‘Tis the Season – Planning the Year ahead

meetingIn a few weeks it is Easter – the first ‘major’ holiday week of the year. While everyone is looking to some well-earned time off it is the perfect time for the small business owner to do some long-term planning. After all, everyone has a broken work schedule for the week, and possibly next, too. While everyone is relaxed, and can think in a much more expansive way, it’s time to call a Planning Meeting. By programming these during the four major Holiday weeks: Easter, July 4, Thanksgiving and Christmas you will be able to gather everyone’s thoughts on planning for the next quarter, what has worked in the last and long term planning for the next year.

While this sounds like a reason for an argumentative free-for-all, some simple planning steps on your behalf can smooth the way, and ensure that everyone is thinking of the Business, and not just their role in it. The result may also mean actioning ideas that will further engage employees to the business, because you will be auctioning ideas that they feel is theirs.

Whether you are able to make this an entire ‘round-table’ day of planning, or a series of one-on-one interviews the overall path is the same: This is your chance to think in a Macro fashion about what is happening – in turn it makes all of the Micro decisions you have to make on a daily basis much easier to understand and track. It also sets up a planning calendar where you can measure progress and results of all initiatives, be they one quarter in length, or tailored for annual outcomes.

This is your day to ask ‘Where are we,  What if, and Why not’ – or perhaps just ‘Why’! Don’t worry about tough questions, new opportunities, and embrace changes, but be prepared to leave with a list of jobs, priorities, course changes and equipment requests that will probably change what you are doing right now, and how. It may even change your company’s future! It may be one of the most exciting and exhausting days of your year, but it’s a practice that we suggest every business, no matter the size, commit to doing.

Here are a few suggestions for you to use as a starting point that will help all businesses become more efficient and profitable:

Fewer Priorities

The amount of small details we have to deal with onside a business culture can lead to ‘Paralysis by Analysis’. Identify no more than three priority objectives for the year that result in you aiming higher and stop sending time on low priorities.

Embrace Results

Tracking results for ongoing projects can easily be sidetracked. By creating a list of “what we gain” if we win and by contrast “what is costs” if we lose, we create the motivation to overcome distractions and stay focused on results that matter.

Commit to Change

Strategy without change is worthless. If you ask “What needs to change in order for us to actually do this?” the answer will be a simple Yes or No.

Create Owners

Every objective will naturally spin off a list of projects: The things that need to be done, the new products, the new positions, or the new processes. Identify these projects and assigning an owner to each. After all, this was introduced by someone – at least in part –  so make them the one that cares the most about the project and carries the responsibility of moving it forward.

Focus on High Payoff

Identify the highest payoff work for everyone in the organization. This is how you properly assign tasks, and stay focused on what matters most. The three or four high payoff tasks will differ for everyone in the organization, but they become a “go to” as you plan ahead Quarterly and Yearly.

The One Page Plan

Finally, take our goals you need to reach and projects that all have identified to reach them, and align them on one page each in support of the proper top-line objective. Assign each project an owner and charge that person with assembling the team, resources and plan for tackling the project related tasks.

When it comes to keeping our entire business focused on what matters most this is the most important day our organization has in search of day-to-day alignment and focus. Take those broken weeks of holiday work, and ignite your business with simple, clean planning tasks that will move your business forward and engage your workforce.

“And the Envelope goes to…….?”

oscarIts Movie award time of the year again. Whether you are fan of Hollywood or movies as a whole doesn’t really matter in January and February, because many millions of people get their thrills from seeing the famous and talented on TV, almost as if they have dressed up especially for the viewer. This is the kind of thrill your business copywriting should give to people. A chance to get them into your article by the headline, and the first paragraph. Dress it up for them!

Here are some more tips to ensure that your article makes the most of its time on the Internet’s “Red Carpet”.

Offer the big promise and then clearly deliver

Your headline will be the first thing the subscriber sees, and this is your chance to catch their eye. You want to make a promise that will compel them to read your article. It needs to be sexy, like the opening monologue to the award show – who is it, and what are they going to say?

