Intro to Social Proof for Real Estate Agents

What is social proof? The essence of social proof is simple: “If a bunch of other people like it, maybe I will too.” It’s peer pressure in positive form. When McDonalds tells you that they’ve served over a billion hamburgers, or a YouTube video boasts thirty million views, they’re offering social proof. How social proof Continue Reading

The books I read last year

When I was younger, I remember being amazed at people who claimed they “didn’t have time to read”. Making time for reading was the easiest thing in the world! Pre-baby, I read an average of two and a half books a week. Post-baby — not so much.

Austin Kleon’s “How to read more” is a great reminder of how to make time for books again. My tips look a little different from his (visit the library often and keep a separate ebook going on the iPad so I can read at the gym feature prominently), but I’ve kept a reading log for years and I think his idea of sharing your favorite books with others is a great one. So, without further ado, the books I read in 2014:

3 reasons I love the three-question survey

1. It’s an easy ask. Who can say no to answering three questions, especially when it’s about a service you already use or a product you’ve purchased before? Some marketers like to use phrases like “take a brief survey” or even “a three-minute survey”, but brief is entirely subjective. After all, my cable company calls at least every other week to tell me they’d like to have a brief conversation about my TV habits in order to save me money, but what they consider “brief” I consider “too damn long to spend on something I neither need nor want”. Three questions, on the other hand, is three questions – period.
2. It forces you to focus on what matters. When you’re holding yourself to three questions, there’s no room for fluff. You’ve got to figure out what you really need to know from your clients and prospects. What information do you have to have in order to grow your business? I’m hardly the first writer to observe that writing a short piece can be far harder than writing a long one. Winnowing out the BS and the weasel words can be a real challenge. But when you’re creating the survey equivalent of a haiku, you’re forced to cut the fat and get right to what you really want to know.
3. It makes next steps easy to see. A survey is at heart a tool for gathering information. But in the information age, with all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips 24/7, too much information can be as big a problem as too little. With a three-question survey, you only ask for the information you have to have. That makes is crystal clear what steps you need to take next. Did you ask your clients where they first heard about you? Then focus more on those marketing channels. Did you ask what clients loved about your service? Then do more of that stuff, or make those benefits a bigger part of your advertising.

When you design a three-question survey, you’re giving yourself an immediate, actionable roadmap for the next steps your business should take. If you’ve been considering surveying your clients but balking at devising the questionnaire, now is the time. You’re just three questions away from your next marketing idea.

3 Warning Signs That Make Your Website Look Like a Scam

3 Warning Signs That Make Your Website Look Like a Scam

If you follow literary or science fiction news, you may have heard of the recent unveiling of the Albee Agency scam. In brief, a supposed literary publicity agency was caught with a whole page of faked testimonials – leading writers to discover their extremely tenuous credentials and creating suspicion that the agency as a whole was a complete scam.

It’s always a delight to see a scammer caught in the act, particularly early on in the scam so as few people as possible are taken in by the ruse. With the Albee Agency, the slew of faked testimonials was an obvious giant red flag for the company’s legitimacy. But as Victoria Strauss, blogger for Writer Beware, noted, there were actually three elements of the site that pinged her scam detector: lack of credentials, lack of specificity, and the big one – faked testimonials.

It’s worth noting that the Albee Agency website has a crisp, professional-looking design. Where’d they get caught? Their website content. So before you get too wrapped up in the schadenfreude, you might want to review your own company’s website to see whether you’ve made any of these three mistakes that might make your customers think you’re peddling a scam:

1. Lack of credentials. The Albee Agency claims to have been in business since 2005 – a pretty decent lifespan for a PR & social media marketing company. However, when you dig into their brand, you’ll note that their domain was registered in July 2012, their blog dates back to September 2012, their Facebook profile debuted on Sept. 13, 2012, and their Twitter account was only set up in August 2012. There’s no evidence for their claimed history, and plenty of evidence that they are a brand-new business.

While the other evidence makes it clear that the Albee Agency’s start date is a bunch of bunk, there are legitimate reasons for an online presence that’s more youthful than the business itself. Your company may have started out offline-only, or you may have gone through a major reboot or rebrand that necessitated all new web accounts and addresses. But if that’s the case, it’s important to give your customers proof of your history. And if you’re just starting out, don’t fake a history you don’t have! Being a startup won’t prevent you from gaining business success; being a fraud almost certainly will.

2. Lack of specificity. Who is the staff at the Albee Agency? What is their background or experience? Why should you trust them to promote your book? What, in fact, will they actually do for you? There’s nothing to go on at the Albee Agency website that would answer any of these questions. They claim to have worked with over 10,000 authors, and to have had clients appear on or in Good Morning America, Family Circle, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal, and yet there’s not a single link to a specific story or author.

