A dime a dozen: Why implementation matters more than a great idea

Is there a million-dollar idea rattling around in your head? Most people have one – or at least think they do. But for some reason, most people aren’t actually millionaires.

I keep a file on my computer of blog post ideas. Whenever I run across something inspirational, or a post idea pops into my head out of the blue, I add it to the file. There are 20 ideas on there right now, enough for 10 months of blog posts. That’s a really valuable resource – but only if I actually write the posts.

Ideas are great. They invigorate you, give you something to think about, keep you excited about your life and work. Unfortunately, they can also be a way to prevent you from accomplishing real tasks. For some people, the thrill of coming up with an idea is so much more fun than the tedium of carrying it out that they spend all their time thinking and never get around to producing. For others, it’s the overabundance of great ideas that stops them. How do they pick the best one to start working on?

A focus on ideas at the expense of action is crippling for businesses. Your marketing department probably has a to-do list of projects as long as your arm. If you’re a small business owner, that goes double. But the sure-fire marketing plan that never sees the light of day because it’s not quite perfect yet – or you just don’t have the time to implement it – will never bring you a new customer.

Great ideas are a dime a dozen. If you want to see your business grow, it’s time to put down the thinking cap and start taking action. Make a commitment to yourself to get one marketing task done this week. Whether you do it yourself, assign it to an employee, or hire a professional writer to get the job done, getting the ball rolling is the key to getting more clients.

Six smart sources for killer blog ideas that are hiding in plain view

The business of blog content and SEO copywriting is all about getting customers to come to you – drawing them into your website with killer content based around topics they’re already searching for. The key, of course, is knowing what they’re searching for in the first place.

We all struggle to come up with these great ideas. When you’re creating new content every day, or even every week, it’s easy for your creative well to run dry. Luckily, I’ve found a great place – a place you’re already familiar with, and may already visit daily – to come up with an endless supply of blog post ideas that are tailor-made for compelling SEO content.

That place is LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is perfect as a source of blog content ideas. It’s the premier social site for businesses and professionals, giving you a window onto what people in the business world are thinking about, discussing, and searching for.

Here are six ways to use LinkedIn for blog post ideas your audience is searching for right now:

    1. Home page: LinkedIn Today articles. At the top of your home page, you’ll see a selection of news and articles from around the web that LinkedIn thinks you might be interested in. Browse through a couple, and you’re sure to find something that catches your eye and gives you something to write about.
    2. Home page: Links and comments from your connections. The majority of the LinkedIn homepage is taken up by updates from your connections. These can be links or updates they’ve posted, new connections, actions they’ve taken on the site, or profile changes. This section is a goldmine! It tells you exactly what your prospects and connections are thinking about right now. Check your home page daily for blog post ideas that will resonate with the topics your customers are currently searching for.
    3. Your profile: Skills you’ve listed. The skills section of your profile tells LinkedIn what search terms you want to make sure your profile shows up for. If your prospects are finding you on LinkedIn with those terms, make sure that they can find your blog with the same terms in a search engine. Each skill should provide you with content ideas for one or more blog posts. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise.
    4. Your profile: Recommendations you’ve received. When people leave a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile, they’re telling the world what they value about your product or service. Make sure your blog content reflects these valuable attributes as well. Did a recommendation compliment the ease of working with you? Write a blog post about how your unique process makes hiring you a breeze.
    5. LinkedIn Answers: Questions your prospects and competitors are asking. You may already know that LinkedIn Answers is a good place to establish yourself as an expert, by offering up great answers to other professionals’ questions. But what you may have missed is its value as a source of blog post ideas that have a guaranteed audience. Make sure your blog offers comprehensive answers for the questions people are asking – both those in your industry, being asked by your competitors, and those being asked by your customers and prospects.
    6. LinkedIn Groups: Discussion history. In the same way that LinkedIn Answers tells you what people are asking about, the discussion history for your LinkedIn groups tells you what people have been talking about. Take a look at discussions in your groups that have received the most replies to get a sense of the hot topics in a given area. And remember, the more groups you belong to, the more blog content ideas you’ll have access to.

