Baring all: should you get personal in your business content

When it comes to business content it’s good to be human but are you in danger of over-sharing?

‘The doctors told me he might never talk’

This was my friend talking about her son. He’d been given a diagnosis of Autism at a fairly young age and according to the doc, the outlook wasn’t great.

But hey, what do doctors know?

Over 10 years on, her boy has graduated college and is currently setting up his own business, in partnership with his mum. It turns out that for everything Autism has taken from him, it’s given something else back in spades — an incredible work ethic, attention to detail, boundless creativity. And he’s channeling it all into making custom wooden furniture.

‘You should blog about it’, I told her; share his struggles and how you’re managing to overcome them to create what will (I’m convinced!) be a thriving enterprise in the very near future.

‘Hmm, I could…but isn’t it a bit exploitative?’

Are we at risk of over-sharing?

As ever, I don’t think there’s a straightforward yes or no to either of those questions.

In some ways, as business owners, we’re undoubtedly becoming a flock of over-sharers. Every hardship we’ve faced, every medical diagnosis, every trauma becomes fodder for our marketing. In an attempt to prove how ‘human’ our brand is, and how relatable, we share our sob stories with our audience and the world.

‘See?’, we shout, ‘We’re not a soulless brand, we’re real people. We’ve struggled, just like you. Now, please buy our stuff!’

You begin to wonder if any of it is genuine and how much of it is fabricated to fit in with the current trend for ‘awareness days’ and vulnerability in business content.

It’s all just a bit icky. And as consumers, we’re all far too cynical to fall for it anyway.

Does that mean you shouldn’t share? Not necessarily. It’s just before you do, I want you to ask yourself one question:

Why am I sharing this?

I had to ask myself that recently. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have an anxiety disorder (#endthestigma and all that jazz) but did I really want to bring it into my blog content? Would people think that I was jumping on the Mental Health Awareness Week bandwagon? Was I exploiting my diagnosis in exchange for an easy (and obvious) blog topic, with a squillion hashtags to go with it?

So I hesitated.

For about a minute before I realised that the answer to the ‘why am I sharing this’ question had nothing to do with being able to tick another week’s blog post off the to-do list — I wanted to get that content out there to help. Because running a business when you have a mental illness is really feckin’ hard and I’ve found quite a few solutions that I’ve found helpful. I wanted to write the article that I’d been searching for years ago and hadn’t quite found.

Read my anxiety blog here: Caring for your mental health when you work from home.

Will writing about my anxiety make me more relatable, more human or more likable? To the right people, maybe. Will it make them more likely to hire me over another writer? Who knows? But will I sleep better at night knowing that even one person has tried some of my tips and found a bit of relief from their own struggles with mental health? Damn right I will!

So my advice to my friend, wondering if it would be exploitative to share her son’s story as part of her marketing strategy? I asked her to stop thinking like a business owner, or a marketer, and to think like a consumer, a reader — and a mum.

is it ok to be vulnerable in your business content

You don’t have to hide your vulnerability…but you should have a good reason for sharing.
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Sure, thousands of people will be able to relate to her family’s story, to the struggles they had trying to secure an ASD diagnosis in the first place, what it meant for her son’s education, his social life, and his future. It’ll likely be a story that people will want to share far and wide — great news for a fledgling business. And yes, there are a ton of people who would happily shop their brand because of that.

But then who the hell wants to base their sales on a feeling of ‘well, they only bought my stuff because they felt sorry for me’? No business owner wants the power of a ‘sob story’ to eclipse the quality of their products or services!

No, the only reason you should be sharing your vulnerable moments boils down to the only reason you should post any type of content:

You want to help.

should you get vulnerable in your business content

The key to choosing a content topic: is it helpful?
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

As much as writing about their business journey could do wonders for their SEO, their likeability and all of the other usual benefits that come with business blogging, the real benefit lies in the hope that it’ll provide the readers.

My friend always had hope for her boy and my god did she spend his childhood fighting to ensure that he would have a much brighter future than his doctor had predicted. But it was a hope fuelled by nothing more than maternal love. If she had been able to read stories about other kids who had overcome the same diagnosis, who had gone on to further education, who had become a talented craftsperson, who had had the balls to start their own business…can you imagine what a difference that would have made to the whole family in the days when unfounded hope was the only thing they had? The peace it would’ve brought them all? The stress it would have helped to relieve?

Yes, there’s an undeniable ick factor involved in the culture of vulnerability seeping into business content at the moment. But there doesn’t need to be. If you’re on the fence about sharing your own personal story, consider why you want to share in the first place. If you’re determined to write the article that you wished you could’ve read when you were really struggling, the chances are you’re thinking along the right lines.

(My friend’s business is very much in the fledgling stages right now but I’ll post a link to her website as soon as it’s available. I can’t wait to share their gorgeous creations with you guys!)

 

 

How blogging can boost your business: Fiona Robertson Graphics case study

So you already know that there are a ton of reasons to start a business blog.
But where should you begin? How do you fit blogging into an already manic schedule? Can you really make sales from your business blog? And how the hell do you cope with writer’s block?
Panic not, Fiona from Fiona Robertson Graphics, who has been blogging for 10 years (!) has ever-so-kindly agreed to talk about how she earned the (unofficial) title of blogging superstar.

Well, she needs a break from blogging now and then.

Not that fiona set out to become a blogging superstar. In fact, she didn’t really have much of a plan at all:

‘To be honest I was just jumping on the bandwagon. It was 2009 and I kept reading how blogging was so good for your business that I just thought, ‘hey, I’ll give that a go’.

It was all very haphazard. I hadn’t planned what to write about, how often to write, or how I could make it lead to sales. Not at all the way I recommend people do it now! When I started my second website, I made sure to plan out the blog. That’s had a much more strategic start than my first attempt.’

Wait a minute…a second website?
Yup, as well as running her visual branding business, Fiona has a second business venture, Fox and Finch, where she sells adorable handmade illustrated cards and gifts.
So with two businesses to run, how in the world does she fit blogging into her busy work week?

‘I actually write it into my schedule. Google Calendar and Asana basically run my life for me — if it ain’t in the calendar, it ain’t happening. So I have a regular spot in my week reserved for working on my blog and an editorial calendar in Asana that lets me plan out what to write and when.’

And when things get really hectic?

‘Sometimes I do have to bump it from my schedule. If things get too busy in other areas, blogging is usually one of the first things to go. I used to feel really guilty about missing a session, but I’d feel worse about missing a client deadline because my calendar told me I should be writing a blog post instead, so these days I’m a bit kinder to myself. As long as I stick to the schedule most weeks, I’m good with that.’

Of course, when things get really manic, Fiona knows that outsourcing can be a good option:

‘I love spending time on my blog, but running two businesses by myself I have so many other things needing my attention, so something has to give. I can be a control freak, so outsourcing design or finance stuff just stresses me out. But blog posts are one of the things that I didn’t fret too much about outsourcing. You’d already worked on other parts of my website and I knew that I was in safe hands. I could trust you to write quality posts that would fit the style and tone of my blog.’

