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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Try more posts for small business owners:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Entrepreneurship is one hell of a rollercoaster. Someone recently described it to me as ‘a series of “oh shits” followed by “woo hoos”, which I thought summed things up nicely.
One of the biggest “oh shits” I face when running my business as a solopreneur is decision making. I’m definitely a type A gal, assuming that A stands for anxiety, and if I’m not careful I can find myself mired in decision paralysis for weeks, or even months before deciding where and how to invest my time and money.
And I don’t think I’m alone. Running a business is hard work, especially when you’re a sole trader. Sure you can run the pros and cons of any new opportunity past your business buddies, your significant other, your cat…but no one is as invested in your company as you are.
When it comes to taking action, it’s all on you.
Which is why I find having a watchword of the year so useful.
Choose the right word and you can use it as a guide, a compass, a North Star showing you the way.
Let me show you what I mean…
In 2018 I had two watchwords: preparation and patience.
In January, I started a post-graduate course in Translation Studies with the Open University. I was also still working at my part-time job teaching preschool children. That alone is a packed schedule, add client work to the mix and you can probably guess just how closely I resembled the proverbial headless chicken.
Various business opportunities came my way during the year that, had I said yes, would’ve left me with an overloaded schedule, compromised the quality of my work and had me reaching for the vodka before breakfast. I had to put my blog on hold, suspend my membership of Atomic (a fab group run by marketing champs Andrew and Pete), and cut back on my local networking.
It was frustrating as hell!
But I knew my watchwords. I had decided that 2018 was about preparation and patience. My study and my existing clients/projects were the priority. (Incidentally, as a strategy, it totally paid off — I’ve been able to give up the teaching gig and I passed my uni course with a Distinction and have even more fancy letters after my name — ya dancer as we say in Glasgow 😊)
2019 has a different watchword so I’ll need a different strategy. The new watchword is partnerships.
I know that I love working with other creatives and the driving force behind why I do what I do is the pleasure of helping other entrepreneurs hit their business goals. So ‘partnerships’ is a no-brainer.
With ‘partnerships’ as my North Star, I know that I need to focus on finding new folks to collaborate with and I want to provide you guys with a more rounded service so that I can be instrumental in helping you build your brands. It means a move away from specialising just in web copy — I don’t want to write your web content and then send you off into the big bad world alone, I want to help you create lead magnets, build your email lists, and sell even more of your juicy products and service packages. A true partnership!
So what does that look like in terms of business decisions?
Joining a marketing membership platform (I’ll be going back to Atomic for sure!)
Getting myself and my brand out there again — creating content, in-person networking and hopefully attending a few events/conferences.
Creating new service packages so I can offer my clients a collaborative approach, in conjunction with other creative professionals (oh look, more partnerships!)
And probably a whole bunch of stuff that I haven’t thought of yet. With my watchword at the forefront of my mind, I’ll know whether any opportunities that come along in 2019 will help or hinder my goal for the year. Which will make the decision-making process eleventy billion times easier. I hope!
Could a watchword work for you?
Struggle to prioritise your marketing efforts;
Find it hard to know which opportunities to grab and which to body swerve;
Want to invest in your business but aren’t sure where to throw your cash;
Hide under your duvet, whimpering, and comfort eating Pringles whenever there’s a big decision to be made.
Setting yourself a 2019 watchword might just be the answer. And of course, before you come up with your ‘word of the year’, you need to know where you’re heading.
This is the perfect week to do it. Hopefully, you’re starting to wind down before the holidays and you’re probably beginning to reflect on everything that went right — or wrong — over the past 12 months.
Grab yourself a notebook and write down what you absolutely loved about your business this year. The stuff that made you happy dance, the stuff you couldn’t wait to share on your social feed, the stuff you want more of.
Like me, it could be about building more partnerships, or, like my 2018 self, it could be linked to an element of professional development you want to explore. It could be something like ‘connect’, where your business goals are linked to the relationships you want to build, online or off, or it could be something super cheesy like, ‘believe’, if you’ve had a particularly rough year as an entrepreneur and you’re teetering on the edge of returning to the 9-5.
I’m generally not one for ‘woo’, but I do reckon that as soon as you hit upon the right word, your gut will let you know. It will just make sense. And when you find your word, plaster that sucker everywhere — your desk planner, your calendar, your mirror, hell, stick a post-it note to your forehead if you have to.
Use that word to guide your 2019 business strategy and see where it takes you.