With content that changes on a daily basis and an ever-expanding network of professionals, LinkedIn is the ultimate source for getting blog post ideas your customers will love.

Curing advertising ADD: The power of single-message marketing

As a freelance copywriter, it’s my job to help companies turn leads into loyal customers. In the course of my networking activities, I meet a lot of small business owners who are going it alone, trying to act as a marketer, sales person, accountant, and CEO all in one. With limited time and budget for creating marketing pieces, they often commit the cardinal sin in advertising: trying to market to everyone at once.

It all starts out innocently enough. You decide to create a simple business brochure, maybe do a little bit of email marketing. You want to tell prospective customers about what you do and hopefully drum up some new business.

Unfortunately, it goes wrong quickly. You’ve only got the cash to create a single brochure this year, so you want to make sure it covers everything you do and everyone you want to market to. There’s so much material that you end up with nothing but a giant list of bullet points, with no elaboration or benefits in sight.

The key to creating more effective marketing materials and campaigns is market segmentation and message differentiation. That sounds far more complicated than it is: all it means is that people only care about what’s important to them. If you want to show prospective customers why they should do business with you, you have to focus on the benefits that they care about.

Let’s say you run a catering company. There are a ton of potential markets you could serve: weddings, corporate events, private parties, annual conventions. But if you create a single brochure to try to address all these markets, you’ll end up with something so broad that it won’t appeal to any of these audiences.

Instead, think about where the customers spend their time, and how you want to address them. Most young brides these days are doing the majority of their wedding planning and research online, so that’s where you should focus your efforts to market to that segment. Create a great Pinterest profile with lots of enticing wedding design and catering pictures, and link it to a blog filled with keyword-rich wedding content with a local focus, and you’ll draw who understand exactly what it is you do and why you’re a great fit for their wedding.

For your business customers, a piece of printed collateral like a brochure or sales letter is a better bet. Focus on why you’re a great fit for their events (good value, flexible menus, simple ordering system, available on short notice, etc.). Send it to prospects within a company who will make the actual purchasing decision on caterers for business events, and you’ll be able to follow up in person or by phone with a prospect who already has a solid grasp of what you can offer their company.

No business, small, medium, or large, has an unlimited marketing budget. We all want to do the most we can with what we have. So make the most of your advertising dollars by creating a focused message for a clearly defined audience. And if you need help figuring out what to say or who to say it to, give me a call. I’d be happy to help.

The 4 people who shouldn’t be blogging

I’ve talked before about the importance of a business blog, and how businesses of all sizes can use blog posts to demonstrate their value and pull customers to their website. And if you’ve spent any time lately on marketing blogs or websites, you’ve almost certainly seen the proclamation that “Content is king!”

I firmly believe that every business can benefit from a blog. But that doesn’t mean everyone is cut out to be a blogger. Here are five people who shouldn’t be in charge of your company blog. If you recognize yourself (or your blog) on the list, it might be time to get help!

The spammer – Often spotted popping up in LinkedIn groups, The Spammer is the blogger that everyone loves to hate. They start discussion after discussion with nothing more than a link to their latest blog, regardless of how relevant it might be to the group or whether anyone has expressed interest in reading what they’ve posted. Spammers can also be seen joining online forums in order to broadcast their posts to the world, without bothering to provide value or get to know the community. Repent your spammy ways! If you recognize yourself in this description, remember that the goal of building a business blog is to get organic search results by creating great content – not to fool uninterested people into increasing your pageviews.