Aw shucks, thanks Fi (I owe you some chocolate cake for that one 😉)

One of the things most people struggle with is coming up with new content ideas — after 10 years of consistent blogging, you’d think that she’d be on first name terms with writer’s block by now…

‘It has been a recurring problem over the years. Now I keep a big list of post ideas so that I never need to be stuck for something to write about. I add to the list of ideas regularly. And actually, that brainstorming session we had a while back [Fiona kindly helped me road test My Business Blogging Boot Camp]  is still giving me post ideas. I haven’t used up all the ideas you came up with yet, and I’ve been able to riff off of them and generate even more topics than those we came up with during the session.

Sometimes the block is more that I just don’t feel like writing, but that’s ok. I’ll check my list to see if there’s a quick-win type of post idea — like a quick tip that will take me less than a half hour to put together. But if nothing grabs me I just let myself be blocked. I’ll go do something else and maybe another day I’ll be in a better frame of mind to write.’

So with the stress of running two businesses, scheduling in writing time and dealing with writer’s block, Fi could certainly be forgiven for packing it all in — or taking a lengthy break.
So what keeps her going?

‘The first time I had a post shared by someone I really admired I think I actually squeaked with excitement! Then finding out that my blog had been mentioned in a post by FreeAgent was a real happy dance moment; having a big company like that mention little old me felt like I had really ‘made it’ and that it was worth sticking with blogging :D’

Ooooh yes. You can’t beat a good backlink for blog promotion. And I’m guessing the additional sales don’t hurt motivation either?

‘Yep. The beauty of things like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights is that you can track this stuff — perfect for geeks like me. I’ve had sales of my eBook that I can see resulted from me sharing the blog post about it on social media. Then I’ve had several people book services with me who’ve read my blog and then got in touch. I make sure to regularly promote my posts, both new ones and old ones, so that they keep sending people to my site — you never know if the person reading it will turn out to be a potential client.

So extra sales is always a bonus, but there’s a much sweeter reason that helps her push through those ‘can’t be arsed’ moments: She really does love her readers.
Fiona Robertson graphics: business blogging case study

Feeling the love!
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

‘When I share my posts on social media I get lovely comments from people who say the content is useful. I send new posts out to my email list and I regularly get people replying to the emails with positive feedback, saying that it’s helped them in some way, or perhaps asking for a little more detail on some of the points raised in the post.

If I was just blasting posts out and getting crickets, I might have given up, but knowing that I’m helping people – and that they take the time to let me know about it – makes it all worthwhile.’

Blogging has now become such an integral part of her overall business strategy that Fiona can’t imagine what her business would have looked like without it.

‘Yeah, I think it would be quite different. For one thing, I wouldn’t have an eBook and my Pick My Brain and 1-1 WordPress training sessions probably wouldn’t be there. Those have all come from writing and sharing blog posts.

I’d probably have fewer web design clients in general, as sharing WordPress tips on my blog definitely helps me gain those. I can think of a number of awesome clients I would have missed out on because of that!

And my whole marketing strategy would be different. Blogging is a big part of that, as it’s much less scary to put yourself out there by sharing a post you’ve written than by going out and saying ‘hey, I’m a great designer, wanna hire me?’ – let’s face it, that doesn’t sound like fun at all!’

So what’s her take on the ‘blogging is dead’ war cry? Is she even a teensy bit tempted to jump ship and try her hand at video or podcasting?

‘I’ve been doing this a long time and regularly people come out with the whole ‘blogging is dead’ thing. I’ve been hearing it since shortly after I started blogging yet blogs are still popular!

Things have changed though; so many people are blogging now that you’re basically shouting into the wind. If you want people to take notice you have to be properly useful and compelling.

Some of the blogs I love to read don’t have anything to do with design or freelancing, yet I keep tuning in because the content is so damn good. So I guess the thing is just to work at being better than you are now, then work on being better still, and keep going like that.

I have thought about doing podcasting and video. I’d probably choose video, as that would be useful for the tutorial posts rather than just having static screenshots. It would be as well as blogging though. I’m not particularly at home in front of a camera or microphone, and I’m way more articulate in writing than when I speak – just ask anyone who’s had to put up with my umming and ahhing through a phone call, or talking super fast because of a combination of nerves and caffeine! Plus people learn in different ways, so adding short videos in addition to the written posts would let people consume the content in the way they prefer.’

Fiona’s best tip for creating a winning post? It has to be useful.

My most viewed post is Chasing Unpaid Invoices. It’s really old (2012) but it still gets a regular flow of traffic. It’s a fairly short, straightforward post with tips for getting paid plus a couple of copy-and-paste email scripts people can borrow.

SEO-wise it’s probably not that great given its age (I really must update it soon!) but I guess it’s just something that a lot of people are searching for. It’s sad that so many people need it, but I’m glad that it’s useful. Its success has been helped too by the fact that FreeAgent (who I mention in the post) link to it in one of their own blog posts – thanks FreeAgent!

Thanks so much to Fiona for sharing her blogging journey. If you’re feeling inspired to launch a blog on your own website (or breathe new life into a blog you’ve abandoned) Fiona as a few more tips for you before you skip off to find your notebook and pen!

‘There’s no getting away from it, blogging is hard work.

I won’t sugar coat it and if someone hates having a blog then should they really be doing it? But having said that, if they’re just in a funk, that’s totally fixable. I’d recommend trying to figure out why they feel bad about their blog – are they struggling to find time because they’re trying to post three times a week? Cut back to once a month and put less pressure on themselves.

If they don’t know what to write about, they should totally book a brainstorming session with you, Clare! Or if they’re not confident in their writing skills, then practice, practice, practice – my posts used to be rubbish but the more I wrote the better I got – or try another medium, like podcasting. And if a lack of traffic is the problem, then they need to look for ways to promote their existing content rather than focusing on creating more new content.

Also, remember that it takes time to get traction. Can you name anyone who was an overnight blogging success? I sure can’t. But keep plugging away, concentrate on being useful and creating the best content you can and after a while, you should see a difference.’

Cheers, Fiona! Choccy cake headed your way.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Business blog burn out: 7 ways to kick writer’s block to the kerb.

how to overcome writer's block

Your content calendar is full…now what?
Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

You’re a freakin’ content marketing superstar — you have that list of topics for your business blog locked and loaded and you’ve even drawn up a fancy pants content calendar. You know exactly what you’re going to write about, when you’ll hit publish and where you’ll promote it.

You’ve carved out a bit of time in your diary, your laptop is open and your coffee cup is steaming.

You’re ready to go.

No, wait! Better just go and grab a biscuit first. Maybe two biscuits. Oh, and the dog needs a wee belly rub. Might just have a quick skim through the old Twitter feed before starting…

If this is starting to sound a bit too familiar, you’re either a lazy git…or you’re suffering writer’s block. And I don’t think for a minute that you’re a lazy git! Writing is hard work. Writing well feels like pushing a 10-ton boulder, uphill, in a blizzard.

