do it consistently. If you vow every January to work harder on your content only to have given up by Easter, why not give some of these tips a try?

And if you’re super busy or you just hate writing but you really want to get on top of your blogging, I’d love to work with you on one of my blog packages.

Further reading:

7 benefits of having a business blog.

How to use social proof in your marketing.

 

 

The top 3 things you should do for your business BEFORE the Christmas holidays.

Of course, if you have one of these guys in your office I give you full permission to goof off for the whole of December. And can I come and play too?
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

 

Are you going to end 2018 with a bang or a whimper?

I don’t know about you guys but after a few crazy months spent trying to get all of my clients’ content up to date before the Christmas holidays, my calendar is looking much calmer. Calm enough to allow the teeniest, tiniest sliver of “holiday cheer” to start filtering through.

And as work-related busyness finally becomes more manageable, my personal life is becoming crazy. I bet you know what I’m talking about…

Your kids’ school seem to want either your presence or your pennies every other day for Nativities, Christmas Jumper Days, panto trips…
Your friends all want to “catch up before Christmas” (as do you, obviously, but there’s now a weird artificial rush on social engagements as if we’re all going to drop off the face of the earth as soon as the bells ring out for 2019).
You’re hit with the realization that you’re cooking Christmas dinner for 9 people, which requires a complete looting of Sainsbury’s as well as much time spent rearranging furniture to test out where everyone will sit.

You’re definitely tempted to down tools altogether, launch yourself into a vat of mulled wine and declare yourself done for the year. Hey, I’m right there with you and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that — choosing when to work is one of the benefits of self-employment, right?

But here’s the thing. I’ve had a bloody amazing year and I’m determined that 2019 is going to be even bigger and better. And I want the same for you too.

So instead of putting the curtain down on 2018 a bit early, let’s use the next couple of weeks to supercharge your business for next year, with my top 3 tips for ending the year on a bang rather than a whimper.
Who’s with me?

Know your numbers.

This is such a great time of year to take stock of your financial situation, particularly if your accounts run to the end of the tax year in April. After all, you still have one full quarter left to hit those sales targets. So if your projections show that you’re going to be £3,000 short come April, you know that you only need to sell two more packages at a value of £1,500 to make your target. And with 3 months to spare you have plenty of time to go out and find new clients or reach out to previous ones.

Having a handle on your current numbers will also tell you whether you can splurge on a fancy new ergonomic office chair or CPD course in the January sales. I already have my eye on a few exciting purchases!

Of course, if you’re a shoebox accounting aficionado this could turn into a hell of a job, in which case I definitely recommend a glass of something mulled while you tackle it. And once you’ve got those pesky little receipts under control, make it a New Year’s resolution to go digital with your accounts next year. Neither numbers nor tech come naturally to me (no surprises there!) but I find the Wave app particularly easy to use when it comes to keeping track of my business income and expenditure — one quick look at my dashboard tells me exactly how much profit I’ve made this year so far.

 

Fill your New Year calendar.

New Year, new prices?

If you’re planning to put your prices up, and you have some gaps in your schedule for January and February, you’ve got a great excuse to get in touch with your past clients and all of the lovely people on your list. Let them know that you’re planning a price increase in 2019 but give them the opportunity to book in with you now (for work to be completed before the end of February),

Let people know that your prices are going up in January and now’s the time to book in at your current prices. They get a New Year bargain and you start the year with a full diary and deposits in before Christmas. Everyone’s happy!

(On that note, I actually am introducing a long-overdue price increase in January. I have two slots available for web content, one in January and one in February, so hit me up now if you want to book one of those at my current rates.)

Get a jump start on your content.

Ok, I get that for loads of you, planning and (groan!) actually writing your business content is a total drag and you’d definitely rather eat a mince pie and watch Home Alone for the 3,562nd time (ya, filthy animals), but I promise you’ll thank me come January if you already have some of your 2019 content planned out before we all start dancing to Slade and eating cheese and crackers for every meal.

If you struggle for ideas, I recommend having a look at Janet Murray’s Media Diary or you can check out Daily Greatness planners, which I haven’t used personally but they come highly recommended by a fellow content pro. ‘Cos we all know the answer to better content lies in shiny new stationery!

We’re nearly there folks, the season where we can legit wear nothing but jammies or party frocks, eat chocolate for breakfast, and watch Clarence get his wings yet again. Just think how relaxed you’ll be doing all that, safe in the knowledge that your business is ready to hit the ground running in 2019.