The TMI guy – A little personality isn’t a bad thing, but for the most part a business blog should stay focused on business topics. After all, it’s really part of an ongoing conversation between you and your customers. The TMI guy, on the other hand, writes about anything and everything on his blog. Personal anecdotes, political rants, holiday recipes – it’s all there, mixed in with the legitimate business topics. Keep it “need to know”! Focus your blog on providing valuable information your clients need to know, and let your brand identity shine through the writing style and (very!) occasional non-business posts.

The plagiarist – Creating great content is hard work, and it takes time. But stealing great content is a lot faster and easier. Plagiarists like to hide behind the label of “content curator”, intimating that all they’re doing is helping people find the good stuff. But posting the good stuff without crediting your sources is outright stealing, and a blog with nothing but links and other peoples’ content – even if you’ve credited your sources properly – doesn’t do you much good when it comes to SEO and impressing your customers. Time to get original! If you’re struggling to write content that offers real value, you can always hire a copywriter to write your blog. No one said you have to be an expert at everything, just at doing what you do best.

The “just because” blogger – The “just because” blogger writes blog posts the way you don a lime-green reindeer sweater your Aunt Millie knitted you – half-heartedly and out of a sense of obligation. Nearly every business can benefit from a blog, but if all you know is that you “should” be blogging, you probably don’t have a very coherent strategy in place for what to write about. As a result, your company blog is a confusing mix of lackluster posts, without any kind of theme or focus to keep readers interested. Get a plan in place! Your business blog is a part of your overall marketing strategy. You should have an editorial calendar and a content plan in place to help you figure out what to write about when, so you can create great content without feeling like you’re coming up with ideas on the spot.

Do you want to defend your blogging style? Leave a note in the comments about the great things you’re doing with your company blog! And if you need help creating individual posts or an overall business blogging strategy, get in touch! I’d love to help get your business blog off the ground.

Should your company have a business blog or an email newsletter?

Think of your company’s email newsletter as a nice frosty glass of delicious craft beer. It’s quick, it’s refreshing, and you can enjoy it at home as easily as you can at a bar or restaurant or friend’s house.

Your company blog, on the other hand, is more like a gourmet pizza (and if you’re in the St. Louis area, that pizza should come from the wood-fired ovens at Peel in Edwardsville) – it’s best when it’s fresh and hot and right from the source.

Beer and pizza. They’re both great on their own, but they’re so much better together. Your company blog and email newsletter should complement each other the same way. One pulls prospects to your site, the other keeps them engaged in an ongoing relationship.

A business blog is a great way to draw search engine traffic to your site. It gives you a platform to address your customers’ questions, discuss the features and benefits of your products, and position your company as a knowledge leader in the industry.

Even better, your blog will build a backlog of valuable information that new prospects will be able to locate through keyword searches for years to come. Once they’ve landed on your site, you can entice them to sign up for your newsletter with an offer of a free white paper, special report, or informational autoresponder series.

An email newsletter, on the other hand, helps you to keep your existing customers engaged. You want your blog and website to offer valuable content that inspires prospects to sign up and get more from you. The company newsletter should provide more great content in a quick, informative burst that reminds customers of why they like and trust you.

Most customers don’t make business blogs a regular part of their reading material. Take advantage of that and get most of your newsletter content from the material you’ve already created, drawing customers back to your website and making the process of newsletter creation a lot less taxing. You can include special offers and sales in your newsletter, but remember to keep the focus on giving your customers content, not getting their money.

If you need more convincing that a company blog is a great way to give your customers what they want while generating valuable search engine traffic, check out my free report, Blogging for Business: 9 Great Ways to Capture and Keep Customers with a Company Blog.

Is your company’s “About Us” page suffering from TMI?

TMI – Too Much Information. It happens when a colleague tells you all about her gallbladder operation while you’re trying to enjoy your lunch, or when a friend recounts his most recent basketball game in such excruciating detail that the retelling takes as long as the original match did. No one likes being subject to tons of information that isn’t relevant to their life or interests. So why do so many companies fill their “About Us” page with paragraphs full of details that their customers couldn’t care less about?