Hell, I write for a living and my biscuit tin is empty and my office dog is sick of all the attention.

So how do you break through the frustration of the blank page? The trauma of that flashing cursor?

Before you chuck your laptop out of the window in a pure rage or binge on digestives, I have a few tried and tested tricks that might just work for you.

All we have to do is figure out what’s causing your writer’s block in the first place…

The problem: you haven’t done enough research.

How to overcome writer's block

Want to overcome writer’s block? Start with research…
Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

If I’m struggling with writer’s block, this is the first question I ask myself: have I done enough research? Do I really know what I’m talking about here? Have I looked at this topic from more than just one angle? Have I explored it all in depth?

If you’re just starting out with your business blog, this might be less relevant. Most folks, sensibly, start off writing about topics that they know inside out — there’s so much to say the words flow freely, with minimal effort.

The problems begin when you start having to dig a bit deeper to come up with new and exciting topics to cover. You find yourself in less familiar territory and the words are harder to come by.

The best way through this one is to get online and start researching.

Google your topic (you should be doing this anyway to get an idea of which keywords you need to use in your posts) and have a look at what other people are saying about it. You may find some bloggers completely disagree with your point of view which would allow you to frame your post as a counter-argument. Some of them will have covered aspects that hadn’t occurred to you — putting your own spin on these is a good starting point.

Or try Quora or subject-relevant Facebook groups/online forums to find out what your typical clients are talking about in relation to your topic.

Take notes on everything that’s even halfway relevant and then use that to start writing. Once you have a paragraph or two in the bag, you’ll find the rest of it starts to flow more easily.

The problem: you’re hung up on the intro.

After the headline, the introduction is arguably the most important part of your blog post. Get that wrong and no one will bother reading the rest of the blog. You might as well down tools and get comfy with the biscuit tin and the dog.

That’s a lot of pressure for anyone so it’s no wonder that so many folks get hung up on nailing the perfect intro.

But here’s the thing: if you’re already feeling the pressure to get this crucial piece of your blog post puzzle right, the last thing you need is the added pressure of a blank page.

So forget your damn intro for now. Just concentrate on getting something down on paper. You may find that the perfect intro pops into your head as soon as you start to focus on something else or, more likely, a great idea will grow from the seeds you plant in the body of the post.

In fact, writer’s block or not, that’s a decent strategy to work with. I often have to rewrite a post introduction during the editing phase after the blog post has taken me in a direction I hadn’t originally intended!

The problem: you’re stuck in a rut.

Some people thrive on routine and consistency. They have a favourite time of the day for writing, a favourite notebook and pen, a favourite seat in their favourite coffee shop…

But if you find yourself sitting staring into space, facing a creative block, it might be time to switch things up a bit.
how to overcome writer's block

Sure he’s comfy, but is he inspired? Photo by Karin Hiselius on Unsplash

First things first, change your medium. I generally write all of my first drafts in a Word doc rather than using a notebook. But, when writer’s block hits, I find that changing to a good, old-fashioned notebook and pen is the way through.

It could be that your usual location is beginning to stifle your creativity. Grab your laptop and head out to your garden or the local park. Find a different café or even try writing from your bed.

And try a different time of day. If you’re usually at your most creative first thing in the morning, try writing in the evening for a change. Your brain is a contrary beast; sometimes surprising it with a new routine is enough to jolt it back into the creative zone.

The problem: you’ve over-planned.

You’re the king or queen of note-taking. You like to plan the structure of each post meticulously. It’s a strategy that usually serves you well.

Until it doesn’t.

The problem might just be that you’ve bored yourself silly with all of that careful planning.

Somewhere along the way you’ve lost the fun (and remember, writing your business blog should be fun or you’d be better off finding another content medium or outsourcing your writing).

how to overcome writer's block

If writing leaves you feeling like this, you need to find your joy! Photo by Michelle Phillips on Unsplash

So ditch your plan — for now — and just write.

Write something unconnected to the post you’re struggling with: a poem, a dirty joke, the first chapter of that novel you’re secretly planning, a page in your journal. Just write something, anything, and have fun while you’re doing it.

Then, when you’re still in the flow, come back to that pesky post — and rock it!

The problem: you want it to be perfect.

Ha! Don’t we all. Listen, it’s time to shelve that notion for good. Your first draft is NEVER going to be perfect. That’s why we call it a first draft.

And if you’re all up in your own head about whether you should be using ‘who’ or ‘whom’ or whether you have a cheeky little dangling participle to deal with, you’re never going to get anywhere.

As long as you’ve scheduled in some editing time before you need to hit publish, you don’t need to worry about perfection. You don’t even need to worry about ‘good’. Just get something down and worry about style, grammar and spelling later.

The problem: you have stage fright.

how to overcome writer's block - focus on just one reader

Forget the audience – it’s just you, your laptop…and Sue.
Photo by Julien Reveillon on Unsplash

Putting yourself out there in your business content is hard. What if everyone hates it? What if you accidentally offend a bunch of people? What if your post goes viral for all the wrong reasons?

Stage fright can be a huge cause of writer’s block — you start thinking of the thousands of people who might potentially end up reading your words and anxiety makes you clam up entirely. Lots of people find the same thing happens when they try to come up with social media posts for their business page too.

The solution? Forget the audience and focus on just one person.

You probably already have at least a rough client avatar in mind; that (real or imaginary) person that represents your ideal client. You might even have a name for her. If not, let’s call her Sue.

Picture Sue.

Sue’s lovely. She’s going to be an incredible client; she’s going to gladly accept your quote, ask for a reasonable turnaround time, give you all of the information you need to do your job well, pay on time and then give you a cracking testimonial afterwards. She’d never ever slag off your blog post, point out your dodgy grammar or be offended by something that wasn’t in the slightest bit offensive. You love Sue. We all love Sue!

Now, I want you to write your blog post just for Sue. She may share it to all of her own followers (Sue’s nice that way) but forget about that. For now, Sue is the only one who matters. What does Sue need to know? How can the information in your blog post help her?

See, stage fright gone. And you didn’t even need to picture Sue in her undies.

The problem: you’re burnt out.

Blogging burnout, you're just plain tired.

Blogging burnout: you’re just plain tired.
Photo by howling red on Unsplash

Maybe the problem is that you’ve just plain had enough? You love sharing info about your industry but you feel you’re stuck on a content creation wheel and you’d far rather be spending your time doing other things. You’re sick of covering the same sort of topics and finding new ways to say the same damn thing.

If that’s the case for you, don’t sweat it. There are a few ways around this.

First, stop trying to reinvent the wheel.

Put your planned content strategy on hold and consider repurposing your previous content.

Have a look through your old blog posts and see if any of them could use an update. For example, if you once blogged about the things you learned in your first year of business, it might be worth adding some fresh insight to that original post now that you’re a few years further down the line. Refreshing older content in this way can give you a wee holiday from writing, which might be just what you need to overcome your writer’s block.

If you need a longer break from writing, consider outsourcing your writing work to a freelance writer. We’ve usually more than happy to take your planned posts and write them up for you, and because we’re coming to it fresh, we can help you spot any gaps in your content strategy or find new angles that you might have missed.

