Bang for Your Buck: Where to Put Your Marketing Dollars

adsI can’t believe I’m writing a post about advertising. Historically, this is not my area of expertise. But I’ve learned a lot helping the local businesses I work with find the best way to use their advertising budgets, no matter how modest. Working with over 100 different companies, many of them small, family-owned businesses, I’ve had the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t:

Just Because You Build it, Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come.

It may have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but in the real world, just because you set up a storefront and a website doesn’t mean you’ll get customers, even if you have a much-needed, quality product.  You’ve got to put your name, logo, face in front of people multiple times, so when they do need your service, you are the one at the top of their minds.

Keep it Local.

One of the prime questions people often fail to ask when considering advertising is, “Who’s my audience?” If your target market is the Hill Country, because of your location or the type of service you offer, do you really want to pay to advertise all over Austin? Why not concentrate your efforts in your specific area and get ads in two or three publications for the price of one, instead spread over the entire city, when most of the readership is never going to make the trip to your store.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

You may have heard “content is king.” It’s common marketing adage, meaning you have to offer something besides advertising to win your audience’s trust. This is why so many people write professional blogs; it builds credibility. And your brand is more likely to stick around on someone’s coffee table, where multiple people will see it repeatedly, if there are educational articles to keep it there. This can be a much more effective marketing tool than those expensive, glossy postcards that often go straight to the recycle bin. Example: I picked up an issue of Austin magazine at the grocery checkout the other day, just because my doctor’s photo was on the front cover. That magazine is still sitting on the table next to my couch, where I pick it up and leaf through it occasionally.

Be Patient.

So you run an ad in a couple issues of a community publication. Nothing’s happening. You don’t feel like you’re getting any business from it, and you want to pull out. Two things:

  1. This is a long-game process. Your return will come a year or so after you begin your campaign, as people have seen your presence repeatedly and you build your credibility in your community, ideally through multiple channels. Volunteer work and sponsoring school or charity events can pair well with your print advertising efforts.
  2. People’s minds are funny. You can ask clientele where they heard about your business, and most of the time they won’t know. The name of your company worked its way into their brains slowly, as they saw your ad in a magazine, then an article you wrote, then your name on the banner of the elementary school book fair. Case in point: In one experiment, an outdoor furniture company found many of their shoppers said they’d heard about their sale on television, when the company hadn’t even run a TV ad.

So, do choose multiple venues for your advertising dollars, but choose them mindfully. Ideally, most of the people who see your ads and contributions to the community will be your target market, and they will see them repeatedly.  And once you’ve built that positive reputation in your community, that’s when good things start to happen.

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_thingass’>thingass / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Two Tools For Your Small Business: Simplicity and Intuition

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I made an exception. My personal goals for the year are to to focus on simplicity and listening to my intuition. This works in business life as well, and it’s not a huge leap to see how.

Simplicity

There are millions of tools available to help grow, maintain and organize your small business – CRMs, finance software, newsletter programs…It’s a long list. How do you know what will truly help you?  While there are a variety of useful tools out there, some will actually make your life harder and cost you money, because they are designed to be much more complex than what a sole proprietor needs. Simplification: does this app, feature, program, gizmo make your business life easier or harder?  Does it save time, or does it waste it? My father and I owned a consulting business for a number of years, and I was often dragging him, kicking and screaming towards new technology, but I learned something from working with him. Sometimes, the latest and greatest is not what you need; sometimes simpler is better. This is why I track my business expenses on an Excel spreadsheet instead of with QuickBooks (or whatever the kids are using these days.)

Intuition

Do you ever get a sense about a particular project – a bad feeling? Oftentimes, we ignore those feelings and jump in anyway, because we are programmed to ignore what we can’t immediately explain. Sometimes, when your gut feeling tells you not to accept that client or that you don’t have the bandwidth for a new project, you need to listen. One of the beauties of working for yourself is you can choose what and whom you work with. Exercise that right and try to get past your people-pleasing tendencies. Don’t be a “yes” person; if a client asks you to do something that’s outside of your expertise – something that deviates from the intent of your business – don’t do it simply as an effort not to disappoint them. People you want to work with will respect you for setting clear boundaries. And, you can develop a referral list. A lot of people ask me about social media marketing. I am a content writer, but I know a good social media consultant, and I refer people to her. That way, everyone wins. I don’t have to post to Facebook for people, my friend gets business, my clients gets what they need, and it comes back to me in the form of referrals she sends me for people who need content.IMG_7279

Simplicity and Intuition – they are two aspects of life that are hard to find under all of the information, advice and products we are exposed to, but if you trust your intuition and search out the simplest answers to your problems, business or otherwise, everything is a lot less daunting.

Do It Again: How to Cope With That Task You Hate

44126362 - young employee shouting into a red phone

I have never liked calling people on the phone. Save a couple of teenage years when the receiver was permanently affixed to my ear, I’ve always avoided phone conversations when possible. When texting became prevalent, I and a billion other introverts jumped for joy.