The “About” page is one of the most-visited pages on any company’s website, and visitors often head there as soon as they hit the home page. Customers want to know more about the company they are considering doing business with. This is especially true for service providers and businesses operating in the financial or technology sectors. People want to know that they’re giving their money to someone with credentials and experience they can trust.

Unfortunately, too many business owners see the “About Us” page as a excuse to talk about themselves, and end up going on endlessly about their path to entrepreneurship, or every last aspect of the company’s history, or overly-detailed biographies of employees that most customers will never interact with.

Your customers don’t care about any of that. They care about themselves. How does your history or experience benefit them? Why are you positioned to offer them exceptional value? What does your company offer that your competitors don’? How do they know your employees are the best in the industry?

When you’re creating the copy for your “About Us” page, think about the goals you laid out for the rest of the site copy. Does the “About” page support those goals? Does it reassure prospective customers that they can be confident in doing business with you? Does it offer them a clear next step once they’ve finished reading the page? If not, it’s time to revamp the copywriting – this time with customer needs, and not company details, as the focus.

And if you’re not sure whether your “About Us” page needs a revamp, send me an email at shelby@sbscopywriting.com for a free About page analysis.

Welcome to the world!

In lieu of a real post today, I’d like to share the results of a project I’ve been working on for a while – his name is Ian James and I’ve got to say, he’s pretty amazing. I don’t want to brag too much, but it seems that in addition to creating great copy, I make pretty nifty human beings, too.

Rich Burlew’s million-dollar free comic: How giving away the milk can make the cow more valuable

On Jan. 22, 2012, Rich Burlew, creator of the popular webcomic Order of the Stick, opened a Kickstarter funding drive with the goal of raising $57,750 to reprint one of the comic’s compilation books that had been out of print for months. A month later, on Feb. 21, the drive closed, having raised $1,254,120 – well over 2000% of the original goal.

All of this for a comic which has its entire run available online, free of charge. How does this happen? Why do people pay good money for something that they can get for free? And what does it have to do with your business blog?

The rise of the “free information” mentality of the internet has been a mixed bag for creative works, giving people much broader access to small-scale independent artists while at the same time giving them more ways to get those artists’ work for free (legally or not). But what seems to be happening more and more is that when people find value in a work, they’re willing to vote with their wallets. This isn’t true of everyone – there will always be people who steal content – but it seems to be true for most people.

Business owners in knowledge-based fields – CPAs, attorneys, financial planners, and others – often end up with generic blogs that don’t tell prospective customers anything useful, for fear of giving away the house. Never be afraid that your business blog is offering too much free information. Your blog is the place where you prove your expertise to potential customers.

The benefit here is twofold: first, when customers visit your website, an extensive blog filled with valuable content is immediate proof that you’re a professional who knows what she’s talking about. Secondly, your backlog of blog posts serves as a cache of business information that can help prospects discover your website when they’re searching for answers. For example, let’s say that you have a CPA blog on your tax firm’s website. Every week, you offer advice on a typical question that your clients have, like the tax implications of switching from a traditional to a Roth IRA. All that advice will bring up your site when someone goes searching for relevant keywords.

Small business owners often worry that if they have a business blog where they’re giving away free advice, potential clients won’t need their services. And it’s certainly true that some people will find, say, a CPA blog that seems relevant to their situation, and attempt a DIY solution. Realistically, these people weren’t going to pay your fees anyway. The vast majority of people recognize that sure, they could learn to do their own taxes, or act as a pro se litigant, but it would take ages and they’d have no guarantee that they were doing everything right.

What it comes down to is this: people are happy to pay when they know they’re getting value in return. A business blog that shows you have the expertise to handle their issue correctly – along with benefits-driven copy throughout the rest of your site which drives home the value of your service in saving time and money for your client – will make it clear to prospective customers that your business is the right one for the job.