If the idea of planning all of that delicious content your business needs to grow brings you out in a cold sweat, why not make outsourcing your business writing one of your resolutions for 2019. I’ll take your blog and social media content off your hands, filling your inbox with shiny new messages you can send out to your audience every month.
Or if want to figure out the nuts and bolts yourself I’ll be introducing new content strategy consultation packages in the first half of 2019. Email me your contact details and I’ll pop you on the waiting list.

 

Merry Christmas! Photo by Tom Rickhuss on Unsplash

 

How to avoid curse of the generic tagline

A word about finding your tagline.

“Ok” Cleaners. Name or tagline? Maybe they’re based in Oklahoma? Either way, I’d try again! Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

 

 

Fast – reliable – honest – cheeky

That, my friends, is not a tagline. Except it is. There’s a company out there that has actually paid for that exercise in banality to be emblazoned across their delivery vehicles.

Fast, reliable, honest. That’s not a tagline, that’s the bare minimum any business should offer their clients! And as for the cheeky part…I’m not really sure what to do with that. I guess it does make them stand out from all of the other fast/reliable/honest businesses out there but I just don’t get it.

Do I want my delivery men to be cheeky? Um, that’s a definitive no. But then maybe “Fast – reliable – honest – shuts the f up and gets on with the job” just isn’t catchy enough…

So cheeky it is.

I almost fell into the fast-reliable-honest trap myself. I was talking branding with my graphic designer/sister/favourite collaborator, Fi, when she was designing my logo and she was getting all up in my grill about what actually makes me so awesome.

And I was doing that butt-clenchingly cringey British thing where we all pretend that actually we’re a bit crap and owe all of our success to blind luck and cute accents.

“I’m great with a deadline,” says I, “I’m really reliable”. Blush, blush, cringe, cringe.

“No, you eejit”, says she. “Any entrepreneur worth their salt and vinegar crisps is punctual and reliable.”

“What makes you different? If you’re not different, we can’t sell you.” God, I hate it when she’s right.

Can you relate? How do you sell yourself? When you’re networking, when you’re writing blog posts, when you’re talking to potential clients? When writing your tagline?

Let me tell you if you haven’t come up with anything better than fast-reliable-honest or some other version based on a 16-year-old’s first attempt at a CV, then you’re snookered.

So how do you find your tagline?

It’s blindingly simple. Ask your people.

“What do your clients say about you?” Fi asked. Bingo, light bulb, Eureka!

Looking back at my testimonials, my clients consistently express their surprise that I manage to sound exactly like them when I’m writing their stuff. That’s what makes me great at my job, and there’s my tagline: “My Words, Your Voice”.

Four words and I’m tapping into what I do well, but I’m also assuaging a common fear clients have before they come to me, namely that their copy won’t sound like them.

So what do your clients say about you?

Have a good look through every bit of feedback you’ve ever received and I guarantee you’ll begin to see a pattern. Your “what makes you different”, and your tagline, are hiding somewhere in there.

And if you’re a newbie? With no clients, and no testimonials? Think about what you’d like future clients to say about you? How are you planning to blow their minds?

Hint: it ain’t with your fast, reliable, honest service. You’re so much more than that. You know it and I know it — it’s time to make sure everyone else knows it too.

And if you want to be cheeky, that’s up to you!

A word about finding your tagline.

Cheeky!
Photo by Aidas Ciziunas on Unsplash

 

More on that British reluctance to blow your own trumpet. Not as dirty as it sounds, sorry!

Does your business need a style guide? Here’s what you need to know.

Why your website isn't converting

Does your business need a style guide? Here’s what you need to know.  Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Have you heard of a style guide before? Chances are, unless you’ve done a whole bunch of research on branding or you work in the editorial field, you haven’t.

And that’s the exciting news, my business-building friends, because this is your chance to get ahead of the game and really make a splash with your branding.

What is a style guide?

Editors use style guides to help them deal with things like the Oxford comma, capitalisation of headings and other details that might seem insignificant to non-writer types. It’s a comprehensive document that outlines exactly how things should be done for each project.

So what does that have to do with you and your business?

Well, the purpose of an editorial style guide is to ensure consistency in your eBook, your novel or your thesis. And consistency is what a style guide will bring to your business too.

What are the benefits of creating a business style guide?

The number one benefit, as I’ve already mentioned, is consistency. Consistency in branding screams professionalism; it helps you stick in people’s minds and makes you instantly recognisable. Mixed messages in your content and branding can make you seem unreliable and could seriously undermine your marketing efforts.

A style guide is even more vital if you have multiple people handling your marketing content, if, for example, you outsource blogging to a content writer or you employ a PR company to write your press releases.

Any graphic designers, copywriters or social media managers you use, all need to be on the same page when handling your brand and a business style guide will make sure everyone stays on message.

I’m a sole trader — do I still need a style guide?

