Thursday, September 22, 2016

Speaking Opportunities: Content Gold Mine!

While it is hard to deliver a speech that garners praise from wildly different audiences (thank you, Michelle Obama) most public speaking opportunities fall in the "preaching to the choir" column.

Generally, a public speaking gig is gift. Typically, your audience wants you to be there and they want you to do well.

Exception: when you are presenting dissenting opinions in a public/civic meeting. 
In which case, practice deep breathing and take a friend along for moral support!

public speaking: dying on the platform
No one likes public speaking. Or at least, virtually no one will admit to enjoying it. But speaking opportunities are excellent lead-generation activities - it's old-fashioned, effective marketing at its best. And, while you might find it uncomfortable, making a good impression during a live presentation is actually pretty simple.

Plan Out Your Talking Points

Your audience wants you to do well, but they also want you to be prepared. There are oodles of different methods. I prefer to write a rough draft of what I want to present. That usually takes the form of a narrative - in the "letter to a friend" style. Then I read it out loud.

Yes, out loud. Practice makes prettier presentations.

Practice Doesn't Make Perfect

But it sure helps! Take that rough draft, or outline, or list of things you want to say and just say them. To a friend, your cat, the mirror. Just say it. Out loud. You can't deliver a speech without speaking practice.

This isn't brain surgery, folks. Practice OUT LOUD. Edit your message, revise, and practice your talking points again.

I say "talking points" rather than "speech" because most people think a speech is something you memorize, and memorizing your talking points will almost always backfire. You'll go on autopilot, then forget what you said and repeat something...or leave something important out.

So practice your message, refer to your talking points, but don't memorize a speech.

DO outline your talking points. (Outlined in a slide presentation is ideal, if you're using slides, of course.)

What Should I Talk About? And How is Speaking a "Content Gold Mine?"

Time to deliver on the headline! Public speaking opportunities really are a content gold mine. 
Here's how you can come up with great material and make the most of your public speaking opportunities:

As you prepare for the speaking event, dig into your own mine of content about your business or organization. Reading a blog post verbatim isn't a great idea, but gathering your primary talking points from some of your most popular blog posts, web pages, even FAQs is smart. In fact, it's kind of silly not to do that. (Why reinvent the wheel?)

The person, organization or event that has engaged you to speak is also a rich source of information. Ask your contact what he or she would like you to speak about. Ferret out as much information as you can about the people in the audience. Where will they come from? Why do they want to hear from you? What matters are most pressing to them? As you review your existing content pull what is most likely to be helpful and interesting to your audience.

Once you're prepared to deliver a dynamite presentation, get ready to learn more while you're there! The people you're speaking with are not only a "captive audience" but something of a focus group. As a speaker, it's completely fine to ask questions of your audience and gather information from them. (So record the presentation or take notes.)

Maybe they love your company. Hate your latest product release. Have a wish list of things they'd like to see next season... whatever feedback they offer is truly gold, and should be helpful as you market (and work to improve) your business or organization.

Maybe Public Speaking Isn't So Bad...

Try these practical tips the next time you have an opportunity to speak to a group, staff a booth at a trade show, or even as you just work the room at your local Chamber of Commerce meeting. You might find that you're soon looking for more public speaking opportunities, and even enjoying them!

~   ~  ~    ~  ~   ~    ~  ~    ~

PS: When you're speaking, make sure that what you're saying makes sense. Go easy on the industry jargon and Corporatese. Want help preparing for your next presentation? I can work with you to make sure you get your message across, and make the most of the information you collect at your next speaking engagement! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Small But Mighty Important Fixes for Your Website

Your website doesn't have to be an award-winning design delight packed with games and other goodies to attract customers. (Ok; it helps - but it's not absolutely necessary.)

What's essential is that your website is accurate and useful.

Mistakes on your site (or in your business listings) reflect poorly on your business, and they can cost you money.

Be honest - is your website up to date? 
Does it represent your company well? 

Think of your website as part of your customer service team. Is it working for you, or against you? Even if yours is not an ecommerce site, your website is a powerful force that drives sales - or maybe, it drives them away.

Fixing your site may take more than a day (or a week), but you can start now with some very simple steps outlined below. Go to your website, take note of these things - then set aside the time to fix what you can in the next week. A week from now, repeat the exercise. Your site may not look much different, but it will be a lot more useful.