A lot of content writers want you to lock in for a certain period of time (say, a minimum of a 3-month contract), but there are plenty of us (myself included!) who’ll be happy to take on the odd post on an ad hoc basis, just to see you through your writer’s block.

You may well find that after a short break, you can’t wait to sit down with your laptop and coffee, ready to recapture the joy of writing…

Whether you have months’ worth of content planned out, or you’re scratching your head trying to come up with topics, I’m here to help you out — get in touch to find out how.

 

The top 6 business blogs I’m reading right now (and you should too!)

Blogging is dead, huh?

Meh, I’m not buying it. Sure, some folks prefer a podcast, some swear by YouTube vids or Facebook groups to boost their brand and build an audience but there’s still plenty of exciting things happening with business blogs.

And plenty of reasons to keep reading them!

Maybe you’re trying to build a business while stuck in the office at your 9-5, skimming a few blog posts for entrepreneurial ideas during your lunch break. Or you’re a mum, trying to get as much done while your little ones are napping — a noisy YouTube video or podcast is not what you need.

For me, blogs are the quickest way to learn something new. Most of my day is taken up with client work or family stuff which leaves little time for business development. I can usually learn just as much by reading a well-researched and well-written blog post as I can by listening to an hour-long podcast.

Luckily for me — and for all of you guys who take in more info when reading than when listening — there are plenty of businesses out there that are absolutely killing it with their blogging. And whether you need to brush up on your design knowledge,  figure out your finances or want to work on your entrepreneurial mindset, there’s a blog out there for you.

Fiona Robertson Graphics: for design, branding and all things entrepreneurial.

Fiona Robertson Graphics blog

 

Okay, so she’s my sister, my pal and my go-to gal for all things design-related. Aaaaand I write some of her stuff…so I’m definitely biased. But, Fiona’s blog genuinely is worth reading.

She’s been running her design and branding business for over a decade now so she’s already encountered just about every problem you’re likely to face as a business owner: the crappy clients, the fear of putting yourself out there at networking events and the nail-bitingly awful question of generating passive income. Not only that, she’s been dividing her time between two businesses (the other is Fox and Finch and it’s gosh-darn adorable — check it out!) so she knows her shit when it comes to running both service-based and product-based businesses.

Bolt from the Blue: for all things copy and content

Bolt from the Blue Copywriting

 

This is another one where I’m completely biased but also completely justified in my recommendation. I’ve been a part of Team Bolt since 2017 and there are very few people who know as much about copywriting and content as Rachel, Bolt’s head honcho.

When the world is trying to sell you a paint-by-numbers path to business success (‘you must be vulnerable’, ‘you must niche’, ‘it’s all about the hustle’), she’s not afraid to cut through the bullshit and show you that you have options.

My favourite blog title of hers? ‘The Greatest Marketing Lesson You’ll Ever Learn from an Asshole in a Bar’. It makes me literally lol every single time.

Andrew and Pete: content marketing for the small and mighty

Andrew and Pete - Atomic

No surprises here, I’m always going on about these two lovely lads. Probably because what they don’t know about content marketing ain’t worth knowing. If you’ve ever considered joining their Atomic membership (and you should!), but aren’t sure whether it’s for you, having a look through their blog back catalogue will give you a good idea of the type of stuff you’ll be learning. More than that, because they’re always asking Atomic members to contribute (here’s the blog I did for them a while back on website wow words), you’ll be able to see exactly the type of amazing individual you’ll be hanging with when you join. 😉

They, and their members, will walk you through everything from the secret tools to conquer your content marketing to cool mindset stuff like finding a better work/life balance as an entrepreneur, or how to get out of your own way (and don’t we all need to know the answer to that one?).

The Middle Finger Project: For f-bombs and truth bombs

Is it time to invest in your small business?

This one comes with a massive disclaimer — if you’re a delicate wee flower who cringes at an f-bomb, this ain’t the blog for you. Then again, you’re probably shaking your head in despair at my language already so unlikely to take my recommendations seriously anyway.

Ash has real bee in her bonnet at the moment about women and money. We’re still not making enough of it. We’re still too conservative in our pricing. We’re still letting bullshit excuses get in the way of our true earning potential.

Here she gives us twenty big, fat reasons you’re still not charging enough. Read it and weep. Then dry your eyes and raise your damn prices!

Countingup: the tech bros in the know

best business blog

If you’re still reeling from the profanity of The Middle Finger Project, you might prefer to get your financial advice from these guys. They’re doing some really cool stuff in the world of business banking, bookkeeping and cloud accountancy. Wondering how the hell to get your clients to pay their invoices on time? Wondering if you really do need a business bank account? Stumped about Making Tax Digital and how it’ll affect your business? These are the tech bros in the know.

Now you’ve done the reading, how do you fancy joining in with the writing? Any of these guys will tell you that investing time (and sometimes money) in their blog has been a huge factor in their business success, from building an audience, boosting brand awareness and making actual, honest-to-goodness sales from their blog posts.

Not sure where to start? Sign up for my Blogging Bootcamp (way less scary than it sounds, promise!) and I’ll take you through the process of figuring out your audience, deciding on a content strategy, coming up with blog titles and even share the secrets of structuring a kick-ass blog post.

Or if you want to reap the benefits of having your own business blog but can’t be arsed/don’t have time to go down the DIY route, book one of my blogging packages and I’ll take the hard work off your hands.

 

 

 

Caring for your mental health when you work from home

Is working from home a good idea if you have anxiety?

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

“Do you think you’ll be okay working from home?” my colleague asked me when I confided that I wanted to quit my part-time job to work on my business full-time.

“What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, you know, with the anxiety and all…”

Crap, I hadn’t even thought of that. I’d been too busy focusing on other questions: would I make enough money? Would I turn into a lazy git with an extra two days a week at home? Would I ever get out of my jammies again…?

I hadn’t even thought about my mental health. But my colleague had a point — working from home, alone, can be a huge shock to the system for anyone, never mind someone with mental health issues.

On the surface, working from home can seem like the perfect solution to working with your mental health struggles. Had a bad night? Have a lie in and start work an hour or two later — without a commute, you can easily work around that. Need a mental health day? No need to ask the boss, just take the day off and make the time up at the weekend/when you’re feeling better. Stressed by office politics or the daily train journey? Not any more!

Should you work from home when you have a mental illness?

Is ditching the commute the answer to good mental health?
Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Only it’s not that simple.

Loads of people struggle to switch off from work. When you work from home, it’s even harder. And when you’re running a business, it’s harder still. It becomes almost impossible to switch into relax mode. You inevitably find yourself checking client emails at midnight or catching up with work-related social media at the weekend. Your boundaries start to blur. Work-life balance? No chance!

And then there’s the social isolation to contend with. Because those co-workers that used to drive you crazy were actually helping your mental health (well, some of them were…). They provided you with human connection, feedback on your work; they were a springboard for your ideas.