I’d love to know if this is something you do in your business? Share your word in the comments and how it’s shaping your 2019 strategy!
Like this? You’ll probably find this one helpful too: Top tips on how to invest in your startup.
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.
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!
More on that British reluctance to blow your own trumpet. Not as dirty as it sounds, sorry!
If you’re at all interested in language learning, whether for fun or business, you’ll be aware that the immersion technique — where you’re constantly surrounded by and using your second language on a daily basis — is considered one of the best ways to learn.
That’s one of the reasons that university language degrees include a compulsory Erasmus element, where you spend an entire academic year teaching or studying in the country of your second language. (See Mum, I told you it wasn’t just an excuse to spend a year drinking Prosecco and eating pasta…) It’s also one of the reasons I’m so jealous of translators who live in the country of their second working language!
And it’s all well and good if you have student loans covering your trip or you’ve built yourself a viable working life in a second country, but how can the rest of us learn or maintain a second language if we have neither the funds nor the freedom to enjoy such immersive language learning experience? Or if we’ve already used up our Erasmus allowance?
Can we really benefit from language immersion without leaving the comfort of our own living room?
Well, yes to an extent I reckon we can. All it takes is a little creativity, a lot of motivation and an uber-reliable broadband connection!
1. Radio Gaga
The key is to try to recreate the conditions you’d be living in if you were camped out in Italy, France or wherever they speak the language you’re learning. You’d be constantly surrounded; every time you switch on the radio or TV you’d be exposed to your second language.
Luckily, you’d don’t need a passport to achieve a similar effect. These days it’s simple to find foreign radio stations online and the bonus is that you won’t just be learning the language, you’ll be picking up all sorts of cultural titbits from the presenters’ banter and the (sometimes hilarious!) adverts as well as keeping up to date with the current music scene. It’s also a great way of gaining knowledge of current affairs by listening to the hourly news bulletins or tuning in for special interviews.
My favourite radio station to tune in to is virginradio.it (but I’m open to suggestions if anyone has any good ones?). The problem here is that the majority of the songs they play are English language ones which kinda defeats the purpose.
Enter Spotify. This is a great little tool for finding songs in your foreign language. For instance, if I search for and listen to an album by Eros Ramazzotti (don’t judge!), at the end of the album Spotify will start to play songs by related artists, usually in the same language, so I’m introduced to other Italian-language singers too. Challenge yourself to pick a song each week, learning the lyrics and memorising any new vocab.
Spotify is also a great resource for language learning podcasts. For example, searching for ‘Italian course’ brings up an Easy Italian Audio Course, a search of ‘advanced Italian’ brings up exactly that plus a section of ‘fun and useful Italian idioms’ that I’m totally going to save for later.
One of my favourite discoveries this year has been http://www.cultura.rai.it/ which has loads of videos, in Italian, on art, culture and literature. It’s often easier to understand a language when you can see the person speaking so this is ideal if you’re getting a bit frustrated with the radio.
Youtube is also a font of inspiration for the language learner. Here you can find Ted talks, recipe videos, gamer chat or whatever subjects interest you, all in your second language. Any time you’re browsing online, whether for a recipe for your dinner or how to change a tyre, search in your target language instead of your own.
4. Change your phone and Facebook settings
When we think about just how much time we spend on our devices each day, we’d be missing a trick if we didn’t change our phone and Facebook (etc!) settings to our target language. This is especially useful if, like me, you learned your second language before words like ‘selfie’ and ‘tag’ entered common usage. Yes, I am that old.
It’s all well and good listening to your second language whenever you’re at home, if you’re not speaking it on a daily basis, you’re not getting the full immersion experience.
Skype is your friend here. There are loads of language learning groups online where you can find other learners who’d be willing to Skype chat to help you hone your speaking skills. But if the very thought of speaking to randoms online terrifies you, even just reading aloud or having conversations with yourself can help with pronunciation. Or try copying the speech in some of the videos you’re watching to familiarise yourself with the cadence and rhythm of the language.
Okay, so none of that will ever be as exciting as dusting off your passport and throwing yourself into another country, another culture and another language but in language learning terms I would say it’s definitely the next best thing.
Are you learning a language from the comfort of your own living room? If so I’d love to hear your top tips too! And if, like me, you’re a translator living in their target language country, I’d love to know your top tips for keeping your language skills fresh (other than, you know, actually translating stuff).
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, 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?