Small But Mighty Important Steps to Improve Your Website

The trick is that you must look at your site with fresh eyes. When you're familiar with a sign, an online or printed page, or even when you read a common phrase, it's easy to overlook mistakes that will throw off someone new to the sight - or in this case, your site.

  1. Look at your home page, contact page, and the footer of every page.  You might be surprised how many footers contain incorrect information. And even though "all" of your customers "know" your address, phone number and hours, your prospects don't.
  2. Check your copyright date. Is it current? (Nothing says "don't care" like a 2010 copyright!)
  3. Is contact information VERY OBVIOUS on EACH PAGE of your site? A customer who doesn't know how to reach you won't buy from you.
  4. Click every link on your Home and Contact pages - they are of primary importance. Broken Links are Bad. Fix them. Repeat: Broken Links are Bad. FIX THEM. After you've thoroughly scoured your Home and Contact pages, move through all the other pages. (Start with those most visited and go down the list from there.)
  5. Out of time? Make note of what you corrected, and where you stopped. Set aside a little time this week to work through the list methodically, correcting what you can and getting help to fix the other errors. Soon, you'll have made noticeable improvements to the virtual face of your company. Pat yourself on the back! But don't stop there. 

After you've corrected the most basic things that are are wrong with your website and congratulated yourself, take a look at your site from a different perspective. Instead of looking at what's wrong, think about the improvements you would like. Maybe you want to add a staff photo or directory. Or a landing page to tout a new product.

I find that most people managing small businesses assume they can't work on their own websites. Or they're afraid to. The fact is, website management tools get easier to use every day. And while overhauling your entire site is a major undertaking, fixing small errors is easy and offers a big payback - fast.

Get started now, before another prospect decides to leave your site for a competitor.
It's hard to see your site with fresh eyes. Need help? Ask me about a Website Reality Check

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Don't Fear the Analytics: What Your Website Can Tell You About Your Small Business

Most of the businesses I work with recognize that to increase their sales (and customer base) they need a consistent marketing/content management effort.

Generally speaking, they understand what needs to be done. And they don't have time to do it.

On the other hand, I've worked with a few business owners who I describe as "going on faith." They have a website and pay monthly management fees because they know they need a website, and they know they don't have time to manage it. They are likely to say, "yeah, we have a website, but it's not doing much for us."

And sometimes, they're right.

What I usually find, however, is that the website is working fine and it's not helping the business much because the site is managed only in accordance with the site provider's schedule.

If your business is at all seasonal or cyclical, that's not good enough. Everything about your business, including your website and content plan, must be managed to make the most of seasonal peaks and other factors that are specific to your business.

The image above illustrates an important point. It's Google Analytics' representation of a website I manage for a client. In this case, the website provider and hosting company handles AdWords, PPC campaigns and keyword management. Those activities are monitored and reported on monthly, and reviews and account changes are handled quarterly - with absolutely NO regard for the local, seasonal, and sales cycle intelligence available at the business location.

Remote website management can be great, folks. But remote management without any connection to the business isn't good enough.

Why an Increase in Returning Visitors is Important

When you have an increase in returning visitors, it can mean a lot of things - you can figure out what by looking at a variety of stats and visitor behavior - but in general, it means your visitors (prospects) are thinking about buying from you. By understanding your business cycle, local factors, and digging just a little deeper into your analytics, you can adjust your content marketing (including social media updates) to quickly close those sales and keep new prospects moving toward a purchase.

Don't Fear the Analytics: How to Adjust Your Marketing Efforts

When you notice a change in visitor traffic/behavior, don't freak out. Too many smart business owners sell themselves short when it comes to managing their websites and online marketing presence. I hear a lot of "I don't know anything about websites; I just know how to run my business!"

What I say to them - emphatically - is this: what you know about your business must inform the way your website is managed. Even if you picked your website provider because you didn't have time to spend on online marketing, don't ignore your website! Don't assume your web hosting company understands your business, and don't fear the analytics. Review those monthly reports and adjust accordingly - it's your business, and you'll get better results if you are involved in the way that site is managed.

You don't need Big Data to increase sales! Small businesses can use what they know about
 their customers to increase sales and improve customer service.

If you notice more people visit your money-back guarantee page, remind your sales team to mention that policy every time they talk to a customer. If you find an increase in visits to your service offerings page, highlight some customer testimonials on your social media channels. Or (if you haven't already) add a link to those testimonials and your customer service email or chat contact from the services page. If you're using email marketing (and if you can, you should!) changes in visitor behavior will give you excellent ideas about what you should be sending out to your new prospects and existing customers.