What’s the lesson here? If you’ve done great work and you know you’ve got a great staff, toot your own horn! Show off a picture of your staff hard at work. Stock your portfolio with examples of your best projects. Let each staff member write a blog post about their history and what they do for your clients. Be specific throughout – give your prospects a clear picture of exactly what you can do for them.

3. Faked testimonials. Now, I know you would never actually fake your testimonials. After all, if you’re doing great work, you don’t have to. But are you presenting your testimonials in a way that makes them seem less-than-convincing? Whenever possible, use full, real names for your customer testimonials, and don’t try to edit them into a perfect quote – leave them exactly as you received them. If you have them, photos of the customers who gave the testimonials can go a long way toward showing prospects that you are the real deal.

It’s a good idea to have a customer or friend review your website from time to time, to get that outside perspective. You know you do great work, so make sure your presence on the internet echoes the values and value you’re offering your clients. And if you find yourself getting stuck on what to say, drop me a line at shelby@sbscopywriting.com. I’m happy to help.

Marketing Lessons from the Shark Tank: Get your story straight

Thanks to my new Hulu subscription, I’ve got thousands of hours of TV shows at my disposal whenever I want them. With all those options, I’ve found myself hooked on one show: Shark Tank. The premise is probably familiar to you: entrepreneurs go before a panel of “Sharks” (read: venture capitalists) to try to convince them to fund the entrepreneurs’ fledgling businesses.

I’m hardly the first to pull marketing lessons from the show, but it truly is a fascinating look at how businesses start and grow. Aside from the fact that every entrepreneur needs to read Guy Kawasaki’s Art of the Start before going on the show, I’ve noticed a common thread among people that don’t do well with the Sharks: they don’t seem to have gotten any outside perspective on their business idea.

So many fledgling business owners are savaged by the sharks when they go on the show because it’s the first time they’re telling their story, and they are under the mistaken impression that they’re in control of the message.

They almost certainly think they’ve told their story before. Indeed, most of the show’s entrepreneurs have the patter down, have little quips and anecdotes they’ve woven into the theme of How Their Business Came to Be. But to truly tell your business’s story, you have to have a conversation – not perform a monologue. You need to understand what your audience cares about, why they came to you, what they want to get out of the interaction.

Most people quite naturally start out with a new business by discussing the concept with family and friends. But telling your story to family and friends gives you the illusion that you’re in control of your message. They won’t ask you the hard questions, and they’ll always take whatever you say in the best possible way. After all, they already know that everything you do is just great. They love you and want you to be happy and to succeed.

Too many companies approach their marketing materials as though they were still speaking to an audience composed of their friends and family. They recite their polished story, complete with smiles and self-deprecating jokes for a softer touch. What they don’t do is think about the questions a skeptical audience might bring to the table.

In the real world, when prospective customers encounter your story for the first time, they’ll be skeptical. They’ll have questions. They’ll have baggage from businesses like yours that they have encountered before, from the bad apples in your industry, from all their experiences, good and bad. If you don’t begin to counter those objections even before they raise them, your prospects will simply walk away.

You see it all the time in the Shark Tank. The entrepreneur contestants have never even considered that someone might not love their breakthrough product. When the sharks start asking the hard questions, they sputter and cough and try to evade the issue. And what happens, every time? The sharks walk away from the deal. Even a good business can be capsized by a bad story, when the business owner forgets that the story is not the thing.

How to Write Etsy Product Descriptions That Will Attract More Sales

Just about everyone with a passion for handcrafted goods and one-of-a-kind finds is familiar with Etsy. For buyers, the massive indie marketplace represents a nearly limitless opportunity to find products to suit every taste. For sellers, the chance to get your wares in front of an appropriate audience of potential buyers is huge – but it also means that the competition is intense.

Luckily, Etsy shop descriptions, about pages, and item descriptions are all indexed by Google, so well-written and properly optimized item descriptions can go a long way toward boosting your shop’s views – and sales. So how do you figure out which keywords to use and how to write your item descriptions? It’s all about understanding your target market.

Think of Etsy like a matchmaking site for crafters and buyers. Because it offers such a large marketplace, it’s important to think about your customers in terms of niches and subcategories. Some people are on there looking for fun, geeky science stuff; some people are looking for vintage bridal accessories; some people are looking for classic nursery décor; some people are looking for useful organizers for the home. You just have to get inside their heads and think about what they’ll be searching for.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you make hair accessories. A super-broad term like that gives over 95 million results on Google, and over six hundred thousand on Etsy. So you have to narrow your terms. Think about adjectives that describe your hair accessories, or the people that would wear them: vintage, playful, colorful, bright, glam, dramatic, classic. Think of materials you used in the creation of your hair accessories: plastic, lace, ribbon, sequins, bows, glitter, gemstones, wire. Think of occasions or events where a customer might want to wear your hair accessories: weddings, parties, clubbing, Easter, brunch, Kentucky Derby. Once you’ve done this quick exercise, you should have a list of keywords that describes your item much more clearly, which will help you write great titles and item descriptions.