Absolutely. Even if you aren’t yet at the stage where you can afford to outsource to other professionals, a style guide can save you loads of time when you’re creating your own content.

Once you’ve created the document, print it out and have it to hand every time you write any type of marketing content for your biz. Instead of having to go back over previous blog posts to look at your heading sizes or to double-check the specifics of your brand colours, you’ll have it right there beside you.

What should my business style guide include? (And what can I miss out?)

I know you’re probably pretty tight for time (boy can I relate to that!) so I’m going to outline the absolute essential things you need to add to your style guide to get you started — you can always add to it as you go.

Let’s start with the biggies. These are the things that you should have a quick look over before you write ANYTHING for your business.

Your brand message.

Anyone with shiny object syndrome will know that it’s easy to get distracted in your business — most entrepreneurs are teeming with ideas and it can be a struggle to stay on target sometimes. The first thing I want you to add to your new style guide is your brand message.

What are you all about? What is the key purpose of your business? This will save you from becoming side-tracked and help keep you on message.

Your brand values.

Are you uber-professional? Elegant and classy? Fun and dynamic?

Now, personally, I like to think of myself as all of these things (don’t laugh!); some days I find that my writing is more inclined to the super-serious, other times I want to let loose and really have fun with it. Both versions are authentically me but to have such a mix of styles on my blog or social media platforms wouldn’t work (consistency, remember?) so I’ve tried to find a balance between all of these elements.

When it comes to your style guide you should pick three or four words that sum up you and your business and use these to help you keep the tone and pitch of your content consistent across your marketing.

Your avatar.

Your avatar, also known as your target customer, is who you’re writing for. I’m going to delve further into this in a future post, but it’s so important to nail this early on in your branding journey. This is the person you’ll be writing for when you blog, when you update your FB page, when you write your web copy.

You need to have this person really clear in your mind and pitch your content to suit them — think about what kind of terminology they’ll relate to and what kind of language will put them off.

So those are the biggies. Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty, the finer details that will make your content look consistently professional.

Typography.

The fonts you use matter. If you don’t believe me, ask Fiona Robertson, my go-to graphic designer. She’d happily chew your ears off for hours on this! When she designed my logo for me, she sent me a whole package of stuff to help me keep my branding consistent, including fonts.

Now I use the same font whenever I send out a client proposal, a quote, an invoice or any other documentation. It just makes everything look a little more polished.

Brand colour.

Ditto brand colours. Colour is such a powerful way to help your brand creep into a person’s psyche. Just think of Coca Cola red or McDonalds golden arches. You want to use your brand colours across your marketing channels. Whenever anyone sees your signature rose gold, electric pink or cool grey, you want them to instantly think of you.

I actually went to a networking event in my signature blue the other day although I confess that I only realised after I got home that my frock matched my logo! Wearing nothing but your brand colours might be taking things a step too far…

Your language.

It’s worth having a think about the kind of you want to use — as well as the kind of language you might want to avoid — and your client avatar will play a huge part in that.

We’re well past the era when swearing in your marketing would be completely unacceptable and you’ll find plenty of credible, professional business owners throwing around all sorts of f-bombs. Whether or not profanity is acceptable in your business content comes down to your target audience. Would occasional swearing help them relate to you or would it make them block your twitter feed? Make sure you’ve figured this out and stick to whatever decision your research leads you to.

Think too about jargon and industry buzz words. Will using them confuse your audience or will they lend you credibility? Again, make a decision about the kind of words that’ll be appropriate for your audience, and stick to it. If you find yourself drawn to jargon when you’re writing, it’s worth having a list of the words you’ve decided to avoid and a few alternative ways of saying the same thing that your readers will prefer.

Tone of voice.

This links back to your brand values. The words you’ve chosen as your essential brand values will direct you to the right tone of voice to use. Add a couple of lines to your style guide as a reminder of the overall tone you want to hit when writing your content.

Content layout.

Keep your content layout consistent by noting which heading sizes you use in blog posts, how you lay out your call-to-action and the different ways you break up the text in your posts.

Linguistic elements.

Okay, this is the part where you might start thinking I’m getting a little picky. You probably have a point but paying attention to these details can have a bigger impact than you’d think and they’re pretty easy to get right so trust me on this one!

Spelling and capitalisation.

Your customers may be global, but you want to keep your spelling local. It’s best to write in either UK English or US English — try not to mix the two. Favourite and favorite in the same piece of content is just confusing. Likewise using an ‘ise’ ending or an ‘ize’ ending: choose whichever one you prefer and stick to it!