When You Need 38 Hours in a Day

It's a common complaint: many small business owners are frustrated with their websites and online marketing efforts, but not because they don't understand, or don't believe, that their marketing investment is working for them. They just don't have time to give those analytics reports the time they need. If that's your problem, I can help. I love working with small businesses to maximize their online marketing efforts.
Got 15 minutes? I offer free consultations that won't keep you from your business very long.
Let's talk.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

When You Don't Need a Blog

Do you think I should have a blog? 
Not unless you'd enjoy writing it. 

Not the sort of advice you'd expect from a blogger, copywriter or content manager?

Do I Need a Blog? 

When a (successful) owner of a jewelry business who has a great website and an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest asked me I thought she should have a blog, too, I said no.

Why? In my opinion, she doesn't need a blog, because the online "face" of her business was already attractive enough. And, because she's selling (nice, but inexpensive) jewelry - not home improvement services.

Think About it From the Buyer's Perspective

If you're in the market for a fence to corral your dog and/or kids, or considering buying new windows or siding, you're looking at a significant investment and there are a lot of options. A fence has a much longer buying cycle than a necklace.

That's why Invisible Fence has a blog, and Sterling Jewelers doesn't.

When you're looking to pick up a charm bracelet for a sweet 16 birthday gift, or even a nice pair of earrings for an anniversary present, how long are you going to spend considering your options?

You're going to go to a website (or two), look around, and make a purchase. Ergo, if you're selling jewelry for 16-year-olds, you probably should spend your time on something other than a blog (like rocking your social media posts and maximizing your profiles).

You Probably Need a Blog If...

...your buying cycle is fairly long have a lot of direct competitors have a truly unique or new product or service have something to say about your business on a regular basis

Maybe You Shouldn't Call it A Blog, Though

Do your customers really want to read your blog? Maybe they'd be more interested in Insights or Resources from you.

Alternatives to Blogging

To say 'you don't need a blog' flies in the face of a lot of general marketing advice for small and medium-sized businesses. And sometimes your small business will need to publish new content for your prospects and customers - content that doesn't fit in a tweet, or something that needs to last longer than the average Facebook post.

Good news: there are alternatives. Maybe the information belongs on your website's News or About Us page. Maybe it would be appropriate and useful if you created it as a Facebook note. Or a press release, or a brochure. (Which can live online too, you know - it's 2016 after all!) The point is, you don't need a blog just because the marketing content world says you need a blog.

It's your business. Do what works for you (and your customers)! As an article published by Entrepreneur stated so well, you don't want to create content just to have content. You want to create content based on consumer (and prospect) behavior.
If you value common sense marketing advice, and want help with your website, blog, social media accounts or any other business communications, I'm it. Get in touch, and we'll find out what you need, and the best way to make it work for you. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

6 Essay Contests for High School Students to Earn Money for College Scholarships

Who doesn't need money for college, right? Well, write!

Essay contests often get a bad rap - and sometimes, it's deserved. Many contests are more like the lottery, and don't really reward great writing.

Certainly, you should read and choose carefully among the various essay contest "scholarship" contests. (I suggest skipping any that charge a fee to enter.) On a positive note, your odds of winning an essay contest are almost certainly better than winning the lottery.

Below, six essay contests (with cash prizes and scholarship $$) geared for high school/college-bound students. Sharpen your pencils (or stick some fresh batteries in your keyboard) and start writing!

1. Do something! -- not all writing-based, but there is writing involved. I like Do Something! because it encourages taking action to improve life around pick the area of life/society you want to work to improve. Deadlines vary.
2. Read any good Ayn Rand books lately? If objectivism is your bag, this is your site. You'll have to register to get info about contests and deadlines. Primarily for college students.
3. The Williams-Mystic Essay Contest in Honor of Joseph Conrad accepts fiction or non-fiction entries about the ocean or any major body of water. $400 prize. Deadline in October.
4. What's your Superpower? Find it and get your entry in before the end of March. Open to writers ages 13 and up! $250 prizes.
5. Engineers are kind of like superheroes... this contest from Engineer Girl has a February deadline.
6. The John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage essay contest for high school students (grades 9-12) selects a winner from every state. Deadline January 4, 2017.

Want more? Scholarship Mentor has a long, long list of other writing contests to sort through.