So, imagine my chagrin when I found myself in an occupation – one I love – that required an occasional phone conversation. Not only that, but (cue scary music) I HAD TO CALL PEOPLE I DIDN’T KNOW. I would put off these phone calls repeatedly for more important things…like picking lint off the carpet or lining up all the notebooks on my desk. And then, oh look, it’s really too late to be calling people now.

You may not fear the phone, but we all have business tasks we are required to do to get our jobs done – ones we’d pick a root canal or a fork in the eye over tackling, necessary though they may be. I’ve overcome my anxiety about calling people I don’t know with a few tactics that apply to any hated task:

Just Do It. Then, just do it again. The more you practice that task you hate, the more you’ll do it automatically without wasting energy on mental excuses. I have even called people by choice on occasion, just for the phone practice. The more the calls go well, the less I fear making them.

Do It First. I make calls in the morning, so I don’t have time to come up with avoidance tactics. It takes self discipline to do chores (whatever you view as a “chore”), and self discipline takes mental energy, which I have more of in the AM.

Break It Down. Divide the hated “to-do” item into smaller chunks and approach them one at a time, so it feels less overwhelming. For example, instead of calling a long list of people, I do a few at a time and take breaks to do more palatable tasks in between.

Reward Yourself. It worked on Pavlov’s dogs, and it works on humans, too. For example: “After I make all my calls, I’ll fix a second cup of coffee.” This way, your brain is focused on the reward and more motivated to get the task done.

Farm It Out. Hire someone else to do that thing you hate. Odds are, there’s someone out there who loves it as much as you revile it. Then, you can spend your hate energy drumming up more business for yourself.

You may never learn to love that thing you hate. I still don’t get giddy over calling people to solicit content for the magazine, but I don’t get hives over it, either. Once you get over that hurdle for the thing you avoid, you can spend more time and energy on the things you love. And, if that thing you hate is writing blog posts or content for your website or newsletter, well, you know who to call.

Woman & phone image: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15′>bowie15 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

7 Common Capitalization Mistakes in Business Writing

capital letters
Copyright : serezniy

“Capitalization and punctuation.” How many times did English teachers write that on our papers? We still haven’t learned.  Most adults remember to capitalize the right things – proper names,  days of the week, specific geographic locations – but what do you capitalize erroneously? I bet, if you go back and look at the last thing you wrote, you’ll find some word you blessed with a capital letter that doesn’t warrant it. I know this because I still find random capitalizations in my own writing, and I’m the writer! Here are seven things we needlessly capitalize:

Professions

I would like to be a Writer, but I’m just a writer. Unless words like “doctor” directly precede a person’s name, they are always lowercase. So, it’s like this: “She is a doctor,”  but “I saw Doctor Sangi yesterday.”

Degrees

I have a degree in child development, not in Child Development. Even if one’s degree is held in high esteem in the professional world and took blood, sweat and tears to complete, it’s all the same in the eyes of English. It’s a “bachelor of science in microbiology” or a “master’s degree in psychology.”

Plant Names & Animal Breeds

Plant lovers are inclined to write of Lavender or Rosemary, but these are common plant names. So, unless you name your lavender “George,” it and the rosemary get lowercase letters. Similarly, “golden retriever” is all lowercase, but if the breed includes a proper noun like “English setter,” the proper noun part is capitalized.

Names of Seasons

This one always trips me up, because the seasons seem like proper names, but, according to every English authority, they are treated as descriptors of parts of the year. Thus, “we feel spring approaching, and winter is almost over.” Exception: If it’s part of a proper name, like “Winter Olympics” the season is capitalized.

Our Own Special Things

This is the most ubiquitous error I see. When something feels important to us, even if we know better, we grace it with a capital letter. Someone whose specialty is interior design may automatically capitalize not only the profession but words of import for their specialty, like “contemporary” or “mid-century.” We have to check ourselves here; reread carefully and google* it if you’re not sure.

School Subjects

Unless it’s a language, like English or Spanish, school subjects are all lowercase, from “anatomy” to “zoology.” When they are specific course titles, however, they become proper nouns, for example: “Biology 101” or “Early American History.”

People’s Titles

Titles of books are capitalized, but we humans must stick to lowercase, whether you are the secretary or the vice president. It gets a little more complicated when you attach it to someone’s name, though. So, it’s “the vice president, Amanda Smith” but “Vice President Amanda Smith.” In the second version, it is treated as part of her name.

The bottom line: proper nouns are capitalized, common nouns are not, no matter how special we feel about those common nouns. The trick is to tease out which one you’re dealing with. So, go easy on the capitalization, even though there’s no longer an English teacher to scribble bright red corrections all over your writing. And, if you miss all that red ink, or if this very brief look into the arbitrary world of grammar makes your head hurt, contact me or visit my home page. I can help.

* Interestingly, (to me, at least) there is no consensus on capitalization of “google” used as a verb. As a noun, it is always proper, so…”I heard Google changed their algorithm,” but as for “If you wanna know, google it,” capitalization is up to you.

