Category Archives: Business

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 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.

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.