If you are going to use an offer, let them know what it is, don’t hint:

“Get Free Shipping” is way better than “Look in here for a special gift.” People like free and, the word Get or Getting is extremely important psychologically. It even outperforms exact figures such as percentages (Now, 10% off!). It looks like the reader is so close to receiving something, it’s just a matter of reaching their hand out, and it is theirs.

Avoid lengthy paragraphs

Staring at a huge block of text can be very intimidating. It looks like work.

Don’t make reading your articles look or feel like a chore. Break paragraphs up into something easy to digest and scan quickly if needed. This is the equivalent of showing off in that little cocktail dress, instead of the poor men that have to ‘tuxedo it up’

Write for your readers and address their wants and needs

You have an idea of your perfect customer, and prospect. Write for them, and them alone. When a popular actor gets his or her award, they thank everyone that knows them – everyone in their immediate circle. This is what your writing is doing for your prospects: Write for them, and make them feel as if you are interested in their interests.

Make sure everything is clean and easy to read

Use bullet points and headings so that everyone can see what is coming up, and know what to expect. Look at those clips from movies that are about to be awarded. These are bullet points, and they are repeated every time – even though, by the third time of seeing a clip, we know the movie itself. It’s a way of cutting through the chatter, and focusing your audience’s attention.

Be consistent

If you make a point, follow through with it. Don’t change your style, or your subject half-way through. I’m sure the best director would love to tell a global audience about the movie he is working on now, or the deal he’s just struck for next year’s movie, but they don’t – the subject at hand is celebration, and the work that he may have last seen six months prior. Stick to what you are saying in the way that you are saying it: Familiarity is comforting.

So, how did this article get its genesis point? The articles I have written for beginners in the business copy writing field have been popular, but I felt as if I needed a different hook for this one. By listening to what is hot today, even though I’m not a fan of award shows and do my best to avoid them, I know how much of a hot subject it is for many people. It is that opening paragraph and the headline that will get then into this article – even though it is about something else entirely!

Turning website traffic into Customers

web-trafficIf you are enjoying a well-placed website with a lot of visitors, it’s time to capture them and keep in touch with them. Picture yourself in a small time shop front business: There are hundreds of people that enter the store ‘ just to browse’, but they never stay to buy. They walk around and pick things up, but never stay. Why?

If I am simply waiting for a specific time, for a meeting, or am simply hiding from the weather outside, I always go into small stores like this. I do it to engage my mind in something, to see what kind of in-store marketing businesses are doing, and to kill a few minutes rather than just hanging around outside, looking suspicious. If I am asked whether I need assistance, I’m always honest about the reasons for my visit, so that the hard-working staff know that they can leave me and move on to someone who may be buying. In other words, I am the typical web visitor. Occasionally, a forward thinking shop staff will see what I am looking at, and say: “That’s at a special price today, because of (insert reason).” That’s thinking, because they want to know what I’m interested in. This is what you want your site to do; to separate the browsers from the shoppers, and find out what the interest level is, and in what.

Add a ‘Contact Us’ button. It’s a CTA (A Call-To-Action) that isn’t too pressurizing, and doesn’t add to much worry to the browser. They know that they can always unsubscribe from any service, and they can sift through the offers that you send them at their own speed, without being cornered into making a decision.

A good tip here is to purchase an automated mail system where you can enter a raft of e-mail messages, and send them information. They are very inexpensive to get into, and you can choose what bells and whistles you need. Now you can send out information about your company to those that have shown an interest: Not every day, but enough for them to keep you and their initial interest in mind. You can copy them on highlights of your latest blog post, or send them special offers that aren’t on your site. Whatever you feel will keep them engaged in your Company’s story. You can even send periodic/seasonal “feel good” emails – like Happy Holidays from…or Happy Valentines day from…and add your little spin to it . Even if only 10% of these contacts buy from you, the chances of them becoming long-term, multiple purchasers are very good. You can then think of new or better ‘Fanzone’ specials for these extra special customers.