You started your shop because you were passionate and excited about the things you were making. Now you just have to make it easy to find your items, so that people who will be excited to own your crafts can find them.

Need help coming up with good keywords and descriptions for your Etsy shop? I’m happy to help out by writing custom item descriptions to help bring more customers to your shop!

How Zombie Content Keeps Your Blog Alive

You’ve seen them, shuffling across television screens and groaning in the pages of teen romance best-sellers… the walking dead… the formerly alive… zombies! They’re everywhere! And while hordes of undead monsters generally spell bad things for the neighborhood, having some zombie content on your blog is a great way to keep your site alive.

Now, I don’t literally mean content that tries to gnaw on your readers’ brains (although I suppose that would be a great metaphor for blog posts and articles that are so thought-provoking they just can’t be forgotten…). I’m talking about content that just Will. Not. Die. Some call it epic shit. Journalists used to refer to it as “evergreen” – material that’s always relevant, as opposed to topical material that’s a big hit today and is a moldy oldie tomorrow. Zombie content is the older material on your site — pages, news clippings, articles, blog posts — that continues to draw new visitors to your site month after month.

Bloggers often focus on writing topical posts, in the hopes that they will bring in new readers who are searching for trending topics. And certainly, that should be a part of your strategy – you don’t want a blog that’s completely irrelevant to, or unaware of, what’s going on in the world today. But the problem with only writing topical posts is that they quickly become old news. How often are you going to get people finding your blog by searching for information about the 2004 Olympics, or about Britney Spears shaving her head?

Characters in a zombie movie almost never know what it is that’s causing the dead to stalk the living. Is it a plague? Is it some kind of advanced bio-terrorism? Zombie content is equally mysterious. You can make guesses as to how it came about or how to create more of it, but there’s no surefire recipe for creating content with an unnaturally long lifespan. You’ll just know it when you see the results. When all is said and done, visitors are the only true arbiter of what content will be valuable for the long haul.

So if you want to create zombie posts that keep on going, bringing new life – and new readers – to your blog, you’ll have to put out a lot of BRAINS … er, thought-provoking material. Answer your readers’ Big Questions. Tell them how your product saves them time. Show how your service helps them make more money. Find out what they’re searching for (do your keyword and keyphrase research!), and give it to them.

One last cautionary note about your zombie content – even a really well-made zombie can’t last forever. So don’t just put out a bunch of great stuff and rest on your laurels. Keep the great content coming on a regular basis, and you’ll find yourself carried to success on the shoulders of a horde of undead posts.

How to use a brochure as a lead generation tool

The humble brochure is the Dodge Caravan of today’s direct marketing environment. It’s old, it’s boring, it’s a relic of times long gone. Who looks to a brochure to generate leads, let alone to help sell prospects on a product or service?

All too often, we see brochures as something to skip over — perhaps a rack brochure at a rest stop will catch your eye on vacation, and you’ll skim quickly through it, looking for exciting pictures or to see if there is a coupon on the back flap. Then you set it down, or toss it in the trash can, and never think about it again.

But are brochures really a thing of the past? I don’t think so. The old standby 8×11 trifold brochure may be commonplace, but its simplicity is its strength. As is so often the case, the content makes all the difference.

Too many small businesses are guilty of trying to use a single brochure to tell their whole story. They believe that because their marketing budget can only accommodate a single brochure, they should cram into it as much information — or more accurately, generic marketing speech — as they can. In a pre-internet world, this might have made sense. These days, it’s nothing but a lack of planning.

A valuable brochure should whet your prospects’ appetite. Nothing more, nothing less. You need to offer enough specific information that people become intrigued and want to find out more, then give them a way to contact you for the extra information. That might be a web address, or a QR code, or a free report, or a coupon – there are a lot of options, but they all involve getting your customers to take the next step and interact with you further. If your bland brochure leaves them feeling like they know — and are already bored by — everything you do, why would they want more?

Want to write a brochure that will really leave your prospects hungry for more? Try these simple steps:

Start with a catchy title that offers a benefit prospects desperately want, or asks a question that’s been plaguing them.
Instead of asking your brochure copy to offer a superficial view of nearly everything your business can do, use it to tell an in-depth story about just one of your strengths.
Provide a call-to-action and a way for prospects to get in touch – a QR code, a web address, a phone number.
Finally, follow up! Mail your brochures to targeted prospects, and follow with a phone call or email a week later to see if recipients have any questions.
The next time you’re searching for a simple, cost-effective way to get people interested in your project, consider the humble brochure. With some solid copywriting and a focus on telling a great story, it can go from a marketing afterthought to a lead-generating dynamo.