Working from home is a big decision — hell, if you have anxiety deciding which socks to wear can be a big decision — so I’m going to share a few of the things that are helping convince me that it was the right one. Why not see if any of them will work for you too?

Don’t over-extend yourself.

Folks with anxiety are often people-pleasers. The “no” word just doesn’t come naturally. Add a generous dose of ambition or financial fear to that mix and you’ll end up with a freelancer facing burnout. Which is bad for anyone, but if you have a history of mental illness, it doesn’t matter how convinced you are that you ‘have it under control this time’, a serious bout of stress will mess with your adrenaline and cortisol production and send you spiraling.

Be meticulous when you’re planning your schedule so know how much spare time you have every week for taking on extra work. No reasonable client will expect you to start work immediately so don’t feel bad for telling them that you can’t fit them in until next week/next month. They will wait!

And don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have to do ALL THE THINGS. Yes, being active on social media is important but you don’t have to be on every platform, all the time (Andrew and Pete have a great video on this), and yes, starting a newsletter/creating an email marketing campaign/launching a webinar/writing an eBook could work wonders for your business but you don’t have to do them all right now. Or ever.

In fact, even when you do decide to tackle some of these projects, you don’t have to handle it all on your own; outsourcing to a VA, a marketing expert or a copywriter (Oh hey, I’m a copywriter! There, plug over), can help you avoid overwhelm.

The main take away: pace yourself.
Working from home when you have a mental illness

Remember to leave yourself some breathing space.
Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Watch out for avoidance.

By quitting your job to be a work-from-home-entrepreneur, you’ve thankfully managed to escape from some of the things that were exacerbating your mental health issues. Maybe it was the packed train that always triggered a panic attack; maybe it was your boss whose specialty was gaslighting and confidence crushing. Yay, you don’t have to worry about either of those things anymore!

Which is great, as long as you don’t find yourself entrenched in a pattern of avoiding the things that make your anxiety worse. Because you know, and I know, that if you have a fear of driving, for example, the way through it is to get behind the wheel. If you have a fear of public speaking, you need to get up on that damn stage. The only way to squash the things that frighten you is to face them.

And if you want your business to be a success, you’re going to have to face some scary situations. Networking meetings where you have to pitch your services to a room full of strangers, cold calling prospective clients, asking clients for feedback on your work…

I’m not saying for a minute that you HAVE to do all of those things but being vigilant of your own behaviour and motivations could be helpful.  Yes, it’s a huge relief that you don’t have to take a crowded train every day, but never being able to take the train again? That’s maybe not a track you want to go down…

The main take away: try not to use working from home as an excuse to avoid anxiety-inducing situations.

(A wee disclaimer here — I know that if you’re in the throes of a mental health crisis, me saying ‘face your fears’ isn’t going to do a thing to help. It’s as bad as saying ‘snap out of it’ to someone with depression (please, never ever say that to someone with depression.)Take this advice only when you feel that you can cope with it, or ignore it completely as something that just applies to me. Above all, be kind to yourself and only put yourself under as much pressure as you’re able to handle.)

 

Get out of the damn house. Regularly.

I thought I was safe enough on that score: I do the school run twice a day and the dog demands plenty of walks. But while that’s enough to make sure I get dressed and leave the house every day, my world started to become smaller when I went full-time self-employed.

The four walls of my home office were beginning to feel like confinement rather than comfort.

For me the answer was karate. I now train at my kids’ dojo twice a week and as well as appreciating the hell out of the endorphin rush, I love that it allows me to be part of a community. I enjoy meeting new people, making connections and having at least two hours every week my mind can’t wander back to work (because if it does I’ll end up getting punched in the face!).

For you it might be a different kind of exercise class, it might be making the commitment to go for a long walk every single day or it might be that a co-working space is exactly what you need to avoid freelance isolation. Find something that appeals and promise yourself you’ll leave the house at least a couple of times a week, preferably more.

The main take away: no matter how introverted you are, you need human connection. Find a way to make that happen, on your own terms.
Caring for your mental health when you work from home

They look pretty chill…for now.
Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

Set scary goals — but don’t forget to appreciate now.

If there’s one thing you’re good at when you have anxiety, it’s living in the future (when you’re not dwelling on the past, that is!). Which can be helpful when you’re building a business. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to figure out which steps you need to take to get there.

Problems arise when you spend all of your time focusing on your big, scary future goals.

Instead of thinking ‘woo hoo, I just scored a new client’, you think, ‘fine, but where’s the next one going to come from?’ Instead of appreciating that you crushed your income goal for the year, you start panicking that it was a fluke, you’ve peaked too soon and next year you’ll crash and burn.

You fall prey to the ‘what if’ voice in your head (I call mine Voldemort because it’s a manipulative, falsely seductive, joy-stealing creep and one of these days I’m going to figure out how to turn him to dust). Instead of enjoying the moment and the small successes as they mount up (and big successes, by the way, are nothing more than a series of small successes gathered up over time), you spend your time focusing on the future and everything that could do wrong.

So how do you overcome this?

I’ve found two ways, and they may make you roll your eyes…

Gratitude and mindfulness.

Now, I know they sound a bit out there (I’m always suspicious of anything you could label ‘woo’) but surprisingly, they’re both backed by science.

Gratitude.
how to look after your mental health when you work from home

There’s always something to be grateful for…
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

With gratitude, it’s very much a case of ‘you find what you’re looking for’. Go through life thinking everything’s shit and people are all horrible and — boom — that’s exactly what you’ll find. You’ll see the bad stuff and the good will wash over you, unnoticed. You’ll focus on the social media posts you created that got no engagement, you’ll be swamped by awkward clients that take advantage, you’ll feel like your business is more trouble than it’s worth.

If you’re a glass half empty sort, it’ll take a bit of time to change your mindset but it can be done.

My advice is to start a gratitude practice. Every day, find 5-10 things to be grateful for and make at least a couple of them relate to your business. At first, you might have to look really freakin’ hard because a lifetime of negativity is a tough habit to break. But there’s bound to be something. Did you get a new follower on Twitter? Did a client pay their invoice without waiting for a reminder? Did you feel like utter crap but manage to put in a couple of hours at your laptop anyway?

The more you practice looking for the small victories, the more accustomed your brain will become to finding them. The theory is that, eventually, you’ll automatically start to focus on the good stuff without any effort.

And when that happens, you can look to your big, scary five-year goals with confidence and optimism because you’re super aware of the business successes you’ve already had.

Mindfulness.

Initially, I was suspicious of this one, thinking it was just another wellness fad (because self-care, y’all!) but the science behind why it works is pretty compelling. I won’t go into it all here partly because it would take far longer than I have to write, but mostly because science is not my strongest subject. Others have done it far more justice than I ever could.

The nutshell version though is that a regular mindfulness practice will help you acknowledge your thoughts and emotions without falling prey to them. It brings you back to the present moment and allows you to detach from your whirlwind of thoughts long enough for logic to penetrate (your client hasn’t emailed back because they’re in a meeting or it’s their day off — it’s not because you screwed up, sent the email to the wrong person, are a horrible failure etc etc).