If your site isn’t getting visitors, re-design it to cater to your Ideal Customer’s profile. If you are getting visitors, but too high of a ‘Bounce Rate’, re-design your landing page to entice closer inspection. If your Call To Action isn’t working, try different designs and strength of invitation. However, if you are getting interest from your ‘Contact Us’ button, use what you can from your ongoing writings to ensure those visitors remain with you, and shop from you, often.

Make the most of your businesses’ Holiday season

holiday-shoppingNow that Halloween is behind us, it won’t be long before US Thanksgiving celebrations, Black Friday/Cyber Monday online sales, and then Christmas. Of course, New Year is only a few days after that, so it’s time to start thinking about the exciting Holiday Marketing you need for your business. If you haven’t started planning these campaigns, yet,  and there isn’t time for separate, unique six-week ad campaigns that have proven useful for companies  for the festive season, you may want to think of an overarching idea ‘The Holidays’, namely November through February. If it’s too early to think about Christmas for you, it isn’t for your business, so here’s five tips on readying your businesses’ online holiday campaigning.

1.        ‘Click to Call’ tools

Get them to come to you: A ‘click through’ button on your website allows your prospects to see something they like on your website, and contact you directly with a question. Once they know they can reach you, you become approachable, friendly, and someone they would like to start a relationship with. In turn this makes them more open to receiving advertising from you.

There are plenty of tools for this, and to ensure that your company can do this on a regular basis, why not start at the beginning of the Holiday season? You can plan the staffing of the phones for business hours, set up a return call system for outside hours, and promoting this service gives you an additional ‘touch point’ with the fans you have already. It may teach you things that you need for times outside of the holidays.

Customers and prospects are usually busy themselves at this time of year, so you can open up a stress-saving avenue for contact with them. They will always pass on good news to others!

2.        Search Functionality.

If Prospects and customers cannot find what they want on your site in a short search time, they will give up and go somewhere else. Use your site analytics to find out where people go, which pages they land on, visit, and bounce from. These metrics will show you patterns of use that will give you clues on what is not working. If you are the type of business looking to use the holidays for sales or advertising and want to highlight different or new items and services, make sure that all pages showcase your business as best they can, and offer functionality. Now is the time to re-design to answer the questions these analytics results bring up. In turn, you may find places that need re-design to seamlessly loop this process site-wide.

3.        Add some video

It is by far the best teaching tool, is the most popular among visitors, and can be the most effective: is it time for a festive video presentation, or tour through the site? Get your gatekeeper to front it, and – when they answer the phone – they will be recognized.

4.        Related Content

Do your pages lead to the next right page? Is there a clue that your Analytics can give you as to how people navigate your site? Perhaps some well-placed teasers, directions, or offers would both strengthen those ‘tours’, and bring weaker ones up to that strength? This is not a case of more links, but rather stronger ‘suggestive’ items as to where to go next. This drives traffic to the warmest and coolest areas of your business, based on actual customer ‘tours’.

5.        Strengthen the customer engagement.

Make sure that you have an easy-to-navigate map of your site, ask for feedback, and advice, and always measure your engagement. The Holidays are a great time to do that, because you may be highlighting Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, Boxing day, New Year, and Valentine’s day special attractions. If the next time you take a breath will be in late February, have your specials lined up, and signpost them correctly. Then, take note of visitor feedback (Both on your site, and through contact), to find out what you can do better for the rest of the year.

This means that this time, next year, your site will be more ready for business, your advertising will change to reflect and point out these changes, your customer and prospect engagement will increase, and a glimpse inside your current and future customers will be much stronger.

Always look at advertising changes as another way to engage with both customers and prospects. If this time of year is your busy time, listen to what people are saying about you during the holiday period, and make changes based on this conversation. In turn this will keep people on our site longer, and lead to more committed evangelists as well as more newcomers interested in what you do.

Seven things you aren’t doing – but should be!

worker stress funnyWhy did you start your business? Usually, we hear the following:

“I could do this way better than the last Boss that I had.”

“I received a payout, and thought that it was time I went out on my own.”, and the famous: “I’ve always wanted to do it.”