Write Smart to Write Your Best College Essay

Scholarship mentor has a helpful checklist - do yourself a favor and read it:

Here's my favorite tip from the Ayn Rand essay contest site: read the winning entries from previous contests! It's like a study guide. Take advantage of it.

And the most basic advice you need to get started: BIC. (Butt in chair.) You can't get it done until you begin.

Good luck and have fun writing! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Your Website, Communication, and Customer Service

Customer service tip: If your website displays incorrect information, it's not your customer's fault. 

Communication and customer service are intricately linked. Here, some real-life examples that I collected in a 36-hour period. 

2 Companies, 2 Cities, 2 Days

I had an appointment in Akron on Monday. The office address was wrong in the footer of (every page of) its website. Fortunately the firm had moved just a few blocks, the receptionist who answered the phone was great, gave me the new address, and I arrived on time. When I met with the Chairman of the organization, he asked, "Did you have any trouble finding the place?"

Great, a chance to bring it up, I thought.

I said, "Well actually, I went to <location> and found out you had moved, but Jill gave me the address, so no worries."

He laughed and said, "We haven't been there for years."      

I said, "Well, I should have confirmed your address when we spoke. But I just took it from your website."

He said, "Really? Where is that address on our website?"

I explained the footer on each page of a website usually contains the same information; it's like a template.

Before proceeding with our meeting, he logged on to his computer and looked for himself. He pointed out that the address was listed correctly on the About Us page. And it sure was -  in the third paragraph on the page describing the organization's past 20 years or so. Unfortunately, that's the only place it was listed correctly.

The site's Contact Us page consisted of a form for email contact, but did not list an address or phone on the body of the page. (Which is fine for companies that don't rely on customer foot traffic, but not so good for businesses expecting real, live visitors to walk in off the street.)

When the organization moved - as described in a lengthy paragraph on the About page - information in the footer wasn't changed to reflect the new address.

So while the Chairman was right, the correct address was listed on the organization's site, it wasn't easy to find. And the footer of each page listed the wrong address. (Note: it has since been updated.) Errors like that can lead to miscommunications, and cost you money.

How to Communicate When You Don't Want New Business Referrals

Last Friday, I met with a Columbus-area business owner who handles sensitive matters for his clients. He asked me to email a document to him, and since his email address wasn't on his business card, I asked, "Should I send it to the email address on your website?"

He said yes.

I sent the document with the message, "please call me when you receive this."

On Tuesday, I called him because I hadn't called me. Our conversation:

Me: Hi, Jack? This is Diane Stresing. I wonder if you got the email I sent last week. I sent it to <email @ company>."

Him: "You have the wrong address. You need to send it to <another email address @ different ISP >."

Me, after silence waiting for the absurdity to occur to him: "Ok. Thanks."

The absurdity apparently hasn't sunk in yet.

How likely would you be to do business with, or recommend, either of these organizations?

3 Tips: Communication,  Customer Service, and Your Website

When mistakes on your site make it difficult to find your business or work with you, customers will find someplace else to shop or someone else to help them. 

1. Don't tell customers that they have the wrong information when they got it from you. 
"I'm sorry, let me give you the correct information," is a much better response.

2. When a customer (or anyone) points out that your website, business card, or other business communication contains incorrect information, or that it is difficult to find something on your website, fix it. If they had trouble finding your phone number, hours, prices, or products, and took the time to tell you about it, that's a gift.
Say "thank you." Then fix it!

3. Do review your website regularly (I recommend on the first of every month) as if you have never seen it before. Review it from a user interface and design standpoint, pretending you are a customer or prospect in the market for what your company offers, and compare your site to others in your industry. Does it work?
It's hard to see your site with fresh eyes. Need help? Ask me about a Website Reality Check

Your website isn't your whole business, but in 2016, it's vital to your business communication. 
Get it right

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Political Word Play

merriam webster logoPolitics is good for the word business. I'd like to believe that the reverse is true, and good communication is also good for politics or - much more than that - good governance. But this is blog about writing, not philosophy, so I'll leave it at that.

Winning Words? 

In the news lately, in case you missed it:  dumpster fires and dog whistles. (And thanks to CJR, now we all know there's no longer a need to capitalize dumpster.) Before you use the term 'dog whistle,' be aware that it may carry some racist baggage.

While numerous folks have suggested that politics doesn't showcase the best of human thought processes, at least we're trying to learn from the rather bumpy ride that the 2016 Presidential campaign trail has taken us on.

As always, I urge you to choose your words carefully, and read with at least one eye open.