I’m constantly trying to find ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my daily work schedule and really do feel the benefit.

Meditation for overcoming anxiety

Get your zen on…
Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Get started now with my current favourite guided meditation

Or this body scan meditation.

And some further reading that I’ve found helpful:

Ruby Wax: Sane New World

Mark Williams: Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World

The main takeaway: gratitude and mindfulness are not just for woo-merchants — and they can make you feel pretty peaceful. Worth a try, right?

 

Set boundaries.

This doesn’t just apply to your clients — you need to set (and stick to!) your own boundaries too.

Again, if you’re a people-pleaser, this won’t come naturally. And leaving emails unanswered can be torture if you’re an anxiety sufferer. But, I promise your client isn’t expecting a reply to their email on Sunday afternoon (and if they are, ditch them now!).

Your mental health demands that you take adequate time off from your work. That’s just good sense whether you have a mental illness or not.

Decide what time your work day finishes and then pledge not to check your emails again until you start work in the morning. Make it clear to clients that you don’t work weekends and they’ll have to wait until the next working day for a response.

And take holidays! I appreciate this can be hard, especially if you’re the main breadwinner in your family or the sole earner but it’s soooo important. Failure to take the enough time off is a recipe for mental health disaster and will ultimately have a much greater impact on your earning potential than taking a few days off when you need some R&R.

If you struggle to schedule holidays, sit down at the start of every business year and map out which weeks you’re going to take and then make sure all of your clients know about them. Hopefully they’ll have the decency not to ask anything of you during those periods and you’ll find it easier to take the time, guilt-free.

Caring for your mental health when you work from home

Beautiful Lake Garda is my top holiday spot — I feel more relaxed just looking at this…

The main take away: there are no prizes for working 60 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, no award for hustle. Take a holiday!

Seek support.

caring for your mental health when you work from home - find your tribe

Find your tribe! Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Working for someone else can be great for people with anxiety — you have regular appraisals so you know what you’re getting right and how you can improve your performance. You have colleagues to support you when you’ve had to deal with tricky projects or impossible-to-please clients and you have a sounding board (AKA reassurance) for any new ideas you want to try out.

When you’re self-employed you have none of that. You hope that you’re doing a great job, but without regular feedback, how do you know for sure?

You may think you’ve had a great idea but without someone cheerleading you on, you give in to self-doubt and your idea fizzles out.

And those bad days that we all have? Without someone to moan to, you internalise the stress and it begins to fester.

Luckily there are a few solutions you can try:

Firstly, start listening to your clients. Their feedback is as reassuring as any appraisal. You should be asking for a testimonial after every project or encouraging every customer to leave a product review for you but even if you don’t currently do that, try listening to the things your customers aren’t saying.

If they come back to you time and again? They’re telling you that they value your work.

If they pass your name on to their friends and family? They’re telling you that you’re great at what you do.

Take note of these victories and look at it every time imposter syndrome rears its ugly, lying head.

Secondly, find yourself a business champion — someone (or several someones) who you can turn to for advice when you have a great idea or who’ll commiserate with you when you have a crap day or awful client. This could be a business buddy (my sister is mine!), a business coach, a mentor or a membership community (I belong to Atomic and it’s great for helping you feel that you’re not in this thing alone).

The important thing is that you build yourself a little business tribe that you can turn to whenever loneliness sets in.

The main take away: you’re not alone, your tribe is out there somewhere. You just have to find it.

There, doesn’t that sound like I have it all worked out?

Ha, I wish!

In truth, working your way through mental illness is a huge adventure in trial and error. As is self-employment. But if you’re thinking of taking the leap to working from home or you already are a self-employed home-worker feeling the strain, some of these might work for you. I hope they do.

I’m adding a huge disclaimer to this post. I’ve done a ton of reading on mental health, the brain-science behind mental illness, and strategies for coping, but I’m far from being an expert. The info shared here relates to my own experience and the things that work for me.

If you’re finding things hard at the moment, please, please, please, reach out to someone, preferably a qualified professional.

remember that you’re not alone, you are worthy of help and you do matter. You really, really do.

How to find a great copywriter (6 clues you’ve found a good one).

Finding a pro in any field isn’t easy. We’ve all been stung by the GP whose bedside manner stinks, the electrician who didn’t turn up when he said he would, the chartered accountant who gave crap advice.

But at least you know where to start with these guys — they have the right letters after their name, or they’re members of the right association.

With copywriters, it’s a bit different.

We don’t have a concrete career path. We don’t all head straight to uni to do a copywriting degree (it’s not really a thing — at least not yet), score an internship with an ad agency, work our way up and then start our own agency. Which makes it hard for you, as business owners, to know how to weed out the good ones from the bad.

Finding a long list of writers to choose from isn’t an issue. We’re everywhere. Seduced by images of copywriters working from a beach in Bali while making 7 figures a year, anyone who ever scored an A for an English essay (and plenty of those you didn’t even come close) thinks they have what it takes.

So how do you sort through your list? How do you know that they can actually deliver? I reckon there are a few clues for you to look out for.

They have the right ‘vibe’.

That sounds awfully ‘woo’, I know, but bear with me.

You are going to be working pretty closely with your copywriter so it’s important that you find someone you think you can get along with. In fact, anyone who thinks they can find the right words for your business without having spoken to you at length is not to be trusted!

To get a proper handle on your business, your brand, your goals and your personality — all of which is vital to producing great copy — you’ll need to spend some time together. So you want to know if this will be a pleasant experience or comparable to a tooth extraction.

The best thing to do is to meet them.
How to find a great copywriter (6 clues you've found a good one)

Is your writer the right fit? There’s only one way to find out…
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

Since we tend to work remote, in-person meetings might not be an option but I’m a big fan of Zoom (not tried Zoom yet? Give it a whirl, I reckon you’ll love it) or Skype chats. If, after talking through the nitty gritty of your project, you don’t get the impression that you’ll enjoy communicating with that particular writer or they’re just not the right personality type to ‘get’ your business, don’t worry. Not every client is the right fit for every writer and, since your working relationship will hopefully last way beyond the initial project, it’s important to find someone you gel with.

Yes, it is time-consuming but once you’ve found a writer you like you can stick with them for life. They’ll be there to help you through every new product launch, every rebrand,  every new email campaign and beyond.

They have insight.

Another thing to look for is the copywriter’s insight. While you’re having an initial meeting and talking through the details of your business and your project, it’s likely (desirable, in fact) that the writer does more listening — and note taking — than talking. But listen carefully to the things they do say. If they know what they’re doing, they’ll likely have a few insights for you right away (we can’t stop those cogs whirring, you see!). They might throw out a new perspective on your target market, your USP, or even help you clarify your business goals. Any of which will give you reassurance that they’ll hit the target when it comes to actually writing your stuff!

They’re big readers.

When it comes to sales copy, grammar is important (in my opinion, plenty of others disagree) — I reckon you need to know the rules before you can decide which ones to break and which ones are sacred — but it isn’t everything.