It’s also worth noting whether you capitalise heading and post titles. Whether you capitalise full headings, significant words only, or the first letter matters less than whether you stick to one method. Again with the consistency; there’s definitely a theme here!

A couple of final tips.

Your style guide is something you’re going to want to refer to weekly, if not daily, so make sure it’s easy to use.

Remember that, even if you’re the only one using it for now, in the future you may want to outsource your content so make sure your guide is easy to read, easy to skim, and super-easy to follow.

Over to you now: are you using a style guide for your business? Will you be creating one after reading this? Is there anything I’ve missed that you’d add to my list of style guide essentials?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the latest Facebook changes mean for your small business.

what do the latest facebook changes mean for your small business

Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash

I know from talking to clients and other business owners that there’s a real temptation to build your business on Facebook, especially while you’re still in the start-up phase. Facebook is where many of you grow your communities, promote your events, and sell your products. It’s where you do most of your marketing. I’ve been saying for a while now that this is a dangerous strategy.

It’s YOUR business — why would you want to build it on someone else’s land?

So if you’ve nodded along with me, saying ‘sure, Clare, I get your point, I’ll totally get on that soon’, listen up. ‘Soon’ needs to be now!

Mark Zuckerberg has just announced big changes that have everyone in a flap. Facebook is going back to its roots — Zuckerberg wants us to remember the social aspect of social media. So you’re going to start seeing more posts from your pals and fewer posts from businesses and publications.

Great news if you’re fed up of the current ad bombardment, bad news if you’re a business relying solely on Facebook to grow your business. Your reach IS going to take a hit, there’s no doubt about it.

So what can you do about it?

Get yourself a website — pronto.

If you’ve been using your Facebook business page as a substitute for a website, I get it. A website can be a huge investment. But it doesn’t have to be. To get you started you just need a presence; it doesn’t have to be all bells, whistles, and sparkles.

There are loads of DIY options that you can look into but my preferred site builder is WordPress. Building the site takes a little bit of time but it’s not too tricky to get it set up and once you’ve got it in place it’s really easy to navigate and update. (If you’re a bit of a technophobe, check out this free course to help you get started with WordPress)

If you’re not sure what you’re doing in terms of content, check out a few of my previous posts that will give you some useful pointers.

Why your web copy isn’t converting…and what to do about it.

Do you have the confidence to blow your own trumpet?

Three things to include in your ‘about me’ page, and one you should definitely avoid.

Build your list.

We’ve got to talk about your email list. If your community only exists on Facebook, you’re taking a huge risk. What will happen if you inadvertently break FB rules and find yourself locked out of your page? Do you know who your followers are? Would you be able to contact each one if you didn’t have access to FB?

Conversely, if you focus on building your email list, you will always be able to contact your supporters, whenever you need to. Your list belongs to you. Your Facebook fans belong to Zuckerberg.

I’m going to dedicate a future post to the topic of building an email list (it’s something I’m going to focus on this year myself – keep an eye out for a free email course coming soon!) but the gist of it is that you need to make sure you have something of value to offer visitors to your site. It might be great blog content, it might be a free course or checklist but you need to offer readers something that will encourage them to hand over their email addresses.

Explore other platforms.

If you’ve been ignoring all other social media platforms, now is the time to explore the options. It’s generally advisable not to try to be everywhere on social media — you’ll run out of time to do your actual work — but it’s a good idea to choose two or three different platforms to help you build your business community and reputation. I’ve been guilty of over-relying on Facebook myself and these changes have given me the push I needed to get back to Twitter and to try to make more of LinkedIn too.

Focus on quality over quantity.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for a minute saying that Facebook for business is over. We just have to adapt to the changes. And, focusing on the quality of your posts is going to be key. We’re all going to have to consider engagement whenever we post content to Facebook (more than we do already, that is). What kind of content is going to get people talking and sharing? (Hint: those of us who have so far resisted the lure of video content are going to have to bite the bullet this year!)

Social media platforms do like to mix things up now and again, sometimes SMEs will welcome the changes snd sometimes the changes will send us into a blind panic. It’s vital that we don’t give these platforms so much power over our businesses: it’s time you start building your business on your own land.

 

 

 

 

 

Business book round-up 2017.

business book round-up 2017

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Never stop learning. I think I’m going to turn that into my motto for 2018.

I remember thinking, back in my student days, that there was an end point. I’d graduate and suddenly I’d be able to say, ‘job done, I’m now fluent in Italian’. Let’s just chalk that one up to the foolishness of youth!

The truth is, we’re never done. If you want to be the best (and we all want to be the best, right?), we have to keep studying, learning, and improving. And you’ll know you’re in the right business if you don’t want to stop learning.