Target marketing: If you’re talking to everyone, then no one is listening

One of the first things I do with every new client is walk through a pre-project questionnaire, which gives me a lot of insight into their business in general and their goals for the specific project I’ll be working on. Most business owners love talking about their business and what they do well, and I love listening.

The problem arises when we get to talking about their target market. When I ask, “Who is the intended audience for this project? Who is the ideal customer?” The answer I get back is, almost invariably, “Everyone.”

It’s easy to see why this is a tempting answer. No one wants to feel like they’re turning away business or limiting their market. But if you think your target market is everyone, then you’re confusing “who you would accept money from” with “who you want to spend your time and money marketing to”.

Imagine you’re selling a line of skincare and cosmetics – something like Avon or Mary Kay. Both of these companies sell a huge range of products, from perfumes to lotions to lipsticks to aftershave. Because of that, independent resellers will often tell you that their ideal client is – you guessed it – “Anyone with skin!” In other words, everybody.

But is it really? Avon lipsticks range from $7 to $10; Mary Kay from $12 to $14. Both companies offer great products, but the teenager running into her local Walgreens to pick up a $2 tube of Wet N’ Wild lipstick is not likely to be a good customer for either one. And what about the woman who never wears makeup? Or the man who is currently using Dial soap to shave with? All of these people have skin, but does it make any sense to spend time and money trying to sell to them?

It’s a lot more effective to focus your efforts on marketing to your true ideal client – the person who is out there right now, desperate for your product or service (and able to afford it). Think of everything you can about the person who is the absolute best fit for what you’re offering. Is it a man or a woman? How old? What does he do? Where does she live? What keeps him up at night? Where does she go to find information about new products?

Let’s look at one more example of target marketing in action. Imagine you own a tutoring company, and you’re trying to market to local parents. With such a broad idea of your target market, you could have an ad that reads, “Do you want your kids to do better in school? We can help!” Or you could get a lot more focused: “Parents: Do you want your high school sophomore or junior to get into a good college? Our ACT tutoring is guaranteed to raise your child’s score by at least 2 points, boosting their admissions rate and likelihood of getting a scholarship.”

I’ll leave it to you to decide which ad offers prospects a more compelling reason to give you a call.

If you have an accountant, you need a copywriter: How outsourcing makes your business better

For most of my adult life, I’ve been the tax preparer for my household. It wasn’t a big deal at first: I was a broke college student, and then I was a married broke college student. And then we were a young couple with entry-level jobs. And then we bought a house, and my husband got a job in another state, and we had some investments, and I started a business… and eventually I realized that I was dreading tax season. I spent hours gathering up all of our paperwork and materials, entering everything into TaxAct and TurboTax to double check my work, and reading “helpful” IRS documents. The burden of getting our taxes done hung over me for weeks every year, and even when I finished and sent them in I was still consumed by the worry that I had done something wrong.

Then one year my mother mentioned her accountant in passing, and I asked for the contact info. Getting my taxes done was a revelation! It took less than two hours of my time altogether, and I didn’t have to worry about anything. I just grabbed the paperwork the accountant asked for, handed it over, and let her handle the rest. The money I spent was nothing compared to the time and stress I saved.

As a small business owner, it’s easy to let business tasks creep up on you in the same way my taxes crept up on me. Without a staff, you have to do everything yourself: sales, marketing, bookkeeping, production… it may be doable when you’re starting out, but it adds up quickly.

You may already be outsourcing your financial tasks. The penalties for not doing your taxes, or not doing them right, are all too clear. But are you treating the rest of the business with the same respect? Or are you counting dimes and missing out on dollars?

If you want your business to grow, you have to focus on what you do best. That’s where you make your money. If you try to handle every aspect of the business on your own, you’re sure to burn out sooner rather than later. The key to keeping your sanity is selectively outsourcing the part of your business that are the most time-consuming and the least pleasant. Hate office tasks? Hire a virtual assistant. Want to add staff and cover your bases legally? Get a couple of hours of consulting time with a freelance HR consultant. Need to get the phones ringing and the customers coming through the doors? Find yourself a copywriter or a small-business marketing firm.

Is there a task in your business that you’ve been putting off and off and off because you dread doing it? Time to tap into your network and find someone who would love to get it done for you. Once you realize how much more freedom to focus on your core business outsourcing can give you, I promise you’ll never look back.