Writing for Business: More Isn’t Always Better

writing and editing for business
Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

I read these words in Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft several years ago, and they stuck. They percolate to the surface of my mind whenever I am editing a piece, especially my own. Whether you write for a living or are in a business that only occasionally involves writing, it’s good advice (and appropriately stated, coming from the master of horror.) What it means is this: cut out the unnecessary parts, even if you love them. Why you might ask, would you love those parts if they were unnecessary? Several reasons:

Issue #1:

You feel strongly about a point – perhaps it’s political, possibly it’s part of your chosen profession. When we are passionate about the subject matter, we tend to re-state the same points over and over again in consecutive sentences, rephrasing it each time. You’ll say it once and then say it again a different way. You’ll say the same thing twice or even three times. It’s the same point just reworded. You’ll just repeat yourself…repetitively.

Fix It:

Pick the sentence that says it best, or combine parts of sentences for what most accurately says what you mean. Cut the other ones out. The “Issue #1” paragraph above is about four sentences too long.

Issue #2:

Your thoughts on your subject matter are not well-formed, but you know it’s an important subject. Let’s say you want to write about tips for exercising, but you haven’t thought through the details. Your sentences are full of passion but ramble without ever getting specific, and suddenly you’re up to 1,000 words without having written any concrete tips.

Fix It:

Two words: research and organize. If your thoughts are more broad-scope than specific on a topic, do some digging online. Then, write up an outline of the specific points you want to make. Afterward, as you edit, ask yourself, “Does this sentence serve to help make my point, or is it off topic or vague?” Example: There is no need to tell people what you are not going to talk about. Anything you follow with, “…but this is beyond the scope of this article,” can almost assuredly be cut out.

Issue #3:

You know a lot of detail about the topic – the opposite of problem two. If you are writing about your profession, you may be tempted to go into more detail than your audience can bear. Sometimes we lose touch with what a layperson knows and will find intriguing when we are entrenched in the minutia of our own craft.

Fix It:

As fascinating as you may find the technical details of how your particular widgets are made, the general public is usually interested in a broader stroke they can relate to in their own lives. Have a friend not in your profession read your piece. Consider cutting anything they find confusing or boring. Again, stick to your overall point. More detail is not always better.

Sometimes, keeping to a certain word count can be helpful. If you are determined to get something down to 500 words for a blog post, you are less likely to indulge yourself in rambling. No matter what you’re writing, you want people to read it. So kill your darlings, because they are just that – yours – and not necessarily your audience’s.

How to Write a Business Blog

how to write a business blog
Photo by Le Buzz on Unsplash

So, you set up a beautiful, fully-functional website for your business. Now, how do you get people to visit it? One of the best ways to drive traffic to your site is with free, valuable content that can be linked to on social media. That’s right – start a blog. Here are some tips for making your business blog successful:

Pick a Simple, Relevant Topic

There’s no need to go into grand detail on the technical aspects of your business. Address questions people commonly ask you, or overview-type topics. Imagine you’re talking to a curious friend who doesn’t know anything about your area of expertise. Seasonal topics also get a lot of attention; focus on the holidays, spring cleaning, or New Year’s resolutions.

Keep It Short

In the case of content blogs for businesses, less is more. Just be sure you’ve explained yourself enough to actually add value. Around 500 words is a good length.

Use List Format

Readers attend more to well-organized information. If your topic lends itself to list format, use it. Or, consider separating paragraphs into sections with bold headings.

Be Informal

A casual tone will connect more with your audience. Avoid overuse of technical words specific to your industry and explain any you do use. Again, imagine how you would explain it to a friend, verbally. Just leave out all the “ya’ know’s”  and “um’s.”

Proofread and Edit

It’s helpful to write one day and proofread a day or two later. Even better, ask someone else to correct it for you; they are more likely to see your errors and can tell you if something isn’t clear. Editing is mostly about cutting out extraneous words and phrases and eliminating inadvertent, long-winded rants. You can also download Grammarly or Ginger for automatic editing. They have both free and paid versions. Just be sure you still have a human proofread; the programs aren’t perfect.

Include a Graphic

Even if your post doesn’t lend itself to them, a picture gets people’s attention when it shows up in the thumbnail image on social media. Pick something at least loosely related to your topic, and if the photo isn’t your own, be sure to give proper credit in the caption. Wikimedia Commons and Unsplash are useful resources for free stock photos, and they provide the photo credit as well.

Avoid Shameless Plugs

This isn’t a hard, fast rule; I’ve been known to insert my own shameless plug from time to time. Blog posts, though, should be mostly educational information related to your field. Stay away from making entire posts into advertisements. An occasional link back to your main page at the end of a post, however, is useful and tasteful.

Post Regularly

This can be the hardest part — coming up with material every week. But if you want to stay in front of your target market, post at least once a week and share it on social media. Be sure to add a “follow” button to your blog, so those interested can receive a notification every time you post.

If you are consistently in front of your target audience, offering valuable information and advice, when they find themselves in need of services, they’ll call you. Don’t have time to keep up with a blog? Send me a message. I can help.