If you didn’t get into a market segment for reasons such as goods requirement in that region, or competition, or even a better raw material source, you can still concentrate on how you can make your business succeed from this point on by creating practices that more seasoned companies have done. Here’s Seven tips on how you can start succeeding:

Businesses fail to reach their full potential.

Any reason you can think of is usually a symptom of a bigger problem, and two of those are usually more organic than you can see. Either business owners are unclear about their goals (or have lost sight of their original goals as to what they want to get out of their business) OR business owners don’t really know what’s going on in their business.

Not knowing what’s going on in the business is extremely common and relates to knowing your KPI’s (key performance indicators) For instance, how many people do you have to connect with to get the right percentage to walk through your door and how many have to purchase and how many who purchase have to become loyal clients and/or referrers of others to your business? Start with last year, find out how close you are, and what steps do you have to take to get it right this year.

Know where you are

What are you doing right, right now, and what do you need to strengthen in order to get our first tip correct?  Find out how long it will take to get there, and what it will cost. If you don’t know, get help – and factor that cost into your calculations.

Where are you going?

Many small business owners run a daily management routine on habit, rather than on a clearly defined journey toward a goal. Even if you are entrepreneurial, you must have something to head for in the medium and long term that is about your businesses’ success, not your rose colored view of the future. Break down the big picture into manageable chunks so you can see how far you have come, and what you have to do to reach your next steps.

How much do you earn?

You have to know how much it takes for the business to pay its bills, pay lifestyle wages and generate profits to grow the company. You need a predictive budget/cash flow model to see how much it takes to expand, and that includes owner’s salaries.

if you don’t plan to create profit for growth, how is your growth going to be funded? If you don’t pay yourself the right amount now, how will you know what you pay yourself in the future. Just taking ‘what’s left’ is not a plan.

Tell Everyone

Now that you know where you are, where you are going, and have decided your income, you have to get customers buying your products or services. But WHO are these people and WHERE are we going to find them? That is marketing, but now you know these two crucial facts about your future customers, you know what message will get to them, and that is the basis of your future. What are you doing right now for these customers, what do you need to work on to make their experiences with you better, and what will make hem return, or tell others?

Manage for success

While you are looking at these ‘big picture’ questions and challenges, you cannot be expected to run everything, perfect a customer relationship model for your staff, and be the corporate fireman. You need to get out of the everyday, and either delegate or hire someone that does these tasks for you.

These are two distinct jobs, and you shouldn’t be dropping complex calculations of future growth to go unblock the toilets. You need a head of daily operations, no matter the size of your company. That person reports to you, but on an organized daily meeting basis. Give yourself the time to plan the future.

Get a coach

A coach/mentor is outside of the day-to-day activity and can provide a cool outsider’s point of view about what needs to be done and/or can bring to the table ideas and concepts outside the your awareness or current level of experience.

Choose the right one: Remember, they are there to help YOU rather than sell you a coaching system designed to make them money. So ask questions about their specific expertise in your business, ask for names of other businesses in your industry area they have helped so you can reference check them, check their availability in relation to responding to problems or issues you may encounter, and lastly, determine what is and what is not included in their fee structures.

Give yourself the permission to speak candidly to someone about your business, and receive critical advice. They aren’t a friend, they are a professional, but they can become your company’s best friend.

Good Luck transforming your business for the next level of success.

5 Steps to Reach Your Writing Goals in a Pinch

writers-blockMet your article writing goals for the year? Congratulations! How did you do it?  Probably, by getting into a routine that you could handle easily no matter the circumstances you were in on any given day. But what if you haven’t reached those goals? Here’s a quick ‘cheat sheet’ on how to get into that frame of mind.

First, these steps are meant for those in a time crunch or for those who have a fast approaching deadline. It’s always recommended that you develop a structured plan that helps you achieve your goals so you aren’t scrambling at the end to meet your goal.

Next, use these steps to prioritize your tasks to make time for writing, budget your time effectively, and you will reach your target before you know it!