Investing in education is one of the best things you can do for your growing business but there’s no such thing as a quick browse through Amazon’s stock of business-related books. You could get lost in there for days, reading reviews and trying to figure out the best way to spend your cash.

So, I’m going to save you some time and give you the top 4 business books I enjoyed in 2017. I thoroughly recommend getting your hands on a copy of each one of these.

Read my post on other top ways to invest in your growing business here.

Business Book Round-up 2017

Given that I’m a copywriter and content creator, it’s no surprise that most of my recommendations are marketing and content related but, unless you outsource every aspect of your business marketing, you’ll find loads of little wisdom nuggets in each one of them, whatever business you’re in.

‘They Ask, You Answer: A Revolutionary Approach to Inbound Sales, Content Marketing, and Today’s Digital Consumer’ by Marcus Sheridan.

They Ask, You Answer

‘They Ask, You Answer’ by Marcus Sheridan

Marcus Sheridan was running a pool installation company when the housing crisis hit and brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. In his book he outlines the principles he used to completely transform his company. He discusses how to deal with customer objections and turn them to your advantage, whether you should put pricing on your website, and he offers loads of ideas on how to come up with the type of content that your customers actually want to read. It’s always nice to see how theories work in practice and Sheridan has included several case studies that show how different businesses have employed these tactics, with great results.

I’m the first to admit that my own blog is sometimes the last thing on my mind (I’m too busy writing posts for other people; a lame excuse but true nonetheless) but, while reading ‘They Ask, You Answer’, I had to keep reaching for my notebook to write down blog post ideas, inspired by Sheridan’s theories. This one is definitely my top pick for anyone struggling with content creation.

‘KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age’ by Mark Schaefer.

Known by Mark Schaefer

‘Known’ by Mark Schaefer

Hands up if you’re sick of scrabbling around trying to find potential clients and convince them of your brilliance? You’re not alone! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people came looking for you? That’s the premise of ‘KNOWN’. If you are known in your field, people will seek you out. Before they even meet you, customers will have faith in your ability to get the job done.

Schaefer knows that finding your passion isn’t enough — you also need a plan. The book looks at how to identify your niche, find your audience and connect with them, and identifies the strategies you need to help you stand out from the crowd. I’m as happy as the next entrepreneur to visualise my success and define my passion, but I like a good, solid plan, so this book was right up my street.

I’m also terminally impatient: I want success and I want it now. Schaefer is a realist. He knows that establishing expertise, developing authority, and becoming ‘known’ all take time. If you’re like me and struggle with the notion that patience and perseverance are the keys to long-term business success, ‘KNOWN’ is the dose of common sense that you’ve been looking for.

‘The Hippo Campus: A step by step guide to get your business noticed, remembered and talked about with Stand Out Marketing’ by Andrew and Pete.

The Hippo Campus by Andrew and Pete

‘The Hippo Campus’ by Andrew and Pete

If you spend any time on Twitter, in the marketing sphere, you’ll have come across these guys. They pride themselves on being different, being memorable, and they like a good laugh. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them seriously though.

Their book offers a fresh take on traditional marketing and along the way there are several easy assignments that will help you define your brand values and unleash your inner creativity. The book is backed up by a website, which includes video content and templates for the assignments in the book.

If you think that we’re all taking ourselves far too seriously, and we need to liven things up, you’ll like the boys’ writing style and you’ll love their advice.

‘She Means Business: Turn Your Ideas into Reality and Become a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur’  by Carrie Green.

She Means Business by Carrie Green

‘She Means Business’ by Carrie Green

I’m always heartened to learn how many women are starting their own businesses and a little sad when I realise that so many of us are battling the same issues: impostor syndrome, comparisonitis, and overwhelm.

These are the kinds of issues that Carrie tackles in ‘She Means Business’. I confess that I’m not one for manifesting, vision boards, and talking to the universe but my level-headed, business-minded sister recommended this book so I thought I’d give it a go. I laid my scepticism to one side, put my feet up and spent an entire evening with this book.

And, damn, I was a wee dynamo by the end of it!

I think I must have slept a total of two hours a night for a week afterwards, I was so full of ambition, enthusiasm, and a burning need to get things started. Within a month, I’d written myself a business plan, built a new website and reached out to all of my old contacts. There was no stopping me. Obviously, that’s not a sustainable way to run a business and I’ve gone back to the slow and steady approach now, but I guarantee that any time I feel my motivation waning, rereading ‘She Means Business’ will be number one on my to-do list.

So that’s 2017 out of the way, now it’s time to get 2018’s reading list sorted. If you have any recommendations for me, leave a comment. I’d love to know what your favourite business books are!

 

 

Top tips on how to invest in your startup.