4 email subject lines that will drive customers to your site – and 5 that will drive them away

How many email accounts do you have? If you’re like most people, you’ve got several set up, with different kinds of mail coming to each account. I myself have three: a custom account through my domain host for business emails; a gmail account for important family emails and newsletters I actually want to read on a regular basis; and a hotmail account for spam, junk, and company newsletters I might check occasionally.

Even if you don’t have a separate email account for your electronic “junk mail”, I’m willing to bet you have a separate folder or filter set up to pull them out of the stream of your regular emails. It’s human nature – these emails are from companies who haven’t yet earned your trust, and unless or until they do, you can’t afford to spend your valuable time checking through each one.

As a business owner, you need to be aware of this apect of consumer behavior. We all like to believe that every communication and marketing piece we send out is eagerly anticipated by our customers and prospects, but the reality is that we’re adding more information to an already overloaded email inbox. If you want to improve your open rate, you have to show readers that you’re going to offer them something valuable in return for their time – and then follow through on that promise in the body of your email.

So to follow through on the promise I made you in the headline, here are 9 email subject lines culled from my personal email inbox that show you how to draw readers in – or drive them away.

First the bad:

  • Nook: “Enjoy the Long Weekend with New NOOK Books & Newsstand Titles”. What’s wrong? Why should I? There’s no urgency here. They’re not offering to save me any money – just telling me that, hey, some new books exist. And given that Barnes & Noble boasts over 2.5 million ebooks for sale, and my 1st-gen nook can hold over a thousand, the fact that new books exist is not exactly a compelling offer.
  • Chief Marketer Magazine: “Discover People’s United Bank’s Cross Channel Online Strategy”. What’s wrong? This is word salad. Someone or something has an online strategy. I can’t tell from this subject line whether it’s a particularly good strategy, or if it’s something I could apply to my business, or really anything at all other than the fact that it exists. Why would I waste my time reading when I have no reason to think I’ll learn anything of value or gain a benefit?
  • LinkedIn Ads: “Only a few days left to try LinkedIn Ads with a free credit”. What’s wrong? This wouldn’t be bad if I was already interested in/ convinced of the value of LinkedIn Ads, but it doesn’t work if your prospect doesn’t yet know the benefit of what you’re offering. If that explanation of value is inside, there’s no hint to the reader that it’s there. The email’s body heading, “Your customers are on LinkedIn. Find them today.” would have been somewhat better, combined with a free advertising message. Also, “only a few days” is pretty weak in the urgency department.
  • Multichannel Merchant: “Last chance to participate in this”. What’s wrong? What is “this”? And why would I want to participate in it? And while we’re at it, “participate” is a weak, uncompelling verb. I’d much rather “be a part of” something that “participate” in it. Again, without a clear benefit to your reader in the subject line, your email is going directly to the trash folder.
  • Think Traffic: “Think Traffic – One Blog Post Formula Proven to Get Traffic and Subscribers Time and Ti…” What’s wrong? This is far from terrible – it just needed some more thought and editing. First, if your email is already coming from “Think Traffic”, you don’t need to repeat that in the subject line. You’re just wasting valuable space. Which leads us to the second problem – the subject line here is clearly way too long. Most people are skimming in their email inbox, and this lengthy title just doesn’t cut to the chase quickly enough. Had they cut the “Think Traffic” from the beginning of the subject, and moved the benefit (“Get traffic and subscribers”) to the front, they would have had a much stronger offering.