1. Identify Your Priorities – What tasks hold the greatest value (biggest ROI)? Make a list of everything you do in a given day and rank it starting with 1 as your highest priority. Delegate anything that is low priority. If delegation isn’t possible, let it go (deep breath) to make room for tasks that hold the greatest value to you.

2. Break it Down – Break down your tasks into actionable steps. For example, instead of “send tweet,” you might be break it down to “brainstorm tweet ideas,” “write tweets,” and “schedule/post tweet.” A more specific writing example would include “brainstorm article topics,” “outline article,” “draft article,” “edit article,” and “submit article.”

3. Increase Efficiency – Eliminate the following: Time sinks or activities that take up huge chunks of your time with little to no value.

Self-induced or outside distractions that make you lose your focus

Multi-tasking or not giving one task your full attention at any given time

4. Create a Plan – In the amount of time you have before your deadline, calculate how long it will take to perform a given task and schedule it at least a day in advance. To ‘amp up’ your writing efforts, take a day to write (or two or three – whatever you can). Clear your schedule and dedicate every resource you have to reaching your writing goal on that day.

5. Execute – Spring into action with every fiber of your being! Give every article an extra 10% of quality and originality to increase your ROI and exercise those article writing muscles.

Start now! Make your plan and get everyone (friends, family, and peers) on board. Don’t end with a whimper simply because you didn’t make your goal. Be a success!

Who is your “VP”? It’s not who you think.

fun officeConsumers have lots of choice for their buying needs, and you have lots of competition. So, how do you ensue that they look at your shopping experience, when compared to theirs? That’s a basic question, with a really simple answer.
Find a way to differentiate your business, one that matters to somebody, so that you do not have to compete on price. What is the single-minded point of difference that some narrowly defined ideal client cannot live without? The secret to marketing success is as simple as that. But by finding it, and exploiting it, your business would be in the elite, because your competition isn’t doing it. Why?Because to be unique, you have to actually be different and that scares the heck out of most business owners. Be very clear about this, though, your customers and prospects want you to be different, they require you to be different. To succeed in business you have only one job, and that is to find a way to show that you are completely different in a way that your market wants and values, exploit that difference in every word that you compose and watch your profits soar. It’s painful and a lot of extra work to do, sometimes, but you will be many steps ahead of the competition if you can do it.

Identify your ideal Client

You know you have an ideal client in mind when you can ponder how great life would be if you have a dozen or so more just like them. What makes them perfect for you? Have you done business with one, lately?

Create a list of six to eight of your current ideal clients and commit to sitting down with face to face or over the phone for about fifteen minutes, or you are going to devise a questionnaire and have them complete it and return it to you. As either of these methods are a conversation of sorts, the same questions should be included:

Why did you hire us/buy from us in the first place? Just because you think you know, you may not. You can collect surprising insights, here.

What’s one thing we do that you love the most? You need specifics, here. Drill down from their first answers.

What’s one thing we do that others don’t? Don’t be embarrassed to ask this – no-one else is, so it’s a refreshing change for the answerer. Even if the answer’s as plain as ‘you are close’, you collect extra knowledge.

If you were to refer us what would you say? Look for three adjectives, here. It will help you tally up the most important points when spread over several answers.

Can you tell me about three other companies that you love? Even if these other companies are in your field, you will get another view of your business from the outside. You also learn more about your competition.

If you were conducting an online search for this service, how would you search for it?: You are looking for their search terms in order to further define how a successful search would find you.

Remember that you’re not looking for scientific data, you’re looking more for themes and stories that offer clues to what really does make your firm unique. In most cases you will need to use follow-up statements such as – “Okay, we provide great service, that’s awesome, but tell me a story about a time we did.”

Work with themes that matter

From your interviews you should have some rich themes to work with. Don’t underestimate the power of simple things. Quite often your clients value the little things you do that are special. Resist the temptation to dismiss them as unimportant enough to use as your core point of difference.

List all of the answers, find out who said the most often repeated themes, and drive home a marketing campaign aimed at these clients.

This is your VP – Your Value Proposal to an entire business segment.