So you’re not necessarily looking for an English-class nerd, full of chat about dangling participles and Oxford commas.

That said, what you do want to know is that they’re voracious readers. Because if you want to learn how to write well, the number one thing you should do is read.

Firstly, a copywriter who thinks they know everything they need to know about copywriting is kidding themselves on. There is always something more to learn in any industry and ours is no exception. But a copywriter’s reading should go beyond the realm of books about copywriting alone. I’ve found useful insights from books on marketing, PR, general writing, entrepreneurship and particularly, psychology.

Secondly, reading non-business related books can teach your copywriter loads too. It’s how we learn to master different tone, cadence, structure and all of the other elements that make any type of writing shine.

Oh, and though it isn’t technically reading, I’m going to include listening to podcasts and such here as well. A good podcast can teach you a lot about storytelling, how to structure content and how to keep a listener’s interest — all vital components of sales copy.

How to find a great copywriter (6 clues you've found a good one)

Never trust a writer with tidy bookshelves.
Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

Some of my favourite business books

They have relevant experience.

There may not be a clear career path for copywriters but a lot of us do hail from related fields.

You’ll find the marketing guys will have studied copywriting in some form while training, the out-of-work print journalists will write a cracking headline and the former advertising sales executives (hello!) have gone through ridiculous amounts of training on the sales process, including the psychology of why people buy.

All useful stuff if you want to write shit hot sales copy.

Of course, you shouldn’t necessarily dismiss a writer who comes from a completely unrelated industry, as long as there are plenty of other indications to suggest they know what they’re doing.

They come recommended.

If someone you know has recommended a particular copywriter, you’re probably on to a winner. That said, I’ve heard of networking groups where people recommend other members without having seen their work or used them personally.

So, recommendation or not, it’s worth checking your potential writer’s testimonials and portfolio before you make a decision. And while you’re reading through their stuff it’s worth noting how they’ve tackled writing for different industries and different tone of voice demands. If everything they write sounds the same, it’s not a great sign unless perhaps they’re writing for your particular niche.

What about qualifications though?

It’s always reassuring to see that someone has some letters after their name. And there’s a nugget of logic behind that. While my MA and post-grad certificate are not hugely related to copywriting, I gained plenty of transferable skills that help me do my job well: research skills, time management, editing, clear communication to name a few.

How to find a great copywriter (6 clues you've found a good one)

A gratuitous shot of my old uni because, well, just look at it!
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

But qualifications aren’t everything.

Let me tell you a quick story. You may not know that I am a fully-qualified early education professional (i.e. I taught teeny tiny kids their colours, their shapes and how not to be arses to each other).  And to be honest, I just wasn’t that great at the job. I may have had the right piece of paper but I didn’t have the right attitude, the passion or the desire to improve. All of which I have in spades when it comes to writing.

So that’s my final thing to look out for when choosing a copywriter: do they freakin’ love their job? Because if they do, no matter how many years they’ve been doing this,  they’ll view every project as a challenge — and an opportunity — to be better than they were yesterday.

And that’s great news for you and your business!

Want to find out if I’m the right copywriter for your business? Then let’s talk. I can write your web copy, your blog posts, your newsletters, sales pages, email campaigns and your social media content. And if you need something I haven’t mentioned then I probably do that too — or know someone who does, so hit me up.

Is it ever okay to talk politics in your content marketing?

 

Trump: he’s gonna make America great again or he’s a giant walking Wotsit who’s going to destroy the world in a temper tantrum.

Brexit: hurrah for the Great British empire…or the economy is going to collapse and we’ll all be living off tinned ham and powdered milk by April.

Is it ever okay to talk politcis in your content marketing

This dude hasnae made his mind up yet…
Photo by Kyle Ryan on Unsplash

I’m yet to meet anyone who’s on the fence about either political issue — indeed international politics has never felt so divisive and I’m seeing more and more evidence on social media of businesses laying out their political leanings for all to see.

So my current pondering is: are they wise to do so?

Does politics have any place in your marketing?

It was one of my regular agency clients that set me off on this train of thought. A business consultant based in the US, he has very firm views on the Trump administration and gosh darn it, he’s not afraid to share them! He was determined to call out the president for his narcissism and admonish other political leaders for failing in their duty to stand up to what is (in his view) some truly awful behaviour from the White House.

Inflammatory stuff. And he wanted it wrapped up neatly in a blog post…

As a writer, I was thrilled — what creative wouldn’t want to have fun with such a straight-shooting client and a controversial topic?

As a marketer, however, I had to pause. Because if you’re planning to broach any potentially controversial issue in your marketing, there are a few things that you have to consider first:

Your brand.

What does your company stand for? What are the values that drive you? Does politically-charged content tie in with your brand or does it completely jar?

If your company specialises in renewable energy or doing business in a more eco-friendly way, then talking about political policies relating to climate change and the environment makes complete sense.

Likewise, if you’re heading up the marketing department of a social enterprise that deals with people living in poverty, why wouldn’t you pass comment on the latest government austerity measures?

Is it ever okay to talk politics in your content marketing

Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash

Your audience.

The customer avatar of the client I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s safe to say that they’re not of the wall-building persuasion. In fact, he’s looking to attract the type of customer who’s going to love his anti-Trump rant – the kind of person who’ll find themselves nodding along with what he says and who’ll share his post because it ties in with their own self-image.

And that’s one of the most important things to consider when you’re creating any kind of marketing content, politically-themed or otherwise:

Who are you writing for?

Think about your current clients: what do they think about the issues? Are you likely to alienate them with your views? Can you afford to alienate them?

Think about potential clients: what does this audience want to know, what do they want to hear and what are they likely to share with their own followers?

When it comes to sharing things on social media people tend to share things that make them look good, whether they want to be seen as cooler, smarter, funnier or whatever. Essentially, people share things that help support their self-image. So the person whose self-image centres on their liberal values, on taking a stand for the things they believe in, on speaking up for minority groups, will be queuing up to share content that feeds that image.

So before you start writing any type of content, be really clear on who you’re writing for. How do they see themselves? And what kind of content will support that self-image?

Because that’s what they want to read, and that’s what they’ll share.

 

Your motivation.

Is it ever okay to talk politics in your content marketing

Grab the popcorn, someone’s talking politics…
Photo by saskia fairfull on Unsplash

Why are you considering getting political with your content?

If you’re getting political purely to court controversy, it’s probably not a great idea. If you’re heading down the path to click bait, stop right there! And if your political affiliations are dictated by trends rather than your own values, you’re heading for trouble — we’ve all become far too good at spotting BS.

In my client’s case, the rant against the US administration was only a small part of the article — it was a timely and relevant springboard for a wider topic that fits in perfectly with his content marketing strategy. And as is the rule with any form of content, it still provides his readers with tangible advice, relevant to them.

If you’re planning a potentially controversial piece, make sure you can say the same.

Beware the echo chamber.

Is it every okay to talk politics in your content marketing

Beware the echo chamber…
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If you’ve read the first three points and you reckon you’re safe enough to go ahead and share your politics with your audience, there’s just one more thing I want you to consider before you start creating:

The power of the echo chamber.