And now the good:

  • Techlicious: “How to Save Money at the Pump”. Why it works: Here’s an email I definitely want to read. It offers a simple, direct benefit, one that’s obviously valuable to a lot of readers, and the email itself follows through on the promise the subject line offers.
  • Amazon: “Terry Pratchett’s new book”. Why it works: This one should be a no-brainer for Amazon. I own just about everything Terry Pratchett has written, and what I don’t own I have on my wishlist. The subject line is short and sweet and great for skimming, because all I needed to see was the author’s name to know I wanted to read that email. If you have a way to point customers toward content you know they’ll like, then your email is automatically much more valuable.
  • Panera Bread: “Shelby, Here’s a Flower You’ll Want to Pick…” Why it works: This subject line piqued my curiosity, plain and simple. I wanted to see how a bakery would incorporate flowers into their offerings. The newsletter inside the email was fun and brief, and offered a deal on a flower-decorated cookie for $0.99.
  • Fisher Price: “Are you ready to bring baby home?” Why it works: Asking a question is a great way to inspire curiosity in your reader. And Fisher Price is using a clearly defined target audience (expectant parents) to ask a question that their readers really want to know the answer to.
  • Jon Morrow: “How to Write a Report That Goes Viral and Gets You an Avalanche of Traffic”. Why it works: It’s not surprising that the author of “52 Headline Hacks” knows how to write a subject line that you can’t help but click on. This subject line offers a clear benefit with some great action words – who doesn’t want an “avalanche of traffic” coming to their site?

Always remember: your customer base is made up of real live human beings, just like you. Thinking about the email subject lines that get you to click is a great exercise in putting yourself in the shoes of your readers. And of course, the better you know your target market, the more specific and effective you can make your subject lines.

What Facebook can’t teach us about target marketing

If you’ve missed out on all the hoopla surrounding the recent Facebook IPO, then allow me to offer a brief and extremely general one-sentence overview (and I hope your under-rock vacation spot was lovely!): Can Facebook leverage their massive database of user information in order to improve the site’s currently dismal advertising ROI and more effectively monetize their platform? In other words, can Facebook get people to buy what their advertisers are selling?

Allow me to demonstrate the problem. Facebook is currently showing me four ads when I’m logged in to the site: one for Applebee’s new Sizzling Chicken Fundido, one for Verragio engagement rings, one exhorting me to “Grow Roses Like the Pros” with Drift roses, and one for the Nordstrom’s Half-Yearly Sale for Women & Kids. Unfortunately for those advertisers, I’m a married vegetarian who doesn’t garden and has never once bought from a Nordstrom’s.

That’s 0 for 4 on ad relevancy and usefulness. I’m a heavy Facebook user with lots of info on the site, so basically one of two things is happening: they haven’t yet figured out how to use the data they’ve gathered about me effectively, or they’re not using it at all and are just showing ads at random. Either one of these options turns their ad sidebar into essentially wasted space.

Facebook is, of course, a huge and powerful company, and despite some concerns about over-valuation, there are clearly a lot of people who are betting that they’ll figure out how to advertise more effectively. There are a lot of challenges to work out, but they’ve certainly got enough money to throw at the problem.

The real question is, do you? When Facebook shows random, untargeted ads to their users, they know that they’ll get terrible response rates. But with 150 million users in the US alone, even a response rate of half a percent could net the advertiser 750,000 clicks. But if your small business makes 1000 cold calls this year – five calls a day, every working day of the year – that same half a percent response rate will net you only 5 interested prospects. That kind of return on investment can kill your motivation – or your business – before you can even get it off the ground.

Before you begin any kind of advertising project or campaign – and that includes everything from setting up a website to attending a networking event – you absolutely have to understand your target market. Who are your ideal clients? What are their characteristics: age, gender, location, occupation, income, marital status, etc.? What keeps them up at night? How can you help them?

The better you understand the people you’re marketing to, the more effective your advertising will be. You’ll know where to go to be able to speak to your ideal clients. You’ll understand their fears and desires, and can show them how your company helps avoid the one and achieve the other.

The first thing I do with every new client – and do again every time we begin a new project – is sit down and walk through a target marketing questionnaire to make sure that the copy I create will deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time. If you’re handling all your own marketing, make sure that you’re not wasting time and money. Figure out who you’re trying to sell to before you start worrying about what and how you’re going to sell to them.