Top tips for how to invest in your startup.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

 

Start a six-figure business with just $100!

Top 10 side hustles you can start today, with no capital!

Step by step guide to building a free online business!

Are you rolling your eyes yet? I am. Sure there are a whole host of online businesses you can start with very little capital, especially if, like me, you’re a sole trader working from home.

What these clickbait headlines fail to mention, though, is that to actually GROW your online business, you’re going to have to put your hand in your pocket and invest in your startup.

Building a business on a budget.

I’m writing this in December and, despite my desire to down tools and launch myself into a vat of mulled wine, my mind keeps wandering into the New Year and my plans for 2018. My business has enjoyed fantastic growth this year and I know that if I want this trend to continue, I will need to keep investing. But, like you, I’m working with a budget. Not a penny will be spent without some serious thought and consideration of the potential for a decent ROI.

If you’ve decided to invest in yourself and your business this year, here are my top tips for the most effective way to spend your hard-earned pennies.

Networking.

Without a doubt, the most important thing I’ve invested in this year has been networking. Coming back to my business, after a year spent taking care of my family, I didn’t have a huge budget to work with so I concentrated on free, local networking events. The result of my year of networking was a lot of new contacts, a handful of new clients and even a few new friends — well worth the cost of a couple of new ‘work’ outfits and a few bus fares.

I’ve had such success with networking that I’ve decided it’s worth spending a bit more on it in 2018. I’ve recently joined Scottish Women in Business and I can’t wait to get along to my first event.

If you’re in the Glasgow area, it’s also worth checking out The Wonder Women Club (See the Facebook page for event dates). Events cost very little and the group is so friendly and supportive it’s well worth the small investment. There is no better way of growing your business than just getting out there and meeting people.

Design.

Another of my top investments this year was a professional logo. If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you’ll appreciate the power of a strong logo and a well-designed business card. And a logo is something that you’ll use constantly; your website, your contracts, invoices, your social media profile will all look a gazillion times more impressive if you have a professional brand design to show off.

My logo was designed by Fiona at Fiona Robertson Graphics and I’ll definitely call on her again in 2018 to help me with newsletter templates and a few other bits and bobs. Fiona’s prices are very reasonable and worth every penny but if professional design isn’t in your budget right now, and you’re designing your own logo, I’d recommend you invest in her Pick My Brain service. For a small fee, you can book a Skype call with Fiona and she’ll give you solid advice on how to improve your design for maximum impact.

Membership of professional bodies.

For me, this includes the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Membership isn’t cheap but nor is it extortionate and I believe it has been worth every penny. I reckon that investing in professional membership lends your business credibility — we all expect the freelancers we use to adhere to professional standards, right? And, while my membership hasn’t yet led to any new clients, I have enjoyed getting to know other society members and I’ve profited from money off the society’s training courses.

It’s well worth checking out your own industry’s professional body and looking into the benefits they offer. Remember that a great return on investment doesn’t always translate into financial profit! Access to training, fellow professionals, and insider industry info can be worth its weight in gold.

Education.

And talking of training, education is another area in which I strongly recommend you invest a little money. If you’re really struggling financially, you can pick up a few bargains on Amazon, particularly if you don’t mind buying used books. I’ve found a few gems this year and, while investing in my professional development doesn’t directly bring in the cash, I know my obsessive reading has massively improved the quality of my work, which all goes towards gaining more word-of-mouth referrals. Definitely worth the investment.

(This year, I’ve particularly enjoyed Mark Schaefer’s Known and recommend it to anyone interested in content marketing and building a brand.)

If you have a little more to spend, attending a business training day or signing up for an online course can work wonders.  For example, if you’re in the early stages of business, a business growth workshop could be a great investment. *Shameless plug alert!* If you’re in Glasgow or Edinburgh, have a wee look at this business boot camp I’ll be presenting in February. Along with three other experts, I’ll be sharing all sorts of start-up secrets that will help your business explode in 2018. Between us, we’ll cover the ins and outs of social media and blogging, how to write amazing website copy, the secrets of sales funnels, and developing a business growth mindset. Obviously, I’m biased, but I reckon it’ll be well worth the investment and I’m looking forward to meeting loads of fabulous business owners.

Copywriting? Well…

This would be an appropriate place for a second shameless plug; however, it’s possible that you can get through the first year without investing in professional copywriting. There’s no denying that great copywriting is invaluable and, at some point, it’s definitely worthwhile investing in a professional writer (well, I would say that). However, if you’re stony broke, it might just not be feasible. And that’s okay! There are loads of great online resources that can help you improve your own copywriting efforts. One thing that is worth investing in, though, is a professional editing or proofreading service. There’s nothing worse than reading through a business website only to find typos, stray apostrophes, and dodgy grammar. It screams unprofessional and could alienate a large part of your target audience. Editing services cost less than writing from scratch so it can be a great compromise when you’re trying to stick to your startup budget.