When I took to Facebook with my musings on my Trumpian blog post and whether it was cool to get so political in marketing, there was one comment I found really interesting:

“Probably a safe bet…yet to find an actual pro-Trump person in real life…but they must exist?”

Well, yeah, they certainly do exist. And there are probably many more of them than we realise.

We spend so much time with our friends (who likely share many of our political views), reading our heavily filtered social media feeds and relying on the news outlets that most closely align with our beliefs that it’s easy to forget that we’re not all on the same page politically. There are plenty of folks out there with opposing views; people who may decide not to do business with us, people who might call us out and openly challenge us.

Our echo chambers give us a false sense of security when talking about politics.

So when you’re creating any type of controversial content, be aware that you’re probably wrapped up quite warmly in your cosy little echo chamber (I know I am!), and that by putting that content out there, you’re stepping into the fray.

You’d better be up to the challenge!

I’d love to know what you think? Are you happy to wear your political heart on your content marketing sleeve or do you keep business and politics strictly separate?

If you need someone to help you out with your own content marketing strategy and write those ( blog posts for you, give me a shout. I live for this stuff!

 

 

 

 

 

Want to get better at selling? You need to change how you look at sales.

Why you need to change the way you look at sales

It’s time to get comfortable with selling! Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

You need to pitch your product at a networking event, but you’re worried it’ll look like you’re only there to sell.

It’s time to write your website but you don’t want to come across as too ‘salesy’.

You’re great at talking to potential new clients about your business but choke when it comes to actually asking for the sale.

You’re not alone; somewhere along the line, ‘sales’ has become a dirty word.

When I worked in sales I was ashamed to tell people that was what I did. Advertising sales executive; it conjures up a distasteful image of pushiness, of ethically ambiguous suits driven by nothing but commission.

And yeah, it was totally like that!

We were actually told ‘everyone needs this product; you just have to find a way to convince them’. Even if the customer had given 5 excellent, valid, logical reasons that they didn’t need to buy what I was selling, I still had to work with the belief that ‘everyone needs this product’.

But it wasn’t true — it isn’t true for any business — and it’s why I took a nosedive out of that career path pretty early on. It’s also why earlier versions of my own web copy had me crying from the rooftops that I specialised in ‘non-salesy’ copy! The experience had left a dirty taste in my mouth and I let it inform how I looked at the art of sales for years afterwards.

But copywriting — good copywriting anyway — has bog all to do with beautiful writing and everything to do with sales. And it has taken years of running my own business to realise that I’d let a few bad experiences skew my view of an essential element of business ownership.

I bet you can relate. For so many people, sales is that horrible taste in your mouth.

Or at least that’s what it has become.

It’s the intrusive phone call while you’re about to start a meeting.

It’s the knock at the door when you’re trying to get your kids to bed.

It’s the oily salesman who cares more about his commission than about matching the right products or services to the right people.

Because that’s what sales is at its heart. When you strip it of all of the elements that we think make it sleazy:

Sales is matching the right products and services to the right people at the right time.

Without this, you don’t have a functional business. It’s time to make friends with the art of sales.

Let’s look at step one in the sales process as an example:

Building a rapport.

Why you need to change the way you look at sales

Forget sales tricks when talking to clients – it’s about building rapport naturally.
Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Every trained salesperson ever will have been told that this is step one on the sales journey. It’s why they so obviously throw your name into every sentence.

‘Well, Clare. Yes, Clare. The thing is, Clare.’ It feels false because generally, it is. When a salesperson doesn’t actually care about their prospect (another horrible word), they have to force themselves to talk in this way. It’s a conscious effort for them and that’s exactly why it comes across as forced.

But if you’re running a business, presumably you’ve gone into it out of a desire to help.

Take me; I live for entrepreneurship. While I was still working my day job a colleague mentioned a vague wisp of a business idea she’d been thinking about. By the time we’d finished our lunchtime cuppa soups, I’d worked out 5 different services she could develop, decided which social media channels she should use and had written out a list of next steps for her to follow.

I want to see people thrive while they’re building the business of their dreams. So building a rapport with my clients becomes easy because I’m so excited about what they’re doing.

And I’m guessing you feel just as passionate about the aims of your customers, whether you’re helping them put together their dream wedding or building them an IT package that will revolutionise the way they run their business.

And that’s exactly why I want you to abandon any worries you have about this first, essential step of sales. You WILL be able to build rapport because you genuinely care. You’ve built a business because you love what you do and you know that whatever you’re selling is going to change people’s lives in one way or another.

That’s why you don’t need tricks or to remember to repeat their name five times in every conversation. Rapport will come naturally. Because you know you can help and you’re excited to show them how!

A little experiment.

I want you to take a moment to remember the last time you bought something online.  Think about the process you went through as you trawled through the various websites you found. Did you, at any point, feel like you were being sold to? That it was intrusive or dishonest?

Of course not, because you needed that information.

Now let’s imagine that you’re in search of a new VA. You’re determined to work fewer hours in your business and spend more time with your family and you have a ton of work that you want to outsource. Finding the right person to take care of things for you will be a huge weight off your mind. It’ll be bloomin’ life changing!

You search for VAs online. You want to know everything. What they can help you with, how it’ll work, what it’ll cost. As you read through the various websites you ARE being sold to but there’s nothing distasteful about it, you NEED that info.

In fact, if there’s a VA out there who’s just right for you, you’d be pretty pissed if they kept that juicy info to themselves because they were worried about coming across as too ‘salesy’! As business owners, they’d be losing out, but as a potential customer, you’d be losing out too. They’d be doing you a huge disservice.

 

How this relates to your marketing.

This is exactly the kind of logic I want you to apply when you tackle your marketing, whether you’re writing your web copy, planning a social media campaign, or writing a proposal.

To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, you’re not selling, you’re helping.

Forget your bottom line while you’re writing, forget that you’re selling. Your job right now is to match the right services to the right people. It’s to provide people with the information they need to solve whatever problems are bugging them right now. Please know that if you’re offering a product or service that really does work, you’re doing your potential customers a HUGE disservice by not selling to them.

Sales isn’t as much a set of skills as it is a mindset. And if you approach your sales and marketing with this mindset, you’re on your way to producing excellent sales copy.

The problem isn’t ‘salesy’ copy, the problem is our perception of sales. If we bring sales back to what it really is — helping people find the right products or services to solve their problems — there’s nothing sleazy or unethical about it. Nothing to be ashamed of at all!

And really, if your copy isn’t ‘salesy’, if it isn’t written to sell, you have a problem. Then it’s just words on a page. So when you’re writing your own marketing copy or having someone write it for you, you don’t want to avoid ‘salesy’, what you really want to avoid is sleazy. There’s a huge difference — I’m glad I finally cottoned on!

 

Like this?

Try more posts for small business owners:

How to create a content marketing habit that sticks.

How to use social proof to boost your business.

How to run a cold emailing campaign without annoying your customers.

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.