Comfort.

Okay, ignore everything I’ve just said — I’ve been sat here writing for about 3 hours now and I’ve just realised that the best investment I’ve made this year has been my super-duper comfy spinning chair. When you spend as much time at a desk as I do, you need to be comfortable so buying equipment that will help you avoid RSI or back pain is sooooo important. So whether it’s a standing desk, a fabulous chair, or an ergonomic keyboard; treat yourself. You’re worth the investment!

Over to you…

Are you planning to invest in your business in 2018? What are your top tips for the purchases that will help your business grow?

 

 

 

 

How to survive a freelance dry spell in 7 easy steps.

surviving a freelance dry spell

How to survive a freelance dry spell. (Photo by Brad Helmink on Unsplash)

 

The perks of working freelance are well-documented: working in your jammies, setting your own hours (to an extent), no more standing for hours on the train as you make your way in to the office for 9.00am.

Of course, this comes at a price. The obvious trade off is the complete lack of stability. One month you’re rolling around on a bed covered in £50 notes (okay, not quite!), the next you’re watching tumbleweed blow through your inbox and you’re asking your husband to call your mobile to check it’s still working.

I know we’re not really supposed to admit when we’re struggling but I’m not one for playing coy. I’ll happily admit that just a couple of months ago I fell victim to the dreaded ‘freelance freak-out’. I had had my busiest quarter ever and instead of enjoying the unexpected quiet spell and taking a few days to catch my breath, I started to panic. In my wee head, the busy spell was the anomaly and the quiet patch was the new ‘normal’. I started perusing job ads…

Can you relate?

If you’re currently in the midst of a quiet spell and feeling the onset of your own ‘freelance freak-out’, I want you to stop and take a breath. Assuming you still love your freelance work, this is the time to have faith and just power on through the rough patch.

Some folk turn to praying, others like manifesting and trusting in the universe. Whatever floats your boat. Me, I like action. I’ve put together 7 things you can do today to get that inbox pinging again.

1.Hit up your old clients.

Don’t forget to keep in touch with old clients. If you’ve updated your services, let them know; maybe they’ve been meaning to get in touch for another project and they just need a nudge in the right direction. Perhaps they’ve been meaning to pass your name along to someone who needs your skills but they assumed you’d be too busy to take on additional work. Maybe they’d be happy to provide you with a new testimonial that will help you close a new client you’ve been courting.

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

2.Send out a newsletter.

People are busy and it’s so easy to fall off their radar. Sending out a newsletter packed with useful content is a great way to remind people that you’re there! Let your list know that you’re currently available and see if anyone bites.

surviving a freelance dry spell

I’m available!

3.Advertise your availability on your social media platforms.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your audience know that you have immediate availability. If you’re usually booked up months in advance, there may be the odd client or two who jumps at the chance to get a project started without having to wait around for you to have a spare week in your diary.

4.Consider launching a new service or event.

Have you had the seed of an idea germinating at the back of your mind for a while? Now is the time to do something about it.

During my last quiet spell, that’s exactly what I did. Based on the conversations I’d been having at networking events, I could see that there are loads of entrepreneurs who have hit stumbling blocks with their content marketing and blogging. I realised that there was a very real need for a consultation service that helps beginner bloggers overcome these blocks. Sure enough, when I offered the service up to beta testers, I had several clients (some old, some new) jump at the chance. Quiet spell over.

Could you apply this to your own business? Could you introduce a new service or hold an event that would help out your target market? Not only will it get some pennies rolling in now, but it could be a great marketing opportunity that will pay dividends in the future too.

5.Get your butt out there.

There’s no point sitting at your desk, crying into your coffee. The best way out of a quiet spell is to get yourself out there — if clients aren’t coming to you, you’ll need to go out and find them.

Book yourself onto a networking event, sign up for a craft fair, go out and meet potential clients.

6.Cold emailing.

If you’re determined to sit at your desk, crying into your coffee, at least be productive about it. Make a list of clients you’d love to work with and send out some emails. Find out more about cold emailing here.

7.Use your contacts.

Do you know anyone in your industry who is swamped with work right now? Let them know that you’re having a tumbleweed moment (they’ll get it, they’ve been there too!) and that you’re willing and able to help them out with any overspill. It’s so important to foster these relationships; after all, there will be months when you’re the one who’s overrun with work and you’ll be able to return the favour.

surviving a freelance dry spell

Get your address book out. Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

8.Hire a sandwich board and parade the streets.

But only if you’ve tried the first 7 tips and haven’t had any luck.

Need some more tips for getting your business out there? Check out this post: http://www.clarecrossan.co.uk/low-cost-marketing-tips/

 

 

How to run a cold emailing campaign without annoying your prospects!

how to run a cold emailing campaign

 

Cold emailing

— why you should do it

and

— how to do it without pissing anyone off

I’m starting this post with a disclaimer; cold emailing is not my favourite way to generate business. Not yet, anyway.

When it comes to landing clients I’m a huge advocate of responding to hot leads (or warm ones at the very least!) and good, old-fashioned networking, whether in person or online. However, I’m the first to admit that these strategies will only take you so far.

At some point you’ll have to look into other forms of marketing.

Traditionally, cold calling has been a fantastic sales tool for businesses but, frankly, I refuse to go there. When the time comes that I can’t afford to keep my kids in Haribo and I’ve sold my last kidney, I may do a U-turn on that but, for now, I’ll stick to cold emailing.

Cold emailing feels far less intrusive than cold calling and definitely far less scary.

I know that many of you will be reading this and shaking your head thinking that you’d rather pluck your eyelashes than send out a cold email. What if you’re rejected? What if you piss people off? What if you’re hit with an angry reply from one of your prospects?

The truth is, all three of these things will happen. They’ve certainly happened to me. And I don’t mind admitting, I let it get to me. So why, I hear you cry, am I entertaining the idea of going down that route again?

Because I know that it works.

One of my oldest clients came to me as a result of a cold email and our relationship is still going strong. Goodness knows the revenue that one little email has generated for me! And, the great thing about failure is that it gives us a chance to do things differently next time. Sure, I’ve annoyed a few people in the past but I now know why and I won’t make the same mistake again.

So, if you’re thinking of starting a cold emailing campaign to generate sales for your business, read on for my tips on how to do it without pissing anyone off.

Be personal.

This was my first mistake, many moons ago, when I was looking for designers to collaborate with. I thought I was terribly clever; I crafted a beautifully worded email, following all of the principles of great copywriting, and sent it out to just about every designer whose email address I could find.

What a disaster.

My emails were largely ignored but I did receive one reply from a designer who was most pissed off at my intrusion into his busy work day. With the gift of hindsight, I don’t blame him.

My email was generic and ‘salesy’. It was bloody awful.

I won’t make that mistake again and hopefully neither will you.

The key to getting this right is to personalise every email. You can use a template but make sure you customise it for every prospect. Use their name when you address them and explain why you’ve chosen to contact them specifically.

Perhaps you’re getting in touch because you’ve read about a new project they’re handling and you know that they might benefit from outsourcing work to you. Maybe you’ve looked at their website and something you’ve read there makes you think that you’d be a great fit for working together.

Don’t bang on about how passionate you are.

As ever, when you’re writing sales copy, it’s not about you. It’s about how you can help your prospect. If you start by listing your qualifications and your passion for your industry, they won’t even finish reading the email.

You have to find a way to make your content relevant to them and whatever problem you think you can help them with. Show them how working with you, or buying your product, is going to make their life easier or more fabulous.

Keep it short.

An email is definitely less annoying than a cold call but you’re still asking for someone to take time out of their busy schedule to listen to you. Keep it short and to the point.

Make it easy for them to contact you.

Remember to include a call to action at the end of your email where you make it clear how the reader can contact you.

Even better, you could offer a follow up. Suggest a specific day or time you’ll call to discuss things further or, if you’re dealing with a smaller, local business, you could propose a time that you could pop in for an informal chat.

Check your spelling!

I kid you not, I’ve received cold emails from aspiring copywriters whose writing is so full of errors it’s practically unintelligible. Needless to say, these people are not working for me. Nor will I ever consider recommending them to anyone if I have surplus work.

Sending out a error-riddled email when you’re pitching for writing work is about as lazy as you can get but don’t think that just because you aren’t pitching writing work, you can get away with mistakes.

You are asking someone, a stranger, to invest in you, whether with their time or their money. Why should they if you couldn’t even be bothered to do a spell-check? Errors in your email make you look sloppy and unprofessional and may even distort the clarity of your message.

If you aren’t great with words, ask someone else to proofread your email for you or hire a professional to do it. At the very least, make sure you’ve run your content through a spelling and grammar check.

If you’ve followed this advice, written personal, concise and relevant emails and you still haven’t made any progress, don’t despair! It may be that you need to tweak your content a little or that you simply haven’t contacted enough of the right people. Cold emailing is a numbers game and if you keep at it, you will eventually strike gold.

Good luck!

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